Tag Archives: Covenant

Our Involvement in the Origin of Sin

Editor’s Note:  This is the continuation of the previous blog post.

Why couldn’t each of us have had the opportunity to make up his or her own mind? Some optimists say that a baby born has as much choice as Adam.  Suppose that were true.  It wouldn’t matter much.  A baby still wouldn’t have a chance.  The problem is still there.  Everything is against it.  It is surrounded by sinful people.  This unity of the human race was intended for good — the fact that we are all in it together.  Let us suppose now that Adam had kept the so called “covenant of works” and had resisted Satan, then you and I wouldn’t have had to undergo the test.  We would have been born incapable to sin.  If that was the case, no one would protest and say “I want to decide this for myself.  I want to have the chance of failure.” In spite of Adam’s fall we have many advantages because Adam is our father.  Suppose if one of us had to start from scratch and say “I don’t want to receive anything from my forefathers.”  If we did we would be living in caves and wearing furs — if we were fortunate enough to kill an animal.  Even if we lived a long life we wouldn’t ever be able to begin to invent anything, electricity and the like.  No one generation would live long enough on the earth to accomplish an invention.  That is in spite of all of the sin in the world.  God intended that the unanimity of the human race would be the source of endless good.  Satan took advantage of this wonderful society.  Hence the sins of the fathers must be upon the children.  Years ago if the well in your back yard was contaminated you would ask your neighbor if you could take some water from his well.  Each well had an individual source.  If the city water supply’s contaminated I couldn’t go next door and use their faucet for some good water, because it all comes from the same source.

Here is a wonderful thing.  God always has the last word.  He did in the case of Cain and Abel, and again with Eve — faith handed down.  When God said, “In pain and sorrow shall you bring forth children,” he was speaking a fact, rather than a curse.  It is by means of motherhood that a Savior came.  The angels all fell individually and they stayed fallen — no Jesus could come because they had no children and because there is no family.

Christ could have come into the world and still no one would be saved.  God has to change a heart.  We have to be born twice, and here is an amazing thing:  God can choose whomever he wants.  He doesn’t blindfold himself and pick us at random.  He works along family lines.

The form of baptism [in the Christian Reformed Church] isn’t inspired but it is inspiring.  “Although our children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, since they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, and so again are received unto grace in Christ; as God speaks unto Abraham, the father of all believers, and therefore also to us and our children, saying; ‘I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their their generation for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.’ ” (Gen. 17:7)

Lest someone say, “Oh, that is the Old Testament dispensation,” it is also in the New Testament where Peter says in Acts 2:39, “For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto Him.”

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The Greatest Glory of Our Home

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.                      Genesis 17:7

Many fine things can be said about a home, but the most marvelous thing is the fact that God chose, in His perfect plan of salvation, to work along family lines.

God did not have to.  Salvation is a sovereign work of God alone.  Obviously He saves whomever He wishes, and in various ways.

And God might have decided that in His choice of the subjects of salvation He would favor those whose parents were His enemies, rather than His friends.  After all, there is nothing that we inherit from our parents that bends us toward believing in God.  God can just as easily change a heathen heart as well as one of a person born in a Christian home.  Christianity is not something in our blood: our parents do not create faith in us.

Oh how good of God that He should have chosen to make happy the hearts of His friends by saying, “Thy children shall be my children.  I will be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.”  What peace has come into countless lives because of this self-imposed promise, this self-imposed system of God.

But when God established such a system, He was not acting arbitrarily.  God is a God of reason and of order.  There is more to salvation than just the regenerating change of a human heart.  There must be conversion.  There must be instruction of that new mind.  Grace must grow.  And how would all this happen in a heathen home?  In the great work of salvation God is in partnership; “covenant,” we call it, requiring of Abraham and us that we walk with Him [as he works through us].

Grace in Galatia

Consider Abraham:  He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.      Galatians 3:6,7

It is not easy to keep the books fo the Bible apart and be able to say how Ephesians is different from Colossians, and Philippians from Thessalonians.  There are, however, little memory devices that can help us somewhat in doing this, and one is to associate the word grace with Galatians.

The Galatians are the people whom Paul scolded for going back to the Old Testament traditions of having special days and feasts, and what not.  This is the book in which he reports the he rebuked the apostle Peter for refusing to eat with non-Jewish people.  Galatians is the book which tells us that Abraham was saved by grace, and that the law, which came four hundred years afterward, could not change the covenant which God made with him and all believers ever afterward.

There are Bible teachers who try to tell us that there are various methods of salvation, so that people in the Old Testament were saved by keeping the law, and we are saved by Christ.  This, of course, is all wrong, for there has been only one way of salvation from the time that Adam first sinned, and that one way is by grace.  But there is something far more serious than believing that salvation could once be earned by works, and that is trying to earn salvation that way today!  All of us would like to attempt it.  We are so independent by nature that we would like to work out our own salvation without God’s help whatsoever.  When the Ten Commandments are read to us, we forget that they are taught us in order to show us our sinfulness, and we think that if we only keep the Golden Rule or live a Christian life, we will thereby earn eternal life.  Nothing, absolutely nothing in ourselves, can save us, whether it is prayer, church going, Bible reading, or doing good deeds.  Salvation is of God and His grace.

The Exodus from Egypt

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.  Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.           Exodus 19:5, 6

Hollywood spent more money on making a movie of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt than the whole original journey cost, for God fed them miraculously with manna for forty years, and their clothes did not wear out.  Secular experts who saw the film said that it does not do justice to the Bible story, which is not strange, for Exodus was written by an eyewitness, the man who led the Israelites every step of the way.  Moses is the author of the first five books of the Bible.

In the book of Exodus three important things are told:  the stirring story of the Ten Plagues, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the building of the tabernacle at the foot of Mount Sinai.  The study of the tabernacle and its furniture is interesting because each part was a picture of some spiritual truth, such as prayer, forgiveness, cleansing, etc.  Today, of course, we no longer need altars, incense, robed priests, holy water and such things, for the Person of whom they were a picture has come, and thrown the signs away.  (Read Hebrews 9)

Exodus marks the actual beginning of the Old Testament, which is another word for “covenant.”  The covenant of grace began way back in the garden of Eden, after the fall, but there were sub-covenants in it, just as we have sub-contracts (which is also another word for “covenant”) today.  One of these sub-contracts, mentioned in the text at the top of the page, was made with the children of Israel as a nation.  This is the covenant that Jeremiah (31:31) predicted would be replaced with a better one, the one which Jesus introduced at the Last Supper when He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:20)

Covenant, Part II

As we all know, the whole concept of covenant was so changed or became so obsolete that in most places of the occurrence of the word in the New Testament the word is translated as “testament”, a secondary meaning of the word in any language.  “Testament” is a legal enough arrangement or document, but one in which the Party of the First Part does all the “work” – even to the point of to make the covenant, and the Party of the Second Part doesn’t do a thing except receive and enjoy the benefits of the contract.  So abolished is the covenant idea and arrangement now that not only is the “new covenant” known by the name of “will” or “testament”, but the Old, as well, (which was undeniably a very law-full arrangement, with duties and responsibilities assigned to bother parties) has been given the name “testament”.  (It is entitled to the new term not only because, despite its different nature – law versus grace – it anticipated or prepared for the grace era, but itself was plenty gracious on the score of God even entering contract, including amongst the human responsibilities numerous pictures of forgiveness, and in the fact that God did not inflict the penalties of repeated violations; the “covenant of grace”, let it be said again, began after the fall.  What we call the Old Testament is only one, old, now obsolete dispensation or era in the history of covenant, dispensation or testament of grace.

The clearest indication of the termination of any Abraham covenant today is found in Galatians generally, especially 3:16, where Abraham’s “seed” is said to be Christ, and “covenant” becomes “promise”.  Abandonment or conversion of the word “covenant” finds clear statement in 3:20,26-29, which says that covenant calls for 2 parties and a mediator, but the present arrangement is such that the two parties (and the mediator) have become one!  (Cf John 17:20-24)

That brings us to the question as to what “covenant” – the word and the notion of – (in the “old” covenant) symbolized.  As was already said, the gracious relationship which undeserving Israel enjoyed with God is a picture of the church; “a royal nation, a holy priesthood”, a spiritual “body-politic” without any racial, national, sexual or other distinctions, but all one in Christ Jesus.  To expect any literal, physical future for Israel as a political/religious entity is really as irrelevant as expecting the restoration, say, of the now extinct nations who are mentioned in some of those “millenarian” prophecies, and ignores the numberless places in the New Testament in which the all-nation body of Christ is called the Israel of God, the “Twelve tribes”, the house of David, etc.

On the individual level, covenant in the Old Testament symbolizes the intimate, indissoluble, “one-person” union that we have in Christ, which is symbolized in the New Testament by the picture (type) of marriage.  The Bible has many other types to depict it, such as body, building, flock, tree, etc., but marriage is the most apt metaphor for the simple reason that a Christian couple in themselves constitute a church, a tiny congregation of “2 or 3” who are in Christ; see Ephesians 6.

Notice the parallels; marriage is undeniably a covenant, a contract.  The thing that makes two people legally one is the civil document; where does a divorcing couple go to annul their union?  To the court.  So no one denies that we are in a covenant with God, as regards ourselves and our children (the product of a marriage).  BUT, what happily married person ever thinks of their union as primarily a civil, legal, contractual affair?  What successful marriage was ever built upon a spelled-out arrangement of responsibilities and duties, with consequent benefits and penalties?  If some one says about type-fulfillment that Israel was “married” to God in the Old Testament, the answer is that indeed she was, but only in the legal sense outlined here.  The marriage customs of those days, in which a person could be legally, officially “married” to some one for seven years or longer, the severing of which was “divorce” (cf. Jacob and Jesus’ own parents) and still not be “one flesh” in the sense of living together and establishing a new home and family, was itself a providential “sign” of Israel’s relation to God prior to the coming of the Bridegroom and his union with his bride as symbolized in Jesus’ repeated parables about those ceremonies.  Cf also Jesus’ strange choice of miracle and situation in which to launch his public ministry. (John 2)

Perhaps the reason why “covenant” is exploited as a term and a concept in some Christian traditions is because their conception of both the nature of salvation and of Christian marriage is grossly deficient.  If salvation is little more than the legal, objective, external forgiveness of sins, then the idea of “covenant” fits it quite well – a quid pro quo (as lawyers would put it) arrangement in which justice is satisfied, an inherently guilty person is declared innocent or at least is acquitted on what the court regards as sufficient grounds, etc.  If, however, salvation is nothing less than the creation of a new person (like physical birth) and an eternal, perfect union of the believer with Christ, it is totally inadequate to describe it as a legal arrangement, a mutual “understanding”, a covenant.

In turn, the high divorce rate within the Christian church (as an organization: the Bible indicates it as unthinkable between true members of Christ’s Body) is clear evidence of a low conception of marriage and even lower conception of one’s relationship to God.  The former is indicated, as said, by the fact that Christian couples will go to court to become divorced, contrary to the clear admonition of I Cor. 6:1-11.  (This alone is grounds for church discipline, apart form the divorce itself.  Such couples should be asked, “Why don’t you go, in order to sunder your marriage, to the place and person where your marriage was performed?”)  As regards the latter, in almost every instance of failure of a “Christian” marriage, either one or both is not “married” to God, in Christ.  Both may stoutly claim “church membership”, and their parents may make loud protests about “covenant” membership, but all that is something else.

Next time I’ll address Children (Minors) in Covenant.  

Covenant, Part I

There is one “type” in Scripture of great importance, long duration, and inclusive of many “sub-types”.  That is the word and concept, “covenant”.  Few doctrines in the Bible are more controversial, confused, misunderstood, even meaningless.

The chief reason for this is the fact that few Christians realize that “covenant”, like such things as the ark of the covenant and the rite of circumcision, was or is a type, and not a final “truth”, like the fact of our atonement  Once upon a time it had reality, “fact”, significance in its own, just as Jonah was an actual historical person with a message for us (about evangelism and enemy-love) if Christ had never come.  But, in addition, he (and his experience) was a picture of Christ.

A great part of the Christian church keeps the idea and term “covenant” alive today (as though we were to embalm Jonah and display him).  Premillenarians – who dislike the present use of the word “covenant”, predict a “thousand years” when it will be very much restored.  Catholics continue some of its elements with priests, sacrifices, alters, etc.  Calvinism makes so much use of the word that it has become a catch-all cliche to avoid clear thinking and good communication.  Some of its denominations are known as “Covenanters”, who even have the Old Testament ideal of a union of church and state (like Israel’s theocracy); they sing only psalms in church, etc.  Other individual congregations have the word “covenant” in their name, but we all make that confusion of Old Covenant and New when we persist in speaking of a church building as “the house of God”; we ought to quit the use of that typological word once and for all.  Some Calvinists reverse this anachronism by talking about the “church” in the Old Testament; this is like calling Moses the first Calvinist.

Here are some of the facts (realized by very few who use the word “covenant” the most); the first occurrence of the word is ages after Adam lived and died; (after the Flood!).  The familiar phrase “covenant of grace” occurs nowhere in Scripture and “covenant” by itself is hardly found in the New Testament.  “Covenant of grace” is basically a contradiction in terms, because “covenant” is a very legal term, and is part of the dispensation of “law”.  IF we can speak of a “covenant of grace”, it did not begin with the New Testament (as it is often thought), but immediately after the Fall.

What we call the “old covenant of testament” (not the 66 books) began as late in history as 1400 BC, maybe millions of years after creation.  The “new covenant”, on the other hand, did not begin at Jesus’ birth; he lived and died in the “old testament”, so that the Four Gospels are included in the New Testament much as the preface and introduction to any book, and Moses’ story of creation to his own times in preparation for the Old Testament, technically not a part of it.

Look at all the different ideas on the covenant TODAY, on the part of those who think the arrangement is still in force!  Some think children of Christian parents belong to it, others do not.  Some say that “our” part in covenant is to “believe”; others say that faith is a gift of God and hence part of “his” side; our obligation is to obey, serve him.  Some think that children who are in the covenant are saved, born again, and will go to heaven if they die in infancy.  Others say that covenant says nothing on that score, but simply makes children members of the Christian “community” and the beneficiaries of Christian nurture which “covenant parents” promise as their part of the contract.

The result of all this contradiction and uncertainty is that instead of the clarity and assurance that any and every type were designed to bring (like the sacraments today)., this only makes for confusion and doubt, on the part of all human part-icipants, but especially parents and children.  (Some even have the idea that if you are a childless adult you are not an active member of any covenant.  Some think children are more so than grown-ups!)  When it comes to the sacraments, which are “covenantal” (using that Old Testament term for the New Testament) signs, some churches permit children to participate in both, some in neither, and some insist that they must in baptism but not in the Lord’s Supper, when – as we shall see – if it is one or the other, the Lord’s Supper should have the preference.

Following the Fall, when man and God became enemies, and before they were made friends again (and more) by the reconciliation of the God/man Jesus Christ, God provided a system of agreements, legal contracts (which is another word for “covenant”), that would bring man as close as possible to him before their at-one-ment in Christ.  These covenants were something like a truce between hostile nations, and, on the part of the human participants, just about as meaningless, since the latter kept on breaking the terms.  These covenants employed mediators (like Moses), and even angels, whose service in the Old Testament was primarily between God and man, while in the New, since they (God and his people) have become inseparable friends, their service is between man and Satan, in defense of the former against the latter.

The covenant between God and Israel was not only an interim thing to be replaced by something completely different (as grace took the place of “law”), but was to be a picture (type) of God’s relation to the church (the fulfillment, or reality).  Israel, as a “chosen” nation, was itself a picture of the Body of Christ; this is why Christ chose exactly 12 apostles, paralleling the 12 tribes.  (Does the frequent use of the number “seven” regarding the church indicate the church’s growth by addition – three, God’s “number”, plus four, that of creation – as well as by multiplication/reproduction – three times four – which was primarily the Old Testament source of growth?)

From all this it will be evident that the purpose and function of “covenant” were served and completed when Christ came and said on the eve of his crucifixion, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  If it be said, “Ah, there!  We are in a covenant still today,” the answer is that the reality that was symbolized in the obsolete sign still continues, but not the form.  A perfect analogy is the fact that we are still under “law” today in the sense that Adam was, before the fall, or we will be in heaven, while Scripture categorically says that the law per se, in its Old Covenant form, has served its purpose and is passed away.  So too with “covenant”, an integral part of a arrangement by law, itself being a legal instrument.  Jeremiah predicted the days of a “new covenant”, in which external law would be no more – a covenant without a contract, and an era of “law” without laws.