Covenant of Life or Covenant of Works?

Rev. Steve Schlissel - November 11, 2002

The Question…

I frequently hear God’s covenant with Adam referred to as both a covenant of life as well as a covenant of works. One OPC pastor we knew preferred to use covenant of life to covenant of works, since man has always been saved by God’s grace. I prefer to use covenant of life since Adam was promised life upon obedience. I’ve heard some say we need to use both covenant of life and covenant of works – not one in exclusion to the other. Is there liberty in this area?

The Answer…

The whole thing is a crock of baloney. How’s that for an assessment?!

No, seriously, the dispute is retrogressive, it’s backwards. Here’s the scoop. Man was created INTO a covenant. Hence, the Children’s & Shorter Catechisms are misleading: that covenant was not an agreement and it was not entered into after God had created man. It was no second thing. Adam awoke into a covenant, a relationship. It was full of grace and order and beauty. Theologians have a tendency to napalm the texts.

The covenant has terms, promises, conditions, regulations, helps, warnings, and lots more. Adam by his sin BROKE the covenant. Call it the Covenant of Creation, with him as the Administrator. Henceforth that cov would not lead to eternal life. It’s broken. It would still have good things in it: marriage, labor, food, sunshine, etc. These are given graciously by God to all. But no one would be properly related to God except by a New Covenant. Call it the Covenant of Redemption. It was prefigured in various ways, fulfilled in all ways by Christ. And here we are. In covenant with God through the New Adam, with terms, promises, conditions, regulations, helps, warnings, and lots more.

There’s the Bible in a short lesson. If we don’t keep it simple, it’s Aristotle, not Jesus.


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