Covenant of Works I

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘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.’” (Gen. 2:16–17).

- Genesis 2:15-17

As we continue our study of the biblical covenants, let us remember that we can speak of God’s dealings with man by referring to two broad covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works was made with Adam, and, when he failed to keep this covenant, God initiated a covenant of grace so that His people would be able to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

Before we study the covenant of works in greater detail, we must understand that when we speak of the covenant of works, we are not denying that grace was present in the covenant. In the first place, God’s act of creation is gracious because He did not have to create us. Furthermore, the provision of a lovely garden and the creation of Eve as Adam’s companion demonstrates that God’s grace was operative during the covenant of works. We also must understand, when speaking of the covenant of grace, that this covenant does not deny the importance or necessity of works. The covenant of grace is ultimately only available to us because Christ, as the second Adam, fulfills the covenant of works.

The state of Adam before the Fall gives us helpful information about the covenant of works. First of all, we see that Adam was created “good” (Gen. 1:31). While this means that Adam was pleasing to God, it does not mean that Adam was as pleasing or as perfect as he could be. He could have become more delightful to His Creator through his obedience. By obedience to the command he was given — to avoid the forbidden fruit — he could have garnered for himself positive righteousness.

Second, Adam was created good but changeable. He had the potential to break covenant. If Adam had not eaten the fruit, he would have earned for himself the blessings of the covenant. These blessings included life and the continued presence of God (2:16–17). But as we all know, Adam did not keep the covenant and brought a great curse upon all the earth. Tomorrow we will look at the test given to Adam and the resultant curse in more detail. We conclude today by noting one item of importance: the covenant of works is still in effect. All of humanity is still required to render perfect obedience to God. Since we do not, however, God puts us under condemnation (Rom. 1:21; 3:23).

Coram Deo

It is a sobering truth to realize that God still requires perfect obedience from us. His requirements do not change and we have no excuse for disobeying Him. Since we cannot obey God, we must trust in the perfect obedience of Christ to save us. Confess your reliance upon the obedience of Christ to bring you to salvation.

Passages for Further Study

Lev. 18:1–5
Deut. 27:26
Matt. 19:16–17
Luke 4:1–13

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