Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator
Posted on 01/29/2004 9:22:18 AM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Distinctive Features
The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator
(Sermon Number Two)
My purpose in this sermon is to identify the distinctive features of covenant theology. I stated in my last sermon that covenant theology is simply Biblical theology systematized. Covenant theology is the approach to studying the Bible which the Bible itself requires due the nature of God's revelation. God has revealed His word to us within the context of the covenant: we have the first arrangement between God as His creatures in the Garden of Eden, commonly referred to as the covenant of works. The provisions of this covenant, in which God made certain stipulations to Adam, covered the period from creation to the fall of man. Then, we have what is commonly called the covenant of grace, which was announced after man's fall, was progressively defined and revealed in a series of sub-covenants, and was finally and fully realized in the atoning work of Christ. If I want to identify the distinctive traits of covenant theology, therefore, all I have to do is identify the distinctive features of the Bible. Conversely, if I define the distinctive features of God's revelation to man, I have, at the same time, defined the distinctive characteristics of covenant theology.
There are certain facts that are prominently presented in God's revelation; there are certain truths that are so pervasive that 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, it is only reasonable to expect that our method would bear these same distinguishing features. To put it another way, 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. Unless our method of Biblical interpretation does justice to what the Bible emphasizes, then we are bound to be misled in our understanding and application of God's word.
In this sermon, then, I will begin presenting to you what I believe are the most important distinguishing features of God's revelation. And, as I do this, we will see what covenant theology, as a method of Biblical interpretation, stresses. I'll begin with a few questions: Within the covenantal framework of Scripture, what are the distinguishing features of God's revelation to man? What truths are most prominently discerned when we read the Bible? When we study the Scripture, what facts are so obviously stated that they must be regarded as general characteristics of God's revelation? What doctrines are not only clearly taught in the Bible, but also undergird every part of the Bible?
I would propose that the revelation which we have in the Bible can be categorized under three headings: The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator, The Absolute Dependence of the Creature and the Absolute Necessity of a Mediator. Think about these categories. Everything the Bible has to say can be placed under one of these headings. Every teaching in Scripture is related to at least one of these three major doctrines-God, man, Christ. The method of Biblical interpretation known as covenant theology emphasizes these three doctrines because the Bible emphasizes these three all-encompassing doctrines.
1. The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator
Let me begin by explaining what is meant by the term, the sovereignty of the Creator. 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 wills, as He wills, when He wills. 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 is quite a statement. The implications are enormous.
Where do we find this doctrine taught in the Bible? If this is such an important characteristic of Biblical revelation, we should expect to find this doctrine taught just as soon as we open the word. As it turns out, 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) This opening statement is a truth that looms in front of us like some gigantic gate; we can't go around it, we can't go over it and we can't go under it to reach the rest of God's revelation. We have to deal with it; we have to go through this gate to get to the rest of what God has to tell us. And as human beings deal with this monumental truth and pass through the gate, as it were, their whole perception of lifeevery last aspect of lifeis formulated. Consider what this verse is saying.
If God is the Creator of all things; then all things belong to Him and all things are subject to His desires. This opening statement typifies the Bible's approach to the subject of God; there is no attempt made to convince the reader that God exists; there is no argument made to prove that there is a Creator. Instead, the Bible simply tells us what this God is like, what He has done and is doing; and it tells us what should be our response to Him. The very first verse of the Bible, therefore, is a resounding proclamation of the absolute sovereignty and independence of our Creator. Before anything existed, there was God; everything that does now exist was brought into being by Him. This truth establishes the relation of creation to Creator.
Our understanding of our place in this world, our knowledge of our duties, our opinions of all of life's issues are related to this one fundamental fact of God's sovereignty, a fact with which God's revelation to us begins. The development of a Christian, or Biblical, view of life begins with this basic truth. While all of creation is completely dependent upon the Creator at every moment, He is not dependent upon creation. He is the Source, Sustainer and End of creation. This opening verse of the Bible, which declares that God is the sovereign Creator, is echoed throughout Scripture. In Deut. 4:39, we find: Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. And Deut. 10:14 says: Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. In the book of Psalms we read: For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. (50:10) The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; And His sovereignty rules over all. (103:19) But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. (115:3) The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. (124:1) Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps. (135:6)
This doctrine has a number of significant implications which I would like to note. 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. Man's problem, since the time of the fall, is his desire to interpret the world in which he lives apart from the Creator; consequently, he continues to devise schemes, philosophies and ideas which fall short of his needs and expectations. Fallen man cannot understand his world apart from this doctrine of the Creator's sovereignty. The fact that God is our sovereign Creator means that any attempt to study or explain any part of our world is doomed to failure unless it starts with the truth: In the beginning, God...
A second implication of the doctrine of God's sovereignty has to do with the word which this sovereign Creator has given to man. Are we to consider His word authoritative? If a sovereign and independent God speaks to us, if He causes His word to be recorded in written form, should we not assume that what is recorded is without error, without fault in fact or command? Should we not expect that the word of this sovereign God is trustworthy? Should we not determine that the word of this sovereign God is to be followed? There simply is no way to hold to the doctrine of God's sovereignty, as declared in Gen. 1:1 and repeated throughout Scripture, and, at the same time, have any view of His word other than what I've just indicated. And, I hasten to add, the only reason why God's word is authoritative is because it is His Word. The Church does not provide the Bible with its authoritative status; no pronouncement of man is responsible for the word's authority.
God's word, the Bible, is to be, as our own Confession states, the rule of faith and life. Our home-life is to be regulated by God's Word; our churches are to be regulated by the Bible; our communities are to be regulated by the word of God. If God is sovereign, then whatever He says should be heard. Whatever we do is subject to the regulation of God's word precisely because this God is the sovereign Creator. As creatures, we have no right or ability to devise our own standards independent of God's revelation; such an idea is preposterous if you take seriously the doctrine of God's sovereignty.
There is a third implication of the doctrine of God's sovereignty that I must mention. This implication has to do with the will of God and the course of history. If what the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of God is true, what does that tell us about the nature of history? If God is sovereign, doesn't this mean that His will is always done? If God is sovereign, if there is no being or power that can overcome Him or successfully oppose Him, doesn't this mean that whatever God desires will be done? Is it possible to have a sovereign and independent Creator whose will is not the determining factor for the course of history? Is it possible to have a sovereign and independent God and also have such things as luck, chance, coincidence or randomness? If the Bible's teaching regarding the sovereignty of God is true, then His will must be the basis for the course of history, both generally and individually.
This is what the Bible teaches in connection with the sovereignty of God. This doctrine means that poverty and prosperity are in the hands of God; God gives and God withholds as He chooses. This means that nations rise and fall according to the will of God; a land is blessed or a land is cursed according to the desires of God. This means that the way of man will forever be subject to the will of man's Creator; man is not sovereign, he is a creature bound to honor and serve God. This means that the events of each day have been determined by our sovereign God; this means that the end of our days has been determined by our sovereign God.
The doctrine of God's sovereignty makes us pause and stand still; it confronts proud and rebellious men because it disputes the lofty opinion they have of themselves. This doctrine assigns all glory to the Creator and no independent glory to the creature. This doctrine of God's sovereignty that lifts Him up before us and reminds us the ...the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life... (Gen. 2:7); it is a doctrine which reminds us that if God were to withdraw from us, as the book of Job says, All flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust. (Job 34:15); the doctrine of God's sovereignty teaches us that, by comparison, Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow. (Psa. 144:4)
The prophet Isaiah says that God, the sovereign God of the Bible, is One who declares the end from the beginning; this God is the One who says My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure. (Isa. 46:10) This sovereign God chose His people in Christ before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph. 1:4). This sovereign God kills and makes alive (cf. 1 Sam. 2:6); those who contend with this sovereign God will be shattered... (1 Sam. 2:10). The sovereign God of the Bible is the One who speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast (Psa. 33:9)
There are literally dozens of verses that make such wonderful statements about the God of the Bible. All of creation is subject to Him because He is sovereign. There is no moment, no century, no life that is not encompassed by His decree. What a moving thought! What a humbling doctrine! What can we say? We can only echo the Psalmist who wrote: I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psa. 34:1) And again, My tongue shall declare Thy righteousness And Thy praise all day long. (Psa. 35:28)
Paul said that in God, we live and move and exist. (Acts 17:28) We do not live independently because God is sovereign; we do not determine our destinies because He is sovereign; we do not glory in our accomplishments or become despondent over our failures, because He is sovereign. We do not boast about tomorrow because we do not know what a day may bring forth (cf. Pro. 27:1). Our sovereign God has decreed the day and it will unfold as He has determined. The will of our sovereign Creator is the determining factor for the course of history.
Covenant theology gives proper emphasis to the doctrine of God's sovereignty and its connotations. As a system of interpreting and applying the teaching of the Bible, covenant theology is superior to all competing interpretive schemes; all other schemes, in one way or another, bear the marks of Arminianism. Arminianism, in whatever form it appears, undermines the doctrine of God's sovereignty by attributing to man abilities, rights or privileges that man simply does not possess.
Covenant theology unashamedly teaches that man must view his world and must understand his purpose in light of the existence of a sovereign Creator. When covenant theology speaks about this world and how man relates to it, this system doesn't separate the creation from the Creator. Covenant theology doesn't tolerate evolution or Theistic evolution; it doesn't allow man to see himself as anything other than a creature subject to His Maker. Covenant theology teaches that if we want to understand our problems, we look to our Creator; and if we want to have purpose, we listen to our Creator.
When covenant theology speaks about the word of this sovereign God, this system emphasizes the absolute authority of that word; it does so in proper recognition of the fact that the word in question is the word of a supreme Creator. So, in covenant theology, the word of God rules in all decisions and all discussions. In covenant theology, we are constantly asking, What does the Bible say? We ask this question when we consider our worship, when we consider our roles as men and women, and even when we cast our votes. Covenant theology recognizes a single source of divine and infallible instruction and that is God's written word.
And when covenant theology constructs a view of history, this system treats the subject as it should, as what has been determined by God. Covenant theology doesn't divide history into secular and sacred, but sees all history as nothing less than the unfolding of God's holy decree. Covenant theology teaches that there is meaning to history, that history is moving toward a glorious culmination. This system sees every man at the mercy of God, every creature at the mercy of the Creator. Covenant theology breeds humility in men; it develops godly character and mature vision.
Having said all these wonderful things about covenant theology, I am compelled to add that any method of interpreting the Bible that does not begin where the Bible begins, that is, with the absolute sovereignty of the Creator, and does not maintain this emphasis in all of its pronouncements, is bound to yield inaccurate information. Such a system is bound to lead to the wrong conclusions about God, about man and about man's responsibilities before God.
In our application, I am going to list for you what I believe are the most significant consequences of the doctrine of God's sovereignty. In making this list, I asked: How should the doctrine of God's sovereignty affect me? What does this doctrine mean to me as I go about my daily routine? Here, then, are six results which I believe should be present in our lives if we really believe the doctrine of God's sovereignty.
First, there is comfort. What teaching, what thought, could bring more comfort to the heart of man than the doctrine of God's sovereignty? According to this doctrine, prosperity and adversity are from the hand of a wise, loving and all-powerful God. According to this doctrine, nothing befalls us that is not part of His plan. According to this doctrine, uncertain times are uncertain to us only, not to God; and dark times, when we are experiencing some heartache, are dark only to us, not to God. According to this doctrine, God is always aware of us, always watching over us and always guiding our steps. According to this doctrine, we have purpose and worth because we were put here by a sovereign Creator. Life is not all pleasant, by any means, but this doctrine says that all of life is under the control of God; therefore, even the unpleasant periods of life can be endured.
Second, there is confidence. What teaching could give us greater confidence regarding our individual lives and the fate of our race than the doctrine of God's sovereignty? According to this doctrine, all things are working together for good, as determined by the One who made all things. This doctrine lets us approach each day with assurance because we know that the course of each day has been ordered by our God. Christians really do not have to worry about what unfolds tomorrow or next week or next year. Whatever happens will be according to God's perfect will. Consequently, we can simply focus on God's Word and do what we are supposed to do, knowing that if we are doing what God desires, we can't go wrong. If the One that we are following is the strongest, wisest and most powerful, why shouldn't we have confidence? Why shouldn't we be bold in our challenges to unbelief and sin? Why shouldn't we live our convictions without apology? What do we have to fear? Is someone going to overthrow God and change the rules?
Third, there is hope. If God is sovereign, as the Bible claims, then hope should be a big part of our lives. Hope can be defined as the expectation of future blessings or as an optimistic anticipation about the future. Surely we can see that if the doctrine of God's sovereignty is true, then we can view the future with nothing but hope. If a sovereign God is guiding us, if He is overseeing the course of history, and if this sovereign God is good and loving and righteous, then what are we to expect? Should we expect that creation will be ruined by man's fall and God will be unable to reclaim it? Should we believe that God will try, but will be unable to restore us? God's sovereignty is the ground for hope; it is the ground for expecting that all things and all men are being and will be used for the glory of the Creator. Pessimism and the doctrine of God's sovereignty are mutually exclusive. You can't be pessimistic about the future and still believe in God's sovereignty.
Fourth, there is humility. If there is any reaction to the doctrine of God's sovereignty that is proper, it is humility on the part of God's creatures. The reason that the doctrine of God's sovereignty is not more frequently proclaimed in the Church is because this doctrine puts man in his place and allows him no sense of importance apart from his Creator. To be told that you are a dependent creature, one totally at the mercy of an all-powerful Creator, is a humbling thing. But if it's true, it's true! Pretending that it is not true will not change the facts. Pretending that it is not true will not remove us from God's oversight. Embracing the doctrine of God's sovereignty with a grateful and humble heart is where an enjoyable, productive and peaceful life begins.
Fifth, there is worship. This follows from humility. What is the response of a creature to his Creator? How should the creature, who is not self-supporting, but who depends upon the protection and provision of a Creator, relate to that Creator? The doctrine of God's sovereignty is the foundation for our worship of Him. As creatures, we have a duty to adore, praise and serve our Creator. Again, this puts man in a position where he can't be boastful. But, so what? Isn't that where he belongs? Should man expect to stand beside his Creator? Should he expect to address his Creator in informal, disrespectful terms? The doctrine of God's sovereignty says that we owe everything to our Creator; it says that there is no way for us to relate to Him except in worship.
Sixth, there is obedience. Obedience is as much a logical result of the doctrine of God's sovereignty as anything I've said. If we are not our Creator's equals, then we are His servants. Servants do what their Master desires. And when servants have a loving, kind, gentle, generous Master, One who provides for life here and life in eternity, they are particularly eager to do the will of that Master.
In Jesus Christ, we are able to understand this doctrine of God's sovereignty. In Christ, we are given renewed minds with which to study the Scriptures; we are given renewed hearts from which flow these fruits of the doctrine of God's sovereignty. In covenant theology, the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty sets the tone for much of what the system teaches. Covenant theology emphasizes this doctrine and, therefore, as a theological system, emphasizes comfort, confidence, hope, humility, worship and obedience. And this is what the Bible emphasizes.
Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)
Our worship continues as we receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Our participation in this sacrament signals our belief in the sovereignty of God. We are celebrating the life, death and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ.
The Scripture says that Jesus was delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, was nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put to death. Our sovereign God appointed His own Son to suffer, die and live again for us. In His wisdom, this was the means ordained whereby we are restored as His creatures. The God who is sovereign is the God who sovereignly loved us in Christ. Having given us His Son, will He not also guide us, protect us and deliver us to Himself in due time?
As you receive the elements, thank God for His sovereign provision of salvation; ask for His blessings and strength.
You would never hear a sermon like that in any church I've ever attended. Not enough seeker sensitivity.
Yeah, a topic like this doesn't lend itself very well to a light-hearted, two-minute sketch by the church's theater group.
I like their homepage.
Sounds to me like this guy is saying man can choose to be obedient or disobedient. It does not sound like 'total depravity' at all. Nor does it look like unconditinal election, either.
Besides, this can't be the Gospel; there's no mention of Calvinism. /sarcasm
Since Covenant theology is not identified as Calvinism, what is the difference between Calvinism and Covenant theology?
How would this skit be performed in Arminian/Pelagian churches? Are the pots chided by God for not melting themselves down, and reforming themselves into "vessels fit for honorable use" (Romans 9:21)?
Matthew 13:3 - And he spake many things unto them in skit scripts, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;I see your point.
Matthew 13:10 - And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in skit scripts?
Matthew 13:13 - Therefore speak I to them in skit scripts: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.
Matthew 13:18 - Hear ye therefore the skit script of the sower.
Matthew 13:24 - Another skit script put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
Matthew 13:31 - Another skit script put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
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