“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12).
There has been an unfortunate tendency to speak of the covenant of redemption in non-historical terms. While certainly the covenant of redemption was made before history began, its benefits come to us only as they are worked out in history. The covenant of redemption is worked out in history through God’s covenant of grace.
Systematic theology has traditionally divided God’s plan of redemption into two main covenants: the covenant of works (or, the covenant of creation) and the covenant of grace. When God created Adam, He entered into a covenant with Adam whereby Adam was required to obey God in order to secure God’s blessing. When Adam failed this covenant as a result of his works, he brought sin and the curse into this world. This sin and curse spread to all humanity because all humanity is descended from Adam and bears responsibility both for Adam’s first sin and their own sins, as well (Rom. 5:12).
Nevertheless, God showed mercy to His chosen people and purposed to save them through a covenant of grace. Through the administration of the covenant of grace, God fulfills the covenant of works for us and grants us the favor that we could never earn ourselves. This covenant of grace is unfolded through a succession of smaller “subcovenants” with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and, finally, Christ.
The covenant of works is still in effect even though we cannot perform its requirements. This, and the fact that the covenant of grace has many “sub-covenants,” tells us that God’s revelation is progressive. He does not tell us everything at once, but He unfolds His plan for us over time. Moreover, His successive covenants are not corrective to earlier ones; rather, they explain and add to earlier revelations.
For this reason, we assume continuity in God’s plan. Unless we are told otherwise, the stipulations of the earlier covenants are still to be carried out by us.
Soon we will begin to look more closely at the covenant of works. Today we will note three aspects of this Creation covenant that continue today: the Sabbath (Gen. 2:3), labor (v. 15), and marriage (v. 24). Though our actual observance of them may look different, all people are nonetheless required to observe them because they were instituted at Creation.
Jesus’ appeal to the Creation account in Genesis (Matt. 19:1–9) shows us that we can find much of God’s original will for humanity in the description of life before the Fall. When you find biblical passages that are hard to interpret, remember that viewing them in light of the Creation account may help clarify their meanings.
Passages for Further Study
Gen. 1–2, Jer. 33:19–21, 2 Thess. 3:10–12, Heb. 4:9