Even before Isaac Newton wrote down his observations about gravity, people had a pretty good working knowledge of the principle. It was widely understood that when an apple fell from a tree, it would hit the earth. Children learned at an early age not to throw rocks straight up - what goes up, must come down. The average peasant did not need Newton's proofs to verify these things; he had enough experience on his own to vouch for this natural law. The effect was easily observable.
The law of gravity exists entirely apart from human legislation. Isaac Newton did not create it, but merely wrote it down. It is a fact of everyday life, and cannot simply be ignored. It is always in operation. A man may choose to pretend it does not exist, but he does so at tremendous risk to himself and others.
Gravity is but one of the many natural laws - those phenomena, not of human origin or governance, that have been proven to always occur whenever certain conditions exist. These cause-and-effect principles govern much of our lives. We may not be aware of the specifics - or willfully choose to ignore them - but, like gravity, they operate continuously. These are not laws we can vote on. We either comply, or we suffer the consequences.
The rest of God's laws are no different. They are not of human origin, and thus are beyond human regulation. They are always in force. They were not created by Moses (or any other man), but were merely recorded by him. These laws have been in existence longer than mankind has. And, like gravity, a man may choose to pretend they do not exist, but he will still reap the consequences for transgressing them.
One of these very broad natural laws is stated as follows: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life [through] Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). We normally consider "death" just to mean "the cessation of life," and while that is not entirely incorrect, that definition is too narrow for this verse. Death is contrasted with - the opposite of - eternal life. Eternal life is more than just life without end. An endless life would be torment without relief unless it also had with it the proper quality. Eternal life is living - conducting ourselves - the way God lives. It is knowing or experiencing God (John 17:3), which will always produce the best and the most. It is not necessarily synonymous with material success, but instead consists of things that money cannot buy: security of mind, peace among relationships, joy without regard to physical circumstance, etc.
Death, then, while it would include the cessation of life, also means not living the way God lives. It means having a quality of life that is not eternal, whether in duration or in excellence. We can see that sin produces death by three means: 1) Sin brings on the penalty of eternal death, which can only be atoned for by Christ's sacrifice; 2) sin will always diminish the excellence and quality of life, whether it is immediately recognized or not; and, 3) some sins hasten physical death.
A few examples demonstrate this powerfully:
Natural laws, whether they govern falling apples or human relationships, can be seen as harsh or restrictive, especially if one is on the wrong side of them (Romans 8:7). Or they can be seen as benevolent guides to help us live the way God Himself lives - both with excellence and longevity. The apostle Paul considered God's laws to be holy, just, and good (Romans 7:12) because they instruct us in the best way to live - the way that will not just produce length of days, but also true fulfillment. We can either take God's Word for it, or we can observe the consequences of the choices of others. Or we can do what is natural for mankind, and personally reprove each of these laws the hard way.
- David C. Grabbe
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