Previous article in this series: January 1, 2018, p. 152.
What if Adam had not fallen into sin? Would he eventually have received the heavenly life that we now have in Christ?
Many maintain that he would have. Adam was called to obey during a testing period, they say. If he had remained obedient during that period, God would have granted him heavenly life, the life that we now have in Christ.
In this article, we take a look at this position. How do those who hold to it attempt to prove their position? And what does Scripture say about heavenly life and how it is obtained?
A common view
Many say that God established with Adam a covenant of works. This covenant, they say, was a binding agreement between God and Adam in which God promised Adam everlasting, heavenly life if he remained obedient for a certain period of time. Some who hold to this view will even go so far as to say that Adam could have merited heavenly life by his obedience.
When we read the Genesis narrative, we do not read of such an agreement between God and Adam. We read of God commanding Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and warning him that if he does eat of that tree he will die on that very day. But we do not read of God asking Adam if he agrees to this. Nor do we read of Adam expressing his consent. There is also no mention of a testing period. Nor do we find a promise that, if Adam obeyed long enough, he would become unable to sin and that then death would no longer become possible for him.
A couple of arguments used to defend the idea that Adam could have obtained everlasting, heavenly life are as follows:
1. The tree of life is said to symbolize a promise of everlasting, heavenly life.
2. The fact that Christ was able to merit heavenly life for us implies that Adam also was able to do this.
1. Only the divine and human Mediator, Jesus Christ, could merit heavenly life.
It was impossible for Adam, a mere man, to merit heavenly life. Even if Adam had obeyed perfectly, he would have done only what it was his duty to do: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).
Heavenly life could be merited only if Adam first fell into sin and then a Savior came who remained perfectly obedient even while suffering hellish agonies for sins that He had not personally committed. As our Lord’s Supper Form points out, Christ our Redeemer “restored that which He took not away” (Ps. 69:4). Such obedience while suffering was required to merit heavenly life for us.
To suffer the punishment we deserved and to purchase for us the right to receive heavenly life, our Mediator had to be not only a man but also very God. He had to be a man, since a man had to suffer for man’s sin. But a mere man could not have sustained God’s eternal wrath. Our Mediator, therefore, had to be God Himself, so that by the power of His Godhead He might sustain God’s wrath in His human nature (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 5, 6).
2. Adam was earthy and would have remained earthy.
Scripture points out a number of contrasts between Adam and Christ. One of them is as follows: “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (I Cor. 15:47).
Adam was of the earth, earthy. There are two Greek words in this section of I Corinthians 15 that correspond fairly well to our two English words earthly and earthy. The first word is found in verse 40, where we read of terrestrial bodies. The Greek word in that verse means literally “upon earth” and could be translated by our English word “earthly” which means “pertaining to the earth” or “belonging to the earth.” The second Greek word is found in verse 47, quoted above. This word is rightly translated “earthy,” which means “consisting of earth.”
Adam was “of the earth, earthy.” He was of the earth and would have continued to be of the earth. As long as he remained obedient he would have continued to live, but he would have remained earthy.
In contrast to Adam, the second man, Jesus Christ, is “the Lord from heaven.” Only in the One from heaven can we enjoy heavenly life, a life that is higher than the life the earthy Adam had before he sinned.
3. The tree of life did not symbolize a promise of heavenly life, since God had never made such a promise.
The tree of life symbolized that Adam had fellowship with God, which is life itself. He would continue to live, enjoying this fellowship for as long as he remained obedient. God had told Adam this, and the tree of life symbolized what God had told him.
When God gives His people a symbol, that symbol signifies something that God has expressed in words. God had said nothing about Adam being able to obtain heavenly life. So the tree could not have symbolized a promise that God had never made.
4. It was God’s plan that Adam would fall and that Christ would then come and raise Adam and all the elect in Christ to a higher life.
If Adam could have obtained heavenly life for himself and us simply by not partaking of a certain fruit for a time, then would it not have been better if God had planned it to happen that way? It would seem to us that it would have been, since then the suffering of our Lord could have been avoided. When we understand that this heavenly life could be obtained for us only by Christ, and that it was the plan of God that Adam would fall and that Christ would come and merit this life for us, then we marvel at the wisdom of our God who determined the fall, the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, and all that happens in time.
Heavenly life in Christ
What is heavenly life? What does Scripture say about it?
1. Heavenly life is knowing God in Jesus Christ.
Heavenly life is life in the Lord from heaven, a life in which we know God in and through Jesus Christ. Christ told us what everlasting life is when He said: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
2. Those with heavenly life are unable to sin and will never die.
In the new man in Christ we are unable to sin. Adam was created righteous and was able to obey his Creator. But it was also possible for him to sin and then die. But in Christ, who is God Himself, we are unable to sin and will never die.
It is true that we believers in this life must still struggle with our sinful nature out of which evil continues to flow. Yet in the new man we delight to do what God commands (Rom. 7:22).
In the new man we are like Christ. We do not sin and it is not possible for us to die. Christ is truly immortal, and so are all those who are in Him. Our Lord said: “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26a). Christ died once. He died not because of His own sin but because our sins were upon Him. Now that He has satisfied the demands of God’s justice and has risen from the grave, He will die no more. He is immortal, and we who are in Him are immortal as well.
It is impossible for someone who is immortal to die. Adam could die and did die when he ate of the fruit God had forbidden. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4b). Only he who is unable to sin is immortal.
In other words, immortality can be obtained only in Christ. Christ is He “Who only hath immortality” (I Tim. 6:14-16). He is the One: “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Tim. 1:10).
A life in which we will never sin, a life which will never end, that is the higher life that we now have in our heavenly Lord and Savior.
3. Those with heavenly life are all united and directed by the same quickening Spirit.
Scripture brings out another distinction between Adam and Christ. Adam was a living soul, but Christ is a quickening spirit: “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (I Cor. 15:45).
Adam, our earthy head, was alive, but he was unable to bring anyone else to life. Christ, our heavenly Head, not only Himself lives, but also quickens us, imparting to us His heavenly life.
Furthermore, all those whom Christ quickens are then united and directed by the same Spirit that has quickened them. Just as the members of our body are directed by our soul, so all the members of Christ’s body are directed by His Spirit. There really is one Spirit dwelling in and directing all of us members, so that we live and commune together as one.
A life without sin united with a multitude of persons who are all quickened and directed by the same Spirit, such is the heavenly life that Adam himself never could have obtained. It is a life that is ours in Christ, the Lord from heaven.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of our God!