COWorks & Original of Sin | The Covenant of Works & Original Sin

Now that we have defined our terms let us consider why the Covenant of Works is essential to understanding Original Sin.  Even though the word “covenant” is not there, the elements are there. Michael Hortons states,

“Even in Genesis 1–3 we recognize the features of a covenant that we have delineated: a historical prologue setting the stage (Ge 1–2), stipulations (2:16–17) and the sanctions (2:17b) over which Eve and the serpent argue (3:1–5) and which are finally carried out in the form of judgment (3:8–19).”[1]

We will see these Covenantal elements more in detail in our response. There were two parties involved: God the creature and Adam his creation. God created Adam as his image bearer, and in doing so, he was created in covenantal relationship. As we read the Genesis narrative, we learn that God establishes a covenant with Adam who is in a state of unconfirmed righteousness. Louis Berkhof states,

From the very beginning, however. God revealed Himself, not only as an absolute Sovereign and Lawgiver, but also as a loving Father, seeking the welfare and happiness of His dependent creature. He condescended to come down to the level of man, to reveal Himself as a Friend, and to enable man to improve his condition in the way of obedience[2]

In this covenant, Adam represents the whole human race (Romans 5:12-18). God gives to him stipulations in this covenant (Genesis 2:15-17). There are conditions, which if he would obey, he and all whom he represents, would enter into eternal Sabbath rest, but if he disobeyed he would earn the penalty of death. The Covenant of Works said, “Do this and Live!” As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Adam fails and bring all his posterity into sin and death. As we read Romans 5, it is because of the legal nature of the Covenant of Works that Adam is our federal head, and that his sin is imputed to us. It is by his federal or covenantal headship that he represents us. This is crucial for us to get because it is under a Covenant of Works the second Adam, Jesus Christ is under and is also a federal head. Where Adam failed, Christ triumphed. Where Adam earned sin and death for those whom he represents, Christ earns righteousness and everlasting life for those whom he represents. Where Adam failed the probation testing period and was kicked out of the garden, Jesus Christ passed the test and entered into eternal Sabbath rest. A. W. Pink correctly states that if we do not affirm a Covenant of Works that, “we are without the key to God’s dealings with the human race, we are unable to discern man’s relation to the divine law, and we appreciate not the fundamental principles upon which the atonement of Christ proceeded.”[3] Just to mention a few other verses outside of Genesis that show this covenantal relationship. In Romans 5:12-19 Paul contrasts Adam and Christ who is the second and better Adam. In Hosea 6:7 referring to Israel, God says, “But like Adam, they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me,” which indicated he saw Adam’s relation to God as a covenant. 1 Corinthians 15:22, “ For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”


Original Sin

In regards to original sin, Berkhof states, “in the history of mankind, the Bible teaches that it began with the transgression of Adam in paradise, and therefore with a perfectly voluntary act on the part of man.”[4] Satan came, contradicting the word of God and tempted man. Adam before the fall was in a state of untested righteousness, having never yet sinned. As we know, he failed God’s test by eating the fruit, which God commanded him not to eat and by doing so, committed the first sin. Berkhof adds, “That sin carried permanent pollution with it, and pollution which, because of the solidarity of the human race, would affect not only Adam but all his descendants as well.”[5] The result was human nature was now corrupt, only able to sin. Seeing the connections of the covenant and original sin, Horton rightly states,

Interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture, Adam’s covenantal role entailed that he was the representative for his whole posterity. In fact, every person is judged guilty in Adam, and the effects of this curse extend even to the rest of creation (Ge 3:17–18; Ro 8:20). It is with this simultaneously legal and relational background in mind that Paul makes his well-known statements on the imputation of Adam’s guilt and corruption as the corollary of the imputation and impartation of the Second Adam’s righteousness (esp. Ro 5) in justification and sanctification[6]

Horton adds, “All of humanity, including Israel, is now “in Adam,” condemned as a transgressor of the law. Thus, the covenant of creation (also called the covenant of works, law, or nature) is the legal context for God’s judgment.”[7] It is only in this legal context that one can legally act as a representative or federal head.


[1] Horton, M. (2011). The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (p. 415). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (p. 215). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.

[3] Pink, A. W. (1973). The divine covenants (p. 29). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic theology (p. 221). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co.

[5] Ibid

[6] Horton, M. (2011). The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (p. 415). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[7] Ibid p.416

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