Innocence and Conscience

‘Who told you that you were naked?’ Gen. 3. 11 NKJV.

Throughout history God has given mankind various responsibilities, so that man might know what God requires of him, but time after time man has failed in his stewardship. But God will have a man to be a faithful steward of the earth, and of the heavens too. One day, when human beings have proved altogether untrustworthy, and the present heavens and earth have been destroyed, Jesus Christ will take His place as Head over the new creation, with the whole universe subject to Him.

In the following studies, we will examine in detail each of the administrative systems under which man has been tested. We will see what God required of man at each stage, and how man consistently failed the tests.

Man’s first test was in Eden. God gave Adam three simple commands, three ‘house rules’ which Adam must follow in order to be a faithful steward. First, Adam was to be fruitful and multiply. Second, he should care for the garden. Third, he must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Aside from these instructions, Adam and Eve had no knowledge of right and wrong. They were innocent regarding good and evil. This is why Bible teachers sometimes describe this administration as ‘the dispensation of innocence’.

But although Adam and Eve did not have the knowledge of good and evil within themselves, if they wanted to know if something was right or wrong, there was a simple way of finding out. In the evening, God would come down to walk in the garden. Adam and Eve only need wait for Him and they could ask about anything they wanted to know. In this way, they would be dependent on God. God wanted them to have a knowledge of good and evil so that they could learn what was pleasing to Him. But He wanted them to acquire this knowledge through dependence on Him.

But there was a possible shortcut – the tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve realized that if they ate from the tree, they would have all the knowledge God had on this subject instantly. They would not need to ask God about anything. They could be independent.

The requirements God had given to Adam as manager were clear and simple. But within a very short space of time, Adam failed in his stewardship.

There was nothing wrong with the system. What God had required of Adam was not unreasonable, nor was it especially difficult. Adam did not possess a sinful nature to lead him astray. Nevertheless, Adam desired independence from God. He did not want to serve under the terms his Master had laid out.

So, God judged Adam for his sin. But He is gracious. Although His chief steward had failed, God did not abandon His plan to set a man in charge of a united heavens and earth. Since man had chosen to have the knowledge of good and evil within himself, God would test man against that knowledge. When Adam and Eve sinned, their consciences were awakened. Immediately, they realized they were naked, and they understood that nakedness was wrong, so they covered themselves. For the rest of their lives, God never gave them a single commandment, but they had their consciences to discern right from wrong.

The same was true for their descendants. There was no written or spoken commandment against murder, yet Cain knew it was wrong – why else would he have denied killing his brother?

Down through the generations, although people had the knowledge of God’s righteous requirements written on their hearts, Rom. 2. 15, they persistently chose evil over good. By the time of the Flood, almost everyone was living in open rebellion against the Creator. Adam had failed under the dispensation of innocence; now, mankind had failed under ‘the dispensation of conscience’.

There was nothing wrong with the system. It was possible to follow one’s conscience and live righteously, as Abel, Enoch, and Noah proved. But most people didn’t want to do that. Like Adam, they chose their own way. Judgement was inevitable.

To be continued …