How does God’s grace impact our lives as Christians? To answer this question, we must first see what our lives would be like apart from His grace.
The Covenant of Works
A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Blessings are promised if the obligations of the covenant are fulfilled and curses are threatened if the obligations are broken. God entered into a covenantal relationship with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam was made in God’s image and was to reflect that image in his covenant obligations. Just as God has supreme dominion over all creation, Adam too was to act as king and take dominion of the entire earth (Genesis 1:26-28). “Adam’s royal dominion,” David VanDrunen notes, “was also to be a priestly service.” Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” VanDrunen notes again, “When the Hebrew words ‘work’ and ‘keep’ are used together in the Old Testament, they ordinarily refer to priestly labor.” Thus, the Garden of Eden was a type of temple.
If you have ever read the first five books of the Bible, you probably wondered why the blueprints of the tabernacle were so specific, and why God disallowed certain “unclean” people to worship or sacrifices to be offered at the temple (e.g. Leviticus 13:44). That was so because God Himself is perfect and holy, and therefore where His presence was to reside must be perfect and holy. So Adam, like the Israelite priests, must keep the garden-temple holy. That is, Adam must guard against anything that would defile it. VanDrunen writes, “So if any creature would seek to usurp authority and threaten the holiness of the Garden (which is precisely what the serpent did in Genesis 3), then Adam would have to obey God’s commands in Genesis 1:26, 28 through obeying His commands in Genesis 2:15: he would have to assert his authority over this creature and protect the Garden’s purity.” J.V. Fesko notes that this Garden-Temple would expand throughout the earth as Adam multiplied his offspring and took dominion of the earth.
God gave Adam another command in the Garden: “You may surely 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 surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). The threat of the Covenant of Works is death if Adam eats of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not only physical death but spiritual and eternal death. The promise of the Covenant of Works is eternal life if Adam obeys God’s commands. How do we know Adam would gain eternal life by his works if the text of Genesis 2:16-17 doesn’t explicitly say that? We must remember what being made in God’s image meant for Adam. God worked and created for six days and rested on the seventh. Thus Adam would work by taking dominion over the earth, being fruitful and multiplying, working and keeping the Garden, and not eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and resting from his works and eating of the tree of life which gives eternal life (Genesis 2:9, 3:22b). Note that Adam is the one that God made the covenant with in Genesis 2:16-17. Adam is the federal head (the legal covenant representative) of the entire human race. The fate of humanity rested upon what he would do.
The serpent (who is later identified as Satan himself in Revelation 20:2) came and tempted Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. When Adam ate of the fruit, Genesis 3:7 says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” It’s good to note again the federal headship of Adam. Eve ate the fruit first, but it wasn’t until Adam ate that their eyes were opened. Their eyes were opened once Adam ate because he is the federal head of the human race, not Eve. Adam’s disobedience is what caused Eve’s eyes to be opened.
What does Adam and Eve realizing their nakedness mean? Genesis 2:25 says, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” In the honor-shame cultural context in which Moses was writing, a person of the community being “shamed” by the rest of the community was equivalent of being judged unworthy to be in their presence. When one was shamed, they were cut off from the community. To be found naked in the community was one of the greatest reasons to be shamed. This shame defined their entire existence. A shamed person would not think, “I made a mistake.” He or she would think, “I am a mistake.” So Adam and Eve were naked but not ashamed because they had not yet broken the Covenant of Works. When they realized their nakedness, they were ashamed because they had broken the Covenant of Works and awaited the judgment of a holy God and separation from a right relationship with Him.
Just as representatives in our federal government fail and make bad laws and we suffer the consequences, so it was with Adam and all of humanity. Adam represents all humanity and through Him came sin, death, and condemnation for everyone (Romans 5:12ff). Adam’s sin is counted to everyone as if we had eaten from the tree. Therefore, just as Adam was condemned, we too, apart from the grace of God, stand condemned as well. Our entire existence, apart from grace, is defined by being under the condemnation and wrath of God. Apart from grace, we are like Adam and Eve trying to hide when they heard the voice in the Lord in the Garden because they did not want to stand condemned in His presence (Genesis 3:8, Isaiah 6:5).
However, when God calls Adam to account for his covenant disobedience (3:9-11), Adam tried to deflect blame from himself to Eve (3:12). Adam opened his mouth to argue with God, but the Law stops all of our mouths and makes us accountable to God (Romans 3:19). When we see the Law, whether we see it written in the Bible or written on our hearts (Romans 2:15), we know we haven’t kept its demands. Paul proclaims, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). But again, we are like Adam and Eve, who sewed together fig leaves to try to hide their nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Though we know intrinsically “the doers of the Law will be justified” (Romans 2:13), our sin deceives us into thinking we can keep the Law. We think we can hide our sins by our “good works.” However, apart from grace, “no one in the flesh can please God” (Romans 8:8). We all deserve condemnation and wrath. On our own, there is nothing we can do to change our status as rebels deserving of death for our treason against the sovereign Lord of all.
Adam’s sin is not only imputed to us but also infused in us. The imputation of Adam’s sin brought condemnation (Romans 5:18a). The infusion of Adam’s sin brought corruption. This is exemplified by the foolishness of sewing the fig leaves together to hide their sin before a holy God, and Adam blaming Eve for his sin when he was the one obligated to guard the Garden from defilement. In Genesis 4, Cain gets jealous that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and kills Abel for it. He was not tempted from without as Adam was, but from within his own corrupt heart. Thus, we are, apart from grace, “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) and “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We can only do that which is displeasing in the sight of God. We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.
A Fallen World
Another consequence of the broken Covenant of Works is its effect on life in the world in general. Note that the creation mandate to take dominion over the earth and to marry and reproduce are inextricably tied to the Covenant of Works. Since these are tied to the covenant, these tasks are all cursed. God curses the woman with the multiplication of pain in childbearing and marital strife with her husband (Genesis 3:16). God curses the man with making his work on the earth, which he was supposed to have dominion over, to become laborious and with his eventual natural death. The Sabbath, which signified God’s rest after finishing creation and the promise of eschatological rest for man if he completed the Covenant of Works, can no longer be attained by fallen man.
Don’t you feel this in your life? All of life is a Covenant of Works. If you study hard enough, you will make good grades. If you work well at your job, you will make money. If you fulfill certain characteristics that a significant other wants in a spouse, you will get married. If you workout, you will get strong. Don’t we struggle with all of these things? Do not all these prove to be difficult? Not only that, but nothing ever satisfies. Even if we have worked hard and accomplished our goals, we still feel empty. We still feel like we have not attained rest. Not only do we see the effects of the Fall in our personal lives, we see it out in the world around us. We see so much violence, destruction, injustice, and death. Though we can win wars, make good laws, and have the best medical care, we know this world is ultimately doomed. Truly, apart from grace, we are as ones “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
In the next article, we will see what God does to remedy the broken covenant of works and how it will ultimately be fulfilled.