Psalm 51

I Did It

Genesis 3:8-15 (ESV)

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
   cursed are you above all livestock
   and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
   and dust you shall eat
   all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
   and you shall bruise his heel.”


When we explore the larger story of “the fall,” that first act of disobedience to God, we often focus on the attractiveness of sin. It’s not hard to construct reasonable-sounding arguments for why we should disobey God; sinful acts themselves can be quite alluring, at least initially.

Today’s verses call us to examine the after-effects of sin. The false beauty projected by sin fades rapidly once we recognize sin as rejection of the source of all beauty, God.

The loss in this story is incalculable; our text today opens with God arriving to walk with the man and woman, eventually known to us as Adam and Eve. That simple fact is poignant to the point of being distressing, for we see the couple had what most of us crave, a simple, close relationship with God.

Oh, to be able to walk among the trees of Paradise with our maker, asking him anything that comes to mind and receiving a clear answer! Before sinning, Adam and Eve thought such walks were perfectly normal, the way things would always be. Shortly after sinning, they were hiding among those trees, fearing the One they had previously trusted as a perfect Father.

What they feared and what we fear is that moment of confrontation after sin. Even in our fallen state, we have enough of a sense of God’s righteousness to hate that impending moment. We can spend our lives hiding from it, even running from it.

There is nowhere to run, however. If we don’t have that moment of confrontation in this life, we certainly will have it in the next life.

We wriggle to find ways to justify ourselves, too, as if we can sort out the blame and defer the punishment on our own. As we see in today’s story, the first sin is also the first example of passing the buck.

Adam, who was first to hear God’s commandment about the tree, blames Eve. Eve, who clearly knew the simple “don’t eat” commandment, blames the serpent.

The serpent—well, he was the agitator, the twister of words who started the problem. The author of Revelation later would associate “that old serpent” with Satan, the ultimate bringer of confusion. To me, the talkative serpent is interesting in that he accepts his curse in silence, knowing he is facing his Creator, just like everyone else.

What the man and woman needed, and what we need, is a better way to move through that moment of confrontation.

Instead of buck passing, we need repentance. Whatever the sin, don’t try to rationalize it, don’t try to justify it. Don’t try to argue it’s really not that serious compared to what others have done. Just say:

I did it.

You can do terrible things and still never get around to saying, “I did it.” King David committed adultery and murder to have Bathsheba as his wife, but until the Prophet Nathan used a parable about a rich man who stole a poor man’s lamb, David wasn’t able to say, “I did it.”

Psalm 51 artfully records David’s “I did it”: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”

Saying “I did it” doesn’t fix everything. We’re still a long way from the fix, but at least we’re on the right road, the road that passes through repentance to salvation.

When Adam and Eve were cast from the Garden of Eden as part of their punishment, they found themselves on that road. God worked through them to begin a change that would make possible our restoration to Paradise.

I’m talking, of course, about events revealed in the great narrative of the Bible, the grand story running from Genesis to Revelation. Yes, we are trapped in sin from the moment we are born, and we are put in a position that makes us want to hide from God.

For thousands of years, a small group of people we call the Israelites tried to get back into relationship with God by following his law. We cannot get back to God on our own, however. As those Israelites fell in and out of the relationship, humanity remained lost.

A new solution was needed. As he did in the garden so long ago, God walked among us for a time as one of those Israelites, raised in a rural place called Galilee.

He actually took on flesh for his three-decade walk on Earth, and we call that God-Man Jesus. I hope you know the story and let that story shape your lives. Jesus went so far as to suffer and die for our sins, in the process explaining more deeply the importance of intertwined love and obedience.

We repent by saying “I did it, and I regret it. I want to put it behind me.” We believe in what Jesus has done, and we are saved from sin.

It is that simple. And in time, we are invited back into the Garden of Eden, the Paradise where we exist in the presence of God.

We have different ways of talking about the life to come. “Going to heaven” is one way to describe the experience. We also have elaborate imagery from the Book of Revelation, symbolic scenes of creation restored to holiness and heaven and earth re-joined.

What I look forward to is a walk in the garden in the cool of the day with my Savior, asking him whatever comes to mind.


The featured image on this blog page is “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,” Thomas Cole, 1828.

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The Righteous Heart

Romans 2:17-29 (NLT)

You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth.

Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”

The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law but don’t obey it.

For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.


The early church in Rome was a mix of Jews and Gentiles, and sometimes they had trouble combining their world views. In today’s text, Paul clearly addresses the Jewish portion of his audience. (A lot of scholars argue he actually began the address to the Jews in the reading for last week’s sermon.)

Paul begins with a call for an attitude adjustment, upholding the value of the law but emphasizing how knowing the law was supposed to move the Jews toward something greater.

I suppose I should pause and make sure we have a basic understanding of what Paul means by “the law.” Certainly, Paul is talking about the laws spoken by God to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, what we call “The Ten Commandments.” He references three of those commandments, ones related to stealing, adultery and idolatry, when he accuses the Jewish Christians of hypocrisy.

He also may have been thinking of additional, more culturally specific rules God gave Moses to establish a covenant with the Israelites. He may even have been referencing the interpretations of the laws developed by rabbis over the centuries.

To a good Jew, the Mosaic law was everything. How well you followed every jot and tittle of the law served as evidence of your righteousness to God and the people around you. Let’s not forget Paul himself had once been a Pharisee, a sect of Jews known for their rigorous adherence to the law.

And yet, Paul had seen the true purpose of the law through his encounter with Jesus Christ. He wanted to be sure these early Jewish Christians saw it, too.

It helps to think about the law in a big-picture way. You may recall that a lawyer once tried to trap Jesus by asking him to name the most important commandment.

Jesus replied: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Jesus took the law and explained it as a matter of the heart. He then lived out that truth in how he lived and died. In Romans, Paul developed his message along the same lines.

The Jewish mistake was simple enough; it even seemed noble and holy. God gave the Israelites the law to live by, and those who wanted to be obedient saw the law as a call to action.

There were rituals, sacrifices and festivals to be performed. There were specific actions to be avoided, the “thou shalt nots” that were always to be kept in mind. The pursuit of obedience seemed paramount, and we can tell from Paul’s writings in Romans and elsewhere that even Jews who followed Jesus as their promised Messiah tended to emphasize obedience to rules.

In the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts, we see this problem reach a crisis. At this point in the life of the church, there was a lot of friction between the Gentile followers of Christ, who were drawn to a message of universally available salvation and grace, and certain Jewish followers of Christ, who essentially believed all converts needed to follow Jewish law as well as Jesus. Perhaps the harshest requirement: the Jewish Christians said the Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved.

In what is now called the Council at Jerusalem, the early church leaders, including Peter and Paul, decided Gentiles did not need to be burdened with rituals and behaviors that had never been part of their culture. Instead, they simply asked that the Gentiles abstain from sexual immorality, food offered to idols, and from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals. The ones related to food may have been simple measures of politeness, as Jews found such consumption detestable, making it difficult for the community to eat together. Acts tells us the Gentile Christians rejoiced greatly when they received word of this lenient decision.

Paul and the other early church leaders understood the law was intended to be more than just a call to “head knowledge” or a series of repeated actions. The law was a call to transformation. Understanding the law was supposed to change the heart, bringing a person into a full relationship with God and a proper relationship with others.

This is the full meaning of the word we translate as “righteous.” It’s not just getting certain actions right—it’s having our innermost being aligned with God’s will.

We can see the results of such righteousness in both the Old and New Testaments. One of my favorite Psalms is the 51st, composed by King David after the full weight of his sin has fallen upon him. (He had recently been caught committing adultery and murder.) The psalm contains these words:

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

That psalm was written by a man seeking more than a legal remedy. He was far beyond sacrificing some bulls to atone for his sins. He had seen his brokenness, and in this psalm he begs for God to lay hands on him, to change him, in the process restoring his joy. It is a good psalm, a good prayer. On a personal note, I have to say that it has sustained me in times of brokenness and made me feel restored.

This heartfelt righteousness also appears early In the New Testament. We see the earthly father of Jesus, the carpenter Joseph, described as a “righteous man.” The term is applied not in reference to his adherence to the law, but instead to the moment when he desires to show Mary mercy, despite believing she has become pregnant by another man and knowing how the law said she should be punished.

This kind of righteousness also allowed Joseph to hear from God directly in dreams and better understand the situation, taking Mary and the Messiah in her womb under his wing. A righteous man was the earthly protector of our infant savior.

And of course, the ultimate example of righteousness is the grown Messiah, Jesus. Being God in flesh, his understanding of God’s will was so powerful that he was willing to suffer and die so the power of sin could be broken.

If the law is a call to transformation, then Christ is the fulfillment of the law. Christ makes our transformation and the transformation of all creation possible, and he makes it as simple as us having faith in his work.

We will explore these ideas of righteousness and communion with God’s Spirit in coming weeks. In the meantime, let’s try to do what Paul urged the early Jewish Christians to do. Let go; let God work within.

There are actions to take. Seek God in prayer, seek God in Scripture. But in doing so, seek the changed heart that pleases God. Over time, we may find ourselves looking less like people of the world, but the world will be better for our presence.


The featured image is “King David in Prayer,” Pieter de Grebber, circa 1635.