God described the effect of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as ‘when you eat of it you will surely die’ [Genesis 2:17]. Satan denied this: ‘You will not surely die’ [Genesis 3:4].

In both of these verses this ‘surely die’ translates the same Hebrew idiom which doesn’t have the word ‘surely’, but repeats the verb to convey the certainty or intensity of the action. The NIV attempts to communicate this by the word ‘surely’.

In 2:17 God states categorically what would happen if this command is disobeyed: you will certainly die. Scholars argue whether this ‘surely die’ is to be understood as the automatic consequence of disobeying this command or as the legal penalty for disobeying this command. But this argument assumes that the ‘surely die’ cannot be both the automatic consequence and the legal penalty. It also diverts our attention away from an extremely significant reality that is at the very centre of this ‘surely die’.

We saw last week that the Old Testament makes a direct connection between God and life; that to choose God is to choose life, to reject God is to choose death:

‘Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!’ [Ezekiel 18:31,32]

‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ [Ezekiel 33:11]

 ‘Seek the LORD and live’ [Amos 5:6].

This connection between God and life is even more obvious in the New Testament:

‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life’ [John 3:36].

‘ … whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life … he has crossed over from death to life’ [John 5:24].

‘This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ [John 17:3].

‘He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ [1John 5:12].

‘And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life’ [1John 5:20].

Disconnection from God is death at the deepest spiritual level. The original connection with God that existed in Genesis 1 and 2, and the reconnection with God that occurs when we repent and believe, is life at the deepest spiritual level.

Hence the New Testament refers to our condition prior to repentance and faith as death, a condition necessitating regeneration, restoration of life, and renewal.

‘… you were dead in your transgressions and sins …we were dead in transgressions’ [Ephesians 2:1,5].

‘ … when you were dead in your sins …’ [Colossians 2:13].

‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’ [John 3:3].

Just as physical life is dependent on air, so spiritual life exists only in connection with God. It is not that God said ‘If you don’t obey me I will punish you by bringing in spiritual death’. Rather it is this: that God said ‘You cannot live spiritually in a condition of rebellion against me. It is not possible to continue to live, at the deepest level of being human, if you turn away from me.’

Let us recall the fact that humans were created in the image of God and are therefore totally dependent on him. Consider also the reality of a mirror: it has life, meaning and purpose, only when it is connected face-to-face with you. Without this face-to-face connection it is nothing. It exists. But its life is gone. It ceases to fulfil its meaning and purpose. It is dead. Until it is restored to face-to-face relationship with you.

God is our life. At the deep level of our spirit we live only when connected with him. Without him we are spiritually dead, regardless of how much ‘spiritual’ activity we engage in. God’s ‘you will surely die’ did happen. There is no other possibility when God is rejected.

We, the human, are dead. Until we are reconnected to the Lord who is our life.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016