The Bible tells us that “…the LORD God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). Think of yourself as that first created person at the very beginning of the journey of human life. Your body is the vehicle for this journey. Think of it as a car crafted from the dust of the ground, with your God-breathed soul as its only passenger. Your hands are the only hands that will ever touch the steering wheel of your car. You are not in possession of any sort of driving manual and have no preconceived notions about anything. The environment you find yourself in is unfamiliar to you, yet comfortable. Soon you receive your first instructions from a source you can hear, but not see. It tells you that you are free to move about and “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. 2:16–17).
In short order you encounter a new, unknown influence. It says, “The fruit of that forbidden tree won’t kill you; on the contrary, it will make you wise like God, giving you the knowing of good and evil” (see Gen. 3:4–5). You wonder…is this good information or not? Is this source reliable? But wait a minute. What is good information? For that matter, what is bad information? And what makes this visible source (serpent) of information more or less credible than our other source? More importantly, what is the meaning of good and what is the meaning of evil? And death, what is death?
Lacking the necessary background knowledge on any of these subjects, you make a decision based on prior experience. The garden you were in was full of trees with good-looking fruit that you had eaten before with no ill effect. This tree looked good for food and was a delight to the eyes and based upon your most recent source of information, its fruit was desirable to make one wise (see Gen. 3:6). So, having reasoned your way to a decision, you eat. You have committed your first act of disobedience.
The apostle Paul tells us that it was as a result of this disobedience that “sin entered into the world and death through sin” (Rom. 5:12a; see also 7:9–11). By the judgment of God (see Rom. 5:16b) the human condition has now been altered. Staying with my narrative, you have suffered the death (spiritual) that had been forewarned should you eat of the forbidden fruit. You are now no longer alone in your car. As a consequence of your disobedience, the spiritual power of sin has now joined your God-breathed soul as a passenger in your car. It is a presence and power of will that has a purpose of its own. You are entirely unaware of this change in your human condition, although your reaction to the misstep validates it as a reality. Under the influence of your new passenger, your never-before-noticed nakedness now brings shame, and the previously-heard sound of your Creator walking in the garden now brings fear (see Gen. 3:8–10).
The road of life now bends outward from the garden and will be fraught with difficulty. For an extended period of time (until Moses) there will be no external road signs (laws) to direct you. Your primary GPS will be your God-protected faculties of reason (conscience) and your newly acquired knowledge of good and evil. As you become fruitful and multiply the collective conduct of humans so distresses our Creator that He is sorry, grieved that He made us (see Gen. 6:6) and very nearly brings an end to our existence. But through Noah, a single righteous man (see Gen. 6:9b), we will survive our Creator’s wrath and the journey starts again.
In due time, our collective disobedience displeases our Creator yet again (see Gen. 11:1–9) and by His judgment we are scattered into many languages and many cultures. Throughout the course of continuing human history we will become many nations and continue to lose the battle of our individual and collective conscience to the sin passenger that is consistently craftier and stronger than we are. But just as He did with Job (see Job 2:6), our God-breathed, God-protected inner self (see Gen. 2:7b) continues to motivate our faith to recognize, honor, and give thanks to a Higher Authority (see Rom. 1:18–21).
A Special Nation
As the human journey continues, our Creator reveals more of Himself and begins to interact with one among us (Abraham) in special ways. Because of his manner of living (by faith), Abraham and his seed are designated as the beginning of a great nation, a people the Creator will claim as “…His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6b). We are among this nation. From Abraham to Moses our nation grows in number yet the collective and repetitive disobedience, the falling short of the glory of God (see Rom. 3:11, 23), continues. Despite our special relationship with the Creator, we strive and fall under the pervasive influence of the unrealized presence of sin riding with us in our car.
Then, through the Mosaic Law, our nation (Abraham’s) receives and embraces directives from the Creator. Lacking understanding, and despite our inability to fulfill the requirements of those new Laws consistently, with time we mistakenly begin to measure our performance against them as the means by which we are individually attaining the righteousness the Creator desires. Our disobedience continues, however, and despite His infliction of pain and suffering as a consequence, our Creator consistently urges us to return to Him. As an extension of mercy, He ordains a system of acceptable sacrifices that, from time to time, assuages the guilt of our conscience. However, by those very sacrifices year by year, we are reminded of our continuing sins (see Heb. 10:3).
From among our nation there are many like us, whose faith is genuine and whose steadfast effort to live faithfully continues for generations despite this internal, difficult struggle. From Isaac and Jacob, through Joseph and Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the prophets, our faithful living gains the Creator’s approval. Yet we do not have the power to relegate our unwanted passenger to the back seat. In our despair we begin to cry out for a clean heart and a renewed spirit (see Ps. 51:10). We are discovering the realities of the consequence of the original garden transgression and the judgment of condemnation (see Rom. 5:16) that became the inheritance of all who came after that event. We are realizing that we are not alone in our car. Like Paul we cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).
Finally, after some four thousand years (biblical timeline estimate) of our life journey, the favorable year of our Creator arrives (see Isa. 61:2; Luke 4:19). As a response to our cry (see Ps. 102:18—22), God sends His own Son as an offering for sin, and by that sacrifice provides a means of redemption from His original judgment of condemnation. Just as by the one transgression the power of sin had entered our car, so now, by one selfless act of righteousness, another passenger is ready to join us for the balance of our journey (see Rom. 5:15–19). But this passenger is not like the first. He will only enter our car if we personally invite Him.
The Story Continues: We Choose to Become Obedient
We rejoice to hear our Creator’s message of the redeeming sacrifice of His Son. We choose to become obedient, and in that moment from our hearts there comes a genuine faith confession (see Rom. 10:8–10). Now, a new passenger is welcomed into our car. By the grace (free gift) of God, the Holy Spirit has entered our car and released us from the captivity (see Luke 4:18c) by which our first sin passenger was working his will in our lives. The first part of our journey (unregenerate) has ended.
Sin remains as a passenger, but by the newly declared condemnation of God (see Rom. 8:3c), it has definitely been relegated to the back seat (see Matt. 16:23a). The Holy Spirit has entered our car, and in that moment of entry our spirit is made perfect (regenerated) forever (see Heb. 10:14). We can now be in spiritual harmony with the only power in existence that is greater than the power of sin (see Rom. 1:4a), the very power (and presence) of the Spirit of God. By the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which is a law of freedom, we have been set free from the law of sin and death (see Rom. 8:2).
For four thousand years, we were all spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (see Eph. 2:1), slaves and subject to the power of sin in our car; but in one miraculous moment of faith we were saved from that death by becoming one with Christ in the likeness of His death and in the likeness of His resurrection (see Rom. 6:5). For “what the [Mosaic] Law could not do…God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Our old human condition was crucified with Him so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin (see Rom. 6:6–7). “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
By faith we have accepted the gift of God’s grace and, as a result, our human condition has been changed. Our car now has three spiritual passengers: our own God-breathed, God-protected soul as continuing driver, the newly-arrived Spirit of God ready to assist us, and the continuing presence of sin in the back seat. And for what purpose has God extended such a wonderful gift of forgiveness, freedom, and empowerment? Paul provides a clear answer as he continues in Romans 8:4–8:
…in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
In paraphrase, and in keeping with our narrative, this is what Paul is making clear: the requirement of the Law, which is consistent obedience, is now entirely possible for those who are no longer subject to the once dominant control of the sin passenger. And consistent obedience is exactly what the Holy Spirit has come to enable. Those who are still held captive by the sin passenger are simply unable to see consistent obedience as a necessity. But those who have been set free by the Spirit should steadfastly choose to surrender the driving of their car to that Spirit. For the mind that continues to be set on the things of the world is death, but the mind set on the things of the Spirit is life and peace. The continuing mindset of unregenerate humanity is hostile toward God and to His Law; they are unable to see things any differently. And the reality is that in such a condition, they are unable, no matter what they do, to please God.
It is important to remember that Paul’s above verses denote the standard by which every human being who has ever lived will be judged. From God’s perspective, the essential here and now priority and purpose of every human life is two-fold: 1) the initial priority is obedient living, and 2) as a matter of daily course, such living is to continue “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).
From the very beginning of our road trip, the will of our Creator has been for us not just to recognize and desire to make the right turn over the wrong, but to experience a life of correct turns as the constant result of our choices (see 1 Pet. 1:14–15). No matter how strong our desire in that regard, the four-thousand-year journey proved that the desire of our hearts could not consistently overcome the power of our indwelling sin passenger.
From the days of Moses even though we genuinely embraced the righteous directives from our Creator, our failure to adhere to them consistently was not readily understood by us as a personal shortcoming but rather became a means of measuring comparative personal accomplishments. In his Ephesians letter, Paul explained the reality of the unregenerate human condition in this way:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formally walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Eph. 2:1–3).
Thankfully, our internal condition has changed because of the new passenger in our car. By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have been released from our law-induced bondage to sin and as a result are no longer “in the flesh but in…[s]pirit” (Rom. 8:9a). And, “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:10). Our spirit, which had suffered the forewarned death in the garden, is now alive and in possession of the very power by which God had raised Jesus from the dead. It is a Spirit of power that stands ready and willing and entirely capable of ensuring the future direction of our life’s road trip (see Rom. 8:11).
With the Lord in the car, we can now rightfully exclaim with the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).