In which I almost confuse myself discussing works, faith, and grace as they relate to the first and second Adams


I apologize for not posting something from Future Grace every day this month. I’ve gotten sidetracked by some questions raised while reading. One question regarding Future Grace is due to Piper’s words in Chapter 5: The Freest of All God’s Acts. In his explanation of God’s grace, Piper explains his belief that even Adam and Eve experienced God’s grace (the goodness of God to people who don’t deserve it) prior to the fall.

Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve experienced God’s goodness not as a response to their demerit (since they didn’t have any) but still without deserving God’s goodness. You can’t deserve to be created. You can’t deserve, as a non-being, to be put into a lavish garden where all your needs are met by a loving Father. So even before they sinned, Adam and Eve lived on grace. And God’s will for them was that they live by faith in future grace.

True, none of us deserves to be created. Certainly all of us are living as a result of God’s sustaining grace. Like everything else, God created Adam and Eve because He wanted to. God was having a great time with His creation, declared everything as good, then decided to create man in his own image — a creature unlike all of the other creatures. Adam and Eve were alive because God was being God. Like us, they were created to glorify and enjoy God forever. Unlike us, they were uniquely created with the God-given (grace) capacity to do so. They were created in righteousness, goodness and holiness. They did not know evil. They were created spiritually alive, fully able to enjoy God, fellowship with Him and glorify Him. God breathed real life into Adam’s nostrils. Did they deserve this goodness of God? No, but it pleased the Lord to make them and enjoy them. Certainly it can be said that until Adam’s sin at the tree they were undeserving of death.

[Note: it is considered an act of grace (undeserved goodness) when God forced Adam and Eve out of the garden so that they could not eat of the tree of life in their fallen state.]

God gave them one command: “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). Then Piper quotes The Pentateuch as Narrative by John Sailhamer, to show that these verses mean

that God alone knows what is good for human beings and God alone knows what is not good for them. To enjoy the “good” we must trust God and obey him. If we disobey, we will have to decide for ourselves what is good and and what is not good. While to modern men and women such a prospect may seem desirable, to the author of Genesis it is the worst fate that could have befallen humanity.

Back to Piper:

In other words, not eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was meant by God to be an act of trust in his gracious wisdom and his readiness to lead Adam and Eve in what is good and to meet all their needs…Their disobedience was a breach of trust in their Father’s love and a forsaking of faith in his future grace.

The question I am trying to answer is, Is this true? Yes, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a disobedient act, sinful, “a breach of trust.” But was it “a forsaking of faith in his [God’s] future grace?”

Could Adam have NOT sinned? Yes! Other than Jesus, Adam is the only man who has ever lived who was totally free of a sin nature. Unlike you and I, Adam could have refused to eat of the fruit of that tree, his will was free to obey. He had it within himself to maintain his righteousness and holiness and innocence. Furthermore, I think Adam had to be the most intelligent man to walk this earth (other than Jesus, of course). I think he had an understanding of the creation unlike any other person. He named everything in God’s animal parade and he was given dominion over it all. He walked and talked with God! No, Adam was no bafoon. So, when Satan attacked, Adam was fully capable, intellectually and spiritually, to refuse. But he willingly made the wrong choice. Was it because he did not have faith in God’s future grace?

Piper wants to say that God wanted Adam to exercise faith in His future grace. I don’t see how that is even possible. While grace was definitely in the mind of God, I find zero scriptural evidence to indicate that Adam understood it. Faith, yes. But I can’t think of evidence for future grace.

Adam’s disobedience demonstrated that Adam did not believe God, which is to say that Adam did not have faith in God or His promise that the punishment for eating of the tree would be death. Adam is not mentioned at all in Hebrews 11. The list of the faithful begins with Abel, his son. I think everything Adam and Eve did after the fall was based on faith in future grace: having children, teaching them to offer sacrifices to God, etc. All of that was founded on Genesis 3:15. I think Adam and Eve looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise to crush the head of the serpent with Eve’s offspring.

I’ve read that the biggest problem with the idea that Adam enjoyed a relationship with God based on his grace has to do with what it implies regarding Jesus as the second Adam. First, as far as grace is concerned, Jesus stands alone when it comes to not needing grace from God. He always merits God’s favor! This truth is part of the horror of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Rather than providing a magnificent display of favor, God poured out His wrath on Jesus. Second, I have been taught that prior to the fall God’s relationship with man
was based on merit. Piper says that is erroneous; that God wanted Adam
and Eve to relate to him in terms of childlike faith, not works. Does that mean that God wanted to relate to Jesus on the basis of childlikd faith, not works? The critical question is, if Adam’s relationship with God was not based on works, then what becomes of Jesus’ fulfillment of the law? Critics of Future Grace say that if you take away God’s covenant of works with Adam, then you take away the gospel in Christ. If so, this is a huge problem in Future Grace. And one I’m not sure I can answer. Continue reading at your own peril.

Piper writes that Adam’s sin was a breach of trust, not a violation of a covenant. True, the word “covenant” is not used in relation to Adam in Genesis; however, all of the elements of a covenant exist: two parties (God and Adam), conditions (eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and you will die/do not eat of the knowledge of good and evil and you will live), stipulations for blessings for obedience (stay in the garden, eat from the tree of life) and the punishment for disobedience (death), and a sign of the covenant (the tree of life). By eating of the tree of life, Adam and Eve would be affirming their belief that eating of its fruit would internally produce eternal life. By eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve would be affirming the opposite: that they could decide, based on their own knowledge, what was good for life. It’s also important to note that Hosea mentions a covenant between God and Adam, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (6:7). To be fair, this verse refers to the covenant in terms of faith, rather than works — “they dealt faithlessly with me.” This seems to support Piper’s idea.

On the other hand, Paul teaches in the New Testament that a life of adherance to the law precludes the life of faith. Paul speaks as though we could achieve eternal life by obedience to God’s law. In Galatians 3 he says, “but the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them” (v. 12). And in Romans he writes, “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them” (10:5). He is saying that we will live forever if we perfectly obey God’s commandments; that we will have earned eternal life. This is completely opposite of a life of faith (which is what pleases God). If we do not live by God’s commands, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). If we disobey, then we earn our just punishment. This is what happened to Adam. He disobeyed God and died. So, this leads me to conclude that a covenant of works (which is the best way to understand it) was indeed in effect in the garden.

Like I said, this is problematic for some because Paul calls Jesus the second Adam. Paul teaches in Romans 5 that just as in Adam we all died, so in Christ we will live. “For as by the one man’s disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). The point is not that Adam’s sin and Jesus’ obedience are on a level plane. Paul says, “The free gift is not like the trespass” (Romans 5:15). The point is to demonstrate how we were made sinners in Adam and how we are made righteous in Christ. Our representation in them still stands regardless of what it is called — covenant of works or a relationship of childlike faith. Jesus’ life fulfilled all of the law and he demonstrated perfect faith.

Distinguishing faith, works and grace matters when it comes to you and me. God is not pleased when we attempt to satisfy him with works divorced from the gift of faith in His Son.

Just for fun, what does it mean for Jesus and our salvation if we refer to the covenant between God and Adam as a covenant of faith? Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure that it does any harm. I’m not certain that in Adam’s case his works preclude faith, like it does with us prior to regeneration. Had perfect Adam obeyed, it would have been a demonstration of his faith in God, right? And his righteousness would have been preserved? Besides this, God’s word tells us over and over again that it is faith that pleases him. Does this pleasure in faith only exist after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden? Had Adam sought God, called out to Him there in the garden, and demonstrated that he believed God over the serpent, it would have pleased God. Adam would have been rewarded for it.

But then you and I would never have an understanding of the grace and mercy of God in His Son. And that’s the whole point of creation, isn’t it?

Perhaps this — understanding the nature of Adam and Eve, their relationship with God, the fall, etc. — is something that cannot be taken apart or disconnected from the foundational truth that God had sovereignly ordained everything regarding life and our salvation before Adam ever took his first breath. As Paul says in Romans 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

It’s still fun to think about.

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9 thoughts on “In which I almost confuse myself discussing works, faith, and grace as they relate to the first and second Adams

  1. Alright girl. I read it. Then I read it again without interruption. Then. I read it out loud. Then my head exploded.I will wait and see who has enough “fun” in them to take this one on :)I’ll send Brian your way.

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  2. Kim, I worked on it for a couple of days, then read and reread it. Then I decided to post it anyway just because I spent so much time on it and didn’t want it to be a complete waste. I am sorry that you spent so much of your valuable time reading it — you’ll never get that back. If your head exploded, then my suspicions are confirmed — this post is a mess. I do appreciate your leaving a comment, though.

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  3. How dare you question John Piper!!! Just kidding. I think you raise some very valid questions here regarding Piper’s line of thinking. Piper has stated that he sees some “merit” in the Puritan view on a covenant of works between God and Adam prior to the fall. I appreciate you testing Piper’s teaching with scripture. And I think your tests are valid. In my opinion, out of all of Piper’s writing, Future Grace is the most practical and most philosophically based book. This can be problematic as you have pointed out. I think the key to chapter 5 and a key to understanding Piper’s thinking behind faith in future grace is found starting at the bottom of page 78, under the heading, “Free, Unmerited, Conditional Grace”. He writes: “If a philanthropist pays $80,000 for your college education on the condition that you graduate from high school, you have not earned the gift, but you have met a condition. It is possible to meet a condition for receiving grace and yet not earn the grace. Conditional grace does not mean earned grace.” We see this especially in the pre-fall relationship between God and Adam. God’s grace is unmerited or undeserved, but not without conditions. Piper then cites repentance as a biblical example of this concept. The Bible says (Acts 3:19), “Repent therefore and return that your sins may be wiped away.” So the condition of repentance must be met for us to receive the grace of having our sins wiped away. And then Piper goes on to cite II Tim. 2:25 that even the condition of repentance that God requires is a grace gift from God to us because the scripture says that he “grants” repentance. I think this is a key concept in understanding Piper’s thoughts on faith in future grace. I hope this is helpful and sorry for the long, post-like comment. Thanks Leslie for the post…

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  4. Brian, You are absolutely right. Piper takes pages to explain himself. I shouldn’t have let myself get hung up on his first point of chapter 5.Thank you so much, Brian. Feel free to write long comments here at your leisure.

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  5. Wowie Zowie, as Paul David Tripp always says. That’s some heavy thunkin’ right there.I was following your argument with one reservation, having just read Spectacular Sins, as I know you just have as well. Then you resolved it all in the final paragraph. Funny how often God’s sovereignty sorts things out in the end, doesn’t it?Ever thought of writing a book, Leslie? 🙂

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  6. I guess I’m just too tired right now to get my mind wrapped around it, but you did get me fired up about WANTING to think deeply tonight, my friend!

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