How About a Little Covenant Theology

This past Sunday we talked about God’s “covenant of grace” that comes out in Genesis 12:1-3. There we saw God make gracious and magnificent covenant promises to Abraham that culminated in the promise that through Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, ESV). We saw that the ultimate fulfillment of that covenant promise is God’s Son, Jesus Christ! See Galatians 3:7-9.

All the talk about covenants may have been new to some. What are we talking about? The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VII, entitled “Of God’s Covenant with Man” makes the point that the only way we could ever know God and have a relationship with Him would be due to “some voluntary condescension on [His] part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” That is, it’s only because God has stooped to our level and used a form that we can understand that we can know Him. That form is a covenant. His covenants are steeped in grace as we’ve done nothing to earn or deserve a relationship with him. It’s seen even in the fact that He uses something we can grasp!

What IS a covenant? Theologian John Frame says it “is a relation between the Lord and a people whom He has sovereignly consecrated to Himself.” Covenants are bonds or solemn agreements. The easiest example for us today is the marriage covenant whereby a man and a woman pledge faithfulness to one another until death.

All covenants come with conditions. In the garden, God had a covenant with Adam sometimes called the “covenant of works.” This exact phrase is not in the Bible but it accurately describes the relationship God had with Adam and the conditions Adam lived under in the garden. Adam was promised life there upon the condition of perfect obedience. Adam broke the covenant by disobeying God and the consequence was a fallen world under God’s judgment.

This made necessary the “covenant of grace.” What is that? The Westminster Confession of Faith again helps us when it says in this covenant God “freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.” I hope you catch the grace that saturates this covenant!   God graciously offers salvation and even graciously provides the means whereby we lay hold of the covenant- He grants to us the very willingness to believe!

The covenant of grace is at the heart of all God’s covenants. We caught the first glimpse of the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15 and then it gets even more prominent in Genesis 12:1-3. It is at the heart of all God’s covenants such with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David.  Jesus came and inaugurated the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20). It’s new in that we no longer look ahead to what Jesus will do through the sacrificial system and worship of the Temple but we look back at what Jesus has done through His finished work on the cross.. What was once only pictures and illustrations has now become reality in Jesus!

God’s covenant helps us nail down just what the gospel means. Adam broke the covenant. He failed the test and as our representative, we failed with him. God then sent His Son, Jesus, to be our covenant keeper. He never once disobeyed. He was the “second Adam” who kept the covenant in our place. More than that, Jesus paid the penalty for breaking the covenant by dying in our place on the cross. His resurrection from the dead was proof that His work as our covenant keeper was a complete success!

God’s covenant of grace is a marvelous thing. It’s the thread that runs throughout the Bible. It’s no wonder John Newton would call the grace of God’s covenant with us “amazing!”