This past weekend, while working around the house, I listened to a recent sermon by Dr. John MacArthur on Galatians 2:11-12. I highly recommend making the time to listen to it, it was so fascinating! The Bible is one cohesive, unified, and consistent story. I love to see that affirmed anew, which was the case with this recent sermon. It was a fresh (to me) look at the origins of false religion, which date back to the Garden when Adam and Eve sinned by partaking of the forbidden fruit. What does Galatians have to do with the garden of Eden and false religion, you may be wondering? Let’s take a look at the Galatians 2 verse:
11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
Peter, the leader of the Apostles, had become intimidated by the Judaizers. The Judaizers held that Gentile Christians had to follow the Law of Moses in addition to the new covenant of grace. This insistence that Gentile converts follow the mosaic law was a form of false religion: trying to make one’s self acceptable to God by the work of one’s own hands. Dr. MacArthur then went back to the book of Genesis, where false religion, or works righteousness had its advent.
6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 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. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” (Genesis 3: 6-10)
When Adam and Eve had their eyes opened, they knew right from wrong. They also knew they had sinned by disobeying God. They then began to dread the presence of God because they were under His wrath. That is why they covered themselves with leaves, and hid in the garden. Covering themselves with the fig leaves was an attempt to make themselves acceptable before God, by the work of their own hands.
Directly after this happened God cursed both of them, and killed an animal to make coverings for Adam and Eve, then He evicted them from the Garden. The slaying of an animal to make coverings is the first time the Messiah and His sacrifice are foreshadowed in the Bible; in human history. It is called the Protoevangelium.
Dr. MacArthur then went on to talk about Cain and Abel. He said that Adam and Eve would have been sure to teach their sons about God’s demonstration of sacrifice. They didn’t have much to teach them, being the only two people in the world, but they would have made sure to teach them that. It was very clear in their minds. Able submitted to this by bringing the first and best of his flock, but Cain chose to bring the work of his hands. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God, Cain’s was not. Cain was furious that his offering was rejected, so he killed his brother. Cain is the prototype of all false religion. False religion tries to work itself toward God; to make itself acceptable to God on its own terms. Those in false religion are historically always the ones who shed the blood of true believers. The religious Jews murdered Jesus. The early church was persecuted by Nero. The Roman Catholics killed the reformers. And on and on it goes.
All through the Bible, God has made it clear that there is no way a sinner can be reconciled to Him by their own effort; by their own hands. The sacrificial system of the nation of Israel was pointing to the then-future Messiah. Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). We know that For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The only way to be reconciled to God is on His terms. False religion always wants to add or take away from the True Gospel. Rebels always want to come to God on their own terms. It has been that way since the very beginning. But we know that it can only be through grace alone!
Soli Deo Gloria!