Considering the state of misery that all sinners find themselves in because they are born in Adam, it may be tempting to think at times that the commands given to our first parents are no longer in force. After all, if we lack the moral disposition necessary to incline us toward obedience but are wholly set against righteousness, how could God still expect human beings to do what Adam was supposed to do?
The truth of the matter, however, is that Adam’s failure does not change our covenant obligations to follow God’s law. Adam and Eve were commanded to multiply and to have righteous dominion over the earth under the covenant of works the Lord initially established with mankind (Gen. 1:28). In eating of the forbidden tree, our first parents essentially told God, among many things, that they would not perform the work of covering the earth and stewarding it according to His ways. After the fall, the same command to multiply and rule in righteousness perfectly was given to Noah and his sons, indicating that the covenant of works is still in force for all human beings (9:1–2). Adam’s breaking of the covenant does not render that covenant null and void; otherwise, God’s law would be subject to His creatures and not the other way around.
Is it just, then, for our Creator to demand perfection of us (Matt. 5:48), even if we lack the moral ability in our natural state to do His will? The answer is “yes” because of our unique relationship to Adam. This first man represented us in such a way that we can honestly say that we were in the garden when he fell. When he sinned, we sinned. He did what we would have done had the Serpent whispered in our ears. Adam represented us accurately and fully, making the choice, in a manner of speaking, that his constituents wanted him to make.
God is just to require of us what we are presently unable to do because He made us with the ability to obey Him. It is not His fault that we cannot keep His law; to paraphrase a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear friends, is in ourselves.” We chose disobedience over obedience, corruption over purity. As the ninth question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism reveals, alluding to today’s passage, we were made in the likeness of God (Eph. 4:24; see Gen. 1:26), able “to keep the law,” but “in reckless disobedience” we freely forfeited our moral ability to serve Him in Adam.