The Covenant Of Works: Do This And Live

In the initial blog in this series we looked at a basic definition of a covenant. We learned that a covenant is a bond initiated by God to his people, and this bond involves blessings and curses. Now we turn to the the Covenant of Works, or what some have called the Covenant of Creation. As we see in Genesis 1, God has created all things, the heavens, the Earth, animals, etc. Then, He creates man in His own image, forming him from dust and breathing life into him. There we see the uniqueness of the relationship between God and his people. We are image bearers of the triune God; something that other creatures can’t lay claim to.

God then gives the newly formed Adam responsibilities; works. He is to have dominion over the fish of the sea, birds of the heavens, livestock, and all creeping things, subduing the earth (Gen 1:28). This is not simply to be a farmer, but involves the “bringing out of all the potential within the creation which might offer glory to the Creator” (O. Palmer Robertson). Adam is charged with spreading the glory of God throughout all creation.

This ordinance of labor is uniquely tied to the ordinance of the sabbath. God established, in the creation order, the sabbath, blessing and sanctifying the day (Gen 2:3). Just as God rested after six days of work, he set forth the pattern for which man was to follow. The sabbath is a wonderful blessing; our covenant-making God has promised provision for seven days with only six days of labor. Man is to spread the glory of God, then rest and enjoy the fruits of his labors. The sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27).

The third ordinance that God gave man (after labor, and the sabbath) was marriage. Man was originally alone and it was not good (Gen 2:18). For Adam to fulfill his responsibility of subduing the earth and spreading the glory of God, he needs a helper. They are to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth. They are to be one flesh, cleaving to one another, functioning in union (Gen 2:24, Eph 5:25-33). They were naked, and unashamed. Everything that Adam needed was given to him. Everything was his. He was God’s appointed governor over all creation, lacking nothing.

However, there was one thing that wasn’t his; one thing that stood as a reminder that even with all his blessings and responsibilities of ruling the earth: Adam was not God. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil stood in the midst of the garden. He was not to eat of that tree or he would die (Gen 2:16, 17). It follows that if eating of the tree brought death, then obedience to God’s word meant life. Death had not entered the scene yet; Adam was to live forever. Do all that God has commanded you, and live!

Whereas the three ordinances of the covenant (labor, marriage, sabbath) are deeply rooted in creation and are to be followed to this day, this was a situation unique to the first Adam. This was a moment of testing for obedience. We all know the story: the serpent deceives Eve. Adam who was charged with watching over and caring for his wife only joins in. This decision, recorded in chapter 3, forever alters the face of creation.

A curse has now been brought not only to all the peoples of the earth, but to the land that was once to yield itself to man for the glory of God. Now, the creation works the man, bearing thorns and thistles by the sweat of his brow (Gen 3:17-19). Woman, likewise, is cursed with painful childbearing and strife with her husband. What was once a perfect union of one flesh, with the blessing of working together to fill the earth with God’s glory, is now a relationship with contrary desires and pain.

As Adam fell, he took the whole human race with him, bringing death to all men. (Romans 5). Adam served as our “federal head.” Federal headship is the concept that Adam served as the representative for the whole human race. His relationship and subsequent disobedience to God brought forth consequences to all of his descendants. We now share in Adam’s guilt and death. We are now born sinful (Romans 5:12), children of wrath (Eph 2:3), and hostile towards God (Col 1:21). Just as Adam was driven out of the garden into the wilderness, so are we. We must have the curse reversed. A redeemer, a true covenant keeper, must bring us from the wilderness to the Garden.