The Futility of Our Fig Leaves

Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach
"Don't tell me what the Bible says! Just give me the application!"

These are not entirely uncommon words in the biblical counseling realm. People make their way to counseling sessions because life or marriage has simply become unbearable, and they naturally want answers. What's more, they want someone to tell them how to apply whatever answers exist.

They don't want to sit and listen any longer than is necessary. They want to do something.

Pastor-counselors will recognize the pressure of a counselee demanding a technique or homework assignment to apply to whatever is at issue. Counselees may recognize the pressure they have felt to discover something--anything--that will bring about a quick resolution to their trouble.

The inconvenient truth, however, is that counseling is often more akin to a marathon than a sprint. Counselors and counselees alike must come to the counseling table committed to the likelihood of a journey to another land, rather than a day trip to a neighboring town.

What we know about successful counseling is this: On the highway of Gospel-driven life transformation, soundbites and checklists will not suffice. But, when the trials of life are at their fiercest, soundbites and checklists are often what the heart of man desires most.

The Trouble with Fig Leaves

In Genesis 3, the Bible's account of the fall of man into sin and death is given. Satan, that old serpent, and man's adversary enters the Garden of Eden, and tempts Eve away from obedience to God, and into cosmic rebellion against her Creator. Adam, the first man, and husband of Eve is there. His silence in the face of treachery resounds to this day, as the first couple exchanged the glory of God for a lie in disobeying the righteous command of God (Genesis 2:16-17; 3:6; Romans 1:23).

When Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible says that they immediately became aware of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Adam and Eve may have been literally naked, but the Bible isn't primarily concerned here with their attire; rather, the concern is for the weakness, need, and humiliation of the nature of man in comparison to a holy God. Prior to this cataclysmic moment in human history, Adam and Eve had only enjoyed the perfection of their relationship with God, and with one another (Genesis 2:25).

Now there was, for the first time in creation history, a breech in the relationship between God and man, and by extension, between the first couple. Adam and Eve, feeling the intensity of that rupture, knew that something had to be done. One of the many critical errors in their judgment, though, was in deciding that they possessed the wisdom and discernment needed for the provision of a suitable resolution.

What was their answer to the advent of sin and death in the world? Fig leaves for loincloths, and hiding from the only supernatural God of the universe among the trees (Genesis 3:8).

This is What We Do

Following in the footsteps of the first Adam, we are tempted to conclude that when the troubles of life come our way, especially the natural consequences of our own sinful deeds, that what is needed most is for us to do something (Romans 5:12).

Chances are, unlike Adam and Eve in the garden, we are not physically naked. But, much like them, we sometimes act as if we are--spiritually. Rather than turn to God the Father, through God the Son, and in the power of God the Holy Spirit, we are often tempted to drift further away from God because of our awareness that we are naked (weak and needy) before Him. 

By our pride, we are repulsed by our humiliation, and through the futility of our thinking, we sew modern forms of ancient fig leaves together in an effort to cover up our shame.

How do we do this? For some, this takes the form of reputation management before others (John 12:43). For another group, it comes in the form of hiding among education and career. Still others may attempt to camouflage their guilt with sex or chemical addictions, or perhaps even more repulsive to God, is the performance of religious duty--good works (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).

What Can Wash Away Our Sin

To be sure, there is a place for human participation in the work of sanctification that is unique and separate from what God does in His miracle of salvation (Philippians 2:12-13). But, this is not what comes first--what shall I do? 

When the trauma and crises of life come, we must hear John the Baptist, who proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), and fix our eyes upon Him.

In Genesis 3, what we see is that God, in His wisdom, initiates the process of divine reconciliation--He is the principal agent of change. Foreshadowing what He would ultimately do in the cross of Christ, it is God who brings to the first couple garments of animal skins (Genesis 3:21), because without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22).

As the world would come to know, the blood of bulls and goats was never intended to suffice for the horrific nature of man's transgression against a holy and just God (Hebrews 10:4). Only the shed blood of the sinless Son of God would appease the wrath of God, serving as a propitiation for sin, making possible peace with God for all who believe (Romans 5:1; 1 John 2:2).

The Only Hope for True and Lasting Change

In biblical counseling, the hard work, commitment, and participation of the counselee is critically important. This is why, for example, homework is regularly assigned. If what is discussed in the counseling room is not applied in real life, then counseling will almost certainly fail.

Still, counselors and counselees alike must beware of the human inclination to think, wrongly, that what is needed at the first is for human action to be taken. The Gospel is principally not about what man may do, but about what Christ has actually done. One of the glories of the Gospel is that in the new birth, Christ replaces Adam as the new believer's federal head (Romans 5:19).

Until a person has fixed their gaze upon Him, until their heart has been captivated by His beauty, and until they have discovered that He is, in fact, their only source of true hope for lasting change, they will find themselves continually tempted to sew loincloths for themselves out of the fig leaves of this world, which according to the Bible, is passing away (1 John 2:17).

What Do You Think?

Where are you attempting to hide guilt and shame in your own life?

What is the form of your modern day fig leaves?