© Rosemary Bardsley

In the beginning there was

A definition of the authentic human life – we were created in the image of God, that is we were created to reflect God’s nature and God’s glory [Genesis 1:26,27]

A clearly defined two-fold responsibility – [1] to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth and [2] to subdue the earth and rule over the creatures [Genesis 1:28].

A single prohibition – not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:17]

A single warning – that disobedience to the prohibition would result in certain death [Gen 2:17].

In these the meaning and the boundary of authentic human life are defined. This authentic human life is of necessity a life lived in positive relationship with God.


In Genesis 2:17 God confronted man with one prohibition. The existence of this prohibition is an essential companion of creation in the image of God.  It distinguishes man from:

[1] the inanimate creation, which functions in a mechanical manner,
[2] the animate creation, which functions by programmed instincts.

Created in God’s image, man has the freedom to act by choice, within the realms of what is possible. This freedom included the freedom to obey and the freedom to disobey. Here in this command man, created in a relationship of communion with God, is asked to live in the reality of that relationship by choice. To love and obey God by choice.

When we ask the question ‘Why did God create Adam with the ability to disobey, that is, to sin?’ we are in effect inferring that we wish God had made us without the ability to choose, without the freedom to choose. We are wishing that he had made us either like the animals or like the inanimate creation: pre-programmed, predetermined. We would then have been less than human, less than the image of God.

God did not create us sinners. But in creating us free, unprogrammed, undetermined creatures he created us with the ability, the possibility, to sin. Nor did God create sin. But in giving the word of prohibition ‘but you must not eat ...’ God implied by this prohibition and exclusion that sin was possible. God did not create suffering. But by stating the consequences of sin – ‘you will surely die’ - he revealed that suffering was possible, and that it would happen, if we chose disobedience, if we chose to attempt to live independently of God.

Let us note that sin had no independent existence or reality of its own: it existed only as a possibility dependent on our choosing to disobey the word of prohibition. Sin – our disobedience to the divine command, our refusal of the fundamental creature-Creator distinction and roles, our refusal to love God – is something to which God said ‘No.’ So also are all the flow-on effects of sin.

Genesis 3 records our rejection of the creature-Creator relationship that is taught in Genesis 1 and 2. In response to Satan’s deceptive suggestions the first humans exchanged

Obedience to God for disobedience.
Dependence on God for independence.
Submission to God’s word for rebellion against God’s word.
A God-centred life for a man-centred life.
Belief for unbelief.
Trusting God for trusting oneself.
The truth for a lie.
Life for death.

The impact of this choice is catastrophic.



John 1:4 says of Jesus Christ, the Word, ‘In him was life, and that life was the light of men.’ The Genesis 3 choice severed man from God, and hence, by God’s decree, automatically and inevitably, from life. God, in his grace, still gives and preserves physical life; but that spiritual life that consisted in a positive relationship with God, and on which our real identity as the image of God depended, was severed in Genesis 3. From that point on we are, according to the scripture ‘dead in transgressions and sins’ [Ephesians 2:1,5], and in desperate need of regeneration by the Spirit of God [John 3:3-7] and of the eternal life which is repeatedly promised to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In Genesis 3:

The relationship between man and God became negative.

Instead of human reflection of the nature and glory of God there is human rebellion against God, and human corruption of the concept of ‘god’.

That which before was only a possibility became a reality: we became sinners, and both sin and suffering entered the world.

In this changed relationship and these changed conditions God is now the Judge and the Lawgiver. The presence of sin and suffering radically changed the way that God relates to us. In our primal innocence we knew nothing of God’s justice and wrath. [Also in our primal innocence, though we knew ‘love’, we did not realise that that ‘love’ contained a surprising, immeasurable and incomprehensible element called ‘grace’, which the presence of sin highlights. This will be in focus in a later study].

Having become sinners severed from God by our choice to sin, we now experience the evil that we have chosen: a life of separation from the One who is the source of our life; a life of fear and guilt in the presence of God; a life of condemnation and judgment in which the wrath of God is constantly upon us; a life of ever-multiplying sin and suffering; a life of lostness and darkness in which we are alienated not only from God, but also from each other and even from ourselves. And all of this totally inescapable – a bondage, a slavery, a hopelessness, in which we are ever striving to retrieve the unknown something that we have lost, a hidden memory, an instinctive knowledge that this is not what life was meant to be. In our severance from God we put all manner of impotent substitutes in his place from which we seek to gain identity and hope, but each of which he, the one true God, prohibits by his command, because he knows they are useless and empty.

From our human perspective, God, the one place where we could, if we chose, find and recover our identity, is now the enemy, not the Father. The One to blame when things go wrong, not the One to run to for sustenance and solace. The One to defy, not the One to depend on. The One to flee from in the presence of guilt, not the One to enjoy in the presence of innocence.


The prohibition of Genesis 2:17 assumes the right of God to mark the boundaries. He, our Maker, defines the rules. He, our Maker, knows how human life was made to function. It was not that the fruit of the tree had any specific destructive quality. The tree itself was insignificant, God could have said ‘Don’t do this’ or ‘Don’t do that’ and what ever he prohibited would have resulted in the ‘knowledge of good and evil’, for the ‘knowledge of good and the evil’ consists in our rejection of God and his word.

God, as our Maker, is thus also, of necessity, our Judge. He sets the rules. He sets the penalties or outcomes [and at a deep level the penalties are the inevitable outcomes of disobedience.]

From that single initial command/prohibition and its accompanying penalty in Genesis 2:17, defined in the absence of sin to those who were innocent, a dramatic shift took place in God’s relationship to those who are guilty. In the presence of sin and guilt, not only is the imposition of the penalty inevitable, but also the imposition of law is necessitated to identify and expose our sin and to regulate and limit the expression of our sin. As guilty sinners, we can only survive if law is present. And, as we will see later, it is law that will eventually be the means of the restoration of the relationship with God for which he created us.

RESEARCH TASK: God the righteous Judge

Think deeply about these scriptures in relation to knowing God as Judge and Lawgiver.

Make notes on each of these aspects of God as Judge and Lawgiver, including implications and application in contemporary society and contemporary Christianity.

God as Judge of all the earth – a foundational concept

Genesis 18:25
1Samuel 2:10
Psalm 82:8
Psalm 94:1-3
Acts 17:31
Romans 12:17-19
1Peter 4:5

Human accountability and answerability to God – another foundational concept
Genesis 3:8-19
Genesis 4:9-10
Job 31:1-4
Job 31:13-15
Job 31:23-28

Matthew 12:36-37

Romans 2:2-4
Romans 14:10

God’s role as Judge in defining and imposing the penalty for sin

Genesis 2:17
Genesis 3:22-24
Genesis 4:11-12
Genesis 6:5-7
Genesis 6:11-13
Genesis 9:4-6
Ezekiel 18:4,20
Romans 1:18
Romans 5:12-21
Romans 6:23
Galatians 3:10

Law as a God-given means of regulating and restraining evil, and so preserving life on earth

Genesis 3:16b
Genesis 4:13-15
Genesis 9:4-6
Romans 13:1-7
1Timothy 2:1-4
2Thessalonians 2:3-8

Law as a means of identifying and exposing sin

Exodus 20:1-17
Romans 3:19-20
Romans 7:7-12
Galatians 2:18


Law as the means by which we are brought back to God

Galatians 3:19 to 4:5

Law as a means of identifying the integrity of one’s claim to know and believe in God

Exodus 19:1-6
Matthew 7:21-23
John 14:15
Acts 26:20b
James 2:14-26


The role of Christ in judgment

Isaiah 9:7
Jeremiah 23:5-6
John 12:48
Acts 10:42
2Timothy 4:1
Romans 2:16


The significance of our response to Christ for our final judgment

Matthew 11:20-24
John 3:18-19
John 3:36
John 12:47-50


The final judgment

Aspect #1:

1Chronicles 16:33b
Psalm 89:14
Psalm 96:10-13
Psalm 98:7-9
2Thessalonians 1:10
Revelation 5:9-14

Aspect #2:

Matthew 24:42-51
Matthew 25:19
Matthew 25:31-46
Luke 21:31-36b
2Thessalonians 2:5-9
2Timothy 4:8
2Peter 3:10
Revelation 14:7

Aspect #3:

1Corinthians 3:10-15
1Thessalonians 5:1-11
2Peter 3:11-14


It is obvious from the above that law and justice are a necessity in the fallen world.

Before the fall, apart from the one prohibition which defined and outlawed the one potential sin of rejection of God, law was unnecessary. As long as man trusted and loved God no sins existed; as long as man trusted and loved God, no codified definition of sins was necessary; as long as man trusted and loved God all goodness, of every kind, was expressed in his thought, word and action towards God and towards the neighbour, as he reflected the nature of the God with whom he lived in positive, face to face relationship, and on whom he depended.

With the first sin all of that was shattered. God is rejected. The relationship with God is severed. Instead of reflecting the nature of God, man now reflects the nature of the one by whom he was deceived [John 8:42-47]. Sin now encompasses and pervades the thoughts, words and actions of man. Destruction and death threaten within and without. Law is now necessary to define and limit sins and the suffering sin inevitably causes. Justice is now necessary, a system of authority and accountability without which man will not survive.

God, in an action of incredible grace, not only permits man to remain on earth as a sinner, but also provides the structures to enable his survival. Law. Government. Penalty. Punishment. All of these are here by the grace of God to give the sinner time to repent, to give the sinner the opportunity to hear and believe the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to goad the sinner to despair and thence to hope.

This God, this righteous Judge, is slow to anger [Exodus 34:6], not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9]. Hence the Law. Hence the period in which his wrath hangs over us. Hence his repeated warnings of the judgment to come. But he is the Judge, and that day will come when the time of grace is over and the judgment must occur.

Consider a sinful world without any law, without any judicial system, and without any knowledge of God as the righteous Judge.

What would happen, for instance …

To sin and evil …



To the weak and vulnerable ….


To the poor …


In the economic world …


On the roads …



Consider this excerpt on the law of God from The Westminster Confession of Faith. What can you learn from it?

CHAPTER XIX. Of the Law of God.

I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

II. This law, after his Fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.

III. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a Church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.

IV. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.

VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man's doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.