The Gospel of John begins with a passage that is strikingly similar to the first verses of the Bible in Genesis chapter one. They both start with the phrase ‘in the beginning’.
Genesis says in the beginning ‘God’, while John says in the beginning the ‘Word’.
Genesis 2:7 says – “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”
John 1:4 says – “The Word gave life to everything that was created.”
They both tell the story of what happened at the very beginning. They agree that man was created by God, and Genesis tells us that man was made in the image of God. After man was made, he was like a glove puppet without a hand in it. Man was lifeless. John and Genesis tell us that life was given to the created man.
Now man already had life in one sense, in the sense that he had biological life. What God put in man was another kind of life. There are three words for life in Greek. They are bios, psuche and zoe. The first is bios, from where we get the word biology and it means body life, or physical life. Psuche life conveys what it sounds like: psychology, the natural life of the soul that loves with emotion, decides with the will and rationalizes with the mind. Life from God is zoe. This is real life, eternal life, divine life.
The life that God breathed into man after he had been created was zoe.
This is uncreated life. It is God himself. After God has put his life in man he plants the Garden of Eden, and ‘in the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ This is the same word life, it is divine life. Man was told only to avoid one of these trees, suggesting he should have eaten the fruit of the tree of zoe life.
This insight comes from theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). I think it has the potential to transform your thinking and living.
Bonhoeffer points out in his book Ethics that ‘knowledge of good and evil’ is the root of all religious and ethical systems. Jesus, however, came to give us a new life rather than a new ethic or religion (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:4; 1 John 5:11-12).
We are the recipients of God’s uncreated life. As such we are not called to live by a ‘Christian’ religion or code of ethics, but by God’s life. That life is a divine life, the rich, full, abundant life that Christ talks about in John 10:10. By contrast, to eat from ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ is to govern one’s life by ‘right and wrong’, to behave by a standard of ‘good and evil’. Knowing good does not necessarily mean doing good, as we can all testify! Good is a life-form, and only God is good (Matthew 19:16-17) – at the attempt to be good, man invariably fails (Romans 3:12).
According to the Scriptures, goodness is not only a life-form but a Person, God himself. Therefore when believers merely seek to ‘be good’ they are eating from the wrong tree, and they succumb to their fallen nature. Eating from the wrong tree leads to shame and condemnation (as seen in Adam and Eve, Genesis 3:7-8).
Such failure was never God’s intention for us – he wanted us to share his life, to live in union with himself and express his goodness in the earth. That is what ‘the Tree of Life’ offered. And God has made this possible for all humankind by giving his Son to die for us on the life-restoring tree of Calvary, where he reconciles sinners to himself and places us ‘in Christ’ by grace through faith.
You see, when faced with the situations and choices of every-day life, our mind begins to furiously ask, ‘Is this right or is it wrong? Is this good or is it evil?’ In doing so we are eating from the wrong tree. When we strive to be ‘good Christians’ we make the same mistake. This is not Christianity. This is in fact old covenant living, and it is very human and Israel-like.
There is another way, introduced by Christ and his indwelling life. This is living from the Tree of Life! Jesus himself lived on earth by a life not his own.
Jesus says in John 5:19 – ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.’
Jesus could do only what he saw the father do. He did nothing on his own. He said it was the father living in him who did the work. Jesus lived by the indwelling father. God was his tree of life. He did not look at good and try to avoid evil. He set his eyes only on his father and did only what his father did.
Jesus says in John 6:57 – ‘I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me.’
The divine life that indwells us gives us supernatural instincts, desires and energy to embody the new life of Christ in all we are and do, and in all our relationships.
It makes us sons and daughters of God. We choose to eat the fruit of the tree of life, which is Jesus. We have his life in us and we are now alive with zoe life.
In our reading this morning we heard Jesus say: ‘Anyone who believes has eternal life.’ This is zoe life. It does not mean flesh life for ever, but divine life. When Jesus says he came to bring us abundant life, he does not mean lots of money or stuff of this world. He means to energy and vitality of true life. He means divine zoe life.
In John 15 Jesus says – ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.’
Jesus could do nothing without being filled by the zoe life of God, and you likewise can do nothing on your own. We all, like our Lord, can do nothing without being filled with the true life of God. Apart from him we can do nothing. Independence is death.
Knowledge of good is death. We need life. We get life from Jesus, not knowledge. We get life from God living in us through the Holy Spirit. Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? Are you alive with divine life, or are you trying to be good and do it yourself?
After his resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples – “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
He was sent to us filled with divine zoe life, now he fills us with that life and sends us to live in complete dependence on him. And to teach others how to live this way.
Jesus said to Mary in front of the empty tomb: “Go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
No longer is Jesus the only begotten son of God, now he has brothers and sisters. God is now our God. We are born of God and we are filled with his zoe life.
The church at large needs to awaken to her indwelling Lord, and so do you and I. Then only will we be empowered to build God’s house and fulfil his grand purpose for the universe in Christ! Let’s start eating from the tree of life. Stay away from that other tree, the tree of knowledge, it brings only death.
As Paul says in Colossians 1:27 – ‘This is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.’