Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: The Absolute Dependence of the Creature
Posted on 01/30/2004 2:02:44 PM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Distinctive Features
The Absolute Dependence of the Creature
(Sermon Number Three)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
Currently, in this sermon series, I am identifying the distinctive features of covenant theology. In my last sermon, I stated that by identifying the distinctive features of the Bible, I could identify the distinctive traits of covenant theology. This is so because covenant theology is Biblical theology systematized. I noted that there are certain truths found in Scripture that are so pervasive we must say that they characterize the teaching of the Bible. When we propose a system for studying and applying the teaching of the Bible, our method should bear these same distinguishing features. If our method of studying and applying the teaching of Scripture does not stress and same facts and truths that Scripture, itself, stresses, then something is wrong with our approach. Covenant theology, I have and will maintain, is a method of Biblical interpretation and application which faithfully reflects the emphases of Scripture.
There are three distinctive features or teachings of covenant theology that undergird the entire system. These same three features or teachings are highlighted in God's revelation. They are: The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator, The Absolute Dependence of the Creature and The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator. When we think about these categories, it is obvious that everything the Bible has to say can be placed under one of these headings. The method of Biblical interpretation known as covenant theology emphasizes these three doctrinal categories because the Bible emphasizes these three all-encompassing categories. I would like to take a few minutes to review the first of these three doctrinal categories, which was the absolute sovereignty of the Creator.
As I stated in the last sermon, to say that God is sovereign is to say that His power is superior to every other form or expression of power; it is to say that God is completely free of external influences so that He does what He chooses, as He chooses, when He chooses. To say that God is sovereign is to say that He is accountable to no one, but all creation is accountable to Him; it is to say that the will of God is the single determining factor for all that transpires. This doctrine is grounded in the very first sentence in the Bible: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1) If God is the Creator of all things; then all things belong to Him and all things are subject to His desires regarding their disposal. The very first verse of the Bible, therefore, is a resounding proclamation of the absolute sovereignty and independence of our Creator.
The Bible's teaching on the sovereignty of the Creator demands certain conclusions. I explained the most significant of these ramifications. The first implication of the doctrine of God's sovereignty is that the world in which we live can be rightly studied and understood only in relation to its Creator. Fallen man cannot understand his world apart from this doctrine of the Creator's sovereignty. A second implication of the doctrine of God's sovereignty has to do with the Word that this sovereign Creator has given to man.
If a sovereign and independent God speaks to us, if He causes His Word to be recorded in written form, we must assume that what is recorded is without error, without fault in fact or command. There simply is no way to hold to the doctrine of God's sovereignty and, at the same time, have any other view of His Word. The third implication of the doctrine of God's sovereignty has to do with the will of God and the course of history. If God is sovereign, this means that His will is always done. It is not possible to have a sovereign and independent Creator whose will is not the determining factor for the course of history.
This brings us to the second major doctrinal category of covenant theology and the Bible.
2. The Absolute Dependence of the Creature
There is only one Sovereign in this universe, and it is not man. Clearly, as we have seen, the Bible everywhere declares that God sustains His creation and controls its disposition. The extent of man's powers, knowledge and authority are determined by the One who made him. Before we look at the Bible's teaching regarding man's dependence upon his Creator, however, I want to remind you of man's inherent dignity. While I plan to show that Scripture teaches that man, as a creature, is absolutely dependent upon his Creator, I do not want to give the impression that man is little more than a glorified animal. Man is unique among all of God's creatures and unique in all of God's creation. Man alone bears the image of his Creator (cf. Gen. 1:26; more about this below).
The classic passage in which man's singular nobility is explained is Psa. 8:
1 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! 2 From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength because of Your adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. 3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; 4 What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? 5 Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! 6 You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, 7 All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
The Psalm begins by extolling the name of the Lord. It is He who displays His splendor above the heavens (v. 1); it is He who ordains His praise from the mouths of infants and nursing babes (v. 2). Against the backdrop of the Creator's magnificence, therefore, the writer considers man (vv. 3 ff.). His thought is not that man is unworthy of consideration, but that God's concern for man and the honor that God has bestowed upon man seem so incredible in light of Who God is. Indeed, as the writer says, What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Who is man compared to the Creator; who is man that such a God would bother with him?
The Psalmist expresses his amazement that God the Creator, the One whose glory is broadcast throughout creation, would take note of a lowly creature like man. Not only has the Creator taken note of lowly man, the writer goes on to say, but He has committed to man favor and responsibility unparalleled among God's creatures. Man has been made a little lower than God and has been crowned with glory and majesty. (v. 5) Man has been assigned to rule over the works of God's hands; all thingsbeasts of the earth, birds of the sky and fish of the seathe writer says, have been put in subjection to him (vv. 6 ff.). Under God, man is the lord of the earth; he has both the right and responsibility to subdue and manage God's creation for his own good and for God's glory. And, in the last verse, the Psalmist repeats his refrain: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Thy name in all the earth! (v. 9)
There is much that I could say about Psa. 8. For our present purposes, however, I want you to notice that this Psalm provides the context in which man, as a creation of God, should be studied. This Psalm teaches the proper balance we should maintain in our thinking between man, as a mere creature, and man as a creature given dominion over the works of God's hands. This Psalm, therefore, elevates and honors man, but only to the degree determined by man's Creator. As long as we keep the truths of Psa. 8 in mind, we will have a valid view of man in relation to God and this world.
Having been reminded of man's special standing in God's creation, we can now consider what the Bible has to say about man's dependence upon God. I will approach this subject from two perspectives. First, man before the fall in the Garden of Eden; and second, man after the fall. We will see that, from the beginning, man, as a creature, was totally dependent upon God, his Creator. And the fall only intensified man's dependence upon his Creator.
Let's consider the record of man's creation:
Gen. 1:26 Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth. 29 Then God said, Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for youâ¦
What do we learn from these few verses? Three fundamental facts can be gleaned from these verses. First, man had a beginning. God, as Creator, brought man into existence. Man is a creature fashioned by an all-wise, all-powerful Creator. Therefore, man is forever related to God as creature to Creator, or as an inferior to a Superior. That relationship can never be altered. Man is dependent upon God for his existence; he lives at the pleasure of the Creator.
Second, man alone bears the image of God. This means that man is a spiritual, rational, moral and immortal being. Moreover, man as created had knowledge, righteousness and holiness. These facts separate man from the rest of God's creation; he is the most noble and the most intelligent. However, this fact also means that man is dependent upon his Creator for an understanding of who he is. Man is not an independent creature; he is a creature whose very purpose is wrapped up in the fact that he bears the image of his Creator. Man cannot, therefore, separate himself from God; he cannot study himself apart from God because every part of him is related to the Creator. And, I would add, everything that man comes to know is derived from his Creator; man discovers nothing new, he learns nothing new. All he does is come to a greater understanding of what God has made and what are his responsibilities as the only creature made in God's image.
Third, the Creator defined man's relation to the rest of creation. Man was assigned dominion over God's creation; he was told to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. God made man and God made man for a purpose. Therefore, man is dependent upon his Creator for knowledge of that purpose. Man cannot know the reason for his existence apart from the Creator; he cannot find satisfaction in his pursuits apart from the Creator. This is so because man was made to fulfill a particular task and that task can rightly be fulfilled only when man lives in harmony with the One who made him and defined his role. Apart from the Creator's instructions, then, man is bound to wander aimlessly seeking, but never finding, true fulfillment for his soul.
This account of man's creation shows us the extent to which we are dependent upon God. As man came from the hand of God, as he existed in his state of innocence in the Garden of Eden, man was a dependent creature. His nature and purpose were bound up in the Creator-creature relationship. To reject this relationship is to reject knowledge in favor of ignorance; to reject this relationship is to condemn ourselves to misery and unrest. Nevertheless, this is exactly what happened when our father Adam disobeyed God. The time came when Adam rejected the Creator-creature relationship and, as we know, the result was a universal disruption of the harmony between God and His creation.
Knowing as we do how man was dependent upon the Creator in every way from the very first moment of his existence, what are we to expect about man's dependence upon God after the fall? Does it make sense to believe that fallen man is less dependent upon his Creator? The added elements of estrangement and the propensity for evil in the heart of man only make this dependence more certain. If man could not understand his nature or know his purpose apart from God before sin entered the picture and ruined man's communion with his Creator, we have to assume that now, in his corrupted state, man is even more dependent upon God. This is, in fact, what God's Word teaches; man's fall only intensified his dependence upon God.
Adam's rebellion in Eden left the human race spiritually dead to the things of God. The Scripture uses terms like blind and deaf to describe our condition as a race. The fall completely distorted the Creator-creature relationship by which man knew his nature and knew his purpose. Now, fallen man cannot and will not pursue the task assigned to him by his Creator. Fallen man, who once lived in complete harmony with his Creator and with the rest of creation, is now restless, rebellious and lost. Fallen man cannot and will not choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. His corrupted nature is now bent toward evil. Fallen man can only be what his nature allows and his nature is corrupt.
This a rather depressing sketch of fallen man, but this is what the Bible teaches. For example, Paul told the Ephesians that prior to their conversion, they were Dead in [their] trespasses and sins... (Eph. 2:1) In Rom. 3:10 ff., Paul describes the disposition of fallen man: he is not righteous, he does not understand, he does not seek for God and his throat is like an open grave. The prophet Jeremiah said that the corrupted human heart is desperately wicked and cannot be known (Jer. 17:9). The Scripture says that there is a way that seems right to fallen man, but the end of that way is death (Pro. 14:12). Fallen man, who once had perfect communion with his Creator, a communion in which his nature and purpose were clearly defined, is now alienated from his Creator; fallen man is now guided by a heart contaminated with sin. He cannot know his nature or his purpose.
I repeat, therefore, if man could not know his nature or his purpose apart from God before the fall, what are we to say about man is his depraved state? We can say that fallen man is not only still dependent upon his Creator for understanding, he is equally dependent upon his Creator for rescue from the horrible state in which he finds himself. Sin has only intensified man's dependence upon God; at the same time, however-and this illustrates how our fallen hearts deceive us-sin also has made man resistant to the idea of his dependence upon his Creator. Fallen man wants nothing to do with God even though he needs God more than ever, if I can say such a thing. Sin has perverted the Creator-creature distinction and has driven a wedge between the two that fallen man is helpless to remove. Fallen man cannot deliver himself from his depravity so there is no hope of his ever rediscovering his nature and purpose in relation to God.
There is one solution and that one solution is for a merciful Creator, One who has been spurned by man, One who is hated by fallen man, One whose constant blessings are abused or ignored by fallen man, to provide a way for fallen man to be restored. Jesus spoke to the issue of fallen man's utter dependence upon God for restoration when He said: No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him... (John 6:44) Let this verse sink in. Think about its implications. Jesus is the only way of salvation. Apart from Jesus, the sinner remains condemned and doomed. Here, Jesus says that we have no hope of being saved and being released from that condemnation unless the Creator supernaturally draws us back into fellowship. Fallen man is destined to remain in his lost state unless his Creator remakes his heart and gives him life in place of death.
These words of our Savior encapsulate the Bible's teaching regarding redemption. Fallen man is helpless and hopeless; he is estranged from God and has no ability or desire to return to God. Consequently, fallen man's only hope, his only way of escaping the awful wrath of God against him for his sin, is God's gracious intervention. Redemption from our fallen state is all of God. If our understanding is returned, if our heart is made new, if our souls are freed from the bonds of wickedness, if we are to escape an eternity of darkness, it is all of God.
This is what the Bible teaches and this is what covenant theology teaches. This is the dependence fallen man has upon God and this dependence is maintained in covenant theology so that God receives all the glory for man's redemption, so that man is made to feel the weight of his sin and made to see the distance that does, in fact, separate him from God. In covenant theology, God is exalted and man is recognized for what he is, a depraved creature in need of God's marvelous grace. In covenant theology, man is not made equal with God, man is not given credit for his salvation; on the contrary, man hears just what Jesus said: No man comes to salvation unless the Father draws him. Therefore, let me say again that any method of interpreting and applying the Bible that does not emphasize these exact facts is a faulty method. If an approach to interpreting Scripture is based on the idea that the sinner can save himself or cooperate with God in his salvation, it is an erroneous approach. It is a method which, instead of leading us to understand the Bible, results in greater confusion about redemption.
What I've just said leads, of course, to my third and final point in this section of our study of covenant theology. That third point, which I will present next time, Lord willing, will be: The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator. We've seen that God is sovereign and we've seen that man is dependent upon God for restoration. But how is sinful man brought back into an acceptable relationship with a holy God? God will not change and fallen man cannot change. The answer which we find in Scripture is the thrilling doctrine of Christ's mediation.
Having already had much to say concerning the practical application of this doctrine of man's dependence on his Creator, I have only a few additional words to add. I want to return briefly to Psa. 8. As I stated, this Psalm presents a balanced view of man, the mere creature, and man, the creature uniquely made in God's image and given dominion over the works of God's hands. Man is, of course, part of God's creation and, yet, man is a unique part of God's creation. What should not be missed, however, is that in both cases, whether man is considered as a mere creature or as a creature designated by God as lord of the earth, man is still a creature. The honor bestowed upon man by his Maker, an honor unparalleled, does not so elevate man that he ceases to be a creature; he does not cease to be a creature and he does not cease to be bound by the implications of the distinction between himself and God.
This is a fact that, if remembered and allowed to influence our thinking as it should, will do two things for us. First, it will ensure that we maintain a reverent attitude toward God. There is no legitimate way to view God or relate to Him except as our sovereign Creator. As long as we view God as our Creator and as long as we are aware of the implications of that relationship, we will not have a problem with dishonoring God by thinking of Him and referring to Him in less than respectful terms. As long as we understand that we owe our existence to God and that we must learn from Him what are our purposes and duties, we are unlikely to violate what is proper in relationship between man and God.
There is, however, a problem with this very thing in modern Christianity. Our level of knowledge concerning our faith has steadily declined; the expectations that we have of ourselves and other Christians also have declined. Consequently, our view of God has declined. This a cycle that can only end in the theological bankruptcy of the Church of this age. Psalm 8 declares to us that there is a sovereign Creator who made man and assigned to man a particular place in creation. There is no way for man to know this truth and not maintain a proper distinction in his mind between himself and his Maker. We need to hear the Creator-creature distinction emphasized more in contemporary pulpits. This truth is the foundation for our whole existence; it is fundamental to our ability to understand who we are and what we are supposed to be doing.
The second benefit to our remembering the distinction between ourselves and God has to do with the pursuit of our duties. Once again we can say that modern times have seen a decline in our understanding of our duties. There is unbelievable confusion in the world today over the issue of how human beings are supposed to function and relate to one another. This confusion is no less evident among Christians, the very people who have access to the Word of the One who made us, the very people who should be speaking with authority. We must be reminded that, as creatures, we have both general and specific duties assigned to us. In general, we have the duties that are common to all human beings as those who bear God's image. In particular, we have the duties that accompany our individual stations in lifeas husbands, wives, parents, children, young adults and so forth.
The duties given to us come from the One who made us. As long as we view those responsibilities in such a light, their fulfillment will be our first concern. It is when we forget that the instructions regarding how we are to function have come from God that we are bound to go astray; it is when we look outside the Scripture for our primary instructions that we step away from the protection and comfort of the Creator-creature relationship. The fact that God is the Creator and we are the creatures is what gives unquestionable authority to God's Word; and it is what places upon our shoulders the certain responsibility of compliance.
Another brief application based upon Psa. 8 has to do with maintaining the dignity of man. Briefly, let me say that Christians should do everything they can to honor the dignity of man. This means that we should oppose any thinking or action in our society that tends to reduce man to the level of the animals, such as the pro-abortion movement, which denies that man is created in the image of God and makes his life dependent upon circumstances of convenience; or the more radical branches of the environmental movement, which literally want to view man and animals as equals and want to deny man his God-assigned destiny of subduing and ruling the earth. These two examples alone prove the importance of man listening to his Creator. When man does not listen, his view of the world and his understanding of his obligations, become warped to the point of absurdity.
Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)
In this worship service, we have heard God's call to assemble in His presence; we have raised our voices in praise and thanksgiving through song; we have confessed our sin and heard comforting words of forgiveness; and we have listened to the Word of God preached, by which we have been instructed. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper now serves to signify to us our right to have participated in all these things as the redeemed people of God. It also serves as a seal of all the promises specifically stated and implied during this service. Let us, therefore, gladly receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; let us receive it as a confirmation of our standing in Christ and as a renewal of God's covenant promises to us. Let us be reminded that, in Christ, we are forgiven, restored and enabled to pursue our purpose as those created in God's image.
Well, I should hope so. This is like watching the LOTR:Two Towers and having to wait a year to find out what happens to Frodo. :O)