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The Tri-Cycle of Sin, Judgment, and Grace

Sin, Judgment, and Grace 

You know the story. It is appropriately labeled, “The Fall.” Eve listens to the tempter’s voice. Adam stands by without trying to stop her and joins in sin. Death becomes inevitable. The harmony is broken. Nothing is the way it should be anymore.

And so begins a cycle we see again and again in Scripture. It is the pattern of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. It defines the book of Judges. It is in some sense the pattern of our lives.

The cycle is simply this: We sin, judgment follows, and then there is grace. Three basic components of the story that cycle around again and again—in fact, you could call this cycle of three a Tri-Cycle, a Tri-Cycle of Sin, Judgment, and Grace.

Genesis 3 records the Sin: eating the forbidden fruit. Then there is Judgment: exile from the Garden, providing food becomes hard work for the man, bearing children becomes painful for the woman. And then there is Grace: and what a grace it is! Here already in Genesis 3 we have the first promise of the Gospel—the protoevangelium. On the heels of the Fall comes the promise of final victory. God just won’t let Judgment have the final word. He is a God of grace, costly grace: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. He is a God of grace. For those who reject His grace, there is no escape from judgment, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

The First Murder

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks. Abel is dead because his offering was acceptable to God. But Cain’s wasn’t. The LORD favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s. The Bible doesn’t say why, but God does warn the eldest son of Adam, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7b)

Anger burns. Jealousy prevails. Blood flows. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asks. He should have been. Instead, Abel’s blood cried out to heaven. Sin was followed by Judgment. And Judgment was followed by Grace.

The Judgment is somehow familiar: a curse on the ground and an exile. But Cain is afraid others will try to kill him in revenge, generations of Abel’s descendents who would have the right to take Cain’s life as punishment for murder. But God again shows grace. He places His mark of protection on Cain. Judgment is again tempered by mercy.

The Flood

When it rains, it pours. After children began to be born in the image of their sinful parents, it didn’t take long for morality to go down the drain. In fact, things got so bad that it broke God’s heart: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

The sin was terrible. So was the judgment: “So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ “

But the next verse shows us the grace: “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” In the face of rampant sin, God found favor in one man. And so He told Noah to build a boat. Noah doesn’t get credit for a great idea. He can’t boast that his own efforts saved him. He doesn’t earn God’s grace. God comes to him with detailed plans. God’s action saves.

But God doesn’t build the boat. There is still a response. The gift is by grace. But if Noah don’t build the Ark, Noah don’t float. God comes in grace to save. And Noah is given a response. Not a response that earns the gift, but a response that receives the gift with open hands. God gives the blueprint of the Ark and then we read: “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” (Genesis 6:22)

Babel: Sun, Judgment, and . . .

It wasn’t just a tower. It was a tower and a city. And it was in direct disobedience to the command of God. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” God told Adam and Eve. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” God told Noah and his family. And all the people said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower … lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Doh!

So in their hubris they design a tower, which is to have “its top in the heavens.” But their greatness is only imagined. It’s with tongue in cheek that the text tells us, “The LORD came down to see the city and the tower.” You can almost hear the dialogue. Man builds what he thinks is a tower that reaches to the heavens. And God from His heaven looks down and says, “What are they doing way down there? I can’t tell, can you? Let’s go down for a closer look …”

Sins of pride and disobedience, followed by judgment—a judgment that to this day affects how we live. If you have ever tried to study German or French, if you have ever worked and sweated and struggled through Hebrew or Greek, if you have ever wondered who was to blame for English, look no further. Up to this point in history, the whole world had one language. But God confuses their communication and scatters them across the face of the earth, where, ironically, He had told them to go in the first place.

 Grace: The Call of Abraham

It wasn’t that Abram was disgusted with the idolatry of his home country, Ur of the Chaldeans; it wasn’t that Abram had heard about the true God being worshiped on mount Zion; it wasn’t that Abram was looking for a land of opportunity; at age 75, Abram packed up everything and headed out to an uncertain destination for one reason: the LORD told him to.

The LORD came to Abram and chose him in grace. The LORD promised to make him a great nation, a promise that would later be fleshed out in more detail. And here, after the separation of all people into different nations and languages, here God chooses one man, one nation in order to bless all nations. Abram is chosen by grace, and he is chosen for a purpose: Abram is blessed to be a blessing.

The promise made to Eve is narrowed further: We already know that the Seed who will defeat the Serpent for us will be the Offspring of the Woman. Now we learn that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through the one, particular nation God will create from this one, particular man. The Offspring of Eve will also be the Son of Abraham.

Genesis 1-11: the story of our lives. Our sin brings God’s judgment. But God won’t let judgment have the final word. Again and again in the opening chapters of the Bible, again and again in our daily lives, God insists that grace will prevail. That’s what the cross and open tomb are all about.

Text (c) Justin Rossow, 2008 The Old Testament Story

About Justin Rossow

Justin writes and talks at the intersection of Scripture, culture, and metaphor theory. As founder of Next Step Press, he helps people delight in taking a next step following Jesus.

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