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Living in God's World (Lesson 2.1)

In this lesson we're going to be looking at the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace in more detail. Some take the Covenant of Works to refer exclusively to the command God gave to Adam in the garden. But though this command was an extremely important part of the Covenant of Works (as we will see), there was more to God's covenant with Adam than just this single command. The command was given in the context of a covenant relationship that God had entered into with Adam. So, before we look at the command, we're going to take some time to look at the context in which that command was given.1

In particular, God's covenant with Adam included what some have called the “creation ordinances.” After God had created the world, and before man had fallen into sin, there were three ordinances (foundational life-principles) that God established for man. These three ordinances are vital for us to understand because they are laws that God has built into the very structure of the world as He created it. They are as essential to the well-being of man as the law of gravity—and just as essential for us as Christians. Each has far-reaching implications for what it looks like to glorify God as believers in Jesus.2

1. THE SABBATH as a creation ordinance:

A) The INAUGURATION of the Sabbath: After God had created the heavens and the earth and everything in them, Scripture tells us that, “He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Genesis 2:2-3). This was the inauguration of the Sabbath.

B) The PERMANENCE of the Sabbath: The Sabbath rest that God initiates here is something that He also has established as a principle for created man, and in particular, for His people. So, when God gave Israel the 10 Commandments, the 4th Commandment was, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).3 When the Pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus' response was: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). Jesus' words were given as a stern rebuke to correct a corrupted view of the Sabbath. But though Jesus rejects the Pharisees' wrong ideas about the Sabbath, Jesus' answer upholds the institution of the Sabbath itself. What was to be rejected wasn't the Sabbath—but the Pharisees' false conception of it.

C) The FUNCTION of the Sabbath: Jesus' words in Mark 2 also teach us about the purpose of the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for [the sake of] man. . .” Jesus' words here serve as a commentary for why God had created the Sabbath in the beginning. Scripture had told us in Genesis 2:3 that the Lord, “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.” Now here, Jesus' words teach us that this blessing had to do with mankind. God made and blessed the Sabbath for man's sake—that is—in order that it might be an instrument of blessing to man. It was for man's good that God established the Sabbath.4

A lot of Christians today are confused about the Sabbath and what role it should play. But what Scripture wants us to understand is that the Sabbath is a wonderful thing. Think about it this way: how would you like it if you began working at a new job where you started every year by getting a month and a half of paid vacation? In essence, this is what the Sabbath is (52 days a year). It's the Lord promising seven days of provision for six days of labor. Too often we look at the Sabbath from a negative perspective: “You shall not. . .” But actually, in the 10 Commandments, this is one of the few commandments that is set in positive language. It isn't set in “You shall not” language, but rather, “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” The Sabbath was given to be a blessing—not a burden!!

In particular, the Sabbath is a blessing because it is a day to stop, rest, and delight.5 First, 1) it's a day to STOP. The Sabbath is a day to stop all the work we're busy with the rest of the week. This is a pretty significant lesson for us. That God wants us to stop our work on the Sabbath is a) a reminder for us of what God really cares about: not so much doing, but being; not producing, but abiding. It's the same lesson Jesus was teaching Martha in Luke 10. Martha was concerned with all her service. Actually, the Greek word used there is the same word for ministry.6 Martha was too busy with all her ministry to actually stop and listen to Jesus. The Sabbath is a reminder for us of what God really cares about the most. It's also b) an invitation for us to embrace our limits: the Sabbath reminds us that “the world continues working fine when I stop.”7 God doesn't actually need us. He's in control and taking care of the universe just fine without us. The Sabbath is an invitation to “be still and know” that God is God (Psalm 46:10). The call to stop our work on the Sabbath is also c) an opportunity for us to trust in the God who has promised to supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19).8 So the Sabbath is a day to stop. It's also, 2) a day to REST; physically, spiritually, emotionally. We're not super-heroes. God made us with bodies, with souls, and minds that need rest.9 Lastly, 3) the Sabbath is a day to DELIGHT. It's worth noting that the Sabbath begins with God looking over all He had made and basking in the reality that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).10 What is God doing? He's delighting in His creation. So the Sabbath is a day set apart to delight in God, but also to delight in His creation: “we are to slow down. . .and take the time to see the beauty of a tree, a leaf, a flower, the sky. . .to see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. . .” To experience and delight in God's creation.11

D) The SCOPE of the Sabbath: It's also important to note that the Sabbath wasn't just meant to be a single day—it was (and is) a principle of life for God's people. We see this in passages such as Leviticus 25, where God commanded Israel not only to celebrate a weekly Sabbath—but also to celebrate a Sabbath year once every seven years (Leviticus 25:1-7). Likewise, every 50th year (Lit. “seven sabbaths of years”) there was to be a Jubilee year of Sabbath rest (Leviticus 25:8-12).12

These passages speak of having a time of Sabbath for the land—a time for the land to rest.13 On one hand, the land was to have rest because the land belonged to the Lord. On the other hand, God was teaching His people that man wasn't meant to be captive to his creation. God doesn't want us to be workaholics—neglecting our families for the purpose of endless work (even if we call it “ministry”). It doesn't honor God. God wants us to take time to rest in Him and enjoy His blessings. So the Sabbath isn't just about one day in seven. It's a principle that God established for all of life.14

E) The FULFILMENT of the Sabbath: When God established the Sabbath, it was on the seventh day of the week. The Sabbath was the last day of the week, which meant that God's people looked forward to it all week. There was some deeper significance to this. All throughout the Old Testament, God's people were looking forward to a lasting, an eternal Sabbath rest. Moses spoke of a future rest that God would give His people in the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 12:9-10). But even when they entered into the land and took possession of it, Joshua could not give them the kind of rest that Moses anticipated (Hebrews 4:3,8-9). Hundreds of years later, Isaiah used the imagery of the Sabbath rest of Jubilee to speak of the One who would bring true and lasting rest to God's people (Isaiah 61:1-3) — and it was this very passage that Jesus turned to at the inauguration of His earthly ministry, and declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18-21).

There's a reason that we now celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week instead of the last day of the week: it was the day that Jesus rose from the dead. It was on the first day of the week that the women came to the tomb bringing spices—and found it empty—and heard the angel's words: “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). It was the first day of the week that the Lord appeared for the first time to His disciples (John 20:19ff); then later to Thomas who hadn't been there the week before (21:26ff). It was the first day of the week that the early church began to meet together for worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). Why? Because Jesus' resurrection changed everything about the Sabbath. The true, eternal Sabbath rest that had been anticipated for so long had finally come through Jesus' death and resurrection. And the fact that we now celebrate the Sabbath on the first day of the week also carries with it great significance:

“[The Christian] does not only look forward to a redemption yet to come. He does not merely hope for a future Sabbath rest. He looks back on a redemption fully accomplished. He stands confidently on the basis of what the past already has brought. . .The current believer in Christ does not follow the Sabbath pattern of the people of the old covenant. He does not first labor six days, looking hopefully toward rest. Instead, he begins the week by rejoicing in the rest already accomplished by the cosmic event of Christ's resurrection. Then he enters joyfully into his six days of labor, confident of success through the victory which Christ already has won.”15

2. MARRIAGE as a creation ordinance:

A) The INAUGURATION of marriage: The second ordinance that the Lord established in the early chapters of Genesis was the institution of marriage. We see this in Genesis 2:18-25. After God had made the woman and brought her to the man, Scripture tells us: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (v24).

B) The ESSENCE of marriage: This verse (Genesis 2:24) is quoted another three times in Scripture (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7-8; Ephesians 5:31). It is this verse that the Scripture itself constantly refers back to in order to help us understand the essence of marriage. It's also significant that this statement about marriage was first given before man had fallen into sin, and yet it continued to be referred back to as a blue-print for marriage even after Adam's sin in the garden. So, Genesis 2:24 is quite foundational for understanding the meaning of marriage—both for sinless man and for sinful man.16

So, what is the essence of marriage? There are three things that we can draw out of this passage. First, husband and wife are to LEAVE mother and father: “for this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother. . .” In marriage there is a radical change that takes place in ones relationship to their parents. The husband-wife relationship becomes the main priority. This is true for both the woman and the man. The man is to prioritize his wife (her ideas, opinions, wishes) above all other relationships (including those of his parents). The woman is to prioritize her husband (his ideas, opinions, wishes) above all other relationships (including those of her parents). Second, husband and wife are to CLEAVE to one another: “. . .and be joined [or cleave] to his wife. . .” Cleaving means that marriage is “a total and irrevocable commitment of two people to each other.”17 What this means is that marriage isn't to be based on a feeling of love—but on the commitment to love. Finally, in marriage husband and wife BECOME ONE FLESH: “. . .and they shall become one flesh.” Becoming one flesh means complete and total oneness. This oneness includes sexual union but it isn't limited to that (in fact, often the sexual union serves as a gauge for oneness in other areas). As one put it: “Marriage is a total commitment and a total sharing of the total person with another person until death.”18 So, at the heart of marriage is leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh.19

C) The DIGNITY of marriage: The account of the institution of marriage begins with Genesis 2:18: “Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.'” This is actually quite a powerful statement if we put it in context. God had seen that the light was good (1:4), the dry land and the seas were good (1:10), the vegetation on the earth was good (1:12), the sun and moon were good (1:18), the sea creatures and the beasts of the field were good (1:21,25) — in fact, Genesis 1:31 tells us that, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” But then the Lord saw that Adam was alone, and for the first time He declared: This is NOT good. The whole reason marriage exists is that God created it, and the reason God created it is that it was not good for man (even sinless man!) to remain alone. So, marriage is very, very good in the sight of the One who created it. This doesn't mean that there's no place for believers remaining single in the Lord (1 Corinthians 7). There's a place of honor for those who remain single in the kingdom of God (Isaiah 56:3-5; Matthew 19:12). But it's vital for us to understand that marriage was never a second-class concession for sinful man.20 God himself has created it. He created it because man was not good without it. And He has crowned it with great honor and dignity (Hebrews 13:4).

D) The DESIGN of marriage: Genesis 2:18 also teaches us about God's design for marriage. Again, we read in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”21 So then, “the woman was created by God to be a helper to the man in the marriage relationship.”22 This is echoed in the New Testament, where Paul says that the man was not created for the woman, but the woman was created for the man (1 Corinthians 11:9). In other words, the purpose of the wife's existence is to glorify God by being a help to her husband. This never meant the woman is inferior to man in any way.23 Both male and female were created in God's image (Genesis 1:27). The difference between the man and the woman is not in their equality, but in their God-given roles.24 “[Woman] is similar to man, yet somewhat different. She is man's complement, not his carbon copy. She is to man what a key is to a lock and what a film is to a camera—indispensable (1 Corinthians 11:11).”25 Without her, man is incomplete. The wife is to be a helper to her husband specifically for the task of filling the earth with the glory of God (Genesis 1:28)26.

E) The DEFINITION of marriage: Jesus' words on the subject of marriage help to correct three corruptions of the institution of marriage. The Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking what conditions were necessary for a man to divorce his wife. We read Jesus' response in Matthew 19:4-6:

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave His father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

First, Jesus is declaring that DIVORCE contradicts the creational order of marriage. Elsewhere in Scripture, Jesus clarifies that divorce is permissible (for the offended party) in situations of unchastity (or willful desertion), where the marriage covenant has already been broken (Matthew 5:31-32). But aside from this, divorce is clearly unacceptable: “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”