THE MEANING OF
THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL
AND THE TREE OF LIFE
The meaning of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is man acting apart from God, man pursuing goodness according to his self-will, man hastily and impatiently seeking after the knowledge that God has not granted, and man pursuing progress by his own means rather than by trusting in God. What all these mean is that man is simply acting alone and independently, outside of God. Dear brothers, this is the first sin committed by man. In God’s eyes, the meaning of sin is not necessarily related to committing many defiling acts. As long as man seeks anything, does anything, or acts in any way by himself, he has sinned, regardless of whether the thing he seeks after or does is good or bad.
God hates to see man acting independently apart from Him. God wants man to depend on Him. The purpose for God to create and save man was for man to depend on Him. This is the meaning of the tree of life. God told Adam: "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it" (Gen. 2:16-17). Among all the edible trees, God specifically mentioned the tree of life in contrast to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. "The tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (v. 9). We see from God’s specific mention of the tree of life that it was the most crucial tree among all the edible trees. This was what Adam should have eaten first. What is the reason for this?
The tree of life signifies God’s life—God’s uncreated life. Adam was a created being; hence, he did not have this life. Although Adam was sinless, he was natural, one among all the animals; he did not have the divine life. God’s intention was for Adam to exercise his will to choose the fruit of the tree of life, thus establishing a life-relationship with Him. This would transform him from something created by God into something born of God. God wanted Adam to refuse his created natural life, unite himself with God’s life, and live in dependence on His life every day. This is the meaning of the tree of life. God intended that Adam would live according to a life that was not his originally. Here the significance of dependence or reliance is most obvious. When a creature lives according to his created life, he does not have to depend on anything, because life is independent and can exist by itself. But the minute a creature decides to live according to the Creator’s life, he has to exercise dependence, because such a life is not in him; it is only in God. Hence, he cannot live independently from God but must depend fully on God and must have unceasing fellowship with Him. Since this life was not within Adam, he had to exercise dependence before he could receive it. Adam did not have the strength to live out this life. Hence, he had to continue to exercise a dependence on God so that he could be preserved. The condition to receive is the same as the condition to be preserved. Adam had to depend on God every day so that he could have the life of God every day.
GOD’S DEMAND ON US
The same is true with God’s demand on us today. In Genesis, figuratively speaking, God’s life and man’s life were only planted together in the midst of a garden. Today God’s life and man’s life are both within us. The saved believers are all regenerated, that is, we are all born of God and have established a life-relationship with God. The created life is within us and so is the Creator’s life. The present problem is whether or not we live according to God’s life and completely depend on God in our daily living. As our physical body cannot survive without the created life, in the same manner our spirit cannot survive without the Creator’s life.
Brothers, God wants us to have no activity apart from Him. He wants us to die to ourselves. He wants us to attach ourselves to Him as if we could not even move without Him. God does not want us to initiate anything by ourselves, but He wants us to act according to His instruction in everything. God wants us to realize that we are helpless and that we should depend on Him wholeheartedly. We should reject any independent act apart from God. It is altogether of the self to do anything, try to do anything, or have done anything without praying, without waiting for God, without seeking His will and clearly understanding it, without recognizing the self’s weaknesses and impotence, without helplessly turning to and depending on God, and without the assurance (through the inspection of the conscience) that nothing of the self is involved. In God’s eyes, without this assurance, what we do just involves sins. Brothers, God does not care how well you have done something; He only cares about who does it. God will not be moved just because we have done something good. Besides His own work, God is not satisfied with anything else. You may act, work, labor, or suffer for Christ and His church, but unless you are certain that this is what God wants you to do, and unless you realize your own inability in fear and trembling and turn to God to work through Him, in God’s eyes, you are sinning just like Adam. Brothers, stop your own work! Never think that you can do something just because it is good. God’s view is not as small as ours! You can labor, and you can do something according to your own delights; but you will not have any spiritual usefulness at all.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 08: The Present Testimony (1), Chapter 6, by Watchman Nee)