The Bible’s Covenant Story. 3. Genesis 3:15 The Covenant of Grace

God is sovereign – his purposes are never frustrated, his plan never fails.  That is a truth full of comfort and assurance for his people.  It does not always appear, however, that this is the case.  At times it seems as if events are out of God’s control.  That appears to be the case in Eden.  Adam and Eve had every reason to obey God, yet they disobey, and the results are disastrous for the human race.  Nevertheless, God remains in control.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 3. Genesis 3:15 The Covenant of Grace.

1. The entrance of sin

Sin has already reared its head in the angelic world.  The serpent (v1) acts as the mouthpiece of Satan (Revelation 12:9).  He seeks to draw God’s image-bearer into rebellion similar to his.  The heart of his temptation – ‘you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (v5).  Adam is tempted to put himself in the place of God, an act of covenant breaking.  Adam and Eve were placed in Eden under the Covenant of Works, with the single prohibition on eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:17).  Adam refuses that covenant provision; he eats and becomes a covenant breaker.  As a result every relationship of Adam – with God, with his wife and with the earth – is affected.  Because Adam represented all mankind, all are constituted sinners and covenant breakers (Romans 5:19) and all die ‘in Adam’.

2. The promise of a Saviour

God is not taken by surprise.  At once he acts, revealing the means by which in grace he will deal with sin.  The solution is in v15 – the promise of the seed of the woman (NIV ‘offspring’).  There will be a God-ordained spiritual battle, culminating between the Seed and the serpent.  The Seed will win the victory, at the cost of pain and suffering.  Who is the seed?  It is Christ, the eternal Son made flesh.  This is the first gospel promise of the Messiah’s saving work.  His work is covenantal – he is the representative of all those who will trust in him, his elect people.  What he does benefits all who are united to him.  They will be ‘made righteous’ (Romans 5:19).  In Christ a new relationship with God is established.  It is rightly called the Covenant of Grace, flowing from God’s love.  In Christ God does all that is required for our salvation.  A new covenant relationship is established, bringing salvation.

3. The assurance of victory

There is no doubt about the outcome of the battle – ‘he will crush your head’.  It is a declaration of the total victory of Christ the Seed.  How is that victory to be accomplished?  It is our sin that gives Satan his (illegitimate) claim on us.  Christ is our representative who takes on himself our liabilities in the broken Covenant of Works: our liability to punishment for sin and our liability to render perfect obedience to God.  Christ supplies both of these requirements.  In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we are told that his righteousness is counted as ours (supplying the obedience we have failed to render to God) and that our sin is counted as his (dealing with our covenant breaking).  We enter the Covenant of Grace because Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works we have broken in Adam.  Satan’s claim on us has been destroyed at the cross wand the empty tomb.  We will live and reign with Christ eternally.

The Bible’s Covenant Story. 2. Genesis 2:4-17 The Covenant of Works

The description of creation in Genesis 1 concludes with the creation of man in the image of God.  Adam and Eve are placed in ‘a garden in the east, in Eden’ (2:8).  Reformed theologians generally see here in Eden a covenant relationship between God and man.  In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 2. Genesis 2:4-17 The Covenant of Works.

1. Was there a covenant in Eden?

There is no mention of ‘covenant’ in the Genesis 2 record – so was there really a covenant in Eden?  Note Hosea 6:7 ‘Like Adam, they have broken the covenant’.  It seems clear that Adam was in a covenant relationship with God.  If the elements of a covenant are present, even if the word is not, we can conclude that there was a covenant in Eden.  The various elements are present, and so we can be confident Adam was in covenant with God.  Because the continuance of this covenant depended on Adam’s obedience, this covenant is generally called the Covenant of Works, without any implication that Adam earned God’s blessing.

2. The elements of the covenant

            (i). Parties.  Clearly God sets the terms for Adam’s life in Eden – he is sovereign and gracious.  The other party is Adam, his role being to accept and live by God’s terms.

            (ii). Requirements.  With all the wonderful provision of Eden around him, Adam is placed under a single requirement (v17), one prohibition by which he shows his obedience.

            (iii). Threats.  Covenant-breaking will be profoundly serious (v17) – the penalty is death.  It is a consequence that goes to the heart of Adam’s relationship with God.

            (iv). Promises.  Implied is at least the promise of continued life in Eden in fellowship with the Lord.  We should be wary of speculating beyond what the Bible actually reveals.

3. The place of Adam in the covenant

It is vital to understand the place of Adam in the Covenant of Works.  The consequences of his sin affect the whole human race (3:16-19) – why?  God has established a spiritual solidarity between Adam and his descendants.  He acts as their representative, so that what he did implicates all his descendants.  Specific New Testament texts support this view.  There is a parallel between Adan and his descendants and Christ and his people.  1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive’.  Adam’s actions brought death into the world for all mankind (Romans 5:12) and from Adam we inherit a fallen, sinful nature.  What Adam did affects us all and explains why we are sinners by nature.

4. The fulfilment of the covenant

As we will see, Adam fell into sin (seeking to put himself in the place of God) and so the whole human race was plunged into sin (1 Corinthians 15:22).  We live by nature under the broken Covenant of Works, dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1).  We need someone who can render the perfect obedience that we owe God, and that one is Christ, who represents his people in the Covenant of Grace, so that ‘in Christ all will be made alive’.  That is the gospel.

The Bible’ Covenant Story. 1. What is a covenant?

We believe the Bible tells one consistent story of the redemptive purpose of God who has planned from eternity to provide for himself a people who will love and serve him.  A unity underlies the diversity of Scripture.  A key theme that runs all the way through the Bible is covenant, running from Genesis to Revelation.  We will trace The Bible’s Covenant Story, beginning with What is a covenant?

1. Divine provision

Covenants were well known in biblical times, but we need to understand how the Bible uses the term.  In the Bible a covenant is a binding agreement that governs the relationship between God and his people.  The simplest statement is in Leviticus 26:12 ‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people’.  Note:

            (i). It is sovereign.  The Lord alone decrees the terms on which sinners like us may become his covenant people.  He establishes his covenant (Genesis 17:7).

            (ii). It is gracious.  God is under no obligation to enter into covenant with man, yet he seeks a relationship of love with his people.  Covenanting by God is gracious condescension.

2. Twin pillars

Marriage provides a picture of Christ’s covenant with his church (Ephesians 5:22ff).  Note:

            (i). Love:  God’s covenant is the fruit of his eternal love (1 John 4:19).  His grace is love to those who deserved eternal punishment.  A covenant without love would be cold and harsh.  Our responding love overflows to the members of the covenant family.

            (ii). Law:  Covenant entails commitment and obligation.  The Lord is committed to us and in turn we are to keep his covenant law, expressing love for him.  The covenant binds us.

3. Consistent pattern

Despite differences in the form of God’s covenant through history, the heart of the covenant remains constant.  It involves several elements:

            (i). Parties:  2 parties: God and man (Adam) in Eden, God and his people (represented by Christ) in the Covenant of Grace.

            (ii). Promises:  God promises his own presence and all the provision his people need to serve him.  He promises the supply of ‘all your need’ (Philippians 4:19).

            (iii). Penalties:  There are consequences for breaking the covenant – the Fall in Eden, chastening for disobedient saints in the Covenant of Grace (Hebrews 12:6).

4. Believing participation

God’s covenant offers rich fellowship with the Triune God, with abundance of blessing.  We could not possibly deserve such gifts.  To participate in the blessings of the covenant, faith is necessary (see Acts 16:31).  It is a faith that includes repentance.  These too are God’s gracious gifts (Ephesians 2:8).  Faith unites us to Christ and all covenant blessings are conferred on those who are ‘in Christ’.  This is the life for which God created us.