12. What special act of providence did God exercise toward man in the estate wherein he was created?
- When God had created man, he entered into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of perfect obedience; forbidding him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.
13. Did our first parents continue in the estate wherein they were created?
- Our first parents, being left to the freedom of their own will, fell from the estate wherein they were created, by sinning against God.
(Question and Answer 12 and 13 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism)
Do you know that you are born into a relationship with God? Even more specifically, you are born into a covenant relationship with the God who created you.
This might confuse us a bit because so often we hear the gospel message in terms such as this: “If you are not in a relationship with God, trust Jesus Christ so that you can be.” Using this type of formula, by trusting in Jesus we enter into a relationship with God that we were not a part of formerly. This kind of thinking, though, only gets it half right. Yes, when we are saved we do enter into a relationship with God; a good relationship. This does not mean that we did not have a relationship with God before this, for we did; it was just a bad one.
To understand this, we have to go back to Eden. God creates man and enters into a covenant relationship with him there. This covenant relationship is commonly known as ‘the covenant of works’ which question 12 of the shorter catechism so wonderfully defines above. The stipulations of the covenant of works were defined like this: Adam and Eve were to live a life of perfect obedience to God, not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ‘upon pain of death’. (Gen 2:16-17) God gives Adam two options here: either you obey perfectly or sin and pay the penalty of death.
If we are familiar with the account of Adam and Eve then we know that this story does not end well. Adam and Eve in blatant disobedience to God, succumb to the lies of Satan eating the forbidden fruit. (Gen. 3) In this one action, they rebel against God and his word, taking upon themselves the displeasure of God and banishment from His presence in the garden.
The thing we need to understand, though, is that just because Adam and Eve failed in the covenant of works does not mean that this covenant relationship is annulled. We, like Adam and Eve, are still in this same covenant relationship with God the moment we take our breath. Just like our first parents, we are held accountable to God and his law and called to obedience as we have studied in Romans 1-3. Also, our consequence for breaking the law is the same as theirs as well. If we sin against God and his law the punishment is still death. Remember Paul’s words in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”
At this point (if you have read the previous blog) you might be thinking, “ If the law functions to show me how much of a sinner I am and how unable I am to keep it, then how in the world is it fair for God to keep me accountable for perfect obedience according to it?” At this point we have to remember that our inability to adhere to God’s law is because of our sin. That makes it our fault and shortcoming, not God’s. The fact that God calls us to obey perfectly is his prerogative. He is God; not us. He is completely sovereign; not us. He is completely just; not us. The bottom line here is that we are not God in the slightest degree.
Yes, the fact of the matter is that though we are naturally disobedient (Romans 8:7) we are still required to perfectly obey God and his law. If this is true, though, how can anyone be saved? The answer might surprise you.
The answer is that we are saved through obedience. But not ours; the obedience of Jesus Christ is what saves us.
In Scripture, we find a twofold obedience of Christ on our behalf; what theologians call his active and passive obedience. Let’s begin with the former type of obedience: his active obedience on our behalf. Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4-5 that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus, like us was born under the law, held accountable to perfectly obey. And that is what he did on our behalf. In Romans 5:19, Paul addresses this idea, making a distinction between Jesus and Adam in this way: “For as by the one man’s (Adam) disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s (Jesus) obedience the many will be made righteous.” From the beginning to the end of Jesus’ life, he perfectly obeyed God’s law on our behalf therefore procuring a righteousness for us that we could not obtain on our own. This is what the active obedience of Jesus refers to.
The second type of obedience that Jesus wrought on our behalf is his passive obedience. This refers to Jesus obeying the Father in dying upon the cross, thereby passively taking upon himself all the wrath of God that we deserved for the sins that we committed. Like we observed in the previous blog, the law pronounces a curse upon everyone who does not perfectly obey: “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” (Deut. 27:26) And what did Christ do for us upon the cross? He became that curse for us. He took upon the curse of God’s wrath and judgment for our sins upon the cross. As Paul says in Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…’”
In this way, when we put our trust in Jesus and his obedience for us, what Martin Luther calls the great exchange happens. He takes the punishment for our sins on the cross and we in turn receive his perfect righteousness. Paul announces this truth beautifully in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” When we put our trust in Jesus then, our sins against God and his law are put away by the sacrifice of Jesus and the perfect obedience to God’s law that Jesus procured on our behalf is placed on our account making us perfectly acceptable to God. Jesus, as our second Adam, fulfills the covenant of works for us!
So, yes, we are all in a covenant relationship with God whether we like it or not. If we have disobeyed God and his law, we are in a bad relationship. But thank God for Jesus, who has obeyed perfectly for us in his perfect life and death. Put your trust in him who fulfilled the covenant of works and the law of God perfectly.