Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: The Covenant of Grace (pt. 3)
Posted on 02/06/2004 10:38:33 AM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: The Covenant of Grace
(Part 3 Sermon Number Nine)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
This morning, we continue our study of covenant theology. Most recently, we have been looking at the covenant of grace, which is God's plan to counter the fall of man and restore His special creatures to communion. This covenant is the fulfillment of a promise which God made at the time of Adam's transgression, a promise that He would send One to rescue the godly seed and destroy the serpent. We've seen that this promise and its fulfillment took the form of a number of covenants in Scripture in which God progressively taught His people about His intentions for their redemption. Most recently, we examined the covenant that God made with Abraham and we saw that it provides the most extensive commentary on God's overriding plan for our salvation; I've said that the Abrahamic covenant is, in fact, the covenant of grace in a foundational format.
What I've just described is an extremely abbreviated review of the first two points of this study of the covenant of grace, which were: The Definition of the Covenant of Grace and The Provisions of the Covenant of Grace. Now we will close our examination of the covenant of grace with this sermon in which I will deal with a third point. This third point has to do with how the covenant of grace concluded; or, what has happened as a result of God decreeing the covenant of grace.
03. The Outcome of the Covenant of Grace
In the last two sermons, I've talked much about the promises which God made to Abraham in Gen. 12, 15 and 17; and we considered a portion of Paul's commentary on the Abrahamic covenant as it is found in Gal. 3. Now we want to ask: What happened to those wonderful promises that God made to Abraham, which were, themselves, extensions of that great promise made by God in the Garden of Eden? To answer this question, I must refer again to the conditions of the covenant of grace. The promises made to Abraham were contingent upon two things, as far as Abraham was concerned: one, Abraham's belief of what God said; and, two, Abraham's subsequent obedience to God's commands as a manifestation of his professed belief in those promises. Abraham was bound to demonstrate an unshakable trust in God's word and that unshakable trust in God's word manifested itself in his obedience to God's commands. Abraham believed what God said to him regarding the manifold blessings that were to come to his seed and he demonstrated obedience to all the commands of God; and the story puts special emphasis, as I have noted, on the sacrament of circumcision.
There is, however, one big problem in this whole matter. The one big problem which threatened the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham was Abraham himself. Abraham was a fallen creature; he bore the guilt of Adam's transgression in the Garden of Eden. Abraham, therefore, could never perfectly keep covenant with God and perfection is what God requires. Even before God approached Abraham, the patriarch was justly condemned and alienated from his Creator. Abraham's best behavior, therefore, was stained by sin because it proceeded from a corrupt heart. No man, no normal descendant of Abraham could keep covenant with God perfectly and thus inherit the promised blessings. Therefore, the wonderful promises made by God to Abraham, summarized in the statement that He would be God to Abraham and to Abraham's descendants, would have remained unrealized had not one particular seed of Abraham come upon the scene.
I am referring, of course, to Jesus Christ. He is the seed mentioned in Gen. 3:15, the seed who would crush the head of the serpent. And, as we discovered in our previous study of the covenant of grace, Christ is the ultimate seed of Abraham in whom God intended to provide what He had promised. We saw that the parties in the Abrahamic covenant were God and the house of Abraham; and we learned that, according to Paul's teaching in Gal. 3, the house of Abraham was uniquely represented by one particular seed, which is Jesus Christ. When we talk about the outcome of the covenant of grace, therefore, we are talking about the manner in which the Savior fulfilled the obligations of the covenant of grace as our representative and the subsequent benefits that are ours as His people.
Jesus Christ was perfect God and perfect Man; He was a descendant of Abraham according to the flesh, yet, being the miraculously conceived Son of God, He did not inherit the guilt of Adam. As a son of Abraham, the perfect God-Man could and did keep covenant with God absolutely. As a result, all those who have union with Christ by faith come to possess all the Abrahamic blessings as though they, themselves, had met the terms of the covenant. Once again, we see why we refer to God's plan for our salvation as a covenant of grace; guilty and condemned sinners have a Substitute who does what God requires and then what that Substitute earns is credited to the sinner. All of this is done because of God's great love and mercy; all of this is done in spite of the sinner's condition. Faith in Christ, acceptance of His finished work as our own and belief in the promises of God associated with Christ, then, become the means whereby a sinner escapes his condemnation and is counted as a child of God.
I now want to accomplish two things: First, I want to show how the Savior fulfilled the terms of the covenant and, thereby, made it possible for sinners to receive God's blessings. Second, I want show how a sinner comes to have a saving relationship with Christ, the seed of Abraham. In regard, then, to the first item, let me pose two questions: How did Jesus Christ provide what the Father demanded in order that the elect of God might be restored? What did He do in order to pay for their sins and provide for them the needed righteousness?
There are numerous passages which could be used at this point. We will look at three texts in which the outcome of the covenant of grace will be summarized. First, we will consider Phil. 2:5-8 where Paul explains the submissive attitude displayed by our Savior that culminated in His death for us on the cross. Second, we will look at verses from Gal. 3 where the apostle explains further how the humble and obedient Savior made possible our reception of the Abrahamic inheritance. Third, we will examine Eph. 2:8-10 where Paul teaches about the essential role of faith in our salvation.
Let's begin with Phil. 2:5-8:
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In the context of this passage, the apostle Paul is urging his readers to give proper testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ by manifesting certain characteristics, such as, unity of mind and purpose, brotherly love, and self-sacrifice for the good of others. To underscore what he is commanding, Paul cites the supreme example of their Savior. He left an example to be imitated and in this example we learn something about how the covenant of grace was fulfilled. In other words, we learn something about how our salvation was accomplished by our Redeemer. In terms of establishing Christian ethics, I want to stress that this is one of the most important passages in the Bible. Here, in extremely simple terms, Paul says: Jesus is your example. In your relationships witih one another, act like Him.
One particular fact dominates these few verses and it is that one particular fact that Paul wanted the Philippians to grasp. What is it about the behavior of Christ that stands out in these verses? The thing which stands out is the humble submission of Jesus Christ to the will of His Father so that we might be saved. Jesus Christ, who was God, Paul writes, set aside His glory, as it were, and came into this world in the likeness of men. This is the incarnation; this is the Son of God being conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. The Son of God subjected Himself to that experience and then lived among us for a period of time for our salvation. And during that period of time, the God-Man lived a perfect life, keeping the law of God in every respect. He was absolutely obedient, Paul says, even to the point of dying on the cross.
It is important to note the phrase, He humbled Himself. This phrase (tapeinow) refers to a voluntary humiliation. Christ readily subjected Himself to the degrading experience of becoming a man because our salvation required it. This was God becoming one of His creatures! Christ's willingness to undergo this experience emphasizes a point that I made in the very first sermon in this series and that is that God's condescension to man is the basis for covenant theology. Christ's coming into this world as a Man is an example of God's condescension to fallen man so that fallen man might be saved.
This voluntary humiliation experienced by Christ did not stop at His being found in appearance as a man, Paul adds; this act of obedience, this act of voluntary subjection to the limitations of the flesh did not end until the Savior surrendered His life on the cross. It is there on that cross that the supreme expression of submission is seen. Not only did our salvation require that a perfect life so that such righteousness could be imputed to us, but our salvation also required payment for our rebellion against the Creator. We inherited guilt from our father Adam and that guilt made it impossible for any man ever to have communion with the Creator. Jesus Christ provided what was necessary so that the elect of God might come to possess the promise of a restored communion and unending blessed existence with God. Even when what was necessary included His cruel death on the cross, the God-Man submitted. And His submission, as Paul teaches, was manifested in obedience, even obedience to the point of death. This was a most powerful example that Paul chose to use when he challenged the Philippians to conduct themselves in a Christ-like manner.
How did Christ fulfill the covenant of grace? He fulfilled it by rendering complete submission to God, which was, as I've stated repeatedly, indicative of His trust in the promise of His Father. Christ accomplished our salvation and made possible our reception of the Abrahamic promises through His submission to the will of the Father. Christ provided what the Father required for our salvation; He provided a perfect life, which resulted in His righteousness being credited to us, and He provided payment for our sin.
The second passage that I want to consider is Gal. 3:13, 14. Before dealing with these verses, however, there are three things which must be noted about the context. First, Paul is explaining that the promises made to Abraham by God were, in fact, 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.' (v. 8) I talked about the significance of this verse in the last sermon. For now, I'll only say that in those promises made to Abraham, such as the one quoted here, God taught Abraham that He would establish a unique relationship with Abraham and his descendants through a special seed, which is Jesus Christ. God promised to take Abraham's house as His particular people as Abraham's people accepted God's promise by faith. Paul's point in this letter is, of course, that justification is by faith alone, so that is one of the reasons he uses the example of Abraham. Abraham was the father of the very ones opposing Paul's doctrine of grace.
This reminder brings me to the second thing which I want to note about this context. Second, the apostle is explaining that the inheritance of those promises always was a matter of faith:
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. (v. 8); So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. (v. 9) Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. (v. 11)
Sinners would come to know the wonderful blessings predicted for the house of Abraham only by having faith in what God declared; sinners would have to respond just like Abraham, in other words, to inherit the blessings. God never intended, Paul emphasizes, that sinners be restored to fellowship with Him through their own efforts. From the time of man's fall in the Garden of Eden, God's intention was to provide for man's justification through Another, namely, the ultimate seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ.
And the third thing to be noted about the context of vv. 13 and 14 is that Paul's explanation of the Abrahamic covenant as the gospel is set against the background of works righteousness, a doctrine that was troubling the Galatian churches. Some were insisting that obedience to the Mosaic Law was necessary to supplement the work of Christ. Paul insists that such thinking is not only contrary to the Abrahamic covenant, which teaches that God's blessings come by faith, but such thinking also is contrary to the Mosaic covenant itself. That covenant, the apostle writes, was given to emphasize man's need of God's gracious provision of a Savior, not to instruct man on how he might earn his justification (cf. vv. 10, 11, 19, 24).
Now, with this context established, let's look at vv. 13 and 14. Here is where Paul explains what Christ did:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (vv. 13, 14)
These verses state that the Abrahamic blessing, which consists in God being our God and the God of our descendants after us, required that we be redeemed from the curse of the Law. Paul is referring, of course, to the fact of our guilt before God. Human beings are fallen creatures with God's condemnation resting on them. His Law, which came through Moses, intensified the evidence of our depravity by showing us a perfect standard; and when we see that perfect standard in God's holy Law, we know that, indeed, we have been corrupted and the guilt of our father Adam manifests itself in us day after day in a multitude of ways. The Law of God does not let us live in ignorance regarding our spiritual condition; it exposes our sin and causes us to know that we have no hope of fellowship with a holy God in and of ourselves.
This is the curse of the Law from which the children of Abraham have been delivered. We were delivered when Christ, as our Substitute, suffered the penalty of sin. And because Christ, the seed of Abraham, was hanged on a tree, and because He thereby satisfied the justice of God, the blessing promised to Abraham comes to us when we, by faith, believe to be true what God declares in His word and accept, receive and rest upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification and eternal life. And so Paul could make the thrilling statement found in v. 29: And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. Those who imitate Abraham's faith and believe the promises of God are his descendants and the focus of their faith is that ultimate seed, Jesus Christ, who enables them to receive God's favor.
This brings us to a third and final passage, which is Eph. 2:8-10. The context for these verses is Paul's declaration concerning the former spiritual state of the Ephesian believers. He tells them that, at one point, they were dead in [their] trespasses and sins; they lived under the destructive influence of Satan and were most interested in indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature children of wrath... (vv. 1-3) Within this framework, Paul then explains how those in such a condition as he describes could come to be the beloved people of God, enjoying all the benefits of fellowship with God and knowing of His eternal love for them in the Savior (cf. 1:3 ff.) The apostle describes what God did for the Ephesians even when they were dead in their transgressions (cf. v. 5) What Paul describes is, of course, the work of God in Christ whereby He reconciled these alienated sinners to Himself on the cross. In other words, Paul is describing how the covenant of grace was concluded in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.
Although the Ephesians were spiritually dead, although their depravity separated them from God and meant that friendly contact with their Creator was impossible, that same God, because of His great love with which He loved us, Paul adds, made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places... (cf. vv. 4-6) Notice Paul's emphasis upon what God did in Christ for sinners. Sinners had nothing to recommend them to God; they were enemies of God. Sinners, like the Ephesians, were capable only of following their natural fallen instincts, which Paul specifies at the beginning of this chapter. But our loving Creator showed mercy and sent His own Son to pay for our transgressions so that we might be freed from spiritual deadness. The apostle draws a sharp contrast in these verses between the state of the sinner and the action of a holy God.
That which made the difference in the experience of the Ephesians was grace. The Ephesians, who were dead in sin and who willingly and inevitably followed the leading of their corrupt flesh, were saved. They were saved, not by their doing, for they had no ability; they were saved by God's doing and that is grace. Grace was manifested to the Ephesians and to all the elect of God. And it is that grace which is responsible for the sinner's restoration. Therefore, Paul writes:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I stated earlier that there were two matters that I wanted to explain in connection with the outcome of the covenant of grace. First, I wanted to show how the Savior fulfilled the terms of the covenant. The two previous passages accomplished this. The second matter that I wanted to clarify was just how a sinner comes to have a saving relationship with Christ, the seed of Abraham, so that he inherits the promises. The verses that we are now considering, Eph. 2:8-10, explain how such a thing can happen.
According to Paul, the sinner is saved through faith; that is, he accepts as true what God declares in His word, he receives and rests upon Christ alone for his salvation. In this scheme, the sinner abandons all thought of somehow making himself acceptable to God and relies wholly upon what God provides for the sinner in Christ. But notice that even the faith itself is a gift from God, Paul states. This teaching is in harmony with what the Bible says about man in his fallen conditionhe is spiritually dead and cannot rouse himself or make himself righteous before God.
This teaching is in harmony with what the apostle just wrote about the Ephesians at the beginning of this chapter. If a sinner is going to exercise faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, that faith will have to be given to him because he is incapable of generating it himself. This, then, is how the sinner comes to have a saving relationship with Christ, the seed of Abraham, and inherit the covenant blessings of communion with God, forgiveness of sin and eternal life. God gives faith to the sinner and the sinner exercises that faith in Christ and the sinner then renders to God a life that is defined by God's standard. The sinner is, as Paul declares, God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works...
As I stated, there are many other important passages that could have been used to explain the work of Christ, the seed of Abraham. We have covered, however, the most significant elements involved when we considered how the covenant of grace was fulfilled. Christ, as the sinless seed of Abraham, rendered a life of perfect obedience to God on our behalf; He paid the price of our sin with His own life; by faith, we are united to Him and have an interest in the covenant of grace, otherwise known as our redemption. In saying these things, I want to emphasize that there are a number of related significant doctrines to be explained within this covenant environment. In future sermons we will explore some of these subjects, such as the all-important doctrine of justification by faith, which we have just touched upon in this sermon, the sacraments and their role in the covenant of grace, and covenantal worship.
As I mentioned in the Introduction, this sermon marks a conclusion for our study of the covenant of grace. I want to use this section of application to emphasize the message of the covenant of grace. If we aren't careful, we can fall into a pattern of seeing only what's wrong with our lives as we compare them to God's word. And that, my friends, can be a miserable existence; and not only can it be a miserable existence for us, but we can make existence miserable for others if we only consider what is wrong with their lives. It is, of course, necessary that we assess all that we believe and do in light of Scripture; I'm not suggesting that there is anything wrong with that procedure. But once in a while, believers need to step back and remind themselves of what a wonderful thing God has done for them in providing salvation.
There is plenty of time and plenty of reason for us to see that we fall short of God's holy standard. We see our shortcomings every day; we pray about them, we weep over them and we seek forgiveness for them. There is plenty of time and plenty of occasions for us to see how others fall short of God's holy standard. We can be disappointed in them, we can pray for them and we can weep for them and we can urge them to seek forgiveness. But the Christian life does not consist solely of self-examination and grieving over our sin or grieving over the sin of others, as important as these elements are.
On occasion, it is good for us to think about what God has done for us in Christ; on occasion, it is good for us to think about what God has done for others in Christ. Once in a while, we need encouragement and comfort as we struggle with our own sin and the sin of others. Once in a while, we need to be strengthened by the contemplation of God's astounding love for us and for others in the Savior. Sometimes, we must have our souls refreshed by turning our attention anew to the consideration of God's grace and reacquaint ourselves with His manifold blessings. Sometimes, we must have our minds refreshed and relieved of anxiety regarding others as we turn our attention to the consideration of God's grace and remember that His manifold blessings are given to them, too.
The existence of grace protects against despair, whether we are considering ourselves or others. Grace lets us know that we are forgiven and it lets us forgive others. Grace brought Christ to us and grace is supposed to characterize our lives. Grace lets us be wronged and yet not seek revenge. Grace lets us sin and yet find forgiveness. Grace lets us be sinned against and yet extend forgiveness. All of this is modeled in Christ's coming to this world to save us. We are commanded to exhibit the attitude of grace at all times because, as Paul taught in Phil. 2, that is the example provided for us by our Savior. It is grace which should stand out as our most obvious quality as we live on this earth-not rigidity, not self-protection, but grace.
There is no better time for us to rejoice in God's grace than now; since we have just concluded our study of the covenant of grace, this is an ideal time to rejoice in the faith. The love of God shown to us defies understanding. We were guilty of rebellion, we were engaged in evil deeds, we wanted nothing to do with God, we spurned His word, we were happy to pursue the pleasures of the flesh and spend an eternity under His condemnation. Nevertheless, He chose to love us and free us from sin's deadly grasp; God chose to deliver us from wrath and make us His children. God loved us so much that He became one of us, suffered and died for us. This is grace. This is the grace in which we stand and it is the grace which we are supposed to imitate toward one another.
When you think of salvation in these terms, it does, indeed, refresh the soul and generate an affectionate response to God within the redeemed heart. When you think of your salvation in these terms, everything in life is seen from a different, confident, hopeful and thankful perspective. It is imperative that Christians maintain a balance between recognizing their faults and the faults of others, on the one hand, and recognizing the overwhelming, all-encompassing love of God in Christ, on the other. Make sure that you take the time to balance your worries about sin, your concerns about doing the right thing before God with the wonderful and comforting knowledge that God has loved you with an everlasting love. Balance your worries about your family and those painful periods of self-examination with the knowledge that there is nothing in this life or in the next, there is nothing that you might face or imagine, there is nothing that be done to you or said about you that can undo what God has done in Christ.
Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)
I am anxious to come to the Table this morning. I want to take the bread and the wine and consume them and commune with the One who died for me. I want to renew my fellowship with God at this Table. I want to confess my sins and know the reviving touch of Christ's Spirit as He ministers to my weary soul in this sacrament.
What about you? As these elements are distributed, we are renewing our relationship with God in Christ; we are declaring again the gospel in which we stand and by which we are saved; we are renewing our promise to live as becomes the followers of Christ. We are declaring our thankfulness for God's marvelous and saving grace.
This attitude is all too common in many Calvinist churches and if you have ever lived with someone raised in such an environment, you know exactly what I am talking about.
For members of the swarm who claimed I was wrong about many Calvinists being miserable, here is a Calvinist who at least admits this problem is real and that it can be fairly associated with Calvinism. This should not come as a shock to anyone since it pretty much describes the life of John Calvin himself.
Thanks for a great thread series, Sheltonmac!
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