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Our Promise Keeping God

By James Montgomery Boice


      The following are excerpts from plenary addresses delivered at this year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformation Theology. The theme was "the Covenant of Grace."

      Genesis 3 ...Verse 21: "The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them." It's an obvious picture. We see it much clearer today this side of the cross, but it's an obvious picture of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ as the fruit of his atonement. It is a picture of our justification! Justification which follows faith, without which there's no salvation.

      I think we ought to put ourselves in the mind of Adam as he stood there on that occasion. What we're told is that God made garments of skin. He had to kill animals to do that, and Adam and his wife were there; they were watching, and they must have seen God kill the animals. They hadn't seen death before, so far as I am aware, and here for the first time before their eyes was death. It must have been a shocking thing for them.

      I don't know what these animals were. In view of the symbolism that we find throughout the Bible, it's natural to suspect that they were lambs. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; that's the picture. Here are these frisky, lovely, little lambs, or some other animal, and God kills them, and Adam and Eve must have said, "Oh, so that's what death is! I had no idea death was so bad." So when they saw the death of the animals they must have said in shocked amazement, "Sin really is bad if this is what it does."

      But they would have said something else, too. You have to remember now, Adam had been instructed by God. He was in an unfallen state just moments before. He hadn't lost that intelligence that he must have been created with, and certainly he would have figured out that God is doing something, and he must have said to himself something like this: "Here, God has killed these animals. Look, that's a terrible thing, but I don't want to get entirely hung up on that; there's something else involved there. What I remember is that God said to me 'The day in which you eat of that tree you will surely die.' This is the day I ate of it, but I did not die. Does that mean that God is not keeping his word, gracious as it may be for him not to submit us to execution?"

      "No, no," Adam said, "we have not died, but the animals died. They died in our place. That's what's going on here. What do I call it? That's the principle of substitution. That's what it is. The animals are our substitutes. What's more, they are innocent. They didn't do anything wrong. An innocent dying -- it's vicarious. It's really a vicarious atonement." Furthermore, Adam would have said, "When God has taken those skins and has clothed us with them instead of those fig leaves of our own righteousness, God is pointing to a restoration -- by his grace! -- of something which we have no opportunity of achieving. We had an original innocence once, we lost it. There's no way we can ever go back to that original innocence, but thank God we can go forward to the cross and receive there the righteousness of Jesus Christ."

      And so, though Adam didn't know this name, he had the idea. He said, "God has clothed us with the skins to show that he will give to us a righteousness which we do not have." Furthermore, that's what he believed. And it was through that trust that he was reckoned right before God.

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