When my children were young they loved to build with Legos. They loved to construct magical Lego worlds and then play in them. As a dad, this often served as a backdrop creating the perfect opportunity to explain the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
I’d have them imagine they had the power to bring their Lego characters to life and create a wonderful and pain-free world for them. A world in which they could play with their characters every day and enjoy their friendship.
I would tell them to imagine giving the Lego characters only one rule they had to live by: The Lego characters couldn’t eat from one Lego tree in the play area. The Lego people could have everything else they wanted! My children would agree this was very fair and reasonable.
I would then tell them to imagine—in spite of all the kindness they showed their created characters—how they would feel if the Lego people rose up and rebelled against them and even said: “I hate you!” I remember the shock and confusion in their faces as they considered this. I’d ask them what they would do if this happened. Their answer was always firm and consistent: START OVER!
Revisiting the Covenant of Works
For a person to really grasp the covenant of grace it’s imperative they comprehend the covenant of works. Why? Because the covenant of works is the backdrop for understanding the covenant of grace. It’s similar to the way we must understand the Law in order to appreciate the necessity of the gospel of grace.
To review from my last post, in the covenant of works eternal life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of [Adam’s] perfect and personal obedience. To use my own paraphrase, in the covenant of works God asked Adam for one thing—just one thing: He asked for Adam’s allegiance demonstrated by obedience.
We all know the tragedy of that story: Adam failed the test and subsequently plunged the entire human race into separation and enmity with our creator! We are all born as children of wrath. Instead of living in a blissful paradise in unbroken communion with our Triune God, we live in a world filled with sin, pain, disease, suffering, tragedy, death, and even eternal damnation for many. The consequences of Adam’s one act of disobedience are really staggering when pondered for even just a few moments!
God could’ve very easily and justly destroyed Adam and Eve. My children often asked me why He didn’t? I think we should be content to remember: “who has known the mind of the Lord, Or who has been his counselor?“ (Romans 11:34). God is God and we are a mere creature. God always does what is best.
Because the Lord is gracious and merciful, He had other plans. Instead of killing Adam and Eve on the spot and destroying the world, God immediately showed compassion. When they had sinned and were naked, God not only clothed them with the skins from a sacrificed animal, He also made them a promise. Something the sacrificed animal pointed to—the lamb of God who takes away sin and clothes us with His righteousness.
God promised to restore Adam and Eve. He would do this by first breaking the alliance between them and the Serpent. In Genesis 3:15, God tells them “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This promise was the initial seed of the covenant of grace. Theologians have referred to this verse as the “proto-evangelium” or “protevangel” because it’s the first announcement of the gospel. Proto means “beginning: giving rise to” and Evangelium means “gospel.”
Genesis 3:15 is the first promise in Scripture of deliverance from the power of Satan and is thus, the first proclamation of the covenant of grace.
Just when all hope seems lost in Adam, God promises a second Adam, the seed of the woman. At some point in the future, as the serpent metaphorically sinks his venomous fangs into the promised seed (Jesus Christ), but somehow the chosen seed will arise and prevail, crushing the serpent’s head.
Looking to the Promised Christ
The protevangel is not the fully disclosed Gospel as we know today in its final details. But it contains the full and complete DNA of the gospel and is a promise we can cling to.
We are promised a second Adam will arise and succeed in the very covenant in which Adam failed. We will see that what’s a covenant of grace for us was a brutal covenant of works for Jesus Christ.