Two approaches to God – works and grace
Lesson 11 from The HOPE Study Guide
And out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… And the Lord God commanded the man saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.
– Genesis 2: 9, 16-17
In the middle of the garden, there were two trees. One was the tree of life, the other, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told Adam he could eat from any tree in the garden, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he must not eat, for when he does he will surely die.
– The HOPE, Chapter 2
Observe & Consider
Thus far in God’s story, we’ve witnessed much drama, but no conflict. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a beautiful garden where they had all they needed. But two trees stood in the midst of the garden. One tree yielded life, the other death; first a spiritual death, and ultimately a physical death.
Bible scholars throughout history have considered the meaning of these two trees. Most agree that the trees represent two entirely different ways of relating to God and life.1 The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is thought to represent man’s attempt to be fulfilled, and rightly related to God, through his own effort – often by acquiring knowledge and trying to do what is right in His own eyes. The Bible says the end of this approach is death.2
However, the tree of life is, according to theologian John Calvin, a reminder to man that “he lives not by his own power, but by the kindness of God; and that life is not an intrinsic good, but proceeds from God.” 3 The tree of life represents the life–giving favor which flows from God – favor we do not merit and cannot earn, but can only receive in humility and thanksgiving.
In the previous lesson, we considered that the purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. We concluded that our fulfillment of this purpose is not so much a matter of what we do for Him, but rather what He does as a result of our relationship with Him. If you think that the theme of this lesson is similar to that one, you’re right. The contrast between dependence on self and dependence on God is a theme that appears often throughout God’s story.
Ask & Reflect
Why do people strive so in life and in their relationship with God? Why do so many choose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than the tree of life? Often it is because they have never heard the good news of God’s life giving favor that you are hearing now. Or perhaps they have heard, and are unwilling or unable to receive from God. Even those who truly desire to know and follow God can fall into the trap of eating from the tree of knowledge.
As you consider the two trees from today’s lesson, ask yourself, “From which tree have I been eating?”
Decide & Do
Eating from the tree of life begins with a personal relationship with God. If you do not yet have the kind of intimate, personal relationship with God that allows you to confidently trust His goodness toward you in this life and beyond, take time now to visit the Knowing God section of this study. God wants you to know Him, and has made a way for that to happen.
If you already have a personal relationship with God, but you have fallen into the trap of striving to live life in your own strength, then take some time now to identify those things that are keeping you from experiencing the abundant “life-giving favor” that God has for you. Go to the Growing in God section for additional help.
1 Watchman Nee, “The Choice That Confronted Adam” from his book The Normal Christian Life. Copyright Angus Kinnear 1961, Kingsway Publications, Eastbourne, England. (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/nee/normal.xi.iii.html). Retrieved October 4, 2006.
2 Romans 8:5-13
3 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 1.1.2
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