God’s First Covenant with Humanity: The Covenant of Works


The first covenant God made with humans in the Garden of Eden is referred to as the covenant of works. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17 


God made this covenant of his own initiative and divine authority. Mankind was to give perfect and total obedience to his rule. The result of obedience would be blessing and eternal life, while the consequence of disobedience would be death. Adam and Eve broke this covenant by disobeying the commandment made by God. From that point, all human beings, being descendants of Adam and represented by him, are guilty of breaking this covenant. Another name for disobedience to God and breaking his covenant is “sin”. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  For more information on Adam, being our representative, see:


All human beings have broken the covenant of works that God has established, and are in need of redemption. Out of his divine justice, our deserved punishment is death and the constant wrath of God in hell. However, we are not hopeless! God has shown His love for us by his great mercy. This mercy comes from the work of Jesus Christ in the covenant of grace.


After that very first sin and humanity’s fall, God promised to redeem his people while speaking to the serpent in the garden, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Out of the offspring of Eve a Savior would come!

That Savior is Jesus. Jesus came as a “second” or “new” Adam to fulfill all the terms of our original covenant with God. He was “... in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus Christ not only fulfilled the covenant of works for us, but also bore the punishment that we deserved. His merit in fulfilling the covenant of works is given to all who put their trust in Him. 


This achievement of Christ for our redemption is the heart of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace fulfills the covenant of works because God graciously applies the merit of Christ to us. When we put our faith and trust in Christ, God credits Christ’s good works to us.


Praise the Lord that we have someone who could fulfill the covenant of works for us!


Further Study:

John Calvin - Institutes of The Christian Religion Book II

RC Sproul - Essential Truths of the Christian Faith

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