Further Reflection on the Gracious Prohibition of God

By Mark D. Roberts

June 11, 2015

And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely 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 that you eat of it you shall die.'”

Genesis 2:16-17


In yesterday’s devotion we began to consider the gracious prohibition of God. God told the man that he should not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not to spoil the man’s fun, but rather to protect him from death. In this sense, God’s prohibition was an expression of God’s grace.

Today, I want to reflect a bit more on God’s prohibitions. I begin by noting that in many Christian traditions, the “don’ts” of God greatly outweigh the “dos.” Following Jesus turns out to be mainly a matter of avoiding behavior considered to be sinful. This approach to discipleship distorts God’s call, putting far more emphasis on the negatives than the positives. Scripture includes plenty of “don’ts,” to be sure. The Ten Commandments supply a prime example of this. Yet, the biblical vision of life is a fundamentally positive one, based on the grace of God and shaped by the kingdom of God. Christian traditions that major in the “don’ts” miss the major point of biblical revelation.

In reaction to this legalistic and negative approach to Christian living, there is a tendency among many believers today to ignore God’s prohibitions. Rightly emphasizing the love and grace of God, as well as the freedom we have in Christ, these believers wrongly treat the negative injunctions of Scripture as if they were irrelevant or outdated.

For example, some years ago I had a pastoral relationship with a couple of people who were deeply in love with each other. They believed that God wanted them to get married so they could consummate their love. There was a problem with this plan, however, since they were each married to someone else. Their relationship was an adulterous one, something clearly forbidden in Scripture. Yet, they were truly convinced that God was bringing them together, so they acted on this conviction. Later, after they were married, they confided in me that the pain they had brought upon themselves and their loved ones was so great that, knowing what they knew then, they would not have pursued the course they chose. Had they taken seriously God’s prohibition of adultery in the first place, they might have spared themselves and their loved ones much hurt.

Of course God’s grace is wide and God’s redemptive ability is immense. Yet, it is wrong to disregard God’s prohibitions of sin because God’s grace is abundant (Romans 6:1-2). If we wish to live our lives as worship to God, and if we desire to live abundantly, then we will receive God’s prohibitions as gracious guidance that point us toward the positives of kingdom living.


How do you respond to the prohibitions in Scripture?
Do you come from a Christian tradition that emphasized the negatives more than the positives?
Can you think of a biblical prohibition that has actually shaped your behavior recently?
Are there prohibitions in Scripture that you need to take more seriously?


Gracious God, thank you for guiding us in so many ways. Thank you for the positive decrees of Scripture that call us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you. Thank you also for the negative injunctions, for telling us what we should avoid if we want to live full lives for your glory.

Help us, Lord, to hear all of what you want to say to us through your Word. Give us keen minds and fertile hearts. May your truth form us and guide us each day, so that we might become fully the people you intend us to be.

To you, Lord, be all the glory. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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