Today I want to explore the idea that we could choose to give up control of our lives. I remember hearing my dad say I was a strong-willed child. Surprise, I know! Christian psychologist and author, Dr. James Dobson wrote a book called “The Strong Willed Child,” and it was published in 1978. According to the needs my parents had regarding parenting me, the book was about a decade late. Good news for those of you who are just starting the parenting journey, there have been updated printings of that book. One thing that cannot be disputed is that every one of us in this room has a will. God created us with freewill so that we could make decisions about our life and about eternity.
One of my jobs is to make sure you have the ability to make an “informed decision.” I am supposed to teach you what the Word of God says about who God is, what He desires, and how you can live according to His Word, IF you want to. It isn’t my job to convince you of anything, really, but it is my job to preach the truth and to live the truth according to the faith and ability that God gives me as He strengthens me and gives me grace to love and serve Him. Let’s explore what we might be able to choose to give up as it relates to trying to control our lives.
Genesis 2:15-17 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
When God spoke to Adam here in Genesis 2, it was clear that God was establishing Himself as the One who would set the parameters for life.
“You must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil” is a pretty specific parameter. There was no way Adam could say he didn’t know what God meant by that. It wasn’t “You must not eat from this tree on Fridays” and it wasn’t “You must not eat from this tree unless you and I talk about it again” and it wasn’t “You must not eat from this tree unless others start to eat from it which would make it popular or a cultural norm.” It was simply, “You must not eat from this tree.” Not now. Not ever. It is clear from Genesis 3 that Eve understood what God had said to Adam.
What happened in Genesis chapter 3 is that Satan entered the picture and was successful in getting Eve to exert her freewill and choose to disregard God’s parameters. According to Satan, she could do as she wanted, and in doing so, she could set herself up to be like God, to be in charge.
Not only was the command clear when God delivered it and when Adam heard it and when Eve heard it from Adam, but the consequence of violating that established boundary was clear. You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.
God established a parameter because He wanted us to be able to choose life. He wanted us to be able to avoid death. It would have been unloving for God to have kept quiet about the consequence of the Tree of Life. He wanted to warn us! He wanted us to live in freedom to enjoy all He had provided, but He wanted us to understand that the one thing that was off limits was off limits for our benefit. Satan wanted Eve to use her own logic and reasoning. He wanted her to trust her instincts. Remember, Satan’s job description is to steal, kill and destroy-John 10:10. What was happening in the Garden was an assassination attempt. If the consequence was death for Adam and Eve, Satan was happy to encourage them to exercise their free will in order to introduce death into their lives.
Relying on our own wisdom, making decisions based on what we can see with our eyes or feel, or taste, or hear, or smell, will take life from us. In what ways?
We will feel ashamed. Adam and Eve had a personal awakening. It was conviction. The Bible says that they were ashamed. They went into hiding. They saw themselves in a different light. They didn’t have positive feelings about themselves. Adam and Eve remembered, with great pain, that they were created for better things than the things of this world. They wished they could go back and respect what God had said; respect the boundary He had established.
We will have problems in our relationships. Adam and Eve blamed each other for what they had done. It hurt their marriage. It caused a rift. Can we all admit that whatever choices we make that we are responsible for those choices? No one can exercise your free will but you.
We will put distance between God and us. Adam and Eve lost the close fellowship they once had enjoyed with God. It is truly awesome that God lets us know what things could cause a problem between Him and us so that we can choose to avoid those things. Do we understand that when we choose to use our freewill to sin against God, we are choosing to move away from Him? We are choosing to harm our relationship with Him. We are choosing to tell Him we don’t value Who He is, what He desires, what He has provided for us or what He wants to protect us from. We may not process all of that at once, but it is true. When we are choosing sin, we are choosing to harm our relationship with God. We can make that choice. We have that ability. We just have to understand that choices come with consequences. When we make the choice, we are choosing the consequence.
I’m not interested in the consequences that death brings. I don’t want distance between God and me. I don’t want extra problems in my relationships. I don’t want to feel ashamed of myself. Let me ask you some questions. What was it that God had given Adam and Even to enjoy? Everything in the Garden but one tree. How many trees were in the Garden? I don’t know, but I am sure it was a bunch. How many animals were in the Garden? I don’t know, but it was several zoos worth. How many flowers were in the Garden? I don’t know, but it had to be a sight to behold. All of those gorgeous plants and flowers and not one weed among them. How many springs, lakes, and rivers did they have access to? I don’t know, but it had to be clear, beautiful water that was cool and refreshing.
When Adam and Eve exercised their free will and crossed God’s boundary line because of ONE tree that was off limits, they cut themselves off from all of the rest of the awesome stuff that God had given them to enjoy! After they sinned, they weren’t riding on the back of a camel or dancing with panda bears. They weren’t splashing around in a cool brook. They weren’t climbing into one of the other many trees and eating its fruit for fun. They weren’t admiring the flowers that were in full bloom. They were hiding.
The point is, Sin not only comes with a consequence, but it cuts us off from the parts of life we were created to enjoy! Can anyone get a hold of this concept with me this morning? Are you picking up what I am putting down? If someone put $999.00 in front of you and told you it was yours to spend and have a great time with, and hung $1.00 on a tree and said, “Don’t touch that or you will lose the $999.00,” what would you do? I would hope we could choose to keep the $999.00 and leave the $1.00 alone, but given what Adam and Eve chose, I don’t know that we would.
There is something about not being able to have whatever we want to have whenever we want to have it that gets in our craw. We think we need to have what we don’t have or that we should have the right to experience whatever we want. We do have that right, but we have to take whatever comes with that right if we exercise it. Adam and Eve lost so much by trying to have the one thing that God said would cause them problems. They were banished from the Garden! They were kicked out of Paradise!
Why do we continue to try to choose the one thing that perpetuates hurt and pain into our lives? Why do we keep pursuing that one thing that creates shame and causes problems in our relationships? Why can’t we just trust that if God says something is off limits it is because He wants us to avoid dealing with the heartbreak and pain that will accompany it? So, point one this morning is:
Give up trying to lean on your own understanding, and let God be in charge.
You will never live a satisfied life until you are satisfied with God being in charge, and you will never get to fully experience all of the incredible, wonderful things God wants you to enjoy if you keep crossing the lines He says will hurt you.
Genesis 3:1-6 1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'” 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.
“Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the Garden? Really? Are you going to let Him boss you around like that? That doesn’t even make sense. What could be wrong with that tree? It’s the prettiest tree in the Garden! God must be trying to keep you from something good. God is such an old Fuddy Duddy. He doesn’t want you to have any fun.” Can you just hear Satan at work?
We struggle, at times, with anyone telling us what to do. We also like to hear what we want to hear. Twisting words is something we are pretty good at. I am not sure we even need Satan’s help or prompting to try to twist people’s words. We naturally listen for the things we like to hear and minimize the things we don’t. We love loopholes. We love to look between the words sometimes for a “technical” way out of things. We like to talk more than we like to listen anyway. We have become experts at talking our way out of trouble, out of the speeding ticket, out of the responsibility, out of the consequence.
We have so relied on our own reasoning that we now believe truth is situational. “It depends” has become one of the popular phrases in our culture. There are people who are taking the Bible out of context to support whatever lifestyle they want to pursue. There are people who are working tirelessly to undermine the reliability of Scripture to say that certain parts are outdated and irrelevant. There are people who have relegated the Bible to fairy tale and fable types of literature.
When we question and doubt the Word of God, we are playing right into the devil’s hands. We are opening ourselves up to have an extended conversation with Satan, and that will never go well. What God says, He means. I understand some passages can be tough to understand. We need the Holy Spirit to help us interpret Scripture for sure. We need to read what comes before and what comes after tricky passages. We need to look at every passage that speaks to the topic we are researching. We do need to grasp the culture at the time during which the words were being written, not to try to undermine the Word’s authority or to say that it no longer applies to us in 2019, but to have a deeper, richer, fuller appreciation for what is being said.
I know it may seem outdated or not really important that we wait to have sex until we are married, but that is what God’s Word says. I know that open marriages have become acceptable to some, but that isn’t what God says is OK. I know that many believe we can now choose whatever gender we are and that there are a whole host to choose from, but that isn’t what the Bible has established in the creation account where God created us male and female. I know many are turning to extreme surgical procedures to try to undo what God has done in designing them, to turn away from God’s ordained plan for their person-hood, but trying to recreate what God has created is impossible. Our DNA cannot be changed. I know many utilize pornography because they believe it enhances their right to be expressive, but God’s Word says that to look upon someone lustfully is to commit adultery with them in your heart. I know many people cheat on their taxes and justify it by saying the government takes too much money, but the Bible says we are to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” I know many say abortion is a choice, and it is, but it is a choice to murder which violates God’s standards. I know many have reasoned that a loving God would never send anyone to Hell, so therefore everyone must go to Heaven when they die. I know that is a comforting and nice thought, but it isn’t biblical. I know many, even church denominations who have said it is OK to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex as long as you love that person and are committed, but it isn’t what the Bible teaches.
And I know that its complicated. I don’t mean the Word of God is complicated. I mean, we are complicated, and we are getting more and more complicated by the day. And the reason why I think life and people are getting more complicated is because we have moved away from the Word of God as truth. It is exactly what Satan has wanted from the beginning of time. I understand that people are confused. I understand many people have a lot to overcome, even from childhood. I understand that people struggle to think well of themselves or rightly of themselves. I understand we are born broken. I understand that we have a lot of stress and a lot of pressure from friends, from the culture. We are shaped not only by the culture, but we are shaped by our feelings, and we are shaped by our fears. How about we return to the Bible as absolute truth and be shaped by our Father?
He is the One who can help us! Healing comes, wholeness comes, confidence comes, courage comes, and grace to start again comes in and through an understanding of truth. As long as we try to run from the truth, we will run from that which has the power to heal us!
So, point two of this message is: Give up trying to find loopholes in God’s Word to justify sin and being shaped by the culture, and let God’s Word stand without question.
Matthew 4:1-11 1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
Jesus’ ministry started under difficult circumstances. He had a lot to overcome before He ever got to heal anyone or teach anyone. He had to deal with the temptations of the flesh. The temptation to have power, status, and to be comfortable.
Satan had Jesus isolated. Isn’t that when he often tempts us? When he has us feeling alone and insecure? He had Jesus during a weak moment. Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days. Satan knows how to pick opportune times to mess with us. Jesus couldn’t overcome these temptations without supernatural power, without being connected to His Heavenly Father. He could have justified the need to eat. He could have tried to prove His worth, His identity, His power and authority, but He refused to make it about Himself. He talked about God’s Word. He elevated the worship and glory of God over the worship of instant or immediate satisfaction. He trusted that God knew what He was doing in sending Him and that God would not only enable Him to overcome every temptation, but that God would sustain and satisfy His life with good things. Point three is simply this:
Give up impulsive living, and let God bring satisfaction to your life.
If Jesus had fallen for the immediate, you and I could never have been restored and remade. We could never have reconnected with God. We could never know the truth of His Word. We could never be in the kind of relationship that helps us see how God can provide for us. But Jesus gave up the immediate for the eternal.
It all boils down to control. Will we give up control to the One who knows how to keep us from danger and death? Will we give up trying to find loopholes in the Word of God in order to preserve a life of sin and self? Will we give up the immediate in exchange for the eternal? What do you need to surrender this morning in order to have the greatest freedom to live and the greatest eternity to look forward to?