The Garden of Eden, Legalism, and Antinomianism
Our hearts are bent toward two wrong responses to the gospel. Either we seek to earn God’s favor by our good behavior or we break His commandments to find satisfaction elsewhere. In this brief clip, Sinclair Ferguson outlines both errors in Genesis 3.
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So here in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, there is a portrayal of Yahweh the Covenant God who reveals Himself to Moses, who Moses understands is the same covenant God. He uses the name Yahweh here in Genesis chapter 2—the same covenant, gracious, generous, God who has come in creation seeking fellowship with Adam and Eve. There’s a very interesting thing in these verses at the beginning of Genesis chapter 3; Satan never calls God Yahweh. So something else is taking place, a diversion away from the real character and covenant love of God, and then this very subtle twisting in which God is being turned into a God who will love you and will be generous to you if you meet the qualifications. And then do you see what happens? Satan comes in, and he says in verse 5 ‘God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like Him knowing good and evil.’ And you see this is further pressing on the same principle: God may say He’s good. God may say He’s generous, but He’s not really good and generous. He’s demeaning your life. He’s spoiling your life. He doesn’t want you to be like Him. He wants to keep you in your place until you’ve done enough to earn His pleasure. There are fathers like that. I’ve heard them in restaurants. I’ve seen them in life. ‘I will love you if…’ And such a child never grows to love his father.
Now why this is so important is because of what it produces in Eve, and it’s very important to notice what it produces. The first thing is it produces legalism: That God will love me and be generous to me only on the basis that I meet the qualifications. And then the second thing it produces is antinomianism: in order to be delivered from that bondage, she breaks the law that was given for her blessing, and she becomes an antinomian. There is then, put into the spiritual DNA of the whole human race, exactly the same reality of a spirit of legalism in relationship to God and, yes in relationship to His gospel, to which people will inevitably respond in one of two ways: either by seeking to pursue the legalism and do enough to earn His pleasure or to seek the blessing by breaking His commandments.