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The Tale of Two Trees

by Jeffrey Stivason • October 8, 2014 • has started a new podcast! This week's podcast features an interview with Dr. Nick Needham about the Fall. This article is also geared toward the theme of the Fall. Keep an eye out for more material related to the podcast, and make sure to follow along with the conversation!

When Adam stood in the Garden of Eden before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he was confronted with the absolute authority of God.  The command from God could not have been more clear, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16b-17).  But Adam failed to heed God’s precept.  He did not lead his wife and she led him to eat from the forbidden tree.  He disobeyed the absolute authority of God and became a rebel.  What is more, as his posterity we followed him in his revolt. We, like him, are guilty of and polluted by sin.

Scripture describes our condition as being dead in transgression (Ephesians 2:1).  Furthermore, Paul goes on to say that the only way to escape this death is by an act of resurrection.  If God does not make us alive we remain united to Adam in death.  We share in his guilt.  And we remain unable to please God.  It’s that simple. 

Let me give you two illustrations of what it looks like to be dead in transgression.  Roger Waters, one time bassist for the musical group Pink Floyd, gave an interview in 1992 and told this story, “In a way, grammar schools were still being run on pre-war lines, where you…did as you were told and kept your mouth shut, and we weren't prepared for any of that…. I remember one night about 10 of us went out, because we had decided that one guy - the man in charge of gardening - needed a lesson. He had one particular tree of Golden Delicious apples that was his pride and joy, which he would protect at all costs. We went into the orchard with stepladders and ate every single apple on the tree without removing any. So the next morning was just wonderful; we were terribly tired but filled with a real sense of achievement."  Did you hear – or should I say – read that?  Waters act of rebellion gave him a real sense of achievement!  That is what it is like to be dead in sin.

The second illustration is a familiar one.  It comes from Augustine’s Confessions.  By his own admission, Augustine was quite the rebel.  And he fell in with a group that encouraged his exploits.  He was the kind of youth that continued to press the envelope in order to impress his friends. One night he and his cohorts stole the fruit off a pear tree near Augustine's home. They didn't even eat the fruit.  In fact, Augustine had better fruit at home.  In the end, they threw their booty to the pigs.  Listen to how Augustine describes his thievery, “Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden…. [I] was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error -- not that for which I erred but the error itself.”  Augustine, before Waters, found that he too was a son of Adam. 

But the difference between these two men is not found in the retelling of their act of rebellion.  I have chosen these men because of the similarities in their story.  No, the difference is found in their later reflections.  Waters looked back on his act with a sense of achievement.  It was still satisfying to him but not so for Augustine.  He looked back on the act and said, “Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart -- which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there…”  And again, “A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself.”  Augustine saw his rebellious act as falling further away from the creator.  He understood that he was guilty and polluted and unable to please God. 

What was the difference?  How was it that Augustine came to see his actions as rebellion rather than as an act of achievement?

The answer is simple.  The Holy Spirit had brought life to a once spiritually dead Augustine and in so doing the Spirit brought his gaze to rest upon another tree – the tree upon which Christ was crucified.  Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree…” (Galatians 3:13).  In looking upon Christ, Augustine realized that his sins deserved the wrath and curse of God.  He understood that in Adam he stood guilty and because of sins pollution he was unable to satisfy the righteous requirements of the living God.  He no longer loved his sin.  How could he?  He now saw his Savior hanged on the tree bearing the curse for even the smallest of his sins.  How could he relish his sin as achievements?   How could he do anything but weep and behold the One who died for him?

But perhaps you too have seen this tree with this Man upon it.  Perhaps in looking upon Him you understand the odiousness of your sins.  You understand that it should have been you bearing the curse for your sins!  Yes, you understand but you are saying, “How can it be that God would accept His life for mine?”  Dear friend, this is the gracious plan of God.  The Scriptures tell us that God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  It is in Christ that we behold the mercy of God extended to us.  It is through the obedience of Christ, the second Adam that we partake of the life of which Adam the first failed to secure by his obedience.  Oh sinner, be neither despondent nor satisfied in your sin but rather look to the tree upon which the Prince of life died and there through faith and repentance find the blood that will cleanse the guilt and wash away the pollution. 


Jeffrey Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He has been serving the Lord as a minister of the Gospel since 1995 and has planted two churches during that time.

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