This is the first post in the series “Ethics From the Ground Up,” in which I apply foundational Biblical morals on an increasingly large scale. This post will examine our basic duties to God, which is the foundation of all other ethics.
God gave man life, and a good and fruitful world to enjoy. In light of this, man’s natural duty is to glorify God and thank Him (Romans 1:21, Revelation 4:11). In Genesis 2, this duty is expressed in an apparently arbitrary command to abstain from the fruit of a certain tree. The life God gave to man would be taken back if he would not honor Him by obedience.
The meaning of “the knowledge of good and evil” could be that Adam would have experiential knowledge of both good and evil if he ate from it. Beale (p. 35) argues that the meaning is not only that Adam was being tested, but that this tree is where he should have judged the serpent as evil. Gentry and Wellum (p. 91) argue that knowing good and evil means exercising moral autonomy instead of submitting to God.
Whatever the meaning of the tree, the command is very fitting. This command is a very concrete form of the abstract moral imperative to honor God above all else. Because it is arbitrary, the only reason to obey it is out of respect for God’s will. Because it is concrete, there could be no debate about whether Adam had kept it.
Honoring God as he deserves is expressed in the first four of the ten commandments. He should have no competition for our worship and love. We should never do anything to dishonor his name. If He arbitrarily chooses a day of the week to be set apart for worship and rest, that is well within his rights.
The old covenant is full of somewhat arbitrary, symbolic commands about holiness. These laws relate to temple service, diet, clothing , grooming, and farming. They demonstrate concretely that to be God’s holy people in a sinful world requires being different than the world. For God’s name to be properly hallowed, his people must be holy like Him. The new covenant people of God must also be separate from the world to properly honor God’s name (2 Corinthians 6:17).
The summary of our duty to God, of course, is that we should love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. This command is both simple and difficult because it is so comprehensive. Our whole life must be devoted to God. Whatever He wills, we must gladly do.
In future posts I will discuss what God wills in more detail, but for now consider the command that echoes throughout the gospel of John: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). God sent Jesus to tell us the truth and to restore the eternal life that we lost through Adam’s autonomy. It would be utterly disrespectful to our Creator if we did not believe Jesus and trust him with our whole life.