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September 4, 2011

“God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29

 

Last weekend was the Chicago Triathlon, an extraordinary race with about 4,000 participants.  The triathlon is one event, but it has three stages that look and feel very different—the run, the bike and the swim.

This series is like a triathlon—one series with three very different parts.

We begin by looking at The Inside Story of Human Life.  Why is the world as it is?  Then in stage 2 we look at The Inside Story of the Christian Life.  What does it mean to be a Christian?  What should I expect, and how can I do this well?

That will take us up to Thanksgiving and then, God willing, after a break for the Christmas season, we will take up stage three which is The Inside Story of Your Future Life. The Bible makes it clear that your life will not always be as it is right now. Ahead of you, there is a future, either of eternal misery or of eternal joy.

In stage one of our triathlon, we look at the inside story of human life.  Why is the world as it is today?  We see images of people in Somalia who are starving.  The food is there, but it’s been commandeered by brutal terrorists.  We cannot get food to the people who need it.  How can this be?  Why have we seen this so many times before where there is famine?

Next week marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  Before that day, if someone out of Hollywood had made a film about the events that took place, few would have taken it seriously.  It would have been a night at the movies and we would have said, “Great film! Amazing special effects!  But, of course, that could never happen in real life.”

What is your explanation of evil?  Do you think that it is social, educational or economic?  Acts of great evil are committed by the rich as well as the poor.  Evil is as prevalent under capitalism as it is under communism.  Some of the most wicked acts in all of human history have been conceived by the most brilliant minds.

To bring the question down to a more personal level: Why do families break up?  How do people whose love brought them to pledge their lives to each other forever, end up hating each other and feeling that they can no longer live under the same roof?

 

Why is the world as it is today?

“God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is an exploration of our question.  It was written by Solomon, the king of Israel and the son of David.  Solomon has fabulous wealth and power, and at the beginning of his reign he walked with God and God gave him great wisdom.

But then he made a different choice.  Money, sex, and power—that he had in abundance—took possession of his heart.  He began to live at a distance from God.  He lived on impulse and pushed every conceivable boundary of life, just like some freshmen will do at every university in the country.

He found that the more he pursued money, sex and power, the emptier his life became.  Out of that experience, he wrote this book.  These chapters are the chronicles of a wasted life.  Here in (7:29) Solomon gives a firm conclusion from his exploration of the extremities of life…

 

God Made Man Upright 

“God made mankind upright… ” Ecclesiastes 7:29

The word translated “mankind” here is the word “adam,” or as we would say, “Adam.”  God made “adam” upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.  There’s a contrast between Adam and men today.

 

What does it mean to be upright?

Adam was good and right in himself.  That is how God made him.  Doing what is good and right was completely natural to him.  It was his instinct.  He had a bent towards what is good and right.  It was simply what he wanted to do.  It was in him.

Adam loved God.  He did not have to work at it.  We often feel we “ought to pray” and we “ought to worship.”  But there was no “ought” about it for Adam.  Love for God was in him by nature.  God made Adam upright!

Can you imagine how good this was?  God gave this man a wife and she was made upright too.  What a wonderful and blissful marriage!  Eve never had to correct her husband.  He was upright.  Adam did not have to work at understanding his wife

The word “upright” indicates that, from the beginning of time, there was something called “right” against which Adam could be measured.  The Ten Commandments were given much later in the bible story, so how did Adam know what is right?

Thomas Boston says that Adam did not have the law written on tablets of stone, as they were given later in the law of Moses, but…

 

“God impressed it upon his soul and made him a law to himself.” [1]

Adam didn’t need the law.  He didn’t need rules.  He needed no external restraint.  The knowledge of good and the instinct of what was right was in him.  He was a law to himself.  He loved God and he loved his neighbor.  It was completely natural to him.

If you said to Adam, “Just do what you feel.  Act on impulse.”  You could be sure that what he did would be good and it would be right.  He lived with glorious freedom!  God made him upright.

 

Adam’s righteousness was changeable

Doing good and doing right was instinctive to Adam, but it was not inevitable.  Adam’s righteousness was natural, but it was also changeable.

This gets us to the question: Why did God allow the possibility of sin?   

If Adam and Eve had remained upright, the whole human race would have been born in paradise.  We would all be living in fellowship with God and in harmony with each other in a world with no storms, no famines, no disease and no death.

God made man righteous, so why did God allow the possibility of sin?

God made man upright, but He also made him free.  And freedom, by definition, always means that there is another choice.

God made Adam with a natural bent, an inclination towards good and right.  But he was not a robot.  God made him a thinking, willing being, with real choices and real consequences.  God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17).

Being upright, Adam would already have known this in his heart.  But God reinforces it by saying it face-to-face.  Adam was upright.  God placed him in paradise, but he was not a prisoner.  There was a door by which he could choose to leave.

You know the story.  The serpent came to Eve and he said to her, “You can be like God” (Genesis 3:5).  Eve was upright.  She loved God.  But she chose against the inclination of her heart.  You say, “How is that possible?”  Haven’t you ever done that?

Adam joined her in this wretched choice and all the blessings of paradise were lost.  They experienced the harshness of life outside paradise.  Adam experienced frustration every day of his working life.  Eve experienced pain in bearing her children.  The kids were born outside paradise and never knew its joys.

It was not long before the first human family fractured.  Four people—mom, dad and the two boys—none of them upright and unable to live together.  You know the story—one of them eventually kills the other.

God was outside.  The friendship was broken. The fellowship was lost.

 

Stop Blaming God for What’s Wrong with the World

“God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29

God did not burden Adam with sin.  God made him upright.  Adam was the one who used his freedom to forfeit his righteousness.

Derek Kidner points out that the ancient Babylonian myths about creation say something very different from the Bible.  In the Babylonian myths, the gods are responsible for the wickedness of men…

 

“With lies and not truth they [the gods] endowed them [human beings] forever” [2]

In the Babylonian myths of creation, the gods are the ones who fill men with lies.  These myths have enormous appeal, because if they were true then we could all say, “It’s not our fault that the world is a twisted and messed up place.  The gods filled us with lies.  The gods are to blame.”

If the Babylonian myths are true, which they’re not, we should all be shaking our fists at the gods forever.  They messed it up.  If you’re shaking your fist at God today, perhaps it is because somewhere deep inside you’re believing a form of the Babylonian myths, rather than basing your faith on the Bible.  So, you feel in your heart that the problems in your life and the evils in the world came from the hand of God.

If that’s the case, I want to tell you that the Bible says something very different from what you’re believing, something completely different…

  1. There are not many gods, there is one God.
  2. All that He is is good, and all that He does is right.
  3. God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.

The Babylonian myths say, “The blame lies with the gods and hope lies with us.”  The Bible teaches, “The blame lies with us; hope lies in God.”  If the habit of your heart is to blame God for the problems of your life and the state of the world, you should seriously question whether you’re really a Christian.

People who are redeemed by Jesus love God and they trust Him.  We have many unanswered questions, and sometimes we have many doubts, but it’s not the habit of the Christian person to blame God for the problems of life and the evil of the world.  Christians know that the blame lies with sin, and that sin lies in us, not in God.

Every time you see the wretched, destructive power of evil breaking out in your own personal life or in the world around you, instead of shaking your fist at God, use this to cultivate a greater hatred towards sin in your life.  Say to yourself, “The root of this lies in me!”  Use it as an incentive to holiness.

 

Use this with unbelievers

Over the next 7 days, there will be thousands of conversations about 9/11.  Before next Sunday, you will probably find yourself talking about it with someone in your office or at the school.  They’ll say, “What a terrible thing it was,” and “Why did God allow that to happen?”  It will be an opportunity for you to use what we’re learning today: “God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.”

 

Start Confessing that You’re Far From Upright

“God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29

This is a sure mark of a genuine Christian, and it’s counter-intuitive.  Many people have the idea that a Christian is a person who thinks he or she is righteous.  Precisely the opposite is true!  A Christian is a person who knows and confesses that he is not upright.

This is radically counter-cultural.  The mood of our age claims the first part of this verse for ourselves and completely ignores the second: God made mankind upright, “Yes, that’s us!” But men have gone in search of many schemes, “No, that was Adam.”

 

People who think they’re upright will never come to Christ

That was the problem with the Pharisees.  They felt that they were upright, and their religion reinforced their belief.  As long as you feel in your heart that you are upright, you will never come to Christ.

How can you see the truth about yourself?  In my reading this week, I found a comment by Matthew Henry that, I think, is profoundly helpful…

 

“A sound conviction of one sin will put us upon enquiring into the whole confederacy…” [3]

A confederacy, as all Americans know, is a group of states or people who join together for common action.

When you can see one sin in your life—and you really are convinced that it’s a sin, and that it’s in you—it won’t be long before you see that there’s

a whole confederacy of sins in your life.  Many sins are working together and feeding off each other, and the whole thing is growing within you.

You know what it’s like trying to see little fish in the water on a sunny day.  Someone says, “Look at all these fish!” and you say, “I don’t see any.”  Then you see one and suddenly you see them all over the place.

That’s what it’s like with sin.  Once you can see one sin in your life… it won’t be long until you can see the whole confederacy.  So, let me ask you a question: Can you name one sin that you see in your life right now?

We are coming to the Lord’s Table today.  This is a table for sinners.  If you have sins, it is for you.  If you can’t see any sins in your life, this table won’t mean anything to you.  If you can’t name a single sin that is really yours today, why would you have need of the cleansing blood of Christ?  All of this will seem far from you, removed from the realities of your life.

Let me help you with two suggestions: Pride and covetousness.  I choose them for a reason.  Pride was the first sin and it is in us all.  Take a look in your heart right now and see if that monster does not exist there right now.

Covetousness is in all of us.  We all look at what God has given to others —their talents, successes, children, money and ministries… Saul of Tarsus thought he was upright.  He poured all his energy into living a good moral life, but this was where he made his breakthrough, “I would not have known what sin was except through the law” (Romans 7:7).  Then he quotes the command that helped him see his sin: “You shall not covet.”

A successful man once came to Jesus.  He was quite young, and already he had it made in this world.  So, he wanted to be sure he would make it in the next.   He said, “Jesus, what must I do to inherit life?”  Jesus discerned the man’s heart, “You’re all about yourself, my friend.  Go sell all that you have and give to the poor and then come follow me” (Mark 10:17, 21).

He passed himself off as a man who was really righteous, but the truth was he was in love with himself.  He loved his own morality, so his face fell, and he walked away.

He came to his Jesus with the idea that he was keeping all the commands.  But Jesus opened his eyes to one sin.  I wonder how long it was before he saw the whole confederacy.

 

 

Put Your Hope in the One Who is Upright

“God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Ecclesiastes 7:29

God made Adam upright.  But he did not remain so.  He fell and all his children were born where he landed when he fell.

In all the generations that came from Adam, not one person has been born who was truly upright, until God became man in Jesus Christ.  The upright One did not arise from the human race.  He came to the human race.  The Holy Son of God was born of the virgin, Mary.

In all human history, He is the only one who was upright and remained upright.  He lived the perfect life, and then He laid it down as a sacrifice for the sins of others, “Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Righteousness is not in us.  It comes to us.  It belongs to Christ and it becomes yours when you are His.  God used the 10th commandment to convince Paul of one sin in his life, and it wasn’t long before he saw the whole confederacy.

Paul eventually came to the conclusion that even his religion was shot through with sin and that his best attempts at living the moral life were like a pile of garbage.  So he says, “I want to be found in Christ… having the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

 

Is that righteousness yours today?  

Jesus Christ comes today and offers Himself to you.  He says, “Come to Me in faith and repentance.  Come to Me with all your failure and let Me drape My righteousness around you, so that you can draw near to the Father, standing in the righteousness of My upright life, a justified sinner, with a humble, grateful heart.”

 

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne. [4]

 

[1] Thomas Boston, “Human Nature in its Fourfold State,” p. 5, Banner of Truth, 1964

[2] Derek Kidner, “The Message of Ecclesiastes,” p. 73, InterVarsity Press, 1984, quoting The Babylonian Theodicy,” line 280… http://www.etana.org/node/582

[3] Matthew Henry, “Exposition of the Whole Bible: Volume 2,” p. 608, Revell, 1983

[4] Edward Mote, from the hymn, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less,” circa 1834

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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