RPM, Volume 16, Number 7, February 9 to February 15, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Covenant of Works
Part 3
Sermon Number Seven

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


We currently are examining the covenant of works, recorded in Gen. 2 and 3. In previous sermons, we learned that the term, "covenant of works," refers to the period from the creation of Adam to his transgression in the Garden of Eden. Most recently, we have been studying the outcome of the covenant of works, otherwise known as the fall of man. Before we return to the record of the fall in Gen. 3, therefore, I want to review what I've said already about this subject.

The Scripture says that God created Adam, gave him certain instructions regarding his conduct, then He created Eve and placed our first parents in the Garden of Eden. The last thing that is said about Adam and Eve before we read about the transgression is this: "And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." (2:25) This statement indicates that Adam and Eve were comfortable and happy as they came from the hand of the Creator; there was no shame in their appearance.

Later, however, the record says that their nakedness did become a cause of shame; this happened after they had disobeyed God's command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Only after they violated the terms of the covenant were Adam and Eve ashamed to appear before their Maker in the form He designed.

How did this disruption come about? Satan, the enemy of righteousness, appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent to challenge the authority of the Creator. He led Eve to the point where she was ready to question the goodness and wisdom of God. Following that, the serpent boldly contradicted God's word concerning the consequences of disobedience. He asserted that God was wrong when He warned Adam about eating from the forbidden tree. Further, the serpent's statement was intended to convince Eve that she was able to judge for herself whether to eat from the tree.

The serpent's scheme was not fully realized, however, until Adam disobeyed God. Adam was the one to whom God gave the command regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; he was the one with whom God established the covenant of works. As we noted last week, Scripture records Adam's sin in a few plain words: "[Eve] gave also to her husband with her, and he ate." The result of Adam's transgression was recorded immediately following the statement that he accepted and ate what was offered by Eve: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings."

This verse conveys a change in the creation. Adam and Eve instinctively realized that something had happened to them. They were no longer comfortable in that natural state in which they came from the hand of the Creator; they knew something was wrong and this knowledge manifested itself in their attempt to cover up their ruined innocence.

We are ready to continue our study of the outcome of the covenant of works as we look at Gen. 3:8-24.

03. The Outcome of the Covenant of Works — Continued

The first encounter between God and Adam and Eve following their eating of the forbidden fruit is recorded beginning in v. 8. When Adam and Eve realized that the Lord God was in the Garden, they hid themselves, wishing to avoid contact with Him. This verse conveys the whole force of the fall. Adam and Eve were God's creatures, made by His hands, instructed by His words, bound to serve Him and enjoy His creation, but this verse says that they were hiding from Him! Adam and Eve hid themselves from God after they committed that act of disobedience; they did not want to meet their Creator.

This verse tells us what is essential to know about the fall of man. Adam's disobedience resulted in the ruination of his relationship with his Maker. The act of hiding himself and trying to avoid contact with God speaks loudly about the consequences of sin; it also speaks loudly regarding the truth of God's warning: "In the day that you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall surely die." Verses 7 and 8 show us the first signs of death for Adam and Eve; they are alienated from God and acting in a manner that contradicts their previous relationship with Him.

When the Lord God confronted Adam, the man revealed that he knew something had happened to change the manner in which he related to the Creator (vv. 9, 10). Adam only could think to hide himself, hoping to avoid the revelation of his transgression. This, in itself, shows how quickly Adam's sin affected his reasoning powers. He surely knew that he could not hide from God! But this is the nature of sin; it drives us to do things that make no sense.

Just as Eve had been led by the serpent one step at a time from innocence to sin, so the Lord God leads Adam one step at a time through the revelation of what had occurred. After Adam confessed his awareness of his lost innocence, the Lord God asks: "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" (v. 11)

Of course, God knew what Adam had done, but His purpose is to teach Adam about what had happened. Adam must not be confused about why he now felt ashamed, about why he now wanted to hide from God; he must understand that these strange feelings resulted from his having disobeyed the command of his Creator. This is an essential point for Adam to grasp. His relationship with God was not the same because he disobeyed God; intuitively, he felt shame and sought to avoid his Creator because he transgressed.

As we know, Adam sought to blame another: "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate." (v. 12) It is common for readers of this verse to assume that Adam is, in an indirect way, actually blaming God for what happened. I'm not sure that we can make that assumption. It seems to me that what is certain is that sin is, as I mentioned before, already affecting Adam's behavior and reasoning; he is trying to avoid responsibility for his actions by pointing to the most convenient scapegoat, which is Eve.

Adam had at least one thing in his favor as he tried to make this case: Eve did give him forbidden fruit from the tree. Notice that God does not contradict Adam's assertion; He turns to the woman and asks: "What is this you have done?" She, of course, blames the serpent for his deception.

Before we look at what the Lord God had to say to the parties involved in man's fall, I want to make it clear that even though God did not, at that moment, challenge Adam's defense, this does not mean that it was entirely legitimate. As we will see, Adam did not escape condemnation simply by pointing a finger of blame at Eve. In Scripture, Adam is blamed for man's fall because he was the one to whom God gave the command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and he was the one who entered a covenant relationship with God (cf. Rom. 5:12 ff.).

The truth is, Adam was covenantally responsible for what happened in the Garden of Eden; there were several factors involved, but he was ultimately responsible for the choice he made and he was ultimately responsible for the consequences of that choice.

The source of the temptation that led to man's fall was, of course, the serpent. He is the first one addressed by God when the Creator announces judgments (v. 14). God's curse of the serpent has a dual expression. As the host or instrument of Satan, the serpent is cursed above all other animals and confined to an existence of crawling on his belly, eating the dust of the earth. At the same time, however, God's curse is directed to Satan himself, the instigator of Eve's deception.

Verse 15, which I have talked about in a previous sermon, tells us much about the affects of Adam's fall. It indicates a division between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The seed of the serpent is Satan himself, of course, and, in a broader sense, all those who follow his deceptions and rebel against the word of the Creator.

The seed of the woman is, according to later Scripture, Jesus Christ who, as John tells us, appeared that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And, in a broader sense, the seed of the woman includes all those who are redeemed from the effects of the fall by the work of the Savior and, thereafter, spend their lives worshiping and obeying God (cf. Rom. 16:20).

What is so important about this verse is God's promise that the seed of the woman would eventually destroy the seed of the serpent. God predicts a struggle that would unfold, a struggle between Christ and Satan, a struggle bound to conclude with the defeat of all evil forces and the permanent restoration of God's creation. This struggle is recorded in the Old Testament as God calls a nation out of which would come Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament God demonstrates His intention to send a Redeemer, One who would rescue the elect. Throughout the Old Testament, there is never any hint that God would fail to do what He promised in the Garden of Eden. This conflict is described in the New Testament where we read of Christ's victory over Satan; in those books, we learn that God did send His Son and His Son did conquer our adversary; we learn as well of the Church, which is preaching this good news to the whole world.

The New Testament predicts only one more great act of God and that is the consummation of the reign of our King and Savior after He has subdued all of His enemies and called all the elect. History, as I've said before, is the record of the predicted, accomplished and applied atonement of Jesus Christ. Verse 15, then, is a promise from God that He will restore that which the serpent destroyed.

The Lord God next addresses the woman (v. 16). Although the salvation of the human race will depend on a future seed of the woman, God promises to make childbirth itself a painful experience (I'll say more about this matter in a moment). Even as Eve and her daughters gave birth to their children, knowing that one day, one of them would give birth to the Savior, there would be pain involved, pain to remind us all of the fall in Eden and pain to remind us all of what was lost and what would be the price for its restoration.

Moreover, God tells Eve that her natural relationship with her husband would be affected by their transgression: "Yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." God is not speaking of sexual desire?this interpretation would be completely inappropriate in this context of God uttering His judgments for the fall. He is speaking of the desire to govern. The context supports this interpretation, Also, later in 4:7, the same Hebrew word is used. There the term clearly refers to an attempt overcome or master some thing or some person.

Eve would experience a desire to function as the head of the marriage relationship contrary to God's intentions as witnessed by the sequence and nature of the couple's creation. Whereas before, Adam and Eve functioned harmoniously in the roles designated by their Creator, they would henceforth experience friction and confusion.

I should pause here for a moment and explain that the family structure found in the Bible in which the husband is declared to be the authoritative head of the wife is not an arrangement occasioned by the fall of man. God is not punishing Eve by making her subject to Adam from this point forward. Adam already was designated as the head of their relationship, as I've stated, by the sequence of creation (this is developed at length by the apostle Paul in New Testament passages like 1 Cor. 11 and Eph. 5).

God is saying that the natural manner in which Eve related to Adam, that is, the manner in which she related to him as she came from the hand of God, had been disrupted. As a consequence of the fall, Eve's understanding of her function, her understanding of how she was to relate to Adam, would be confused. (Note: later in this sermon series, we will look at this issue in detail as we see how the Scripture instructs us so that the harmonious relationship between male and female can be restored.)

The last to be addressed is Adam. His sin was disregarding the voice of the Lord God in favor of listening to the voice of his wife (v. 17). More is meant than that Eve gave Adam some bad advice. The Hebrew word for "listen" refers to listening and acting according to the expressed wishes of another. Adam did what his wife wanted him to do rather than what God wanted him to do and this was his transgression.

Adam's experience, therefore, would take on a harsh character following his sin against God: "Cursed is the ground because of you..." (Let us note that God does not curse Eve or Adam directly, as He did the serpent; instead, God curses their activity.) The word translated "cursed" is a Hebrew term that conveys the ideas of binding, banning or hemming in with obstacles. As this word is used in the Old Testament, it generally falls into one of three categories: the declaration of punishment, the utterance of threats or the proclamation of laws.

What is to be emphasized is that these curses always are the result of one's violation of his relationship with God. Clearly, in Gen. 3:17, God is speaking a word of punishment to Adam for the man's violation of the Creator-creature relationship. The ground, upon which Adam would depend for his earthly life, would henceforth resist his attempts of cultivation. Only by considerable physical labor would Adam be able to live off the land and carry on his duties before the Lord God.

And so, God adds: "In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life..." The word translated "toil" is a term that means pain, labor, hardship, sorrow or toil. You can see that there are a couple of ideas bound up in this word. Because of his transgression, Adam would have a life-time of hard physical labor ahead of him and this difficult physical labor would be an ever-present reminder of his sin, which, in turn, would cause Adam remorse for the rest of his days.

Adam would have to labor to live off the produce of the ground and the very fact that such intense labor would be required would be a constant admonition concerning the fall; his labor would be a mixture of physical exertion and emotional distress. Therefore, in his primary calling as a male, Adam would never be able to escape the implications and consequences of his sin even as he sought to carry out God's command to subdue the earth and exercise dominion.

What is quite interesting is that this same word is used in v. 16 where the Lord God told Eve: "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth..." Just as the man would have a constant reminder of his sin as he pursued his calling, so the woman would have a constant reminder of the fall as she fulfilled her primary role in life, which would be that of a mother. The birth of each child would be accompanied by physical pain and the physical pain would be an admonition regarding the fall, which, in turn, would produce sorrow and remorse in Eve. Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, it would be through the very process of bearing children that the Savior would come one day to redeem what was ruined in Eden.

So we see that God's curses relative to Adam and Eve struck at the very essence of who and what they were as His special creatures. Even as they fulfilled their respective roles in life, they would have to deal with the consequences of their sinful actions. God's command to subdue the earth and have dominion over it remained unchanged, but now that process would have to take place in a hostile world. Thorns and thistles would oppose Adam and he would have to face such impediments until the day he died and his body returned to the dust from which it was taken (cf. vv. 18, 19).

After God finished speaking these curses, a couple of incidental facts are recorded. First, we are told that Adam "called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living." (v. 20) Adam and Eve were, of course, our first parents. Therefore, Adam's designation of Eve as "the mother of all the living" is understandable; Eve is the matriarch of the human race; Adam rightly anticipated that humanity would come from her.

Second, we are told that God "made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." (v. 21) It would be easy to read much into this verse. Some would say that the animals killed to provide these garments are pictures of Christ who would one day be sacrificed to provide us with robes of righteousness. Some would point out that this first shedding of blood is indicative of what would have to occur to atone for the sin of Adam and provide his with spiritual covering.

These things may be true; as a matter of fact, I would say that such symbolism hardly can be denied. I would add that this action was primarily indicative of God's mercy. After speaking His judgments, the Lord God personally provided coverings for the nakedness of Adam and Eve. These coverings not only relieved their shame, they also were permanent reminders that the fall had occurred and that the merciful and loving Creator had provided clothing following His chastisement.

The garments signified that man and woman were no longer able to function in their natural state without guilt and shame; God's giving of these garments confirmed the correctness of their guilt and shame, and also confirmed His intention to allow Adam and Eve to dwell on His earth in anticipation of the coming Savior.

The last element in the story of the fall is man's banishment from the Garden (vv. 22-24). This act, like Adam's hiding of himself before his encounter with the Lord God, speaks loudly regarding the consequences of sin. It encapsulates the end of the covenant of works. Fallen Adam was driven away from the tree of life, away from what would have been his had he remained faithful to the stipulations of the covenant of works. This act testified that such an arrangement between the Creator and the creature would never again be in force.

God did not destroy the Garden, but made it impossible for Adam to return and have access to the tree of life, that symbol of an eternal blessed existence with God. It was not proper for Adam to partake of this fruit once he had sinned for the Creator did not intend man to live forever in the misery of his fallen state. As God promised, Jesus Christ would come and provide redemption for fallen man; His body and blood would be spiritual food to revive man and make possible again an unending blessed existence in the presence of God. This truth is portrayed in the book of the Revelation where the work of Christ is described. John says that those who are redeemed are given the right to return to the tree of life (Rev. 22:14).

The is a fitting conclusion to our study of the covenant of works. We leave man banished from the Garden of Eden, prohibited from eating of the tree of life; we leave him to cultivate the ground through hard labor. We leave fallen man mortally wounded in his soul, spiritually dead and beginning to realize the horrible results of his rebellion against his Creator.

But, we also leave Adam and Eve clothed in garments provided by God Himself; we leave them to labor in pain and sorrow, but we leave them in anticipation of the coming promised Savior who will destroy the works of Satan and rescue God's special creatures. Our examination of the covenant of works is concluded; our next topic will be the covenant of grace in which we will see how God fulfills His promise to put enmity between the serpent and the woman, an enmity that will bring about a final fierce judgment of Satan and the restoration of the human race.


In the application, I will offer two brief observations about what happened to Adam and Eve once Adam disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit. The first thing I would call attention to is the reaction of Adam and Eve following Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit. As the text says, they hid themselves from God. Let's not just read those words and hurry on to the rest of the story: "...the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden." (v. 8)

Aren't these the two who came from the hand of God? Aren't these the same two who were placed the Garden to enjoy God's majestic creation? Aren't these the two who had known nothing but goodness from their Creator? What, then, could be more ironic, more shocking or more inappropriate than this action? What could be more contradictory to their previous experience than their attempt to avoid contact with God? God was not the enemy of Adam and Eve, He was their Creator and kind Provider. Adam and Eve had no reason to fear God. But now they were hiding from Him hoping to conceal their disobedience.

Let us learn the lesson that is taught here and let us learn it well: This is what sin does; this is what happens when those who are supposed to follow the commands of God break those commands. This is what happens when the creature thinks he knows more and knows better than the Creator. This is what happens when the creature listens to the voice of one who calls into question the goodness and trustworthiness of God. The creature ends up hiding from God; he wants to avoid Him because he is ashamed, because he knows that he is guilty of a great offense. Sin turns everything upside down; it makes right wrong and wrong right; it causes what should be embraced to be rejected and what should be rejected to be embraced.

Even in our redeemed state, sin has such effects. When we disobey the Word of God, we are stricken with guilt and often we don't want to meet God so we avoid His people and we stop praying and we stop reading His Word. What we need to understand is that this is how sin operates and as long as we allow it to operate in this manner, we will be driven further from God and our return to fellowship will be all the more difficult. Therefore, we must resist sin with all of our strength and, when we do commit some transgression, we must be wise enough to flee to God instead of running away from Him.

We must seek Him out even when we sin, we must run to Him knowing that He is our only hope of restoration. If we let sin take its natural course in us, if we do not seek God's face even in the midst of our shame and embarrassment, then the day will come when our conscience becomes hardened and we will be in danger of some severe judgment from our heavenly Father.

Don't be undone by sin. Avoid it, despise it, but when you do commit some sin, do not flee from God. Understand that confession is the only solution; understand that at that point, more than ever, you need to listen to the Word of God and be guided by what it says. Our moral errors must be admitted; they must be admitted before God. We cannot conceal our sin any more than Adam and Eve could conceal their sin. We cannot recover from our sin without God's mercy and grace any more than Adam and Eve could recover from their sin.

God established certain consequences for our first parents' sin, but then He indicated His continuing love and intention to redeem them. And so, God establishes consequences for our sin, but He also continues to love us and continues His good work in us. This leads to the second observation that I want to make.

God came looking for Adam and Eve even while they were busy hiding from Him. God remained faithful even the Adam and Eve were unfaithful. God did not abandon them even when they abandoned Him. This is such a beautiful picture of God's mercy, love and grace; it is a picture of redemption. Here is the sovereign, independent, sinless Creator, seeking His wayward creatures, seeking those who had broken His commandment and were now ashamed to face Him. Here He is seeking them, not out of obligation, but out of love.

Even while Adam tried to disappear among the trees of the Garden, his Creator was searching for him. Even as Eve peeked out through the branches hoping that God would pass her by, her Creator was coming for her. Even when our first parents wanted to remain hidden, their Creator sought them. What a wonderful God we have! How can we doubt His love when we read this story? How can we not flee to Him as soon as we commit some transgression so that we can know His comforting presence and His eternal faithfulness? God knew what had happened, yet He went to Adam, made Adam realize the nature of his offense, spoke words of judgment to Adam and then promised to provide a Savior.

When sin has manifested itself in your life, remember this story. Remember that as one of God's children, He will seek you out; remember that, yes, there will be consequences for your sin, but God has provided for the ultimate payment for your transgressions in His own Son.

I think that recalling the mercy and love and patience of God when we sin is a key to our repentance. Repentance takes place in light of God's continuing love and acceptance of us in spite of our unfaithfulness; it is this unchangeable love of God in Christ that causes our sin to appear in all of its ugliness and causes the born again heart to long for the Father's embrace once again. The story of the fall is one that produces great sadness, but also one that produces a much-needed feeling of relief. We are distressed as we read of man's fall, but so relieved to read of God's merciful treatment of man.


Hymn for Communion


The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is testimony that God kept the promise He made, the promise to send a Redeemer. As God sought Adam and Eve in the Garden, so Jesus Christ came seeking His own. He provided the covering of righteousness for them, gave His life in exchange for theirs, and was raised from the dead that they might exercise saving faith in Him.

As you receive the elements, remember the story of the fall; remember God's promise to send One to destroy Satan and rescue the godly seed of the woman. You are living proof that God kept His word; you are living proof, having been rescued from eternal death, that the works of the devil are being destroyed and a day of eternal and universal bliss is approaching.

Matt. 26: 26 And while they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.