What is set before Adam is a choice.
He is free to eat of every tree, including the special Tree of Life. He is forbidden to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Approaching the garden’s center, he must choose which of the Trees to eat first. If he rejects the Tree of Knowledge and partakes of the Tree of Life, he will enter into a process of further life that will eventuate in eternal life.
Having obeyed God in faith at the outset, he will set himself on a road of further faithful obedience. If, however, he chooses to eat of the Tree of Knowledge first, he will die and not move any farther down the road to eternal life.
We notice that there is nothing of “merit” or “work” here. Adam will become hungry, and he will have to eat. This is a necessity, not a work that can possibly merit anything. The choice before Adam is whether or not to trust and fear God’s word. In short, the choice before him is whether to exercise faith or not.
It is not a religious “work” that Adam is called to, but faith. Adam is impelled to make a choice. He has received life from God, but now he is hungry. Will he go to the Tree of Life in order to receive more life from God, or will he use his hunger as an opportunity to seize what God has forbidden him? Will he eat in faith, or in rebellion?
Adam’s need to eat is caused by his lack or need; by his hunger. It is need and lack, perhaps even a feeling of weakness, that causes him to go to the trees of the garden for food, food freely provided as a gift from God. So far from earning this food, Adam is given it as a free gift because he needs it.
This is precisely what is involved in Adam’s glorification. He is to be given it not because he has earned it, but because he desperately needs it in order to deal fully with the serpent.
In the garden, Adam was not supposed to earn anything, but he was supposed to grow in awareness of what he lacked. This had already happened once. Adam’s naming the animals did not merit him anything, but it taught him that he lacked a helper. Then he was ready to go through a death and resurrection experience and receive a more glorious life with a wife.
The Bible history shows the maturation of humanity in the area of the cultural mandate, from strength to strength, but also the maturation of humanity in the area of the religious mandate, from weakness to weakness. It took 4000 years, biblically speaking, for the central representatives of humanity (Israel) to become fully aware of the need for a Messiah, so that when the Son of God finally came into the world, the Jews were filled with messianic fervor and expectation. But Jesus came not only to pay the price for Adam’s sin, replacing with His own body the fruit Adam and Eve stole from the Tree of Knowledge by being crucified on that Tree of Death, but also to defeat and destroy the dragon once and for all. Jesus not only forgave sins, but also expelled demons.
Had Adam not sinned, he would have come to the Tree of Knowledge and been enabled to perform an initial defeat of the serpent. But the full and final victory in the holy war would be accomplished by a descendant of Adam who would be the incarnate Son of God the Father.
This post is adapted from the essay, “Merit versus Maturity: What did Jesus Do for Us?” by James B. Jordan, published in The Federal Vision edited by Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner (Athanasius Press, 2004).