This week’s passage not only covered a lot of ground, but it was not easy ground to walk through. I have promised myself and you that I will keep these summaries brief, and so I can’t touch on everything we discussed. But in this lesson we covered a topic so fundamental to our understanding of our need for the gospel, that it’s worth a closer look. When God, through Hosea, told Israel that like Adam, they have transgressed the covenant (6:7), he was going to the heart of the reason for their unfaithfulness. The reason why they failed to press in to know the LORD and to return his steadfast love is because Adam broke covenant with God, therefore they, and all humanity—in Adam—are covenant breakers.
What is a covenant? A covenant is a binding agreement, establishing a committed relationship between parties. A covenant may include obligations between the parties, with rewards for keeping the obligations and sanctions for failing to keep them. Two types of covenants come to mind in our modern-day context: marriage between a man and a woman, and treaties between nations. We are all familiar with the covenant of marriage: the wedding vows between the bride and groom are the terms of the covenant they are making before the assembled witnesses.
“I, ______, take you, ______, to be my wedded wife/husband, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband/wife, in plenty and want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.”
In a wedding the bride and groom each represent themselves in the ceremony, pledging to one another to honor their mutual covenant. Should one or the other (or both) break their vows, they are each individually responsible for their actions and will suffer the consequences of their own unfaithfulness (as will their families and communities). In treaties between nations, however, representatives of the governments entering into the treaty are responsible for determining the terms of the treaty by which the members of the nations will be bound. If one of the nations is clearly stronger, or has defeated the other in war, the stronger may determine most, if not all, of the terms to which the weaker must submit. Should one or the other (or both) of the nations—or representatives thereof—break the treaty, the consequences fall upon whole nations.
The Covenant of Works
And so it was in the Garden of Eden, when God made the Covenant of Works with our representative, Adam.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17
The LORD God, being the Sovereign Creator of the universe, has every right to determine the terms of the covenant, establishing the terms by which he commits himself in relationship with mankind. In this, the Covenant of Works, God commanded Adam to obey him perfectly. The implied reward for perfect obedience was life; the sanction for disobedience was death.
We know how this worked out. Adam disobeyed, plunging all mankind into spiritual death, severing our relationship of loving obedience and trusting fellowship with our Creator God. And so Hosea pinpoints the fountainhead of Israel’s faithlessness as Adam’s sin. Adam, as our representative, broke the Covenant of Works, and the consequences fell on every one of his natural descendants. This is the doctrine of Original Sin. Not merely that Adam sinned the first and therefore the original sin, but that Adam’s sin fundamentally changed human nature from a nature with the ability to not sin to a nature without the ability to not sin. Put another way, we aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. This is what it means when the Bible says we are “born in sin” (Psalm 51:5).
And just in case you wonder if the only sin credited to your account is Adam’s sin— it’s not. Because we are unable to choose to not sin, we begin sinning as early as possible and we keep sinning daily. Sinning is what we do. We sin like it’s our job. We’re good at sin—practice makes perfect, and we are well-practiced at sinning. A former pastor of mine used to say, “If you don’t believe people are born sinners, go volunteer in the Nursery.” Israel wasn’t unique in their sin-problem, for it is the problem of all mankind. It’s your problem, and it’s my problem.
To solve this problem we need a new covenant and we need a new representative.
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. — Romans 5:15-18 (emphasis mine)
We need Jesus.
The Covenant of Grace
Jesus is the only human ever born without Original Sin, and therefore truly at liberty to choose to obey God his Father. Jesus fulfilled the Covenant of Works by perfectly obeying the Father every moment of his life on earth, humbly submitting himself in his obedience even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). Therefore, for all who place their faith in Christ, his obedience is credited to them and their disobedience is nailed to the cross where he died to pay the price—suffering the sanctions—of their sins. This, my sisters, is the Great Exchange.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses …, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. — Colossians 2:13-14
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. — 1 Peter 2:24a
Jesus is the representative of the Covenant of Grace, the New Covenant by which all who believe on him in faith are forgiven and redeemed by the great mercy and steadfast love of the Lord. He died the death that they deserved so that they would have eternal life. “The Covenant of Grace says, ‘Through faith in Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, Jesus will fulfill the covenant for you.’”
The Israelites in Hosea’s day were slouching toward destruction. They had forgotten the knowledge of the LORD and the meaning of the sacrifices he commanded them to bring in worship. Those sacrifices were not their gift to him, but his gracious gift to them. For in the sacrifices, rightly offered with a heart of repentance, they were reminded of the cost of their own sins. In every horrid, bloody, lifeless carcass they saw their need for a substitute to pay for their sin. But Israel had forgotten the gracious gift and simply went through the motions, “worshipping” the LORD their God without spiritually embracing by faith the redemption promised in the rituals.
Sisters, we must not forget the cost of our sins. If you are in Christ, he paid your debt with his life, dying on the cross so that you might be forgiven and have life in him. If you are not in Christ, then, like the Israelites of Hosea’s day, you must bear the cost of your own sins, and God’s righteous judgment against you is destruction and death. Please, take a moment to examine your heart. Sister, are you in Christ?
[I]f you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” . . . . For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” — Romans 10:9-11, 13
 Rick Phillips, Covenant Breakers!, sermon preached on Hosea 6:4-11 at Second Presbyterian Church, Greenville, SC, 7/14/2019 https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=715191245444232