Sometimes a friend will emerge from home clothed in an outfit that’s not flattering, not appropriate, or maybe just flat-out ridiculous. Of course your friend thinks it looks fabulous, but since you truly care about your friend, you pointedly ask, “You’re not going to wear that, are you?”
When Adam and Eve sinned, they instantly knew they were naked, and tried to cover their shame and guilt with fig leaves. We often hear that Cain invented false religion, but it was actually a family business he inherited from his parents – those fig leaves were the original false religion. That is why the LORD replaced them with coats of skins (Gen. 3:21).
So, what was wrong with the fig leaves? Three things:
- They were Synthetic
No, they weren’t constructed of some space-age polymer. By synthetic, I simply mean that they were of human rather than divine origin – the product of man’s mind and hands, not God’s. Psychologists have written countless volumes geared toward helping people deal with guilt, but the truth is that we can’t deal with our own guilt. Only God can deal with our guilt, for He alone can forgive our sin, as He declares in Isaiah 43:25
- They were Pathetic
Those big, supple leaves looked like they’d do the job, but just like our first parents the fig leaves wouldn’t last forever because they had been severed from their life-source. They’d soon wither, dry up, and disintegrate, but the covering God provided would last a lifetime – a picture of our Saviour, who is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
- They were Cosmetic
The fig leaves were just for show, hiding the shame outside but not the guilt inside. In fact, that is at the very heart of false religion: sinful man works to make himself acceptable to holy God, but it doesn’t ease his conscience. He still has guilt and no assurance of forgiveness, so he just works that much harder, impressing the daylights out of his neighbors with his moral life and charitable deeds. He looks good outside, but “the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7)
Imagine how shocked, how horrified Adam and Eve were as they watched the LORD slaughter one of His beautiful, innocent creatures to cover their sin. They became painfully aware of the seriousness of sin and gloriously aware of the magnitude of God’s grace. That day they learned the two “non-negotiables” of Substitionary Atonement: “Without faith, it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6); and, “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).
Every friend and relative, neighbor and colleague who is not clothed with the righteousness of Christ is parading around in nothing more than fig leaves. We know how synthetic, pathetic, and cosmetic their works-based “self-salvation” plans are. Let us pray fervently for the wisdom and courage to confront them in love and say, “My dear friend, someday you will stand before God – you’re not going to wear that, are you?”