By Randall Howard
The Covenants are the architectural framework, the superstructure of the Bible. This means that they are also the architectural framework and superstructure of the church. They form the basis on which we live our lives and if we do not fundamentally know and embrace this, we are shooting in the dark perhaps missing our call and our mandate to be the image bearers of God. We will come up short in the raising of our families righteously. And we will not fully engage the culture and influence the world by revealing the Kingdom.
As a member of the local church, you are also a member of the universal church. This means much more than we realize. We are the Ekklesia, the governing council of God on earth with the great responsibility of handling the gospel well and wisely. And this gospel is rooted in the Covenants!
This makes us not only a gospel centric people, but also the COVENANT PEOPLE OF GOD. And as we have taught over the course of this series, the covenant people of God will do two things:
ENGAGE God’s Intentions to Redeem People and Renew Creation
EMBRACE Our Own Unique Identity in the Plans and Purposes of God
The Covenants are the vehicle by which God relates to His people and His Kingdom. They communicate to us and educate us to His renewing and redeeming purposes and His pervasive rule over all things. However, the fullest expression of God and His glory come in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and this is why covenants are important. The Covenants teach us about Him - about Jesus! And as we have taught, it all begins before the foundation of the world. It begins with …
The Covenant of Redemption
The Covenant of Redemption is an agreement made before the foundation of the world between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The agreement was that they would elect, atone for, and save a select group of individuals to be the people of God for life and eternity. It is the Father choosing a bride for His Son, the Son paying the ultimate price for the bride, and then the Son receiving her from the Holy Spirit Who brings her to Him.
Ephesians 1:3-11 says,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
The Covenant of Works
The Covenant of Works was God solemnly promising Adam eternal life if he faithfully fulfilled the purpose for which he was created and the duties that were given to him in the Garden of Eden. This is what we call the “Dominion Mandate”. It involves the responsibility to bear the image of God, to fill the earth and subdue it righteously under God’s authority, and to extend the glory of God. Of course, Adam forfeited his place when he and Eve marred the image of God by entering into idolatry and disobedience.
But this Dominion Mandate didn’t go away because of man’s failure. No, it simply activated the pre-creation Covenant of Redemption and extended it to the elect as …
The Covenant of Grace
The Covenant of Grace is what God entered into with Adam immediately after the Fall when He promised in Genesis 3:15 to send a Seed of the woman, who would defeat the serpent, the diviner, and deliver the chosen from sin and grant eternal life.
What we need to see and understand is that there is really no distinction between the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace. The covenant of redemption, which was an agreement in the godhead before the foundation of the world, now becomes the covenant of grace enacted because of the fall of mankind. In other words, due to human failure to obey God as part of the Covenant of Works, the Covenant of Redemption which was made in eternity past is now activated in present history as the Covenant of Grace.
Therefore, we understand that the Covenant of Grace flows throughout the entirety of Scripture and is God’s way of dealing with humanity. This covenant is interconnected with the rest of biblical doctrine and brings great comfort to the souls of believers. David reminds us of this on his deathbed in II Samuel 23:5. David’s last words were …
“For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.” (II Samuel 23:5)
The everlasting covenant of grace comforted David and gave him hope on his deathbed, so the covenant of grace is the only hope for any dying sinner. And it also provides living faith for us each and every day.
Under the one covenant of grace, redemptive history unfolds through successive covenants: from Adam to Noah, Abraham to Moses, and from David to Jesus, who fulfilled the covenant promises by His death and resurrection. This brings us to an understanding of how the COVENANT OF GRACE is administrated.
Administrating the Covenant of Grace
While so many seem to divide the Old Testament and New Testament as a matter of law versus grace. But this is an incorrect view of Scripture. The law of God has a specific purpose within the context of grace. This is revealed by the various covenants outlined in the Bible and the narrative of Scripture. Throughout the trajectory of history: from the fall to the flood to the patriarchs, the exodus, the history of Israel, the captivities, the coming of John the Baptist, the arrival of Jesus, Pentecost, and the growth of the church; there is a fuller revelation of that one covenant of grace. For example,
A Covenant Made with Adam
We have talked about the Covenant of Works already - a covenant God made with Adam that if he obeyed God’s call on his life, he would be blessed and experience life eternal. But when Adam failed, it simply activated the covenant of redemption as a covenant of grace. From there we see that the Old Testament points to Christ as the only basis for salvation, for justification. Genesis 3:15 reveals the first gospel promise to Adam in what is called ‘the protoevangelium’ - the first gospel. Genesis 3:15 says,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Here God promises that one born of a woman would be wounded in the process of destroying the serpent - the diviner. The “seed” of the woman who would crush the Serpent’s head is none other than Jesus Christ. So we see the gospel of grace at the start!
Also, there is …
A Covenant Made with Noah
The Noahic Covenant is an unconditional covenant because it does not depend upon anything Noah or his descendants had to do to fulfill the covenant. The promise is based upon God’s faithfulness alone.
Because of God’s faithfulness to always do what He says He will do, we can know today with certainty that there will never be another worldwide flood as there was in the days of Noah, no matter how wicked mankind becomes.
Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord! This covenant speaks of the common grace of God for all mankind and also specific grace for those who would be His people. Then we see …
A Covenant Made with Abraham
Keep in mind that this isn’t a new covenant but a fuller revelation of the grace of God. God declares to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18,
“In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”
In Genesis 15, Abraham inquired of God about an heir even questioning God concerning His plan. Abraham even stated that Eliezer his servant could be his heir even though he wasn’t blood. But God restated His purpose and plan for Abraham’s seed to be as the stars of the sky and that Eliezer would not be his heir. There would come a blood son to be Abraham’s heir. And Abraham believed God and his belief was counted to him as righteousness!
Then God gives Abraham the promise of land to possess. And even after righteousness was counted on him for his belief, Abraham fell back into questioning mode. He seems to question how these things will be.
So God had Abraham prepare a sacrifice after which God caused great sleepiness to come over Abraham. And while Abraham was in this deep state of sleepiness terror came upon him. For he saw in the darkness what Genesis 15:17 says,
“When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.” (Genesis 15:17)
The smoking fire pot and the flaming torch were God as He walked between the slain animal sacrifices indicating that this covenant was His promise alone.
You see, typically, a covenant was dependent upon both parties keeping commitments and both parties would pass between the pieces of animals. But God handled this Himself binding Himself to the covenant - a covenant of grace without any work on Abraham’s part.
How many of you are grateful that even after we have exercised faith in God we may fall back into some measure of doubt and confusion, even then the covenant is based upon the grace of God and not our ability! I thank God for His ability to keep the covenant!
Grace is also seen in …
A Covenant Made with Moses
One of the purposes for the Mosaic covenant was to drive men outside of themselves, away from their own righteousness, and to the another righteousness not achievable by human means - the righteousness of Christ for justification (Rom 3:19-20; Gal 3:21-22).
The law of Moses was not given by the Lord to justify the people. For it is clear that works cannot justify. Rather, it was given to Israel for several other reasons:
To Reveal the Holiness of God
Reveal the Inability of Humans to Attain to God’s Holiness
Reveal the Need for a Savior - A Deliverer that Would Justify
A Covenant Made with David
The covenant with David and his offspring pointed to Christ and was a type of the covenant with Christ and those in him.
“I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him,
My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. 29 I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens.” (Psalms 89:20, 28, 29)
So, all of the Old Testament covenants are promises flowing from a single covenant with Christ and those in Him. And then …
The Messianic Covenant
According to the New Testament, Christ Himself is the promised offspring.
“Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
And this promise guarantees blessings for men from every nation who are in Him.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (the covenant).” (Galatians 3:28-29)
Let me conclude with these closing remarks about the importance of this message. The Covenant of Works was not abandoned because of the fall of the human race. But humanity would never be able to fulfill the original purposes of God without the enactment of the Covenant of Grace.
The Covenant of Grace became necessary to resurrect the works that Adam was given. In other words, God is working out His plan to restore paradise, to renew Eden, and to give His people (through grace) the restored ability to …
Bear the Image of God
Extend God’s Glory into All the Earth
Exercise Dominion Over the Created Order
This is the INTENTION of God and it is the role of the church! This is the narrative of Holy Scripture and it’s the message of the COVENANTS. This must become our worldview that is translated into lifestyle and culture.
A culturally engaged and influential church is a grace-filled church empowered to take responsibility for the earth. Indeed, there are giants in the land like there were throughout Biblical history. These giants are the offspring of the Nephilim intending to thwart the plans and purpose of God by attempting to steal the inheritance of God’s people. But we have God’s promises that are YES & AMEN. They also have inherent power within. The covenants empower us to know that our God cannot fail.
People have often said that there’s nothing that God cannot do. But I tell you that there are two things God cannot do: HE CANNOT DIE and HE CANNOT LIE!
“For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.” (II Corinthians 1:20)
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