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Author:Rev. Todd Bordow
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Congregation:Covenant Orthodox Presbyterian Church
 Fort Worth, Texas
Title:The Covenant of Works
Text:Genesis 2:14-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Todd Bordow, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

It is imperative that you understand the covenant of works. You may not realize it but the future of the church and of the gospel depends upon it. Now this may sound rather pretentious for me to say. After all, you may have been a Christian for many years and have never needed to use the term before.

But my concern is not first and foremost about the term, but its meaning. When God created man, he entered into a covenant with him. Every time in Scripture that God relates to man, he does so in the form of a covenant. If we want to understand the nature of our relationship to God, we must therefore understand the covenant he has made with us.

Covenants were common in the ancient world. A king would make a covenant with his subjects. He would write out the stipulations, or laws, for his people to follow. After giving his laws, he would list the blessings and curses to come upon them based upon whether they obeyed or disobeyed his laws. If they obeyed all his laws, the king would grant them protection from their enemies and bless them with the riches of his kingdom. If they disobeyed his laws he would punish them.

After the king had written out his covenant, he would choose a physical sign to serve as a reminder of the terms of the covenant. This sign would also seal the people to perform the duties of the covenant, and seal them in the curses if they did not obey the terms. Think about our modern contracts. The signature on the bottom of the contract serves as a reminder of the contract, and it legally seals the signatory to do what the contract stipulates.

Our Westminster Confession speaks of two covenants in Scripture; the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant God made with man in the garden is a covenant of works. Adam represented all mankind in this covenant. In the covenant of works God the great king gave Adam His law.

He required Adam to keep that law if humanity was to receive God's eternal blessings.

Adam was warned of the curse that mankind would incur if he failed to keep the law of the covenant. And the Lord gave Adam a physical sign to remind him and seal him in that covenant.

Chapter 2 of Genesis introduces God's covenant of works with Adam. We see from the beginning that the God of the covenant is a good God, a God to be trusted. In v. 4 Moses introduces a new name for God. In chapter 1 He had been called "Elohim," "God" in your English Bibles. Elohim is the God of creation.

But in v. 4 He is called "Yahweh Elohim,""Lord God." Elohim is His creation name; Yahweh is His covenant name. It is His personal name. Only those who know Him in an intimate way know Him by this name.

So in chapter 2 God reveals himself not only as the creator, but He who has entered into covenant with man. The Lord God would give Adam every reason in the world to keep the terms of the covenant. Adam would have ample evidence to trust that God would fulfill the promises if Adam kept the law.

If Adam failed, it would not be because God had left some deficit in the creation that Adam needed. If a poor man steals a loaf of bread from a rich man, we know it is wrong, but we at least we are somewhat sympathetic. But when a rich man steels a loaf of bread from a poor man, we are much more indignant. As you see how God abundantly provided for Adam, you are to see that Adam's sin is all the more sinful and repugnant.

In Genesis 2 God ensures that Adam has everything he would need in the creation, including a helpmate. In vv. 5-7 we are informed of two deficits in the creation that needed solving. V. 5 says that there was no plant of the field in the earth. This Hebrew word for "plant" refers specifically to the wild growth on the hills that require rain to grow. This would include the grass the cattle and sheep needed to graze on. In the Middle East during the dry winters, the hills are bare, but when the spring rains come everything turns green.

The second deficit in v. 5 was that there was no herb in the field. This Hebrew word for "herb" refers to cultivated growth, such as wheat and barley. No wild vegetation for the domesticated animals, and no cultivated vegetation for man.

Now two reasons are given for these deficits. V. 5 says that the wild shrubs had not grown on the hills because the Lord God had not yet caused it to rain. And the reason given for no cultivated vegetation was is that there was no man to till the ground. God could have plowed the fields supernaturally, but He chose instead to use the ordinary means of man to do so.

So we are given the deficits, and the reasons for the deficits, and now we are given the divine solutions to these deficits. God comes to the rescue and solves both these problems for Adam. V. 7 shows how God solved the problem of no cultivated crops, and v. 6 shows how God solved the problem of no grass on the hills.

V. 6 has been the cause of much difficulty, and I know your translations speak of a mist or a stream, but I would suggest another translation. For the text to make sense; it must tell us how God solved the problem of v. 5; that there were no wild plants because the Lord had not yet sent rain. I suggest to you that v. 6 states that God began to make rain clouds rise from the land and water the whole surface of the ground; in other words, ordinary rain. The creation accounts in Psalm 104 and Prov. 8 teach that God created our system of evaporation and rain from the beginning. The Hebrew word translated "mist" or "stream" can also be translated rain cloud, which will lend much sense to the passage.

So the Lord solved the first problem by sending rain on the hills. Now God solves the second problem; there was no man to cultivate the ground so he creates man. Now man will till the ground so that he would have abundant food to eat.

V. 7 returns us to Day 6 of the creation but gives us more information. God fashioned man from the dust of the ground. Man was from the earth. There is a negative and positive aspect to v. 7. The negative we will discuss in a moment. Positively, though man was made from dust as the animals, he was created differently. God personally formed him as a potter fashions his prized cup God created man uniquely in His own image, body and soul.

So physically man was provided everything he would need. But man not only needs physical sustenance, he needs spiritual sustenance.

So God creates a beautiful garden for man and places him in it. This luscious garden would be a place of intimate fellowship between God and man. This is confirmed in the Book of Revelation where the place of perfect, unbroken communion with God is described as a garden.

In Ezekiel the Garden of Eden is pictured as atop a mountain. The geographic description found in vv. 10-14 is from the vantage point of standing on the mountain overlooking the lands below. A river watered the trees of Eden and branched off into four rivers that watered the whole land.

God gave to man an abundance of provision for his work and his enjoyment. Among other things waiting for man to explore and use were gold, onyx and bdellium. Onyx is a multi-colored quartz stone and bdellium is a substance from trees used for fragrant aromas. Adam truly was the man who had everything! He had no reason to complain.

Adam's descendants were given the job of subduing these lands. Work itself was not the result of the fall, toil was. Adam's descendants had wonderful work to do. But God called Adam to a special work. In v. 15 Adam was to cultivate the garden of God and guard it from being profaned. This word "keep" is the Hebrew word for "guard." The garden was God's temple on earth. Adam was to beautify it and protect it. Of course the serpent would soon attempt to profane God's temple. Adam was to rebuke Satan from the garden with God's authority.

So the Lord as the great King created a beautiful kingdom for his people. Now in vv. 16&17 the King reveals the terms of the covenant with his subjects. Here is what Adam must do if he and his race were to receive the blessings of the king, and not be cursed in judgment.

What did God require of man? God required obedience. Because He is a holy God He required perfect obedience. God always requires perfect obedience; He can never change.

Adam was given a test to prove himself obedient to the king. The terms were clear. If he refrained from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good or evil, he would receive the reward for his obedience. If he ate of the tree, he would surely die. Placed before Adam was life and death.

Now we said that in the Bible when a covenant is made it includes a physical sign reminding the parties of their obligations and rewards. In v. 9 God places before Adam a sign. In the midst of the garden God places a tree of life. If Adam passed his probation, if he passed the test of obedience, he could enter into that life signified by the tree of life.

Now what made the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so different from all the other fruit? Why was only that tree off limits?

Adam did not know. That's the point. Adam would need to trust in God who knows good from evil. He would be required to obey God simply because God said it. He would have to live in complete dependence on God's Word in telling him what was good and evil. To his eyes the fruit would all look the same. But Adam was not allowed to take the prerogative of God and decide for himself what is right and wrong. He would either remain in dependence upon God or proclaim his own authority apart from God.

The Lord clearly warned Adam that if he failed to pass the test he would die. Death here not only includes physical death, but spiritual death. Adam and his race would be spiritually separated from God for all eternity.

But this was a temporary test; Adam was under probation. If Adam passed God would reward Adam and his descendants with life. During this probation the tree of life would serve as an encouragement to press on in obedience so that he may attain the reward.

Now what did that tree of life represent to Adam? It couldn't represent the life he already possessed. No the tree of life pointed to a life beyond Adam's present existence. You see as special as man was, he was still made of dust. He was earthly. Remember what we read from I Cor 15? First comes the earthly, then the heavenly. God could take His breath out of man as He breathed it into man. Isaiah says as much in 40:6&7: "All flesh is grass, but the grass withers." Adam was created able to die.

Man would need a new and better breath from God. He would need a better body; a glorified body that could live in God's presence forever. Adam's body was earthly, but it was not yet heavenly. God lived in heaven.

Adam also was created able to sin. He needed to come to a point where he could no more fall away from God. Adam saw in that tree of life both the promise of a glorified body and the promise of a soul confirmed in righteousness.

There was even a deficit in man's fellowship with God. You see, in the garden God came and went. He did not remain there. Fellowship was not constant. And God would not allow Himself to be truly seen by man. John said that no man had ever seen God, including Adam. That Tree of Life held out the promise of a time when God would reveal Himself fully to man. And of course the garden itself was not God's eternal temple. Like the OT tabernacle it was a temporary provision pointing to something greater.

Now we have all the components of a covenant. We have two parties; God and Adam. Adam represented mankind in this covenant. We have the stipulations of this covenant; the law Adam must obey to receive everlasting life. The curse he would receive if he disobeyed. We have the sign of the covenant. The Tree of Life signified of what was to come if Adam fulfilled the covenant of works. Upon fulfillment his corruptible body would become incorruptible. The peccable, or ability to sin, would become impeccable, not able to sin. The earthly garden would be translated into the heavenly one. And partial fellowship with God would become full fellowship.

But Adam rebelled. You rebelled. You broke the covenant of works in Adam. Eternal death was what God had promised. All men are now born under the curse of the covenant of works. God cannot change His terms and still be holy. The covenant of works is still in full force for all mankind. If man is to attain to that state of everlasting life, he must obey God perfectly. But man cannot obey God because he is born a sinner.

The Lord would have been perfectly justified in fulfilling his promise of judgment and leaving it at that. But God made a second covenant after the first one. This we call the covenant of grace, or the gospel.

Did God then change his mind; did He change his strict terms of the covenant of works? No, He changed the one he made the covenant with.

There was another Adam; Paul calls Him the last Adam. He would represent a chosen race. The covenant of works was made with this new representative. If this Man obeyed God perfectly, the rewards of the covenant would be His and all those He represented.

It wasn't as easy for the second Adam. A barren desert instead of a garden; alone instead of a helper. Rejection from his closest friends. Mocking from the religious leaders. And of course the painful and shameful death of the cross. This was the covenant of works the Father gave the Son to perform. Christ's obedience must include suffering the punishment of those whom he would represent, for the penalty of breaking the covenant of works must be paid.

But Jesus Christ, our second Adam and covenant head, lived by every Word that proceeded from God's mouth. He rebuked Satan instead of falling for his lies. He fulfilled all the obligations of the covenant of works. He obeyed God perfectly. He laid down his life in obedience to his Father. The Second Adam brought God's eternal blessings to his race; those blessings Adam failed to merit.

As a tree was at the center of the first Adam's probation, so a tree was at the center of the Second Adam's probation. For Christ to fulfill the terms of the covenant He must obey all the way to the tree of Calvary. Ironically that cross became for us our tree of life.

Do you see how important it is that you understand the covenant of works. Because Christ fulfilled the terms of Gods covenant for you, for you it is a covenant of grace. All you receive from God is the result of Christ's obedience in your place. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

You are no longer in a works relationship with God. Your obedience to God does not flow out of a desire to meet the terms of a covenant. Your obedience must flow out of the realization that the terms have already been met by your Savior. Your obedience flows out of the Holy Spirit, that Spirit Christ poured out on His church upon His ascension.

Do not get this wrong! Do not mix the two covenants. This is the whole reason the Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics teach that we are still under a covenant of works with God. In their thinking Christ fulfilled some of the terms of the covenant, but our obedience to Christ fulfills the rest of the terms. This is not the gospel; this is why we are Protestants.

The cup you are about to drink is the cup of the new covenant in his blood. It is the sign of the covenant of grace. It serves as a regular reminder of the covenant you are in; a covenant where Jesus' body and blood fulfilled the terms and reconciled you to God. As with the tree of life in the garden, this sign is a foretaste of the life you will partake of in the new heavens and earth, when Christ will fellowship with us in person. Until then he fellowships with us as we gaze upon him by faith in this meal.

The church can only survive if she knows the different between grace and works. Knowing how Christ fulfilled the terms of the covenant of works in your behalf will prove to your own assurance a healing balm to your souls, and will bring about true obedience of the heart overcome by grace.

Life cannot come from your obedience. Life comes from Christ our covenant head. Let us by faith feed upon Him for everlasting life. Amen

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Todd Bordow, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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