A strange new doctrine has emerged over the last decade to support the old dualism of everything being about my personal, subjective relationship with Jesus – to the exclusion of any transcendent, objective moral code or (in some extreme cases) even Scripture itself.
The new doctrine goes like this:
God wanted us to eat of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve, however, rebelled and chose instead to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life, they say, is Jesus (which I think is questionable, given that Jesus walked with Adam in the cool of the day and obviously was not a tree, but that’s not my point).
This new doctrine goes on to say that we should only want the subjective, relational attributes of Jesus and not let any objective concept of what is true, real and right get in the way. This is because, they say, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents things like morality, objective standards, Scripture, commandments (again, this is of dubious exegesis, but again, that’s not my point), and anything else that may contradict their feeling-driven experience of Jesus .
Like all great errors in Church history, this one has enough truth to be tempting. But truth out of context is deadly.
Let’s look at what the Bible actually says. (Oops, I hope that doesn’t offend anyone.)
The Sin of Autonomy
The sin committed by Adam and Eve was not in choosing some new, external standard of right and wrong over Jesus. Rather, it was choosing autonomy – the right to decide for themselves what is right and wrong – over the right of Jesus alone to define right and wrong.
In other words, eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil did not create some oppressive burden rooted in a moral code from which Christ has now delivered us. Rather, it was humanity’s attempt to become autonomous moral agents who can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong – on our own terms apart from Christ.
When we decide to embrace some presumed definition of the Tree of Life to justify what God says is wrong, or to escape His commands, then we sin by also choosing autonomy over Christ – just like Adam and Eve. Relying simply on our own subjective but error-prone sense of WWJD (what would Jesus do) – under the guise of the Tree of Life – is choosing what in fact is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Thus, the irony of the Tree of Life teaching going around today is that it chooses autonomy – and falls prey to the same sin committed by Adam and Eve. It does this by rejecting what Jesus has defined as right and wrong.
And where does Jesus tell us right from wrong? Well, not simply in our hearts (although He is active in writing His laws on the hearts of those who love Him – see Heb. 8:10), but also in His written word.
The Tree of Life is Still Off Limits
The other irony is that the Bible says the Tree of Life is no longer available to humanity. God now guards it from humanity with an angelic being and a flaming sword to keep us from accessing it. Gen. 3:23-34. So how come some teach that we are to be eating of the Tree of Life today?
That sure ’nuff is one weird doctrine! Unlike them, I really have no interest in trying to eat of the Tree of Life (however they define it), only to be killed by some big bad angel dude bearing a flaming sword.
In Revelation 22 – the vary last chapter of the Bible – Jesus says we will not be allowed to eat again of the Tree of Life until after the final judgement and the new heavens and the new earth are established. It then will be planted in the middle of the New Jerusalem, where Christ will reign forever. Furthermore, the only ones allowed at that time to eat of its fruit will be those who – now get this! – overcame by obeying God’s commands.
Here it is, in plain English: “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” Rev. 22:14.
Embracing Sound Doctrine
Be careful of crazy theology. Be careful of new age mysticism and postmodern relativism masquerading as sound Christian doctrine.
Jesus is imminent and personal, yet transcendent and objective. He bids us come, but He also bids us to “be holy for I am holy” (both in the Old and the New Testament).
Anyone who tries to create a false dichotomy between Jesus the living word and His God-breathed written word has chosen autonomy by rejecting Jesus as He Himself has chosen to reveal Himself to us…
Anyone who has chosen to separate the person of Jesus from His commands – including the moral code and precepts He has revealed in His God-breathed (i.e., “inspired”) written word – likewise has chosen autonomy….
Some want a purely subjective Jesus of their own creation, and thus have fallen prey once again to the sin of autonomy…
For me, however, I want all of Jesus: Both the living word and His God-breathed written word; both His person and His commands; both His presence and His precepts.
I am not talking about legalism, nor about seeking justification through a moral code. Nor am I advocating fidelity to the Mosaic law between God and Old Testament Israel.
But I nonetheless understand that those who truly know and love Jesus also will keep His commandments – His moral code regarding right and wrong which is both written on my heart and written in His Word. And by so doing, we then have the promise of some day – not now, but some day – eating from the Tree of Life.
Unlike some, I’m willing to wait and do it God’s way, and not my way.
~ Jim Wright