And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. (Genesis 3:7-10)
Far too often, Christians do not enjoy God. They believe in the Lord. They are active in church. In many cases, their life revolves around church. But they do not enjoy God. For too many Christians, the life of faith is cloudy and dismal, the duties are heavy and the rewards are light, and the Christian walk is more burden than blessing. We are afraid of God, afraid of messing up, afraid that we are a disappointment to God. We go through the motions of the Christian life. We approach our calling in Christ as if it were a job chart with no reward other than the fire escape at the end. Too many Christians have lost their joy in believing.
In order to understand this dynamic in the Christian life, I want to invite you back to the time in the history of the world when mankind first lost their joy in their walk with God.
In the beginning, man enjoyed every opportunity for fellowship with his Creator. Reading the creation account, especially Genesis 2, we recognize that God designed the world for the pleasure of mankind. From the special care God gave in creating man, to the garden God planted for him to enjoy, to the trees God made to grow out of the ground
every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…
To the river that went out of Eden to water the garden, to the gold of the land, to God’s gracious command to man
Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
Extending even to God’s gracious restriction
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
To His gracious provision of a suitable companion
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.
We understand that God intended for it to be this way always – a gracious God providing, a grateful man enjoying, delighting, fellowshipping with His God.
It should have remained this way. And it would have. Except that Adam sinned.
The Bible doesn’t attempt to make a direct connection between Adam’s sin and his desire to hide himself from God. You will notice that Genesis 3:7-10 states it almost as a coincidence – Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit; they realized that they were naked; they sowed fig leaves together; they heard the voice of God; they hid themselves. And when God asked why, you get the impression that they weren’t entirely sure of the answer.
From the 139th Psalm, we know that this is the natural response of the sinful soul to the presence of a holy God.
Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? (Psalm 139:7)
Sin makes us shrink from the presence of God. We naturally want to run and hide. It has been this way since man first sinned, and this response still has not changed. Nor will it. And this is because God is a holy God, and as unholy men, we have no place in His presence.
But our alienation from God is not the end of the story. God graciously provided a way so that sinful man could be reconciled to God, so that we might enjoy Him. After all, God created us for His pleasure. And though we in our flesh cannot please God, yet God has made a way for us to please Him.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:7-9)
For the born again Christian therefore, sin’s power to disrupt our unity with God need only be a temporal thing. So long as we indulge sin, we lose the joy of our salvation. But when we make use of God’s means of restoration, we find that God is very ready to receive us so that we might rejoice together with Him.
These are the facts of the Christian life, and they point out the way that we might enjoy God. Yet many Christians do not enjoy Him. One of the first reasons we do not enjoy God is because we carry too much sin.
As we work through this important doctrine, I want to consider how sin prevents us from enjoying God; then God’s provision for that sin so that we might enjoy God, and finally, what our response must be, so that we might enjoy God again.
First, consider how sin prevents us from enjoying God
When we sin, we seek something else – something that God has forbidden – in the place of God. The genesis of sin shows us the nature of the sinful heart itself. Every sin that has ever been committed since the foundation of the world has followed the same thought patterns, the same line of reasoning as Adam and Eve followed. Sin begins with a discontent, a nagging sense that God is withholding something good from us. Sin is the result of a failure to be satisfied with God, to be delighted with what He has provided, and to say, I need nothing else.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. (James 1:14)
Sin is so much worse than simply transgression of God’s law. At the heart of all sin is this discontent with God and a willful seeking of something that God has withheld from us – always for our own good.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. (Psalm 73:25)
Christians must learn to think of sin that way – as a failure to glorify God as God and be thankful. That attitude caused the first sin, and that attitude motivates every sin ever since.
Sin defiles our feelings, so that we feel exactly the opposite of what we should be feeling. We enjoy what is forbidden, so that we cannot enjoy what is provided. Sin corrupts our affections. It gives us a perverse love for what God has denied us. It causes us to delight in those things that God finds most hateful.
No wonder we cannot enjoy God while we indulge sin.
Sin sets us at odds with a holy God.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: (I John 1:6)
Sin will always do this. Be not deceived. God is not mocked.
We preach forgiveness and grace because that is the message of the Bible. But do not be deceived into thinking that forgiveness and grace means that God is in His dotage, that He winks at our sin or lets it slide. God cannot, God will not come to terms with sin. The cross sends that message clear and plain, for God poured out His wrath against sin in a glorious display of justice. God does not give sin a pass.
Why then do we tolerate sin? Why are we careless about our sin and think that God will be okay with it?
Second, consider what God has done to restore the joy of our salvation
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Psalm 51:7-12)
In the Garden when man sinned, God set the pattern for redemption. First, he provided a temporary covering for sin. Then He gave a promise for a permanent solution to man’s sin problem.
We are blessed to live under the New Covenant. There is no more need for the temporary covering provided in the Old, because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. Ultimately, we can enjoy God because of what we are, and because of what He does. We are redeemed, new creatures in Christ, washed, justified, sanctified in the name of Jesus, accepted in the beloved. We can have confidence in what God has made us through Christ.
We can have real confidence because of what Jesus does for us on a regular basis. He forgives us. If we walk in the light, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (I John 1:7)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)
God has graciously provided His Holy Spirit to indwell the believer, so that we might enjoy the closest possible fellowship with Himself. The indwelling Holy Spirit provides us with greater intimacy with God than was ever offered to man under the Old Covenant. And the indwelling Holy Spirit gives us the means for overcoming our sin, thus removing more of the reason why we don’t enjoy God – so that we can enjoy Him more.
But this points out another problem, if we indulge sin. The Holy Spirit is just that – a Holy Spirit. And He does not tolerate sin. To seek high emotional states while living in sin is to throw our whole life open to self-deception and the judgment of God. “Be ye holy” is not a mere motto to be framed and hung on the wall. It is a serious commandment from the Lord of the whole earth.”
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. (James 4:8-9)
Third, consider what we must do so that we might enjoy God again
Practically, we know that we cannot “continue in sin that grace may abound.” Present sin robs us of the joy of our salvation. Therefore, we must stop sinning. Every sin we indulge – and besetting sins become indulged sin unless we fight against them – is the result of a failure to glorify God as God.
There must be a submission of our will to the Holy Spirit of God. Naming our sins and forsaking them is not enough. We must surrender our will to the Lord. That was Adam and Eve’s fault in the garden. The unsurrendered will is a will that always seeks sinful indulgences.
The hymn writer prayed, “Breathe on me, breath of God, until my heart is pure, until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.” The surrendered will goes much further than mere resistance to temptation or even a mere forsaking of sin. The surrendered will longs for God to have His way in everything. A.W. Tozer explained,
To will the will of God is to do more than give unprotesting consent to it; it is rather to choose God’s will with positive determination. As the work of God advances, the Christian finds himself free to choose whatever he will, and he gladly chooses the will of God as his highest conceivable good.
So long as we are careless about our sin, we will not enjoy God. God cannot be careless about sin – He is too holy, and sin is too hateful to Him.
In our humanity, we do not see sin the way God does. In a sense, we can’t. That is why the cross matters – because the cross teaches us what we could never learn by looking at our own sins or at our own heart. The cross shows us just how awful our sins really are.
Gazing at the sin, we see something attractive, enticing, alluring. We desire it, we don’t see how it could be a problem. Gazing at the Savior, we see the ultimate end of sin in our Savior’s suffering, bleeding, dying. We recognize our sin as the perpetrator of all Christ suffered.
So long as my heart is turned towards sin, it cannot be turned towards God. As long as I enjoy sin, I cannot enjoy God. Do you wonder, “Why don’t I enjoy God?” Before you look for tricks or easy answers or feel-good formulas for enjoying God, consider your sin. If you are indulging yourself, I assure you that God is not also indulging you. A holy God will have no part with an unholy people.