Straight-Up: The Moral and Natural Law

Part Two of a Straight-Up Conversation With Young People

By Jennifer Hartline Published on April 30, 2017

[Editor’s note: This is part two of Jennifer’s Straight-Up series. Be sure to read part one here, if you missed it.]

I need more coffee. How ‘bout y’all?

Maybe you hear the word “law” and something inside you just shuts down. You don’t want to listen anymore, cause it’s just gonna be a bunch of stupid rules made up by stupid old men who don’t know anything. They sure don’t know you or your life or your problems. Maybe the concept of law means nothing to you unless the law sticks it to the right people. Am I close?

Let this be an opportunity, then. Here’s your chance to demonstrate a willingness to listen and consider what’s being said. That’s a mark of maturity that few adults have these days. I’m not patronizing you, honest. I’m asking you to listen and consider carefully, not react out of emotion. Don’t prejudge. Deal?

So what is the Moral law anyway?

What Does Moral Law Even Mean?

In a nutshell, it’s the law of God. It’s not man-made at all. It is God’s operating code for our lives here on Earth. It defines right from wrong, and safety from danger. It distinguishes truth from lies, and life from death.

As I said before, it’s a mistake to think of the moral law as a ball and chain you have to drag around all your life. It’s purpose isn’t to weigh you down with rules. God’s law isn’t designed to ruin your fun or take things away from you. Just the opposite.

Whatever violates the moral law is sin, and sin holds you captive. Think of the moral law as a Stay Out of Jail card. It is freedom! Far from taking, the moral law is designed to give life.

You can’t choose what’s right if you don’t know what’s right. You can’t avoid the wrong if you can’t identify the wrong. If you don’t know the fire is hot, you’ll reach out your hand and get burned.

You cannot reject the natural law and live a good life. You may have material success, fame and all the luxuries you could wish for, but you will not have a good life.

God has set you up for success, not failure. He isn’t eager to blame you or condemn you. He wants to see you live a life of real joy and freedom. For that reason, He has created each of us with the ability to know His law. You don’t have to be a genius or a philosopher to understand it. In fact, He has written it on every human heart. We call this knowledge that’s engraved on our souls the natural law.

St. Thomas Aquinas explained it this way: “The natural law is nothing other than the light of understanding placed in us by God; through it we know what we must do and what we must avoid.”

The natural law conforms to nature (what a name!) and right human reason. It is universal. It is permanent, or immutable. It does not adapt itself to the different opinions of any age. It stands as a fixed point of light so that however dark and chaotic life gets, the right path can be seen and followed. It’s the Never Get Lost app.

Here’s the straight-up part I want you to hear: You cannot reject the natural law and live a good life. You may have material success, fame and all the luxuries you could wish for, but you will not have a good life. Indeed, a great many people today seem to have everything the world can offer and by all appearances are having a great time. But that’s not what I mean by a good life.

You Choose: God, or Not.

There are really only two choices in this life. God or not. That’s it. Even the biggest decisions you’ll ever make really boil down to that: God, or not. There is no halfway. No in-between. No neutral ground.

We’re only free to live with abandon when we know how to avoid what will kill us.

God loves freedom more than anyone else, so He will never violate yours. He’ll never force you to do anything. But that doesn’t mean you get to make the rules for yourself and expect God to go along. He’s still God and you are not. Did you form God from the dust of the ground? No, you didn’t. Did you set all the stars in place and give the sun its heat? Nope. He did that. Without your help.

When you can put air in your own lungs or form a blade of grass by your own power, then you can make your own laws. Till then, you are blessed to have God and His laws on your side. He wants you to know where the line is so you’ll be able to step back from it. He wants you to understand that *this* will bring you life, but *that* will bring you death so that you can choose life.

We’re only free to live with abandon when we know how to avoid what will kill us. Think of the natural and moral law as the wall around the edge of the cliff keeping you from falling over the side. GK Chesterton described it this way:

Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.

God wants you to live with abandon and joy. He wants you to just plain live, and do that forever with Him. For that reason, He has made His law known to you, and made you able to accept it if you choose. Remember that God will never deny you your choice. But every choice brings consequences or blessings. God will not spare you the consequences of bad choices. He will give you whatever you choose.

Choose wisely by considering the natural law. Listen to the voice of God. Here’s a place to start.

Don’t go away yet! We need to talk about virtue.


This is part two of Jennifer’s Straight-Up series. You can read part three here.

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  • Tom Rath

    The idea that “moral law” is inextricably linked to religion is total bunk, as “moral law”, codified as secular civil law, existed before “religious law”, and it will certainly exist after it. See Ur-Nammu, Eshnunna, Lipit-Ishtar, Hammurabi.

    • Olaf

      No, moral law is not linked to religion, but to God. The article does not mention the word ‘religion’ once.

      • Tom Rath

        Any god, or a certain god? We (as a species) have invented literally thousands of them. Do civilizations/cultures with the “wrong” (or no) god have no capacity for morality because they chose the wrong (or no) mythological entity?

        • Olaf

          Yes, we have invented millions of gods. And the reason why? Because we rejected to one real God. And we humans can’t live with that gaping hole in our hearts. So we invent them. Nice, scary, bribable, cruel, whatever adjective you want to give them. But there is just one God who made us all, and who made the universe. And He is love. And He wants to show His love to you. I never said that a person who doe not believe in god cannot be moral. Again, you spin the argument in your direction. The only-God-can-fill-that-hole in our hearts makes us perfectly susceptible for His morals, even when we don’t realize it.

  • CarolineWalker

    Well done, Jennifer. I thank God for young voices like yours.

  • PilgrimGirl

    Jennifer Hartline, the author, may be studying Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary but Paul, an apostle according to the will of God, blows her way of thinking out of the water completely. Ms. Hartline, you are using the law unlawfully!

    • Jennifer Hartline

      I’m all ears. Explain how.

      • PilgrimGirl

        You say that, “the moral law is designed to give life”. Paul said of he and Timothy in writing to the church of God at Corinth that God “hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter [the law], but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Cor. 3:6) The law kills, the spirit gives life.

        “What things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:19, 20)

        Paul is referring to the moral law of God as it appears in the whole word of God, which every man is bound to observe and obey. God’s law pronounces every son of Adam guilty. We have no defense, no alibi, and nothing to reply because the holy law of God exposes our corruption inwardly and outwardly. The law cannot save, cannot justify, cannot give us a righteousness before God. It can only do three things: (1) shut our mouths and declare us guilty before God, (2) teach us the depths and darkness of our sin and depravity, and (3) shut us up to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 7:7-11).

        Galatians 3 – “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law…the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ”. Yet, no where in your Straight-Up series do I see you even mention Christ.

      • PilgrimGirl

        “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law but the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Gal 3:21, 22

        So, no, the moral law was NOT designed to give life.

        “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isa. 8:20

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