The Worst Decision Ever MadeErwin W. Lutzer | February 5, 2006
Selected highlights from this sermon
Adam and Eve made a massive mistake. In the most perfect of scenarios, they were deceived and willingly chose to follow desire and curiosity instead of following God.
They fell, and they fell hard.
God cursed the world and everything in it, but in His mercy, He provided them coverings and then predicted the coming of a Savior.
God is still compassionate, extending His mercy and grace to those who make bad decisions.
I begin today with a question: what is the worst decision that has ever been made? That’s the question. And I have some very, very, very good news for you today – you didn’t make it! You thought you had, but it wasn’t you. The very worst decision ever made was made by Adam and Eve. No decision ever had such far-reaching consequences that go all the way to eternity. No decision had entailed within it so many other decisions that were wrong, destructive, hurtful and sinful. Adam and Eve win the prize for having made the worst decision that has ever been made.
There are two lies we are tempted to believe. Lie number one is that one sin doesn’t matter. After you have believed that lie the devil comes to you with lie number two and says, “Now that you have fallen there is no use standing up.” I’m here today to tell you that no matter how far you have fallen there is always good reason to stand up.
This is the beginning of a series of messages entitled, “Making the Best of a Bad Decision.” Today we begin with the worst decision ever made. In order for us to understand the context we need to realize that Adam and Eve made this decision to sin in the best of circumstances. The text of course is Genesis chapter three, and I invite you to turn there. In a few moments, I am going to be paying specific attention to some of the verses.
Let’s begin by talking about the conditions or opportunities that they had which they sinned against so that we might understand the magnitude of their mistake. First of all, Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment. Just think of Eve. She had no insecurities at all. She didn’t have to compete with the super models that grace our newsstands. Eve didn’t have to worry about the woman next door who was all too friendly with her husband. Catch this; she didn’t have to lie awake at night wondering whether or not she had married the right man. She didn’t have that problem.
She lived not only in a perfect environment, but she also had a perfect husband. If they had garbage he would have carried it out. He’d have been sensitive, caring, romantic, and all of those other things that are so highly prized - and rightly so. Did she want beauty? She had it. Was she hungry? There were many trees in the garden, the Bible says, from which they could freely eat. Imagine the environment. All of that was at her disposal.
Sometimes we hear the word “behaviorism” from psychologists. Behaviorism states that we are what we are because we are a product of our environment. I remember when an assassination took place. One person said, “I don’t blame him. I blame the society that produced him.” Well, there is some truth to the fact that poverty does breed crime. But also sometimes the richest homes and the richest people become criminals too. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but when young people shoot one another in school those shooters sometimes came from pretty wealthy homes. Behaviorism is only partially true; it’s not the whole story.
Now if you ask the question why it was that Eve made the decision to sin when she did not even yet have a sinful nature, we cannot answer. We have some insight, as we will point out in a moment, but we really can’t answer that. She also had the advantage of direct access to God. Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the day and they and God would have long talks together.
It was in this environment that she sinned. It was turning her back on the blessings of God. God says, “There is one tree of the garden from which you should not eat and many trees from which you can eat.” Satan of course zeroed in on that one tree, that one negative. But they were planted, that is to say Adam and Eve grew up and were created in an environment where they could have many, many different trees. And she sinned against all those blessings, just like some young people I’ve known. They were brought up in fine Christian homes, good churches, good pastors, and good ministries. They turn their back on all the blessings to do their own thing.
So, that’s the environment from which they sinned and that’s the context. And the decision they made is of course in verse six of chapter three: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She gave some to her husband also who was with her and he ate.” He was with her in the garden, no doubt about it, and he was there participating as well.
What went into this decision? Well, it’s obvious that one thing Eve did is she elevated her desires above God’s Word. The tree was desirable, it was pleasant to the eyes, it appeared as if it would make you wise, and that meant more to her than the Word of God. “Thou shalt not eat it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die.” Her desires therefore took precedence over God’s Word. What the serpent basically said to her was, “Eve, feel and don’t think. It looks good, do it! It if feels good, how can it be so bad?”
And then of course there was also curiosity. God says, “If you eat of it you shall die.” But what is death? They had no example of death in paradise. She was thinking, “I wonder what death really is. Am I going to experience it? Maybe death will be better than life. Furthermore, the serpent has said that, ‘You shall be like God, knowing good from evil.’” What he didn’t point out is that they would know evil experimentally, which was terrible. God knows it from the standpoint of His knowledge, but He has not experienced it in the sense that He did it.
So the serpent comes and he says, “If you participate, you will know good and evil and you will have enlightenment.” And, if she didn’t eat she would always wonder what it would have been like if she had eaten it. It was that curiosity that made her decide to say “yes” to the serpent. Eve has many, many sisters and many, many daughters.
I remember counseling a young woman who was trying to overcome the effects of a sexual relationship. Now suddenly she was awash with all of the guilt, all of the regret, all of the shame and all of the implications. And I remember she said that this man asked her and then asked her again and she said, “No.” But then she began to think, “If I don’t, I am always going to wonder what it would have been like.” And so because of that she gave in. Curiosity was at work here in the text.
Eve was deceived, the Bible says, apparently a genuine deception. And by the way, how was she deceived? She was deceived by thinking that the words of the serpent were more important than the words of God. That’s a whole different sermon about deception among false prophets and false prophecies where they confuse the word of Satan and the Word of God. But we must hurry on.
The Bible says that, “Adam ate willingly.” It says in the New Testament that he was not deceived. He knew that this was wrong. He knew that some of the consequences were going to be disastrous. Isn’t that a picture of some of us? Some of us are deceived and so we are lured into certain situations that turn out to be wrong. Others of us are willingly deceived. We long to be deceived so that we can do what we want to do. We long for deception.
And of course in the midst of this it is the human mind that comes along to justify now what the heart does. All of us basically at the end of the day are desire driven. We say to ourselves, “Oh no, no. My lifestyle is a matter of rationality.” Very probably your lifestyle is based on desires, and then your mind becomes a slave to these desires. Then your mind has to rationalize what you’ve done so that you can live with yourself and live with your conscience. So the mind comes along and says, “Oh well, everybody’s doing it. Furthermore, it isn’t really my fault, it’s her fault. It’s somebody else’s fault, not me.”
You can see this even in the text with Adam and Eve. “Therefore, I’m not to be blamed and I’m just fine the way I am, thank you very much.” We refuse to see ourselves as we are because our mind now has rationalized everything. And those rationalizations become deep and lasting, and we are entrenched by them until God helps us to see the truth.
Now interestingly and very importantly, Eve had no way of predicting the consequences of her action. She thought to herself, “Well you know the consequences are within my power. If I eat and I don’t like it and something happens, hey, we’re still in paradise!” She didn’t know that, did she? Only God knew the consequences.
She couldn’t foresee the future. She couldn’t foresee wicked Assyrians and their brutality of raping men, women, and children in the early centuries of history. She couldn’t foresee that. She couldn’t foresee the Holocaust. She couldn’t foresee the Turks in genocide wiping out the Armenians. She couldn’t foresee the unhappy marriages. She couldn’t foresee the horrid sex trade. And yet in a sense all of these decisions were entailed by the decision that this couple was going to make, because from now on, all children born will be born with the taint of original sin.
Some people deny original sin. I think it was Chesterton who said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would deny the doctrine of original sin. It is the only doctrine that can be proven every day by reading the newspaper.” Isn’t that true? She couldn’t have foreseen that. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful or a lot better from our standpoint if she had just decided to believe God and trust Him, that His way was best? But she had to find it out for herself, and the devastation is evident.
Now that we have the background, the next question is what does God do about this? What is God’s response? Well, the first thing God does is that He curses the serpent and then He makes a promise in verse fifteen as he speaks to the serpent. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head and you shall strike his heel.”
This is the first prediction in the Bible about the coming of Jesus. The seed of the woman is going to crush the head of the serpent, and in this promise, there is a contrast of wounds. The seed of the woman will inflict upon the serpent a mortal wound. His head shall be crushed. Visualize a serpent or a snake and then visualize someone just taking their heel and grinding his head into the dust. That’s what Jesus will do.
But, the serpent in turn will think that he’s winning a victory. Jesus is on the cross and he thinks, “I’m winning this one! This is the end of Jesus.” Jesus rises up three days later, goes to heaven, sometime after that triumphant, and all that the devil was able to do was to nip his heel, a temporary wound. That’s the best the serpent could do.
God is saying right here in this text that redemption is going to be a matter of conflict and suffering, and the seed of the woman will overcome the seed of the serpent. So that’s the first thing God does.
Then he curses the environment. But first of all, verse sixteen. “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’” This is a very difficult verse to interpret, and you have various commentators struggling with the meaning.
What’s going on here in the text is not a good thing. That’s why some translations say, “Your desire shall be against your husband.” It is the prediction of marital conflict. The brutality and insensitivity of men throughout the centuries is a reminder of the curse and the conflict between the sexes.
And then the Lord says also of Adam, “Adam, because you listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten from the tree, cursed is the ground because of you.” What God is saying is that it is impossible for sinful man now to work in a sinless environment; therefore, the environment is going to be cursed. When you plant seeds the weeds are also going to grow up.
It says in verse nineteen, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, for dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Life is going to be difficult; earning a living is going to be a real sacrifice, things are going to work against you, and the environment is going to work against you. You are going to have to overcome it. Conflict now is going to become a part of the human experience. All that happened as a result of sin. So God says, “First of all, I am going to give you a promise.
Secondly, I am cursing your environment. You yourself are under the curse. You are under the judgment because of what happened and your offspring also will be. But in addition to that,” God says, “I am going to show you some mercy. There is going to be mercy available in your situation.”
I need to ask you a question today. Most people think that God had a plan A. Plan A was that man wouldn’t sin. In fact, I heard a sermon sent to me once entitled, “God the Gambler.” The message went like this: “God gambled that Adam and Eve wouldn’t sin. Then when He lost the gamble He upped the ante and He sent Jesus. And maybe nobody would believe on Jesus, but God is constantly gambling.” I have no idea what Bible he’s reading, and if he’s reading it I don’t know whether or not he believes it.
You read the New Testament and you discover that God was not gambling. I’m going to say this and I know it’s going to raise a lot of questions in your mind. It was read today in our Scripture reading, and you do read the Scripture reading when it is read, don’t you? God from eternity past chose us in Him from before the foundation of the world that we should walk in love. It says in 2 Timothy chapter one, verse nine, “Jesus Christ loved us and saved us in the mind of God from all eternity.” Wow!
The scheme was known to God, and looked at properly, it was part of His eternal purpose. God created the lamb that was slain for the foundation of the world that He might redeem. This was not a surprise to God. God was not in heaven saying, “Well you know I was hoping that they’d obey. What do I do now?” If that’s your God, it’s not the God of the Bible. I know of course that raises objections. We have with us today some motor boaters. You know motor boaters, “Yeah, but, but, but, but…” We have free will, you say? There was some graffiti that was spray painted unto a subway in Pittsburgh that says, “Humpty Dumpty was pushed.” Was he pushed?
For our purposes today let’s simply say that Eve undoubtedly did exactly what she wanted to do – she followed her desires. And yet God knew, God understood, and God was more than ready. Now notice the mercy that He shows. He gives a promise, He curses Adam and Eve along with the environment, but notice what it says in verse twenty-one: “The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” If you are in the habit of underlining your Bible, that is one verse to underline, to ponder and to think about – God’s mercy.
Now the Scripture says earlier that they clothed themselves with fig leaves. What was wrong with fig leaves? If you had lots of them you could make dresses and shirts. You could make all kinds of nice clothing with fig leaves. But God says two things in this verse that are critical. The first is that when it comes to sin, the soul that sins will die. That is a basic principal.
If you are to be forgiven and if your shame is to be covered and your sins are to be taken away and no longer held against you, first of all you need someone to die in your place. Fig leaves can be taken from a bush, they can grow back, they are basically inanimate, and they don’t qualify to cover you. It has to be an animal. Because without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins, and this animal now becomes a type of the coming of Jesus Christ who is going to die, who is going to shed His blood. If we are to be exempt from our sins someone had to die for us. That’s why the Bible says, “Jesus died for sinners.” He shed his blood that we might be covered and that our sin might not be held against us.
Secondly, notice in the text God says, “The Lord God made the clothes for Adam and Eve.” God says, “Adam and Eve, if you are to be properly covered so that I will accept you, you need to realize that only I can supply the clothes that you need.” Yes, later on they were instructed to kill their own animals which were symbolic of Jesus Christ. But right from the beginning God was saying, “If you are to be covered, if your shame is to be hidden and your sins forgiven, then the truth is that I am going to have to supply the clothes.”
And in Jesus He did just that! Who’s responsible for the death of Jesus? Herod? Yes. Pilate? Yes. The Jews? Yes. All of us? Yes. But God is also responsible. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him,” and He was offered as a lamb slain by the predetermined council of God, Paul tells us. And so it is God in Jesus who supplies the clothes, the righteousness of Jesus Christ by which we may be clothed, symbolically speaking, so that we can be forgiven, cleansed and welcomed into God’s presence.
That’s why David says, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered.” Only God can do it. And the difference between Christianity and all the other religious options out there are fig leaves on the one hand, the best that you can do to cover yourself, and what God supplies on the other hand in Jesus. So God says, “I am going to show you mercy.”
Also very quickly, they were expelled from paradise. You’ll notice it says, “The Lord God says, ‘Man has become like us knowing good and evil. Now lest he reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and live forever – therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden.” Verse 24, “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim to keep every way so that would not participate and eat of the tree of life.”
You see, if they had gone back to the garden and eaten of the tree of life they’d have lived forever. God says, “I am preventing you from doing that. If you were to live forever as sinners working in this world, what a horrid existence, with all of its disease, with all of its struggles - that would be a condemnation that would be too much.”
God instead provides a gift. God says, “I am going to protect the tree of life and I am going to give you a gift. The gift is called death, so that there will be a way out of your misery, so that the transformation of salvation that we understand as the Scriptures unfold will be given to us.” We will no longer be confined to this earthly body, with its tuberculosis, with its cancer, with its pain and its hurt. God says, “I am going to prevent you from living forever because that would be awful.” So they are out of the garden.
Guess what? There is no return to paradise. You can’t go back to innocence and you can’t pretend that the Fall didn’t happen. You can’t go back in life and say, “I’ll pray like the teenager prayed, ‘Lord, I pray that this accident I’ve just had may not have happened.’” It’s too late; you can’t go back.
Well, this is a series of messages on making the best of a bad decision. So, why should our lives be changed from what I’ve told you so far? Let me give you some lessons and some understandings that I hope will help you in your need. First of all, it’s clear that God begins where we are and not where we wish we were. God is going to begin to work in Adam and Eve’s lives, but no longer in paradise. He’s going to begin His work right where they are. There is no return to paradise, no return to innocence.
Some time ago I was riding on a plane and sitting next to a young woman who began to tell me her story. She told me, “I’m pregnant and I’m on my way to visit my sister to get my head together to know whether or not I should marry the father of my child.” We talked for possibly an hour, and as we talked I could see her heartache. Her pastor of course thought she should marry this young man. I of course had no special insight at all, because oftentimes those marriages do not work out very well. But of course, I didn’t know her, nor do I know the young man. One of the things she said is this: “I wish that he would marry me for all of the right reasons and not just because I’m pregnant.” I thought, “I understand what you’re saying, young lady.”
But you know what? There is no return to paradise. There is no return to innocence. I say to you today that there is no return to your virginity once it has been lost. Today I speak to somebody who says, “Well, you know, I made this huge mistake marrying the person I did.” And by the way the third message in this series is going to be on living with a foolish vow. You might want to bring your friends to that as well. But I can imagine somebody saying, “You know I just made a mistake.” Yeah, you made a mistake and Adam and Eve made a mistake. But you know what? You can’t undo what you’ve done. You can’t go back to paradise and you can’t go back to innocence.
What does God do? He begins to work right where we are and not where we wish we were. You can’t go back to those teenage years where you wish you would have made all of the right decisions. It’s too late for that. Here you are today with all kinds of histories that you wish you could change, but you can’t change them. God comes to us right in the middle of our dilemma, right in the pain of life, facing all of those wrong decisions. God says, “I am going to begin where you are at. And that’s why everyone listening to this message, God wants to begin in your life exactly where you are. Paradise is closed to you.
Secondly, God begins with restoring fellowship, which is very important. God begins with restoring fellowship but not canceling the consequences. The consequences of their sin are just going to boomerang. They touched a series of dominos and those dominos are going to fall, and they’re still falling today in my life and yours. But God says, “I want to restore fellowship and we will deal with the consequences later. They will not be canceled.” Wow, this is tough stuff. When Adam and Eve were clothed with these skins and garments God says, “Now that you are properly dressed I can walk with you again in the cool of the day. We can have fellowship now because your sin and shame is covered. But the consequences are going to go on in your family.”
Just imagine Eve. She gives birth to a little baby boy and they name him Cain. They look at this baby and she says, “He looks just like I do.” Adam looks at him and says, “You know, when he smiles he looks like I do.” Of course, they really didn’t know how they looked since they didn’t have mirrors. But we can imagine all of this is going on and she nurses him and says, “I have gotten a man from the Lord. God gave me this son.”
Cain grows up and murders his brother Abel. Talk about the quintessential of a dysfunctional family. It’s not a new idea–a new word maybe, but not a new idea. Yes, Abel is the proper man because he offers the right sacrifice; it’s a blood sacrifice. Cain gives the fruit of the ground. It’s something like, “Here are my fig leaves, Lord.” God rejects Cain and God accepts Abel, and the jealousy becomes a torment for Cain and he kills his brother Abel.
He’s the kind of guy who kills his brother, leaves him dying on the side of the road, walks away, and then feels sorry for himself. And there are still people like that right now living. Some of you know people like that. They can stab you, walk away, and then feel sorry for themselves. This is all there in the text. But God says to Adam and Eve, “In the midst of this failure, you and Adam can walk with me. In the midst of the curse, in the midst of the mistakes, through it all you will see my loving hand.”
Well there’s another lesson, and I don’t know how to phrase it. I was working on it even this morning to get it right. After I talk about it I think you will understand what I mean. God begins by working now also through the consequences. Or we could say that God begins long-term, that’s one of the ideas I had in my mind. God works within the situation, maybe that’s the best way to put it. He works from within the situation and not from outside the situation.
Now all throughout history what you are going to see is this conflict. There is going to be the curse, there’s going to be the sin, and alongside of it there’s always going to be grace. There is also going to be mercy and triumph, and the two are going to march through all the pages of history. God says, “Rather than exempting you from the consequences I will help you in the midst of those consequences to develop within you things that you couldn’t experience if I simply kept taking you out of your predicament.”
We think for example of young women sometimes pressured into having an abortion by a husband, by parents, or by a boyfriend. “We made this mistake and let’s just take care of it. We don’t want the sin, we don’t want the shame, and we don’t want anybody to know. Just go and take care of it. Get us out of this situation.”
I think for example of a man by the name of Felix Manz. Felix Manz is somewhat of a hero of mine because he was willing to die for his faith way back in the 1600s in Switzerland. On five or six occasions. I have stood at the Barat house in Zurich where the drowning occurred. What they did is they tied his hands and they shoved him out on a little boat and they made it capsize. And the voice of his mother was heard above the waves urging her son to remain true to the faith.
And by the way, what was he dying for? He believed that one should be baptized upon profession of faith rather than infant baptism. The Zurich city council says that anyone who believes that has to be drowned either by fire or killed with a sword. We take religious freedom for granted, don’t we? That’s what it cost in those days for your convictions.
Why do I mention him? I’m sure that if he had been born in our generation or conceived in our generation he might have been aborted, because he was conceived out of wedlock. He lived with a lot of shame in those days, but he is a hero of mine. I could stand here today and I could tell you stories of people whom you know who are in Christian service today who were conceived out of wedlock.
However, God in the midst of sin and the curse, the mistakes, the regrets and challenges, alongside all of that He gives mercy, grace, forgiveness, and help. There He is taking our messes and turning them into something beautiful. God has been doing that ever since Adam and Eve were in existence.
And the same God who helped them is the same God who helps us. You’re here today and you say, “I have a bad marriage. Where is the escape hatch? What are the requirements for me to get out of this?” God may be saying to you, “You know what? I want you to stay where you are.” Of course, as you’ve heard me say many times before, if there is abuse get help.
But still at the same time what God says is, “Rather than exempting you from the consequences, I am going to work in and through and in spite of, and against the consequences. And my purposes shall be accomplished in your life in a way that you could not possibly predict.” Because the God of Adam and Eve is our God, and He can help you right where you are at, with everything you have brought to this service today.
Let us pray. “Father, we want to thank You today that in Your grace and in Your love You have saved us. We thank You that sin and all of its horridness is neither a surprise to You nor are You inadequate to be able to deal with it. In this series of messages would You grant us the faith, the grace, and the strength to believe that You are here, right where we are seated? Someone driving a car listening to this, someone sitting in their home listening, right where we are, there is where Your grace comes. Help us to receive it we ask, in Jesus’ name.”
Do you have to talk to God by the way? Let’s just take a moment and give you time to do that. “Father, hear the heart cries of all who listened, and help us because we are needy. We’re so prone to deception and we are prone to do our own thing. Would You come to us in power? Show us Your grace and your glory we ask, in Jesus’ name, Amen.”