After the Lord formed Adam from the dust of the ground outside of Eden, he then placed him within the Garden to work the ground and keep it. At that moment, God issued the Law to Adam: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17). Though brief, this passage is instructive for understanding the Law of God.
First, the Law is not evil. Paul explicitly denies such a conclusion: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” (Romans 7:7). The Lord, after all, promulgates the Law before the fall into sin. Adam is subject to the Law also in his perfection, not only after the Fall. Even Paul’s distinction between law and grace in passages like Romans 6 and Galatians 5 is not a dichotomy between evil and good. Rather, the one who seeks to be justified according to the law seeks to be held righteous according to the very standard that proves him to be faithless. “Like Adam, they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). The sinner cannot be declared innocent by the same Law which proves that he is guilty! The character of the Law has not changed, even with the Fall. It is we who are law-breakers.
Second, the Law is revealed by God. Adam, while still in the garden before sin, received the Law through revelation. He does not implicitly understand it, as if it was a matter of common sense or something similar. Adam hears the Law from the very mouth of God. The Law is not a set of rules seperate from God which He clarifies to man. The Lord is the Law-Giver, the one who speaks. Authority is rooted in this act of speaking, shown in a different way by Adam exercising his own authority through naming both the animals and his wife.
Thus, it is a misnomer to speak of natural law as if the creation had a set of implicit laws which are self-evident. This could lead to thinking that natural law is separate from God, which makes God’s positive law a mere clarification or addition to what is already generally known. But if that were true, how could men be held accountable to God for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)? God reveals Himself to all men in such a way that all are without any excuse before the judgment seat. Ignorance is not a valid defense, because “his invisble attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). Rather, all men seek to suppress what they know because they do not want to submit to His Law. There is only one Law, the Law of the Lord of heaven and earth.
Third, the Law proceeds from God. The Lord is the one who determines what is good and what is evil, apart from any consideration of man. This is not capricious, but the nature of law. The one subject to the Law, the hearer, must listen to the Giver of the Law, the speaker. The specific command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil demonstrates this. Would you know what is good? Good is not eating of this tree. Would you know what is evil? Evil is eating of this tree. If this commandment seems arbitrary to us, it is because we are following after Adam, who refused to be subject and faithful to God and sought instead to be the arbiter of good and evil. After all, Satan, through the serpent, lied to Eve when he claimed that disobeying God would make them like Him (Genesis 3:5).
Fourth, the Law is eternal. If it was given to Adam prior to the fall into sin, it is not simply meant for this world as a corrective for sin. Sin itself is “missing the mark,” a mark set by the Law. Holiness is conformity to the Law, being set apart from the world and conform to the will of God. Therefore, the Law will not cease, just as the Law has not ceased for those who are in Christ. Rather, the curse of the Law, brought on by sin and necessary if Law is to be Law, has been taken away in Jesus. Christians are no longer a part of the old body, whose head is Adam, the body of sin and death. Christians have a new head in the New Adam, Jesus Christ, and are therefore placed back into a right standing before the Law.
Finally, the Law is all encompassing. The Lord commanded Adam to not eat of the tree as an act of obedience and worship. Because the Lord speaks, Adam demonstrates his righteousness through obedience to God. Yet Adam was not therefore free to do whatever he pleased when he was away from the tree. Such a reductive view of the Law was the mistake of the Pharisees, as if God only forbade a specific act and allowed for all others. Jesus Himself corrects that notion to show the true character of the Law (Matthew 5). Rather, the command given in the garden articulated the Great Commandment of the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Heart, soul, and mind are not limited to a “religious” part of our lives which have no bearing on anything else. Rather, we are to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), because there is only one Law-Giver, the Lord God Almighty.