Could Adam Have Merited Eternal Life By Works?

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Any suggestion that man could merit God’s favor by obedience to his commandments come across to many Christians as works-righteousness and a denial of grace. To be sure, this is true on this side of Adam’s fall into sin—any other view would be heresy. However, the view that Adam would have earned God’s pleasure and eternal life if he did not sin is typically met with raised eyebrows or even incredulous shock at such non-gracious legalism. Does not Paul say that Christians are “not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14)?

The Garden of Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900)
The Garden of Eden by Erastus Salisbury Field (1805-1900)

Was there really prelapsarian grace shown to Adam? To proceed with this discussion, a couple of definitions are in order.

The first is that of grace. When the Bible speaks of grace (Greek charis) in relation to God’s work of saving man from sin, it must be defined as “that unmerited favor of God toward fallen man….” [1] Here, it is spoken of as the favorable disposition of God towards the unfavorable or the undeserving, wherein a person receives approval, acceptance, or favor from God who is pleased with him. Even the secular Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines grace as “a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy or clemency.” [2] Sinful man’s favorable standing with God is not because he deserves, merits or earns it, but solely out of God’s gracious character. In this sense, grace and mercy are almost synonymous. Precisely because a sinful creature deserves the just punishment of death meted out by a holy Creator-Judge—but that this Creator-Judge pardons him only out of his merciful character—that grace is truly “unmerited favor.”

This is why Paul makes a clear-cut distinction between salvation by grace and works (Eph 2:8-9). Because God demands perfect holiness and all mankind are sinners, no one will be saved by works, but only by God’s gift of grace (Rom 3:23-24). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia summarizes this antithesis this way, “‘Grace’ then, in this sense is the antinomy to ‘works’ or to ‘law’; it has a special relation to the guilt of sin.” [3]

The second definition that has to be clarified is what Reformed theologians call the covenant of works. Although the Bible does not mention the word “covenant” in his dealings with Adam in the Garden of Eden, his relationship with Adam has the basic elements of a Biblical covenant. The 1647 Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 20 says that God’s providence towards Adam included “entering into a covenant of life with him, upon condition of personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, of which the tree of life was a pledge; and forbidding to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon the pain of death.” All the elements of a biblical covenant are found in the Adamic covenant: the parties (God and mankind), stipulation (the forbidden fruit), blessing (life) and curse (death), and sign (tree of life) (Gen 2:9, 15-17; 3:22; Rev 2:7).

Grace to Adam Before the Fall?
Going back to the opening question, “Was there grace bestowed on Adam before he sinned?” Obviously, God’s nature is eternal, so his grace is always present. But did he grant grace to Adam before the Fall? Remember that the definition of God’s grace in relationship with man is God’s unmerited favor upon undeserving people. What makes people undeserving? It is sin, and as a consequence, they do not deserve grace, but the just punishment of death. Why is grace unmerited favor? Because it is impossible for sinful man to earn God’s favor through works before faith (Heb 11:6).

The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Michaelangelo (1508-1512)
The Fall of Man and the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden by Michaelangelo (1508-1512)

God’s covenant with Adam was clear: if Adam disobeyed, he would be punished with death. So the reverse is true: if he obeyed, he would be granted eternal life. Would God have given him eternal life because he deserved and merited it based on his successful probation? Absolutely! Obedience or disobedience is a works-principle. God’s command to Adam and Eve was clear, “Do this and live, but if you don’t, you shall surely die.” This is the summary of the Mosaic covenant, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them (Lev 18:5; Gal 3:12).

Are you saying that Adam and his posterity could have merited eternal life by works and not by grace? Certainly, although as we shall see later, after the Fall, all mankind would have been saved by works—the works of Christ! Adam would have been transformed into an immortal man had he passed his probation by keeping the covenant of works. Man’s first parents would have produced perfect, immortal children covering God’s tabernacle, the Garden of Eden. This tabernacle would have expanded outward from the Garden and encompassed the whole earth, which was God’s ultimate plan from eternity, marred only by Satan’s intrusion into Eden.[4] This is why all of Scriptures look forward to the day when the psalmist’s prophecy is fulfilled, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!” (Psa 66:1-2). On that day, the entire new heaven and new earth would be God’s temple (Rev 21:22).

Everywhere in Scriptures, whether Old or New, the covenant of works is found. The  rich, young ruler asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Did Jesus answer, “You must have faith, not works”? No, he gave him the covenant of works, What is written in the Law? How do you read it? … Do this, and you will live(Luke 10:25, 26, 28).

After the Fall—Grace!
But does not Paul contradict Jesus when he says that no one is saved by works, but only by grace through faith? This is where grace comes in. After Adam and his children were condemned to death because of sin, God revealed his gracious plan of salvation through Eve’s Seed whose heel would be bruised by Satan, but who, in the process of being bruised, would crush Satan’s head (Gen 3:15).

Unlike God’s covenant with Adam, this protoevangel is gracious, and is the first revelation of the eternal covenant of grace to mankind. Since Adam’s fall, no one is able to earn eternal life through his own works because of sin, so what is the solution? God still requires perfect obedience to his laws, and his holiness demands the penalty of death for disobedience. His solution is to send his Anointed Son on a mission to fulfill the requirements of God’s covenant of works with Adam—what Adam failed to do, Christ would accomplish. This is why Jesus repeatedly told everyone, I have not come to abolish [the Law or the Prophets] but to fulfill them(Matt 5:17). And he did. He was perfectly obedient throughout his humiliation as a human being in this world all the way to his accursed death on the cross (Phil 2:8; Gal 3:13).

So what if Jesus was sinless and perfectly obedient to God? How does this save Adam’s children from sin? A couple of theological constructs based on Romans 5:12-19 and Romans 4:1-8 come into view. The first is called federal headship, from where the federal system of government is derived, a system wherein one person represents a group of people. In biblical covenants, God makes a covenant with a person who becomes the representative of his descendants. In Romans 5:12-19, the first Adam represented the whole human race when he sinned, and the second Adam, Christ, represented his people when he lived in perfect righteousness (see also 1 Cor 15:22, 45). Liberal theologians reject this idea as illogical and unfair, but why do they turn around and accept a representative type of government without batting an eye?

The second doctrine arising out of Jesus’ perfect obedience is called double imputation or, in contemporary language, “the great exchange.” This doctrine is summarized simply as “the sinner’s sins to Christ and his righteousness to the sinner.” Since no one could free himself from sin’s slavery, no one could live in perfect obedience to God’s word and become righteous before God by his own works. All mankind are in violation of God’s covenants of works and grace. Therefore, from where could his righteousness come? Man’s righteousness could come only from outside of himself—one who was able to live in perfect obedience to God—and granted to him. How is this “alien righteousness,” as Martin Luther calls it, given to man? Paul says the righteousness of Christ is counted or reckoned to the sinner (Rom 4:3-8), so that he becomes the righteousness of Christ through faith (Phil 3:9).

But this “counting” or “reckoning” is not a one-way street. God not only transfers Christ’s righteousness into the sinner’s account; he also moves the sinner’s sins into Christ’s account to complete a double imputation, an infinitely unequal sin-for-righteousness swap, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21), the righteous man for the unrighteous many (1 Pet 3:18).

After this exchange is completed, Christ and the sinner stands before the holy God in God’s court of justice. Then God opens the sinner’s life account and finds in the transaction register—instead of an enormously long list of sins—a lengthy statement of Christ’s perfect deeds all throughout his life. “Not guilty!” God declares his verdict on the sinner. Then God opens Christ’s transaction registry and what does he find but a despicable list of the sinner’s evil deeds, incurring God’s indictment, “For the wicked deeds of the sinner, you are found guilty. You are hereby condemned and cursed to die by hanging on a tree!”

Pre-Fall Grace Devalues Grace
Some argue against the meritorious nature of the covenant of works because they want to preserve God’s glory. They contend that if Adam earned merit by obeying God’s covenant of works, he would have added to God’s already all-glorious nature. However, God’s purpose in creation is for man and all of his creation to give him glory, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 1). To be sure, when his covenant people do righteous deeds, they reflect God’s glory and thereby glorify God, but in giving glory to God, earthly mankind and the heavenly angels do not add to his glory. And when his people do righteous deeds, they earn glory, honor, immortality and eternal life from God (Rom 2:6-10). Meredith G. Kline further clarifies this,

Furthermore, though Adam could not enrich God by adding to his glory, it was nevertheless precisely the purpose of man’s existence to glorify God, which he does when he responds in obedience to the revelation of God’s will. And according to the revelation of covenantal justice, God performs justice and man receives his proper dessert when God glorifies the man who glorifies him.[5]

But the most gospel-devaluing consequence of denying pre-Fall merit by obedience is that it also deprecates Christ’s perfect obedience. If pre-Fall Adam cannot merit eternal life by obeying God’s commands, then Christ as well cannot merit the eternal life of his people by his perfect obedience to God’s word, thereby not attaining his mission to save his people from sin.

But if Adam was able to pass his probation, then Christ would not have had to come down from heaven to assume human flesh and blood to save his people from sin, for the simple reason that there would be no human beings to save from sin. Since Adam represented all humanity, his sinless nature would have been acquired by all his descendants. In this situation, Jesus would not have had to be born under the law, to live in perfect accord with the law, and to die according to the penalty under the law.

Wilhelmus á Brakel, a 17th century Dutch reformed theologian, writes concerning the importance of the distinction between the two covenants:

Acquaintance with this covenant is of the greatest importance, for whoever errs here or denies the existence of the covenant of works, will not understand the covenant of grace, and will readily err concerning the mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. Such a person will very readily deny that Christ by His active obedience has merited a right to eternal life for the elect.[6]

How prophetically accurate is á Brakel’s 300-year-old affirmation of the importance of the covenant of works? Today, most evangelicals have very minimal knowledge of the Biblical doctrine of justification due mostly to a lack of knowledge of this covenant. Among Reformed believers, denial of the covenant of works has led some to the fatal errors of the Federal Vision.[7]

Danger! Salvation by Faith and Works
Why is this important? It is because when these two covenants are mixed into one gracious covenant, the end result is justification by faith and works, which hopefully, evangelicals know to be the Roman Catholic justification formula.

What happens is simple. If God’s covenant with Adam is by grace and not works, then one by one, the Reformation’s doctrines of substitutionary atonement, double imputation, justification by faith alone, and sanctification fall apart:

If Adam could not merit eternal life by passing his probation, then Christ also would not earn eternal life for his people by his perfect life. As a result, the death of Christ is no longer atonement for sin, but simply a type of what happens to a believer when he exercises the “obedience of faith” all the way to his death. As well, because no one—including Adam and Christ—could merit salvation, there is no more need for the imputation of Christ’s active obedience to the sinner. Instead of this imputation, the believer is required to be obedient all his life to be justified by God. This also blurs the Reformation’s distinction between law and gospel. And if the believer does not stay obedient, he would lose his justification, which means that he has no assurance of his salvation.

What formulation of justification is this? This is the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification by faith and works—a justification by sanctification. Again, Kline warns about this danger in Kingdom Prologue,

The drift toward Rome is evidenced by the fruits as well as the roots of the views that repudiate the idea of merit and the law-gospel contrast. For blurring the concepts of works and grace in the doctrine of the covenants will inevitably involve the blurring of works and faith in the doctrine of justification and thus the subversion of the Reformation message of justification by faith alone.[8]

Although very few who deny the meritorious aspect of the Adamic covenant actually proceed towards Rome, there are some who have already arrived there, most notably those in the Federal Vision movement.[9]

[1] Merrill C. Tenney, gen. ed., The New International Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999).
[2] Merriam-Webster, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996), 505.
[3] James Orr, gen. ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 1291.
[4] G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission (InterVarsity: Downers Grove, IL, 2004).
[5] Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 107-17.
[6] Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 1, trans. Bartel Elshout (Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 1992), 355.
[7] R. Scott Clark, “What is Federal Vision?” Westminster Seminary California, 2008, <>.
[8] Kline, 107-17.
[9] Wes White, “Discerning Federal Vision’s Roman Catholic Tendencies,” March 25, 2010, <>.


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20 thoughts on “Could Adam Have Merited Eternal Life By Works?”

    1. Dave,
      Thank you for that link, that is precisely the type of information people need to learn about. That said, on page 6 (which you directed us) it speaks of the Catholic position on the fall, which starts out more or less accurate but then dives into serious distortion of the Catholic position.
      Look at what it says: “5. So after the Fall, man is largely what he was before the Fall. The natural man is now exactly where Adam was before he was endowed w/ original righteousness” This is not at all correct, and in fact slanderous distortion, even if unintentional. Man, according to Catholic teaching, is *not* “largely what he was before the fall,” for the entrance of original sin caused radical change. Also, the statement that there was a time before the fall when Adam was not endowed with original righteousness is totally false.
      Again, the continues: “6. They teach that human nature is no more afflicted w/ ignorance and weakness, than if it were in a state of [pre-fall] pure nature.” This, likewise, is totally false. One solid example of how this is a distortion of Catholic teaching is simply examining Catholic teaching on human sexuality: for example, Adam and Eve were naked and without shame, but all men today don’t experience this innocence.
      Lastly, the link says: “7. Gordon Clark explains, “Even though the neutral state [immediately after the fall] was soon defaced by voluntary sin, man without saving grace could still obey God’s commands upon occasion.” This is probably the most egregious statement so far. This is a slanderous distortion of explicit Catholic dogma (e.g. see the <a href=”″>Council of Trent, Session 6, Canons 1-3</a> which say the exact opposite.

      1. Thanks for interacting with some of the statements in this document.  I was wondering if you objected to any other statements besides the ones you mentioned.  Just curious.
        Since I cannot speak for the author(s) of this document, I will only speak to how I read it.  Because a number of systematic theologies, including Berkhof’s, are referenced, I will assume that the author(s) understood what they say regarding relevant topics.
        Regarding your objection that “Man, according to Catholic teaching, is *not* ‘largely what he was before the fall,’” since the term “largely” is imprecise and nonquantitative, it is difficult for me to respond to your objection without a definite reference point.  Perhaps if you provided answers to the following questions, it would shed some light on this.  Do you believe that pre-fallen Adam, apart from the so-called dona supernaturalia, was ever prone to evil desires, while yet continuing in his pre-fallen state?  Do you believe that fallen men, before receiving any “grace” dispensed through the Roman Catholic Church, can never will any good?  Do you believe that unregenerate men have no connection with the prefallen good which Adam possessed?  Do you believe that even while receiving “grace” dispensed through the Roman Catholic Church, you cannot avoid committing sin?
        When you said, “the statement that there was a time before the fall when Adam was not endowed with original righteousness is totally false,” it appears that you missed the point of what the author(s) said.  The point was not to suggest that Adam existed in time without the so-called dona supernaturalia, but that Adam, according to Roman Catholic theology, lost something that was not intrinsically his by nature.
        A similar thing can be said about a subsequent statement you made:  “’6. They teach that human nature is no more afflicted w/ ignorance and weakness, than if it were in a state of [pre-fall] pure nature.  This, likewise, is totally false.”  From the context it is obvious to me that by the term “pure nature” the author(s) mean(s) human nature apart from the so-called dona supernaturalia, and that it is not necessarily being suggested that pre-Fall Adam and Eve existed in this state according to Roman Catholic theology.  Your example of Adam and Eve obviously assumes they already possessed the so-called dona supernaturalia, so your objection is not valid.
        Finally, you state the following:  “7. Gordon Clark explains, ‘Even though the neutral state [immediately after the fall] was soon defaced by voluntary sin, man without saving grace could still obey God’s commands upon occasion.’ This is probably the most egregious statement so far.”  Then you cited some of the Council of Trent’s statements on justification.  Since Gordon Clark explicitly says that, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, a man can only “earn enough merit” for entrance into heaven *after* regeneration, and since he doesn’t appear to be referring to meritorious works after regeneration here, I really do not see how the Council of Trent’s statements on justification are relevant to your objection, and therefore your argument does not seem to be valid here, either.  It’s certainly plain from Berkhof’s “Systematic Theology” that, according to Roman Catholic theology, “Justification really consists in the infusion of new virtues . . . in baptism . . . And after that the Christian advances from virtue to virtue, is able to perform meritorious works, and receives as a reward a greater measure of grace and a more perfect justification.” (Go to and scroll down to “I. Divergent Views of Justification.”)  For documentation of Roman Catholic teachings on sanctifying grace and how the Roman Catholic Church claims to communicate merits to sinners through the Mass, sacraments, prayers, and good works, try the following links:

  1. Hi,
    I made that comment with specific examples in mind, which is independent of whether or not the Catholic position can offer it’s own ‘positive’ proof. Further, Catholics don’t hold Tradition to be “more authoritative” that Scripture anymore than the oral teaching of the Apostles was “more authoritative” than their written teachings – there simply is no such ‘power struggle’.

      1. I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean: The claims I espouse are based upon *official* Catholic teaching, thus they can’t speak louder. You can say I’m going against *official* Catholic teaching, but that’s a different accusation (and would only have merit if you presented a specific argument against a specific doctrine I’m allegedly not obeying).

  2. I wasn’t trying to say Heb 12 was teaching purgatory, only that the notion behind purgatory is stated in Heb 12. And why you said “There are no second chances,” this indicates to me you’re objecting to a notion that is not the actual Catholic position. Purtagory is never a ‘second chance’; there is no such notion in Catholic theology. One either dies in union with the Holy Trinity or they do not; that’s the deciding factor on whether one ultimately goes to Heaven or hell.
    I have read your links and other work from those authors in the past, but my main objection with them is that they are building from incorrect principles which don’t actually have Scriptural warrant. I address many of their arguments on my blog and webpage:

    1. It’s odd that you say that Protestants build our doctrines from “incorrect principles which don’t actually have Scriptural warrant” when Catholics hold tradition to be more authoritative than Scripture.

  3. Nollie,
    Thank you for your response. I consider lexicons to be of limited power, ultimately because it’s men who are making the definitions, and depending on the theological slant will emphasize certain aspects. I posted an article to Ephesians 2:8, showing how the text is using the term “grace,” which isn’t simply ‘unmerited favor’. And I believe in the various sample texts you gave I’d say the context either indicates more than unmerited favor or that unmerited favor cannot simply be assumed as the only possible option.
    As for “double imputation,” the difficulty in getting my point across is that so many people have *assumed* imputation here and there for so long that they don’t know how else to look at the issues. Paul used the Greek word for ‘impute’ approximately 30 times (which is easily seen by consulting any standard lexicon), but he never uses it in regards to things Protestants popularly frame as ‘imputation’ (e.g. Paul never speaks of Adam’s sin as ‘imputed’ to us, never speaks of our sin ‘imputed’ to Christ, etc). You asked about Romans 5:12ff, I see it not in terms of imputation but rather as inheriting real spiritual death or real spiritual life (which is impossible via imputation). I think of it as akin to a genetic disease which a parent passes onto their children.
    Your understanding of Aquinas (and earlier theologians, e.g. Augustine) is a bit vague and liable to be misunderstood. The notion of not being ‘good enough’ isn’t a matter of sin, but rather natural abilities. Take this example: Man’s natural abilities wont allow him to see microscopic objects, the human eye simply cannot focus that small. He needs additional help, like a microscope, added to his natural eyesight (i.e. the donum supperadditum), then he *can* see microscopic objects. Adam as a creature lacked the natural ability to believe in God, only superadded gifts like the gift of faith (Heb 11:6) can *enable* Adam to do so.
    You are incorrect, or at least misconstruing Catholic teaching, to say Christians receive supernatural grace by good works. I think the reasoning will become clear with this question: If Adam had true righteousness and holiness before God (as you said), why wasn’t Adam justified/saved? Why wasn’t Adam ‘good enough’?

    1. Although Adam was created good, God tested him. From the beginning, God always put his people “on probation.” The covenant of works was conditional on Adam’s obedience, and if he passed his probation, he would have inherited the Tree of Life, Christ himself.

      Doesn’t Rome teach that Christians are “infused” with grace in order that they can do good works, and if they store enough good works, they will go straight to heaven, instead of being held in a temporary place called purgatory?

      1. What does it mean that Adam had ‘true righteousness’ and ‘true holiness’ before God? For Catholics, that’s the essence of the donum supperadditum: when Adam sinned, he lost this ‘righteousness’ and ‘holiness’.
        The Council of Orange (which was strongly Augustinian and repudiated semi-pelagianism) teaches: CANON 19. That a man can be saved only when God shows mercy. Human nature, even though IT REMAINED in that sound state in which it was created, could be no means save itself, without the assistance of the Creator; hence since man cannot safe- guard his salvation without the grace of God, which is a gift, how will he be able to RESTORE what he has LOST without the grace of God?
        This is essentially affirming the notion of a grace super-added to human nature, that was stripped when Adam sinned. It’s called ‘super-added’ because it’s divine and human nature doesn’t depend on it for mere existence.
        Rome does teach Christians are infused with Grace – which Paul beautifully describes as us being “Temples of the Holy Spirit” to which upon conversion the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within – this is the essence of Infused Grace (cf Gal 3:2). There is no doing ‘enough’ good works from then on out to be worthy of Heaven, only a growing in love and appreciation for God.
        Purgatory is for the removal of the ‘fleshy attachment’ to sin, which increases with the increase of sin and decreases with the increase of good works. For example, if one is in the habit of using profanity, the longer and more frequent they do it, the more attached to that vice they are and the easier it is for them to stay attached. Only through a concentrated effort of avoiding profanity will they begin to lose attachment to it. Hebrews 12:4-11 describes this notion. Purgatory is what a soul undergoes when they die before experiencing the fullness of Heb 12:4ff.

        1. It’s hard for me to find any trace of purgatory in Hebrews 12:4ff. You should think about Hebrews 9:27 and the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31). There are no second chances. There are only destinations after death: heaven or hell.

          Here are some other web resources that point out the big differences between Reformation and Catholic doctrines about salvation:

  4. Good article Dad.  This actually came up in the Bible Study Nem and I are a part of with 3 other married couple friends from Biola.  Two of the couples attend an evangelical megachurch and Nem and I and our other couple friend attend Grace Presbyterian.   Currently we’re going through the Book of Hebrews by the LifeChange Bible Study Series on Hebrews.  We discussed Heberews 1 and how it is establishing the Supremacy of Christ.  We got onto the topic of how people were saved during the Old Testament.  Many were confused whether they were saved by faith or by works.  I mentioned to them that the author of Hebrews addresses that question later on in Hebrews 11, that all are saved by faith in Jesus Christ.  I think many of them never noticed that verse in Genesis 3:15.  It was great to see everyone learn for the first time God’s redemptive plan for mankind by grace through faith in Christ since before he beginning of creation.  We’re having our next Bible Study this Wednesday, I’m looking forward to sharing more on this.   Gonna print your article Dad. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Oli. Hebrews 11 is a great reference. My favorite portion is the one about Abraham living in tents because he was looking forward–not to an earthly city—but to the heavenly city whose designer and builder is God. He was justified by faith—he believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3).

      I’m working on posting my sermon last Sunday on Genesis 22:1-19 about Abraham believing in the resurrection of Isaac.

  5. I’d like to add some comments:
    (1) I don’t quite agree with your notion of grace as ‘unmerited favor’. This is true sometimes, but I believe Paul is more focused on grace as God’s transforming power, this can be clearly seen in Ephesians 2:8, which I briefly write on:
    This is the ‘type’ of grace which Augustine and Pelagianism is concerned with, not so much the ‘unmerited favor’ (to which the Bible more aptly calls ‘mercy’).
    (2) I don’t believe there is sufficient Biblical warrant for the “covenant of works” concept, especially as far as granting eternal life as the reward. (Not all covenants promise eternal life!)
    (3)  With the wrong notion of ‘grace’ being employed, one can misunderstand which grace was in fact conferred upon Adam, originally. Man by nature is infinitely separated from God by virtue of the Creator-creature distinction. But God can raise created nature up to allow communion with Himself, and this requires *super-natural* (above nature) graces. For example, the gift of faith enables the creature to raise their natural reason to super-natural sights and thus able to accept them, just as the naked eye cannot see far away stars but a telescope (faith) can render their existence clear. Another example of super-natural grace Adam had was that keeping his body from decay, without which he would have grown old, decayed and died. This grace was lost at Adam’s sin. So did Adam have grace in the garden, giving him super-natural abilities (i.e. abilities human nature alone cannot have)? You bet.
    (4) You mention “double imputation,” yet I don’t see this taught in Scripture. The term “impute” is used 40 times in the NT, so Paul was well aware of it. However, he never used “impute” in the sense of “great exchange,” which is odd if it is so critical to the Gospel.

    1. “Unmerited favor,” in relation to man’s salvation, is the only interpretation of “grace” that the 16th century Protestant Reformers taught. There is no other. This is the chasm that divides Catholics and Protestants, which some of our Reformed brethren and many evangelicals have broken down in pursuit of ecumenism.

      The foremost Greek lexicon used by all Biblical scholars defines saving grace in this way. According to Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich’s A Greek Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 1079, grace is “that which one grants to another, the action of one who volunteers to do something not otherwise obligatory.” This refers especially to the “beneficent intention of God and of Christ, who give (undeserved) gifts to people.” The sample texts include Romans 3:24, 5:15a, 20f, 6:1, 11:5, 6abc; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 1:6f, 2:5,7,8; 2 Thessalonians 1:12, 2:16; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9, 4:16a.

      Especially in Ephesians 1:6, the only ground of God’s election of his people is solely “his glorious grace.” Nothing inherent in any of the elect made them deserving of God’s grace.

      What about double imputation? How would you not understand Romans 5:12-21’s analogy between the First Adam and the Second Adam as double imputation? I know that Rome does not believe in imputation but in “infusion” of grace unto good works until the person is finally justified. As I understand it, the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas taught that even before the Fall, Adam was not fit for a relationship with God, so he needed something more—a donum superadditum—an additional gift, “In the state of pure nature man needs a power added to his natural power by grace . . . in order to do and to will supernatural good.” Thus, Aquinas taught, man needed to be “infused” with his power and grace to be in fellowship with God, because even pre-Fall Adam was not “good” enough.

      How does a Christian get this add-on supernatural grace? Through good works. This idea was totally rejected by the 16th century Protestant Reformers because the Bible teaches that pre-Fall Adam had true righteousness and true holiness and had true knowledge of God. The Reformers affirmed that justification is a declaration of a sinner’s righteousness through faith alone in Christ alone, without the addition of works.

      This is the reason why for evangelicals and even for the Reformed, rejection of the covenant of works and its meritorious nature comes too uncomfortably close to Romanism. So, evangelicals, beware! Our Catholic brother here just confirmed this warning.

      1. Majority of the Filipinos are Catholic culturally, and they are not aware of what Rome teaches about salvation, a salvation that ensalves, instead of granting freedom.

        When I understood the burdensome means for them to gain salvation, I’ve understood the passion of Martin Luther for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone.

  6. Great article!  For those who are interested in a discussion of one of the greatest mysteries of all, the origin of sin, Louis Berkhof addresses this issue in his Systematic Theology.  At the bottom of page 224 in my edition, he says, “It is impossible for us to say how temptation could find a point of contact in a holy person.”  Then on page 226 he goes on to say the following happened to Adam as a result of the first sin:  “From a state of posse non mori [ability not to die] he descended to a state of non posse non mori [inability not to die].”

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