Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: The Covenant of Grace (pt. 2)
Posted on 02/05/2004 9:19:07 AM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: The Covenant of Grace
(Part 2 Sermon Number Eight)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
We are studying the wonderful covenant of grace, that arrangement whereby our kind God saves His elect in fulfillment of a promise made in the Garden of Eden. Following Adam's transgression, because of which the human race lost communion with the Creator and came under His condemnation, the ever-merciful God promised that He would not leave man in his depraved state, but would restore him and would do so by means of a Mediator. The historical unfolding of this glorious plan for our redemption is known as the covenant of grace.
We have seen that the covenant of grace is manifested in history through a series of secondary covenants, including God's covenant with Noah, with Abraham and with Moses. These secondary covenants serve to explain the overriding covenant of grace. Throughout Biblical history, attention was being directed to the fulfillment of the promise God made in Eden; that fulfillment was anticipated and partly explained in these secondary covenants that I mentioned; it was finally and fully realized in the Person and work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
At this point, as we explore the provisions of the covenant of grace, we are making use of the Abrahamic covenant. We are studying this covenant because it is the fullest explanation of the covenant of grace prior to the actual consummation of that covenant in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The Abrahamic covenant, while not a complete revelation of the provisions of the covenant of grace, nevertheless provides us with a good understanding of the essential elements of God's plan for our redemption. For this reason, the study of God's arrangement with Abraham is profitable and, I want to emphasize, necessary; we will not understand God's plan for our salvation unless we understand the Abrahamic covenant.
Let me quickly review the highlights from my last sermon:
I emphasized that until the Abrahamic covenant, there had been no official establishment of the covenant of grace. The promise of salvation made by God in Gen. 3:15 communicates the basic idea of the covenant of grace, which is God's intention to restore what sin had destroyed, but prior to Abraham's time, no transaction had occurred to formalize the provisions of the covenant of grace.
Our concern at this point is to understand the provisions of the covenant of grace. Using the Abrahamic covenant as a guide, I have presented the provisions of that arrangement before making a transition to the overriding covenant of grace. I noted that the parties involved in the Abrahamic covenant were God and Abraham; or, more precisely, God and the house of Abraham. I stated that the covenant had a promise and it is represented in the words, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. (Gen. 17:7) God promises to establish a unique relationship with Abraham and his descendants; He promises to have Abraham and his descendants as His peculiar people throughout the coming generations.
Concerning the condition of the Abraham covenant, I said that it was two-fold, from Abraham's perspective. Abraham had to believe God's promise and then act. He was to believe that the Lord would do what He declared and to act on that belief by obeying God when he was told to apply the sign of the covenant to the male members of his house. And the last element in the Abrahamic covenant was the penalty. The penalty of this covenant is implied and consisted of missing or being denied the promise of the covenant. In Gen. 12, 15 and 17, therefore, we have seminal ideas which, in subsequent parts of the Bible, are developed and expanded into a full revelation of the glorious covenant of grace; and this full revelation terminates, as I stated, in the work of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
The last thing that I noted was the fact that God's arrangement with Abraham depended on the patriarch having a male heir. As God restates His promises and assures Abraham that he will have a male heir, the Abrahamic covenant takes on a broader signification. This broader signification is God's intention to save the human race according to the stipulations of the Abrahamic covenant; that is, the redemption of fallen man would depend completely upon God's ability and willingness to keep His promise.
02. The Provisions of the Covenant of Grace (continued)
To understand why I would say that the Abrahamic covenant is the covenant of grace in a foundational format, we must examine the part of Abraham's life that involved the birth of Isaac and God's subsequent command that Isaac be sacrificed. It is during this experience of Abraham that a transition in focus takes place so that the Abrahamic covenant is revealed as the covenant of grace. As I emphasized, God's promise to Abraham to be His God and the God of his descendants depended, of course, on Abraham having a male heir. Abraham could not become the father of a great nation, as God promised, without a male heir. Abraham could not become the father of a multitude of nations, as God promised, without a male heir; the people of the earth could not be blessed in Abraham, as God promised, unless that patriarch had a male heir. Everything that God said, everything that Abraham anticipated, therefore, depended on Abraham having a son. Notice, then, how the Scripture records the birth of Isaac:
Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. (Gen. 21:1, 2)
What could be clearer from these verses than that the birth of Isaac was God keeping His word to Abraham? The birth of Isaac was God bringing to pass what He promised. The Scripture underscores the facts that Abraham was old, Sarah was old and the birth of a child was, indeed, a miracle. Isaac's birth was an undeniable sign that God could and would bring about what He promised to Abraham.
Concerning this particular episode in Abraham's life, Paul says:
In hope against hope [Abraham] believed, in order that he might become a father of many nations, according to that which had been spoken, SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE. And without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. (Rom. 4:18-21)
Abraham believed that God is able to do the impossible. Abraham considered his own body and realized that it was as good as dead; Abraham considered his beloved wife Sarah and knew that she was beyond the years of bearing children. Then Abraham considered God and when he considered God, he knew that El Shaddai is not hampered by any circumstance, but always accomplishes His will. For Abraham, this meant that God could be believed regardless of how things appeared; this meant that God's word was as good as done as soon as it was spoken. By faith, the patriarch accepted God's promise as trustworthy. Faith, which is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen, is what Abraham demonstrated. God promised and Abraham believed; God promised and Abraham did not doubt.
With this background, consider the command given to Abraham: Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you. (Gen. 22:2) The very least that must be said here is that in this test, God asked Abraham to sacrifice the son upon whom rested all that God promised and all that Abraham anticipated. God plainly declared to Abraham: ...through Isaac your descendants shall be named. (Gen. 21:12) For Abraham to become the father of nations, as God promised, Isaac had to be alive; the blessing promised to the nations of the earth required that Isaac be alive.
Nevertheless, we read: [T]hey came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there, and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. (Gen. 22:9, 10) How could Abraham do this thing? Why did he not protest? Why did he not question God's command?
Here is the answer to these questions:
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED. He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received him back as a type. (Heb. 11:17-19)
How could Abraham do such a thing? He could do such a thing because God commanded it. Why did Abraham not protest? He did not protest because the word of God was his law. Abraham realized how important Isaac was, but even that recognition was not sufficient for Abraham to doubt or disobey God's command. Abraham acted by faith; even though he could not see the end of that episode, he trusted that all would be well because God was there. Abraham had something in his possession that negated doubt and rendered his personal opinion on the matter irrelevant. Abraham, remember, had in his possession the promises of God. And so the writer of Hebrews states that he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son... Within the context of God's promise to multiply his descendants and bring blessings to the whole earth, Abraham was commanded to slay Isaac. That context made all the difference in the world! God's word was absolutely reliable as far as Abraham was concerned. Therefore, if God told him to sacrifice Isaac, he would sacrifice Isaac being assured that God's promises would not fail and, if necessary, God simply would raise Isaac from the dead! This is the faith of our father, Abraham.
Now don't miss what the Angel of the Lord said to Abraham after He stopped the patriarch and told him to spare Isaac:
By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice. (Gen. 22:16-18)
After Abraham demonstrated unwavering faith in God, God repeated His intention to multiply the family of Abraham and, through him, bring great blessings to the world. Here is where a wonderful transition takes place. Remember that the writer of Hebrews said: [Abraham] considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead; from which he also received [Isaac] back as a type. The episode with Isaac was a picture of something that would one day come to pass when God the Father would send His only begotten Son into the world to be sacrificed for sinners and thus enable those sinners to be restored in fellowship with their Creator; this would be the fulfillment of that promise made in the Garden of Eden. On Mount Moriah, therefore, the focus shifts from Isaac to Christ, from earth to heaven, from the temporal to the eternal; and this also is where it becomes obvious that the Abrahamic covenant is a model of the covenant of grace.
The inspired commentary of the apostle Paul on this matter, which we find in Gal. 3, assures us that we are correct in seeing a shift in focus from Isaac to Christ. The first thing that Paul tells us is that the promises that God spoke to Abraham amounted to the gospel: And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'ALL THE NATIONS SHALL BE BLESSED IN YOU.' (Gal. 3:8) The Abrahamic covenant was an explanation of the gospel, which says that God mercifully and graciously restores us without regard for our merit. Then Paul says: So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (v. 9) And, further, the apostle writes that in Christ, the blessing of Abraham has come to the Gentiles (cf. 14). Paul teaches that the Abrahamic covenant was the covenant of grace in a rudimentary form.
However, the most significant comment of Paul comes in Gal. 3:16 where, as he explains that the gospel promises of the Abrahamic covenant were not nullified with the giving of the Law, he adds: Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as referring to many, but rather to one, 'And to your seed,' that is, Christ. Paul explains that when God promised great blessing to the seed of Abraham, He had in mind, in an ultimate fashion, one particular descendant, Jesus Christ. All the descendants of Abraham, that is, all those down through history who imitate the faith of Abraham (cf. Gal. 3:9) are subjects of God's blessing, but Christ is the special descendant of Abraham who kept Abraham's side of the covenant in an ultimate and perfect way; Christ came and obeyed God perfectly and then laid down His life to atone for the sin of Abraham's people.
In reality, then, the Abrahamic covenant was between God and the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. Again, this is why I say that the Abrahamic covenant is the covenant of grace in a rudimentary form. The promises made to Abraham were ultimately made to the seed of Abraham, that is Christ. The condition of the Abrahamic covenant is the condition that was ultimately and perfectly met, as I stated, by the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. Christ's work, therefore, was the Abrahamic covenant carried to its glorious extreme. In the Abrahamic covenant, God promises fellowship and security; He requires belief in His word and a corresponding demonstration of belief through obedience. In Christ, the seed of Abraham, we have eternal fellowship and security based upon our acceptance, by faith, of the word of God; and our belief, as the Scripture everywhere instructs us, is manifested through obedience to the word of God-beginning with that first act of faith, which is the application of the sign of the covenant to the members of Abraham's house, that is, all the faithful.
Even the penalty of the Abrahamic covenant is carried over so that it now is expressed by one being outside of Christ and, therefore, cut off from the people of God, left untouched in a state of condemnation. What I'm saying is that all the elements of the Abrahamic covenant were realized in the Person and work of Jesus Christ who, as Paul tells us, was the superior seed of Abraham and the prophetic focus of God's words to the patriarch. Abraham's faith was an illustration of the faith that is required of those who would have union with Christ; Abraham's obedience was an illustration of the obedience due from every person who embraces the gospel.
The importance of studying the Abrahamic covenant now should be obvious to you. The Abrahamic covenant is one and the same with the covenant of grace. It illustrates for us all the essential elements of God's plan for our restoration. In future sermons in this series, we will return to Abraham to learn about other significant matters, such as the covenantal view of justification and the place of our children in God's scheme of redemption. My next sermon, however, will be concerned with the third point of our study of the covenant of grace, which is: The Outcome of the Covenant of Grace. In that sermon, I will examine portions of Scripture which describe the work of Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham.
In the application, I want to return to an idea that I touched upon in the last sermon's application. I mentioned that the basis for our hope as believers, the basis for our expectation of blessing now and in eternity, is nothing more, nothing less than the living God and His promises. I want to expand this idea a bit now that we have covered Abraham's experience in more detail.
The foundation for the Christian religion is composed of all the promises that God has given us in His word. Those promises tell us what God has planned and what we can expect as His people. Those promises are the basis for our behavior and the basis for our expectation regarding the future. We believe that we are forgiven in Christ because God promises that we are forgiven in Christ; we believe that we will one day enter heaven because God promises that we will one day enter heaven. We believe that our peaceful existence with our Creator will continue throughout all eternity because God promises this to us.
There are, of course, other promises of God that should be mentioned. We believe that the wicked will not triumph because God has promised that the wicked will not triumph. We believe that there will be a final judgment of all men, with God's people being vindicated because God promises such a climax to history. We believe that God opposes the wicked, but causes the righteous to prosper because He makes such promises in His word.
Let me say again, therefore, that the whole Christian religion, the world and life view of the Christian, how we live from day to day, how we raise our children, is built upon the foundation of the many promises of God in the Bible. Now, I must ask, what is behind those promises? Why are we willing to take the word of God and build our lives according to it? Why do the promises of God give us comfort when we are discouraged, hope when we are distressed and assurance when we are fearful? What is it which makes the promises of God reliable? The answer is: the character of the God who gives the promises.
Ultimately, therefore, the Christian religion is based upon God's character. His promises, upon which we stake everything as believers, are trustworthy only so far as God, according to His Being, is trustworthy. God's promises, by which Christians are guided in everything, are truthful in so far as God is truthful. The response to God's promises, it follows, is a response to God's character. If we believe God's promises, it is because we understand His character and understand that the God of the Bible is good, just, all-knowing and all-powerful. If we accept God's promises and live our lives accordingly, it is because we believe that the word of God is as reliable, trustworthy, truthful and certain as God Himself.
This conviction is what we see in Abraham. This conviction allowed Abraham to act contrary to what his circumstances and his limited knowledge might have dictated. From his first contact with God through the episode involving Isaac, Abraham showed an unshakable trust in God's promises. Abraham understood that what God had promised to him was as certain as God Himself. Therefore, the character of God, which was behind the promises made to Abraham, is what the patriarch was counting on. Had he not believed that God's character is just, good and truthful, Abraham could not have behaved as he did. Had Abraham not believed that God, by His very nature, knows all things and can do all things he could not have demonstrated such great faith. Abraham's conduct was, in the final analysis, a commentary on what he believed about God.
The same thing is true of us. Our conduct should be a commentary on what we believe about the character of God. We are quick to confess in our Reformed faith such things as God's sovereignty, God's omnipotence, God's omniscience, God's varacity and God's holiness. We must understand that these things which we confess about God are the reasons why we should and must keep His Word, why we should and must believe that He does only good for us, why we should and must believe that His eye is upon us, why we should and must believe that He will conduct us safely to our heavenly home, why we should and must believe that God will bring history to a close which will exalt the Creator of this world. With this Abraham-like conviction concerning the character of God, we will learn to judge our circumstances not by their appearance, but by what God has promised. Our expectations will be based not on what others say or on what is likely to happen given a particular situation, but on what God has said to us in His word.
This, of course, has implications for us anytime we reach one of those moral or doctrinal crossroads where God's word takes us in one direction while the wisdom of our contemporaries takes us in another. At those times, we choose to believe what God says even though we have no worldly proof to satisfy critics that we are correct. At those times we are declaring that the character of God which is behind His word guarantees that His way is right. This conviction affects the way we worship, the way we perform our jobs and the way we treat our families and others. We are persuaded, like Abraham, that the word of God is dependable because the character of the One who gave that word is infinitely pure.
If you are facing a situation in which you must choose a path, remember that the path which provides the least resistance, the path which appears to be the easiest to travel, may not, in fact, be the correct path. Search the word of God and then do your duty as a believer. Trust God in what He says; know that His perfect character is behind every word of Scripture. You cannot go wrong if you live your life, if you lead your family, if you raise your children, if you treat your neighbor as God commands in His Word. The promises of blessing and peace associated with those commands have the integrity of the Triune God behind them. When you understand this, then you will understand why Abraham believed God, why Abraham did exactly what God commanded and why Abraham did not protest. The character of God gives such reliability and authority to His words that questioning them, failing to be comforted by them or failing to keep them is an expression of unbelief.
Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)
I hope that this sermon series is illustrating to you the unity of the Bible's message. In Genesis, we have God's promise to send a Savior and that promise dominates the remainder of God's revelation. We are privileged to be among the covenant people of God and especially privileged to live in a time when God's promise in Eden has been fulfilled in Christ. The Lord's Supper is many things, not the least of which is an opportunity for us to reflect upon the great work of God as He guided history to the point of His Son's incarnation. This sacrament is a time for you to think about the power of God, the sovereignty of God, the love of God and the trustworthiness of God. It is a time to check your life and repent of any expressions of unbelief; it is a time to utter prayers of thanksgiving to the Savior.
Our Savior said: Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32) Our Savior lived a perfect life, died for our sins and was raised on the third day because the Father had chosen gladly to give us the kingdom. This sacrament places before us that atoning work of Christ. He, Himself, ordered the observance of this rite in His Church throughout time.
This guy is a Calvinist? How can that be? He says that Abraham had to decide to believe and then to act on that belief. That is not Calvinism as expressed by the swarm. This is what they claim to be an Arminian belief.
To the swarm, this would be a work; unless they have changed.
Where they would disagree is on election. I believe they would say that God chose Abraham out of all the millions of people on earth at that time because God knew Abraham would act in faith upon the promise. That is probably where the two theologies would disagree.
Quite the contrary, this is one point on which there is likely much agreement. Most Arminians, and I am not one, would agree that some things were predestined and God's choice of Abraham was most likely one of them (personally, I would say he was predestined) whether is was based merely on foreknowledge or something more.
I, and Arminians, simply do not think it is Biblical to claim that all events, including all sins committed by all men, were predestined/foreordained. Ironically, I don't thik Calvin would have had much of a dispute with this statement. What many people don't know was that John Calvin was very troubled by his conclusions regarding election and predestination. Even he has serious reservations, so why is it that some of today's Calvinists/hyper-Calvinists are so sure of issues that Calvin stated with not nearly the confidence?
Did God speak audibly to you? I have not had that experience, nor do I think many have. Didn't Jesus chastise Thomas for demanding to see his nail-scarred hands? If Thomas had not expressed his 'doubts', I don't think it would have changed anything affecting God's relationship with man. On that basis, that incident may or may not have been predestined, unless there is some specific prophesy I can't recall offhand.
I don't think members of the swarm are going to respond. I suspect they are 'shunning' me, mostly because I have a knack for identifying inconsistencies in their arguments, so it is simply better for them if they say nothing.
I mentioned Thomas as a contrast to Abraham. Certainly there were prophesies concerning Christ that are associated with Abraham and therefore, in my thinking, arguably predestined. As for Thomas' 'doubting', I don't think (unless there is a related prophesy I can't think of) one could argue with much certainty that that particular incident was predestined/foreordained. If an incident directly involving Jesus and Thomas may not have been predestined, it is certainly reasonable to conclude that there are events involving most men that are not a result of predestination.
Abraham is a good example of how I understand predestination and foreknowledge. God, in His omniscient, knew that Abraham would be the only one who would "believe" God in a promise so fantastic that it would stagger the imagination. Thus, Abraham, was predestined to be the one because God knew this to be the case before the foundations of the world.
The only issue I have with the above statement is that it sounds as if God chose us because He knew we would believe. That would make His sovereign choice based on our decision.
"Foreknowledge" simply means that God knew us beforehand. It's only logical to assume that He would have to know about us before He could choose us. After all, even God cannot make a choice without knowing what it is He is choosing.
Our response to His calling is based on faith, but Ephesians 2:8 teaches that faith itself is a gift from God. Man, in his fallen state, can only rebel against God. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:11 that "there is none who seeks after God."
We don't know why God chooses the way He does; we just know that the He has His own reasons. As Paul write in Romans:
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (Romans 9:14-16)
"Foreknowledge" simply means that God knew us beforehand. It's only logical to assume that He would have to know about us before He could choose us. After all, even God cannot make a choice without knowing what it is He is choosing. I not sure that God would make His sovereign choice based on our decision. Its still His method of salvation and He still comes to us and leads us in the fold.
One has to agree that our all-knowing Sovereign God would FORKNOWN each and every one of us before the foundations of the universe. That includes all choices we would make. Personally, I think this is VERY significant and goes to a major characteristic of God which resounds throughout the whole Bible.
If I understand you correctly you're saying that out of this foreknowledge God selected individuals based upon some unknown criteria. If Ive interpreted you correctly I would say this unknown criterion is faith and God KNEW who would believe in Him because we are His workmanship.
Our response to His calling is based on faith, but Ephesians 2:8 teaches that faith itself is a gift from God. Man, in his fallen state, can only rebel against God. Paul reminds us in Romans 3:11 that "there is none who seeks after God."
I can see no conflict in my interpretation with Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no man may boast.
Our salvation is unmerited grace as our gift from God. We cannot work for it. It is given to us unconditionally to the praise of Gods glory.
I agree that man in his fallen state can only rebel. But I have search the scriptures and can find no case of where faith is considered a work or a rebellious man cannot have faith. In fact its quite the contrary. Many times faith is contrasted with works (e.g. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Romans 3:27). Faith is not a work but what is it? The contrasting of the law to faith by Paul shows that if man can do works, man must be able to have faith.
Before you kick me out of the TULIP patch let me say understanding faith must be put into the context of Gods character and sovereignty. God is our CREATOR. We are made by Him. That includes every facet of our lives. Thus, I can only conclude that faith was predestined in Abraham (as in all believers) before the universe. Thus when God came along He KNEW that Abraham would have the faith because that is the way God made him. A small but significant difference that allows me to keep my TULIP membership. :O)
We don't know why God chooses the way He does; we just know that the He has His own reasons. As Paul write in Romans: What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (Romans 9:14-16)
Why did God make Abraham to have faith in Him and not Abdu Smith in the next tent? I have no idea. I would agree with your statement. This is the Sovereignty of God.
I do believe the predestination and fall of man and the grace God bestows on His chosen is somehow involved in the judgment of Satan and his cohorts. However, there is very little information in the scriptures about this as I think God intended.