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What Is God Up To?

The Casualty Of Mankind

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 4, 1990

Selected highlights from this sermon

Satan deceived Adam and Eve causing the fall of mankind. The consequences continue to ravage our world. 

But God’s purposes have not been thwarted. Humanity was created for His pleasure, and He is still redeeming lowly sinners and lavishing them with His goodness—and will do so for all eternity.   

Now as you know, my topic is What Is God Up To? This is the third in a series of messages on that topic, and I need to ask you what is God up to? In the first message we spoke about the immensity of God when He was alone, all the greatness of the Almighty, and His decision to create. Then in the second message we spoke about Lucifer, the highest of God’s creation, falling into rebellion, and setting up rivalry in the universe, and God’s moral superiority always showing with incredible clarity that no human being or divinely created being (an angel or a human being) can resist God and win.

But today’s topic is man, the casualty. How does he fit into all of this? Now you must understand that God, as I mentioned last time, gave to Satan the ability to still rule the world. He said, “Satan, you are going to have all your power.” That’s why Christ called him The Prince of the Power of the Air, the spirit that works in disobedience.

But now God begins to take man and he plunks him down in the middle of Satan’s territory. Turn to Genesis 1 if you would, and we’re going to see exactly what God says after He created man. Can you imagine the conflict that is being set up with this arrangement that God has?

It says in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Can you imagine what Satan is thinking? Here he is responsible for the earth, and right in the middle of the earth God puts man and says, “Take charge.” I’m sure that Satan was angry, thinking to himself, “Who is this puny man that he is going to be my rival, that he is going to usurp dominion over the earth from me?” You can see the hatred and the animosity on Satan’s part.

Let me ask you this question: who was this man who God created? What can we say about him? First of all, we know that he has a body so that he relates to the animal world, that is to say he needs food and drink, and he needs air. All of us do. We have bodies that need to be taken care of. But God also created mankind with a spirit. That is to say that we as human beings can relate to God. God can have fellowship with us and we can have fellowship with God. And that’s why we read that in the garden the Lord God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. Furthermore we can say of man that he is for a brief time lower than the angels. It says in Hebrews 2 that if you are going to rank the beings, then man is for a little while lower than the angels. He doesn’t have as much power. He doesn’t have as much authority. He’s created in the image of God. He has mind. He has emotion. And he has will. And because of his image of God within him, he is constantly thinking of eternal things. At least they cross his mind and he is thinking about Almighty God. That’s what we can say about man.

But let’s turn to Genesis 3, and we’re going to find out what happened now. It’s in Genesis 3 where Satan enters into the picture. It says, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” We think to ourselves, “Well, surely Adam and Eve would have been afraid of the devil, afraid of the serpent.” Remember that in those days before the fall the serpent was undoubtedly a very beautiful being. And I assume that there were all kinds of animals there in the garden because God had said to Adam and Eve, “Take care of the garden and usurp authority over the animals,” so they were not afraid by the serpent speaking to them. “And the serpent said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”’”

Now I want you to notice how Satan comes to her. First of all, he comes as an animal, and they were supposed to have authority over animals, but they didn’t. But nevertheless, one of these lesser beings traps them up. First of all, he comes with doubt. He casts doubt upon the Word of God. He says, “Has God really said this? Have you heard Him correctly? Has He said that you are not supposed to eat of every tree that there is in the garden?” And the woman said, “Well, we may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden, but there is one that we’re not supposed to eat from.”

Notice that in his doubt what he does is he gets Adam and Eve to forget about all of the trees that they could eat from and he zeroes in on the one that they couldn’t eat from, and he magnifies the one negative in the face of hundreds of positives. So he comes with doubt, and then he comes with a promise. And those of you who have read the book that I co-authored on the New Age Movement know that he comes with four lies that are basically the basis of the New Age Movement that we hear so much about today – the Shirley MacLaine’s and the others who are into all of the New Age techniques.

Notice what the lies are. In fact, I think in verse 4 maybe he wasn’t speaking to Eve. He was speaking directly already to Shirley MacLaine, because my translation says, “You, Shirley, shall not die.” (laughter) You’ll notice that that’s reincarnation. Shirley MacLaine says you just keep going around in life. Nobody really dies. You keep getting recycled. You go around as many times as you need to, to get it right. That’s the first lie – reincarnation.

Second, he says, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened.” That’s esotericism. You can have a transformation of consciousness. You can have a vision of light. You eyes will be opened, and that’s what the New Age Movement teaches. You can perceive reality in a new way, especially if you have a drug experience or if you learn how to meditate.

“And you will be like God.” There’s pantheism. God is all and all is God. And that’s why Shirley MacLaine can run onto Malibu Beach, shouting, “I’m God, I’m God, I’m God.” Charles Colson says, “Aren’t you glad she’s wrong?”

And then notice it says, “You will know good from evil.” That’s relativism. Without any consulting of God, you are going to be able to distinguish good from evil. He uses lies.

Okay. First of all you have doubt, and then you have all these promises. You won’t die. This will happen to you. This will happen to you, and you are going to come out on the good end of the stick.

Now you know the rest of the story. When the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eyes, and a tree that was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate, and she gave it also to her husband with her, and he also ate. It was very important that the woman sin first. And the reason is because if Adam had sinned first and then the woman participated she’d say, “Well, I’m just obeying my husband. I’m just trying to be a good wife.” So what the serpent did was he went to her first. If he could convince her and then her husband was in agreement, and the Bible says that he participated knowing full well that he was eating in rebellion, she, perhaps, was deceived, but he wasn’t. But they ate together and sin entered into the human race. And no matter what Adam and Eve would do from now on, no matter how they would regret what had happened, the fact was that certain consequences were set in motion that were absolutely inevitable, and there was nothing that they could do to reverse those consequences. They could weep, they could pray, they could wish that they could relive their situation in life, but they would not be given that opportunity to do so. Sin had entered and it was there in the human race to stay.

Now always remember that God knew exactly what would happen when they would disobey, but of course, they didn’t. That’s the nature of humanity. We don’t see the future, do we? All that Eve could see was the tree that was good for food, and she thought that it would make her wise. She didn’t realize the awful consequences, nor did Adam. They did not know that someday there would be a war in the world where 50 million people would be brutally killed. They didn’t know that. They didn’t know that sin was going to produce that. They didn’t know that there would be a country called the United States in which 33,000 people every single day contract some form of venereal disease. They didn’t know that. They didn’t know that the time would come when children would be rejected by their parents, that some of them would be beaten and thrown out and abused. And they didn’t know that people would not be able to get along together because of sin, so that you would have a high divorce rate and the tearing of children’s emotions. They didn’t foresee all that, did they? God did, but they didn’t. They thought that for one brief moment they knew better than He, because after all Satan says, “If you eat, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God. You are going to profit from rebellion.”

Let me tell you that one of the things that God is up to proving is that nobody, whether it is an angel or a human being, can ever profit from rebellion against God. It is always counterproductive, and God always wins. There is no such thing as sin ever being profitable or helpful to somebody. There of necessity needs to be negative consequences, but they couldn’t foresee that.

I heard a story about a company that was responsible for building, and you know that when you are in the building trade one of the things you do is always get bids, so you ask somebody to bid on a particular project, and if their bid comes in lower than the other person’s, and the bids have to be secret, you generally choose the one who is lower, all other things being equal.

Well, there was this company, and there was a contractor who was making bids, and he walked into the office of the boss, and nobody was around. He looked on the desk and he noticed that the bid of his competitor was lying open on the boss’s desk. All that he would need to do was to see what his competitor bid, and then change his bid to come in a little lower, and he’d have this fantastic opportunity for work, which involved a lot of money. But there was only one little problem, and that is that right on the figure on the application there was a can of pop – right there. The man didn’t know what he should do. He paced the floor. Nobody seemed to be around. He thought to himself, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to just look very quickly under that can of pop and then put it down, and I’ll see what my competitor bid.” So what he did was he took the can of pop, lifted it like this, with the intention of putting it down, and hundreds of bb’s spilled out onto the desk and rolled onto the floor. I wonder how he explained that.

But you see, it is in the very same way that Satan has set up a trap. He has set up traps and people do not understand the consequences. Adam and Eve had a whole series of dominoes. They didn’t know that those dominoes were set up. It was like dominoes in the night, and they sinned.

Now what were the consequences of the fall? First of all, man became independent. It is not that he became attached to Satan in such a way that Satan always controlled him, though Satan desired that, but in taking his stand against God and joining the devil in rebellion, man could now do his own thing. It says in Isaiah 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one - to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him (on Christ) the iniquity of us all.” But notice this: “We have turned – every one - to his own way.” Everybody’s doing his own thing. And just like sheep are sometimes deceived because they take false paths, in the very same way, human beings take false paths. They think that this is going to bring happiness, this is going to bring fulfillment, this will produce what I’m really after, and they take all of these paths and they do their own things, and eventually they discover that all of these paths end up in destruction and ruin. They are lost.

Human beings without God are lost. They are not only lost, but they are confused because they think that they might be on the right path, because for some people there is some happiness in the world. There is some satisfaction in getting ahead. There is some satisfaction in pleasure, and they think to themselves, “Surely I am doing my own thing and it is profitable.” And so they are deceived. That’s one of the consequences of the fall. Man becomes independent, but he pays dearly for that independence, which of necessity must end in ruin. Not only is man independent, but also he is isolated. He’s isolated from God. The Scripture says, “In the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die.”

Was God’s Word true, or was it not? Well, Adam woke up the next morning and he could see the sun rise. Had he died? He didn’t die physically, though the process began at that time, but he died spiritually. He was cut off from God. It was like taking a light bulb and pulling the switch. Suddenly the light in man had gone out. No longer was the Lord walking with them in the cool of the day. No longer was there fellowship with God. Now man was on his own in moral and spiritual darkness, and he had to do the very best that he could.

So he was isolated from God. He was isolated from others. Immediately you have shame and guilt and greed and anger, and all of these things that the human heart is so full of began to take place at this moment. You know, of course, that Adam and Eve had a number of children. The two most famous, that we know about, are Cain and Abel. And if you were to read the fourth chapter of Genesis, you know that Abel was a righteous man, and Cain was envious of the fact that God loved Abel. And Cain killed Abel. And so, ever since that time, other families as well have been raising Cain. And what you find is this kind of hatred and animosity within family structures and within the world so that people in business are cut off from one another. Some of you are in businesses where you cannot trust competitors. You cannot trust those with whom you work because you know that in some of their moments they will be undercutting you. All of the iniquity of the human heart! Satan always destroys. Sin can never unify. It can only break apart. It can only build walls.

And then man is even separated from himself. That’s why you have 25,000 people a year committing suicide in the United States. It’s because you have all these people who cannot even stand to live with themselves. They cannot stand to live with the sense of guilt, the failure, the sense of frustration, the hurt of rejection. It becomes too much for them and so they take their lives. All that because of sin! So you have such things as man becoming independent. With serious consequences he becomes isolated and he becomes very, very insecure, and I’ll tell you why.

You see, because we are created in the image of God, every single one of us needs to have a good sense of self-worth. We really do. We need a sense of dignity, a feeling that we have value in the universe. That is built into us because God put eternity in our hearts. He gave us a sense of value because we are created in His image. And we desperately need that in order to function. But, you see, without God where can man get this sense of value and self-worth? Where can it come from? The only place it can come from is, number one, the opinion of other people, so that if others think that you are great, it gives you a sense of value, a feeling of worthwhileness, and you get your strokes. And that’s why you have so many people who attain status and want power. It’s because what others think of them becomes very, very important. That’s their only sense of dignity – the opinion of other people.

The only other place where they can get that kind of satisfaction is in what they do. But you see, the problem is that God has put eternity in our hearts, we read in the Bible, and we’re frustrated at every turn. We are frustrated because, first of all, there are so many people who may speak well of us for a time and then turn against us. That’s part of the reason. So you see, our self-worth is constantly fluctuating in accordance with the opinions of others, which fluctuate. And if you were brought up in a home where you were told that you were no good, or that you were dumb, or that you wouldn’t relate, or you wouldn’t be able to achieve anything, can you imagine how destructive this is upon you, because your first opinion of who you are is determined essentially by what your parents say of you? And that’s why there are some of you who have struggles – deep struggles. It’s because that’s what happened when sin entered into the universe. The opinion we have of ourselves is largely determined, at least early in life, by what others think and say about us. But even if we were raised in good homes, even if we have a strong self-image, even if we have been affirmed, there is another problem. Eventually death will come and ruin all of our sense of significance and self-worth. It suddenly comes and it’s all gone, and we say to ourselves, “What was the purpose of life anyway?”

Pierre Berton, an atheist in Canada, who is known both for his fame as well as for his wealth because of a television program that he used to have, came down from a studio, and was standing in the lobby of a hotel in Toronto and said to one of his friends, “I’m becoming an old man, and this is all there is.” This is all there is. I’ve got it all – wealth and fame, but this is it.

I want to tell you something today. The life without God is nothing but confusion and emptiness, and I want you to understand that it is necessary that it be so. You know that it is difficult to make sense out of life, if you are not a believer. It is as difficult to make sense out of it all as children who are in a nursery trying to spell the word GOD with blocks, but they’ve got the wrong ones. They’ve got blocks with the wrong letters. That’s how frustrating and impossible it is to find meaning without God. It cannot be done. It cannot be done logically, and it cannot be done existentially.

So man fell. He became independent. He became isolated. He became insecure, and all that you need to do is to read today’s headlines to know the disastrous consequences of sin.

But I’ve entitled this series What Is God Up To? So what IS God up to? Why the fall? Why all this heartache? Why all this set-up in the Garden of Eden, if you please? Why one tree where man could disobey? Why was Satan allowed into the Garden, and not confined to another planet so that Adam and Eve would be left to make up their own minds about whether or not they wanted to sin without outside interference? Why, why, why? What is God up to?

I want to remind you that one of the purposes that God has in mind is to display His attributes. I hope that you don’t take offense at the fact that God wants to glorify Himself, and He is worthy and has the right because He is God, and we are creatures whom He created. What does it say in the book of Revelation – chapter 4, verse 11? “For His pleasure we are and we were created.” I hope that doesn’t offend you. You can become angry and say, “Well, if that’s the kind of God He is, then I don’t want to have anything to do with Him.” You can do that and lose, or you can submit to His authority and win.

But turn to Ephesians 2 for just a moment. Ephesians chapter 2 in the New Testament is a beautiful illustration not only of the fall, but also of what God intends to do. This is what is says in verses 1 to 3: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (There you have it. God pulled the switch when Adam sinned.) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, (and this is a description now of man without God) carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Well that’s an ugly picture. Dead toward God, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, by nature children of wrath! But notice verses 4 through 7: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

There you have it. Look at this. I’ve just described fallen man, and it’s not a pretty picture. Fallen man is one who is alienated. He is separated. He is full of passions and lusts and desires that he cannot control. He is cut off from God, and there are walls between people and arguments and hatred. And in the midst of that mess, God stoops down and does a miracle.

Notice that it says that God made us alive. He turns the switch back on. The switch was turned off in Adam, and as a result we are all born, in effect, with our switches off, if I can put it that way. We are born under the condemnation of sin, and when we respond to Jesus Christ, we discover that God puts us back in fellowship. So God walks with us again in the cool of the day, and we know what it’s like to have fellowship with Him that becomes so consuming that we do not want to do anything else. We don’t want to miss our time of fellowship with God. What an honor to walk with the Almighty and to be able to say that we are His friend, and that we are walking with the King of kings and the Lord of lords! What an honor!

It says in the Bible that Enoch walked with God. And we can walk with God again. There is a restoration of fellowship. But notice that not only does it say that God made us alive. That would be a tremendous message, but it’s better than that. He raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Jesus Christ. Talk about honor! I spoke a moment ago about the fact that all of us desire dignity. We want self-worth. We want to feel valuable. We want significance, and death always keeps cutting that off. Here we find in the text that God places us in such a position of honor that we are seated with His Son.

Did you notice at the beginning of the message I said that man was for a little while lower than the angels? That’s what it says in Hebrews 2, but it’s just for a little while. The time is coming when we are going to be exalted above the angels. We will never have the power and the ability that angels have, but we will have greater honor. No angel ever gets to be an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. No angel ever gets to sit with Jesus Christ on the right hand of God the Father in heavenly places. That’s why for a little while we are lower than the angels. But eventually we are exalted above the angels, and not only that, we strive for permanence, don’t we? That’s why we all think about what we’d like to have on our tombstones. We would like somebody to remember us after we are gone, and they do for maybe six months or a year, but then it’s over.

But notice this in verse 7: “In order that in the ages to come (we’re talking about eternity) He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Jesus Christ.” Throughout all of eternity we are going to be honored. We are going to have dignity. We’re going to have value. And to what can we ascribe this amazing turn of events? Grace! Verse 8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith.”

What is God up to in the world? One of the things that God wants to do is to show how He can take the lowest and make him or her the highest. He wants to show His ability to take a mess, to take people who have all of the descriptions that are given in the first part of the chapter, and they inherit all of the blessings that are listed here in the text of Scripture. He wants to show how He can take all of the sinners who believe in Jesus Christ and turn them into saints, and how He can take our predicament and make it into Paradise, so that throughout all of the ages He might show the surpassing riches of His grace. That’s one of the things that God is up to in the universe. It’s not the only thing, but that’s one of the things that He’s up to.

Now you know, of course, that this text is limited to those who believe in Jesus Christ. I wish I could say that God is going to take all of the people of the world, no matter who they are, no matter what religion they are, and no matter what they believe, and in the end He is going to raise them up and they are going to be seated with Jesus Christ in heavenly places. My dear friend, not only can I not say that, but more than that, it is clear that only a few people comparatively speaking are going to have this privilege. Percentagewise there are going to be few.

Jesus said that there are two roads. There is the broad way that leads to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat. And then there is the narrow that leads to life, and few there be that find it. Why so few? Is it because the requirements are so difficult? No, it’s not because they are so difficult except that they become difficult when you begin to think through the implications.

It says in verse 8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” It is a gift of God, but it is limited to those who are willing to admit their sinfulness. And that’s really hard to do, isn’t it? It’s really hard to admit failure.

I was at a conference recently where the man in charge said, “I want all the pastors who are present who have ever lost people in their churches to raise their hands.” Well, he was talking to a group of pastors (we were all pastors) so we all timidly put up our hands. He said, “Come on. Put them high.” And so we all raised our hands. It’s so hard to admit failure, isn’t it? It’s so hard to admit our sinfulness and our shortcomings, but that’s who receives the grace of God. It is limited to those who admit their sinfulness and then stop trying to impress God with their good works, but transfer their trust wholly to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, without any thought that they are contributing to what Jesus Christ did on the cross, understanding the magnitude of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, trusting Him alone, getting saved, and realizing that Jesus Christ does all this for those who receive His grace.

It’s appropriate, isn’t it, that we think of John Newton, the slave trader who committed all kinds of sin – immorality and murder. In fact, I think it was he who was giving a prize to people to think of some sin that he had not yet committed. And then when he got saved, he wrote the song that all of us sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found.
Was blind but now I see.

That’s what Ephesians chapter 2 is all about, and that’s what God is up to, taking people who are blind and lost and confused and unsure of themselves and frustrated, and giving them life and exalting them, and giving them the privilege of being called an heir of God and joint heir with Jesus Christ. I’d say that that’s lots for sinners. Wouldn’t you?

The amazing grace of God! Have you responded to it? Have you, in your heart, said, “Lord Jesus, be my Savior; I trust you now,” giving up dependence upon your good works, you religion, whatever it is, and trusting Him alone? Why don’t you do that right now, and join me as we pray?

Our Father, we thank You that even though man was such a great casualty in the fall, we thank You that You came along and You redeemed mankind. Christ died for sinners, and for that we thank You. And there may be some among us who have never believed in Him, never trusted Him, and said, “Lord Jesus, be my Savior.” Would You open their hearts to the truth at this moment, and give them the ability to receive Your love and Your grace?

I’m going to pause at this point, because there are some of you who need to talk to God in your heart, and why don’t you do that right now if you would? Just open your life to Him and say, “Lord Jesus, thank You for dying for me. I receive You now as my Savior. I trust You alone for my forgiveness and acceptance.” Tell Him that.

Thank You, Father, for hearing us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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