THE COVENANT OF GRACE
"I WILL BE YOUR GOD, YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE"
Sermon #4 - The Covenant of Works - Genesis 1,2
INTRODUCTION - We have completed our introduction to the covenants found within the Word of God and this evening we shall begin to look at each of them individually. Let us endeavor to keep the main themes in view as we study, along with the definition which we have given for a covenant. Let us also realize that we are a covenantal people. God is working with us on the basis of the covenantal relationship which He has entered into with us. Tonight we shall be looking at what has been traditionally called the "Covenant of Works." This is the covenant which God makes with Adam before the fall in the Garden of Eden. It is called the Covenant of Works because of the test which God imposed upon man regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16,17). The relationship which God established with Adam in the Garden was based on works. Man was called to obey God, thus proving his loyalty and love for God. Yet, as we shall see tonight, it really was not just a covenant of works, but it was also a covenant full of grace. God comes to man and graciously establishes the boundaries of human life and behavior. He blesses man with the ordinances of the Sabbath, marriage, and work. He provides man with a beautiful place in which to live out this life in the presence of God. O. Palmer Robertson has rightly called this covenant the "Covenant of Creation" for it is a foundational covenant, full of grace and law, for all of God's creation.
1) THE PROOF FOR THE EXISTENCE OF A COVENANT OF WORKS MADE WITH ADAM IN THE GARDEN - One of the arguments put forth by those who reject Covenantal Theology is that the word "covenant" is never mentioned in reference to God's relationship with Adam. Though it is true that the actual word is not used in Genesis 1 and 2, the very description of what God is arranging with Adam in the Garden constitutes a covenantal relationship.
A) PROVING THE EXISTENCE OF THE COVENANT OF WORKS FROM OUR DEFINITION - Certainly there was a bond being formed between God and man in the Garden of Eden. Man is the only being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26,27) and as Man is created, God comes to him and initiates conversation (Genesis 1:28). Man was created a moral, rational, spiritual and physical being with the capacity to know, love, worship and obey God. Man was made for a relationship with God. This was also a "bond in blood" for the relationship would be terminated with death if Man disobeyed the Lord who was entering into covenant with him (Genesis 2:16,17). It is a sovereign covenant for God comes to Man and as Creator He sets the boundaries and rules for this relationship. Man is not given the opportunity to discuss or debate these rules. Hence, we see that the relationship which God formed with Adam was "a bond in blood, sovereignly administered." It was a covenantal relationship.
B) OTHER SCRIPTURES IMPLY A COVENANT BEING MADE WITH ADAM - When God makes a covenant (and calls it a covenant) with Noah, the covenantal blessings and prescriptions of Adam's covenant are repeated to Noah (Genesis 9:1,2,7). This implies that what God was doing with Adam in the Garden was the same as what He was doing with Noah - making a covenant. In Hosea 6:7, the word "men" can be translated "Adam" which gives greater sense to the passage. Israel is said to have transgressed their covenant just like Adam. In Jeremiah 33:20,21,25, we see that God was actually establishing a covenant at the beginning of creation. The Lord's whole relationship with creation is seen as covenantal.
2) THE COVENANT OF WORKS AS IT IS PRESENTED IN GENESIS - The relationship which God determines between Man and Himself begins with the establishment of three areas of life. These three domains have always existed, even after the fall, and are to still be acknowledged and obeyed throughout the life of mankind in this world.
A) THE LAW OF THE SABBATH - Genesis 2:1-3 - God does not need to rest for God never gets exhausted. Yet by His own example, the Lord was setting a pattern for all of creation. Man was to work six days and on the seventh he was to rest and enjoy the creation which God had provided. In Exodus 20:8-11, where the Sabbath law is repeated to the Israelites, the foundation for that law goes back to creation. This was not a new law being presented to Israel, rather, it was a law which had already been in existence since the beginning of time. God gave man this law so that the world might be refreshed (Exodus 23:12) and that man might have a time to rest, reflect, and worship. There are those in Christianity today who would say that the Sabbath has ended and that we no longer need to heed this commandment. Yet, if we are going to throw out the Sabbath law, we would also have to do away with marriage and work, for these too, as we shall see, were established at creation. The Lord Jesus never abolished this law, rather, He established it (Mark 2:27,28). Since He has become Lord of the Sabbath, and since the Christian celebrates his resurrection in Christ, the Christian Sabbath has been changed to the first day of the week, the day of Christ's resurrection. Thus, if we want to be blessed by God, we are not to work on Sunday, nor are we to employ others on that day. We are to get all of our work done in the six days which God has provided. The seventh is a day for us to rest and enjoy the God who has made us for His glory.
B) THE LAW OF MARRIAGE - Genesis 2:18-25 - As with the Sabbath, God is establishing the way of life for mankind through the ordinance of marriage. God establishes relationship between man and woman. Thus, we understand that marriage is not something which man has dreamed up, but is a holy ordinance, like the Sabbath, which was given to order the life of the creature. When people today want to overthrow marriage or treat it frivolously, they are breaking the ordinance of God from creation and they will reap the curses of that broken command.
C) THE LAW OF LABOR - Genesis 1:27,28; 2:15 - Work was created as a blessing, and though we might find it wearisome at times due to the hardship of sin, work is actually a blessing from God. Man was called to enjoy the creation of God by working with it and bringing forth fruits to the praise of the Creator. The same is true of our work today and Christians, above all people, should praise God for the ordinance of work by becoming hard and righteous workers. This is our means of glorifying God, therefore, all work, no matter what your calling may be, is a holy and blessed calling. Man was made for work. It is here that he finds his fulfillment and joy. To not work brings the condemnation of God (II Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Here is the covenant which God established with Man in the Garden. It is a covenant of life, establishing who we are, what we are to do, and how we are to relate to God and to one another. It is a covenant filled with law, but it is also a gracious covenant given to us by God as He establishes the boundaries and fulfillments of His creation. This pattern for life continues on, even after man has fallen. Thus, to run against these ordinances will bring the curses inherent in them. Added to these three areas of life is -
3) THE LAW CONCERNING THE TREE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL - Genesis 2:16,17 - Adam was created in a covenantal relationship with God. This covenant now finds its focal point in one test which would prove Adam's loyalty, love, and obedience to God. Adam is called to humbly submit to this law. The Sabbath, marriage and work were all given for the enjoyment of man. Yet in the testing with the tree, man was told that he was not allowed to enjoy the fruits of that tree. A line has been drawn which he is not allowed to cross over. This is why this covenant is called the "Covenant of Works." God tells Adam to obey and submit to Him in this one commandment. Had Adam not sinned it would have brought life to him and his offspring. He would have been graciously blessed by God. Did the Lord have a right to impose this on Man? Certainly, for God is the Creator and Adam owes God complete obedience. Yet here we see the grace and blessedness of God, for the Lord would bless Adam if he obeyed. Adam deserves no blessing for obedience, for after Adam had done everything that was expected of him, he still would have only done what was his duty from the start. God was actually going to bless that which was only Adam's duty to perform - that is grace! Sadly, Adam rejected and disobeyed God's gracious covenant.
4) WITH WHOM DID GOD MAKE THE COVENANT OF WORKS? - Here is another characteristic which we are going to see in the covenants of God. The Lord does not make covenants with individuals, rather, He comes to individuals and makes His covenant with them and their offspring. In the case of Adam, the covenant was not just made with him, but it included the entire human race. Adam represented all of humanity in this arrangement. Thus, when Adam falls into sin, the entire race of humanity falls with him (Romans 5:12). God made the human race as one in Adam. Thus, what Adam did in the Garden in his rebellion was actually committed by all of us. All of humanity stood behind the rebellion of Adam. We all sinned with him. We need to beware of seeing ourselves as individuals, unrelated and independent of one another. The beauty of this relationship shines forth when we consider the Lord Jesus and His work for His people at Calvary. Just as the sin of Adam brought forth death for all men, so the work of Christ brings forth life to all those who are related to Him by faith (Romans 5:17).
This is the Covenant of Works. It is a covenant where God gives order and meaning to life through His commandments. It is a covenant full of grace as God blesses and prospers mankind under His sovereignty. It is a covenant whose ordinances are still binding, for God established the very fabric and existence of humanity in these laws. It is a covenant which also tested man in his obedience and love for God.