WORSHIP IN EDEN: What We Had, What We Lost, What Was Restored

Volume 14, No. 10 (October 2019)



God’s own assessment of His creative work was that it was “good” (9 times in Genesis 1:4–2:12), and that after man was added it was all “very good” (1:31).

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden, where they had direct, unfettered access to God— unmediated worship:

Although the Scriptures do not specifically say so, worship of God must certainly have begun in the garden of Eden before the fall as Adam and Eve enjoyed the unbroken communion with their Creator God. They had the privilege of face-to-face encounter with their Maker. . . . The foundation of all true Christian worship is always the presence of God with His people. (Robert Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship, 44, 50)

And according to Romans 1:19-20:

what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”[1]


What we see in the fall is a direct challenge to the fundamental distinction between Creator and created, to the uniqueness of God’s glory. Romans 1:20-21 says they were “without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to Him.” And this challenge actually goes back to the fall of Lucifer.

The prideful attitude which led to this angelic being’s rebellion against his Maker is reflected in the reference to the “star of the morning” in Isaiah 14, according to many commentators. There we read:

You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God. (14:13)

And, most tellingly,

“I will make MYSELF like the Most High.” (14:14)

In wanting equal status with God, Lucifer was thereby denying his appropriate station as a created being and seeking to usurp the unique authority and glory of God Himself.

When we come to the account of the fall in Genesis 3, we see Satan (in the guise of the serpent) dangling before Eve the very same supposed possibility:

The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

That was the essence of Satan’s lie: presuming that one could be like God. No one can be “like God;” as the Creator He is absolutely unique and in a class by Himself. The attempt to usurp His unique status lies at the root of the fall.

Adam and Eve knew God, knew His power and glory, yet did not “glorify Him as God,” i.e., did not grant to Him or submit themselves to His unique station and status. In wanting to be like God, they denied Him the respect and homage He alone deserved. As John Piper has said, “the essence of sin is the belittling of God’s glory.” And they belittled His glory by robbing it of its claim to uniqueness. If God the Creator is not unique, He’s not God at all! So they were in fact rejecting Him as (their) God.

[The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil] refers to moral autonomy, i.e., deciding what is right without reference to God’s revealed will. . . . To eat this tree is to disregard the law.” (Gordon Wenham, “Sanctuary Symbolism in the Garden of Eden Story,” referring to W. M. Clark,  Journal of Biblical Literature 88:266-78)

Geerhardus Vos . . . says that the heart of legalism is when we separate the law of God from the person of God. And what we have got then are bare imperatives that don’t have an indicative that will sustain them. God Himself in His grace, love, kindness, and generosity was the indicative that would have sustained the imperative of “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” And I see that distortion of God’s character, and the notion of legalism that seeks to earn what now as fallen creatures we can never earn, and blinds us to His a priori love for us in Christ. (Sinclair Ferguson, “Legalism in Eden” (interview with Sovereign Grace Ministries)

The idea behind the command not to eat from one tree in the garden was really all about this question: Who will be at the center of the human creature’s world? Who is in charge? When Eve eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she decides that the human creature will be at the center—will be in charge. And in that sense the serpent had told a half-truth: she did become like God, knowing good and evil as God knows it, insofar as the creature has assumed the right to apprehend and legislate morality as a god. In that sense, Genesis’ point is that we end up worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. This is the autonomy that manifests itself so clearly in a desire to be one’s own god. (Dennis Okholm, Learning Theology through the Church’s Worship: An Introduction to Christian Belief, 140)

What poor Adam could not see was that like God he already was as like God as ever a creature could be. . . .     In his vain search to rise above his God-appointed station he succeeded only in bringing down the human race into sin. . . . Adam’s folly lay in believing he could ever rise higher than his human station. There is no higher station open to any creature. (Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Complete in Christ, 110-111)

So Adam and Eve in their pride denied the fundamental distinction between Creator and created which, as we have seen, is the foundation of true worship. And so it is inevitable that, with a false presupposition about God, they would then turn to false worship. And that is in fact what happened, as Paul goes on to say:

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. . . . For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:22-23,25)

So we see that the central issue in the fall was one of worship: Whom are you going to worship? Who is worthy of your worship? In the fall, man said: “I am worthy to be “like God,” as well as these idols and creatures. I will pursue these things.” And so he proceeded to pursue all of these things in place of God and instead of giving Him His rightful place in his life. The clay said to the potter (to use the biblical image), in effect: “I can handle things on my own, thank you very much.” He did not “glorify God as God or give thanks.”

When confronted with the question, “Whom will you worship?” Adam and Eve made the wrong decision: they did not glorify God or give thanks, with dire consequences for the entire human race.

The fundamental problem with the human race, according to Romans 1–3, is . . . a failure of worship which leads to, but is itself deeper than, the multiple failures of human living. (N. T. Wright, “Freedom and Framework, Spirit and Truth: Recovering Biblical Worship”)


The Second Adam, Jesus Christ, was presented by Satan with essentially this same question. The third of Satan’s temptations of Christ in Matthew’s account shows us this:

Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:8-9)

The ugly and ghastly distortion of Satan’s whole appearance in Scripture is that he who was formed to honor and glorify and praise and worship God has begun to rob God of His worship and seek to deflect it to himself. Isn’t that what happens in the temptation of Jesus? “Now,” he says, “I will give you the kingdoms of this world if You will fall down and worship me.” Have you ever thought how extraordinary and horrendous that here an angel, created to worship this holy Being who created Himself the heavens and the earth, now comes and says to Him and says, “You come and bow down and worship me.” I tell you, there is something utterly grotesque about this, both in the Garden of Eden and in the temptation in Matthew 4. (Eric Alexander, “Worship God! Revelation 19:10”)[2]

However, whereas Adam and Eve answered wrongly the question, “Whom are you going to worship?” the Second Adam answered rightly:

Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” (Matt 4:10)

“Whom will you worship?” “Who is worthy of your worship?” Jesus’ reply: God, and God alone. He glorified God as God, acknowledging His uniqueness and glory.

Christ came to restore true worship. As our heritage from the first Adam is that of God-belittling self-worship, so our legacy from the second Adam is God-glorifying worship. He came to set things right. He is our model: we are to worship the Lord our God, and serve Him only. With Christ the fundamental distinction between Creator and created is reaffirmed, and with it the basis for true worship is restored.; but, since the fall, now all true worship is mediated worship:

If the narrative about creation displays the wonders of Paradise where people had immediate access to the Lord God, the account of the expulsion of the sinners from that garden sanctuary reminds people that only through mediation can they draw near to the divine presence again. (Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, 109)

Tozer goes so far as to say:

Why did Christ come? Why was He conceived? Why was He born? Why was He crucified? Why did He rise again? Why is He now at the righthand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, in order that He might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that He might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created. (A. W. Tozer, “Worship: The Missing Jewel”)

As Tim Keller points out, Jesus not only passed the test in the wilderness that Adam and Eve failed in the Garden of Eden, He also passed it in another garden, the Garden of Gethsemane:

Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Corinthians 15). (Tim Keller, “Preaching to the Heart”)

“Not my will, but Thine, be done.” The attitude of true worship!

1] Morna Hooker has demonstrated that there are closer ties between Romans 1 and Genesis than is sometimes thought, both in vocabulary and in structure; in fact, she concludes that “Paul’s account of man’s wickedness has been deliberately stated in terms of the Biblical narrative of Adam’s fall. . . . In particular, the sequence of events outlined in Romans 1 reminds us of the story of Adam as it is told in Genesis 1–3. Of Adam it is supremely true that God manifested to him that which can be known of Him (v. 19); that from the creation onwards, God’s attributes were clearly discernible to him in the things which had been made, and that he was thus without excuse (v. 20). Adam, above and before all men, knew God, but failed to honour Him as God, and grew vain in his thinking and allowed his heart to be darkened (v.20). Adam’s fall was the result of his desire to be God, to attain the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:5), so that, claiming to be wise, he in fact became a fool (v. 22). (M.D. Hooker, “Adam in Romans 1” NTS 6: 300-301, 303) Another writer has called Romans 1 “Paul’s theological commentary on Genesis 3. Genesis 3 tells us what happened; Romans 1 tell us what it means.” (author unknown)

2] Alexander adds, “But, my dear friends, there is something equally grotesque about a man or woman who devotes the faculties God has given them and the gifts God has bestowed upon them to bring worship to any other creature or object in the universe except to the living God.”

See also: Ron Man, “False and True Worship in Romans 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157 [Jan.-March 2000]:26-34

















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