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The Covenant

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
December 6, 2022 12:01 am

The Covenant

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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December 6, 2022 12:01 am

The law of God is a wake-up call to remind us of our sin--and of our need for a Savior. Today, R.C. Sproul explains how Christ has delivered His people from the law's condemnation by keeping the law perfectly in their place.

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You steer for one second into the mirror of the law, and you know you're guilty. You know now that by the works of the law no flesh will ever be justified.

You know when you look in the law that that law will never save you. When we look at the whole history of biblical redemption from Genesis through Revelation, we see a basic structure, a basic pattern by which and through which God reveals Himself and relates to His creation, and that pattern or structure is the structure of covenant. We see initially the Adamic covenant or what we call the covenant of creation that God made with His first creatures, Adam and Eve. Then we see the renewal of that covenant with the covenant of Noah. We see the covenant of Abraham, the covenant by which Moses dictated the law. And then later on, we see the covenant that God makes with David that His kingdom would be forever.

And finally, we see the initiation of a whole new covenant by our Lord in the initial celebration of the Lord's Supper in the upper room. And so we have to notice that this whole pattern and structure of covenant is of supreme importance when we come to the text of Scripture in trying to understand it. When we look at that initial covenant, we not only call it the covenant of creation or the Adamic covenant, but we notice that it was a covenant made not simply between God and Jewish people or God and Christians, but it's a covenant that is made with Adam who represents the entire human race so that every human being was in that creation covenant and still is in that creation covenant.

You may not believe in God. You may not believe in the covenant, but in no way does that exonerate you from obedience to that covenant. And there's no way or nothing that we can do to escape from the universal obligations imposed by God to all of His creatures in this first covenant. Now, we also make a distinction with respect to that first covenant where we distinguish between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. And just in passing, I may say that I'm fully aware that that distinction between the covenant of works and covenant of grace has been heavily attacked even in the evangelical world in our time, and yet it is critical to our understanding of the whole plan of salvation. And some object and quibble a little bit about the distinction between covenant of works and covenant of grace because they insist that every covenant that God gives to us is a covenant of grace because any covenant that He deigns to make with His people, He must condescend by His mercy, not through obligation, to enter into any kind of covenant with us.

And that's true, and we don't object to that. But there is a historic reason for this distinction that we find in our own Reformed confessions between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The covenant of works refers initially to the covenant God made with Adam, and we call it a covenant of works for this reason, that God put Adam in a state of probation. And He promised Adam that if he would keep the terms or stipulations of that covenant, that he would be supremely blessed and would be able to participate in eating of the tree of life. But if he disobeyed, if he ate of the forbidden fruit that was off limits and out of bounds, then he would receive the curse of that covenant, which was death. And we read in the New Testament, through one man's disobedience, death came into the world, whereas the second Adam, even Jesus, through His obedience, life comes into the world.

So that strong contrast between the failure of Adam to keep the covenant of works and the success of Jesus in keeping the covenant of works is of extreme importance to the whole understanding that we have of God's plan of salvation. Now, when God said to Adam and Eve, the day that you eat thereof, you shall surely die, what happened? They didn't die that day. You might say, well, they died spiritually, and that's true.

But the actual curse was physical death if they disobeyed. And the moment that Adam and Eve violated that first covenant, what happened? They suddenly became aware of their nakedness. They experienced a profound and dreadful sense of shame, and they fled from the presence of God and hid themselves from His gaze.

You know the story? God came and said, Adam, where are you? And He said that He was hiding. He said, why are you hiding? Because I'm naked.

How do you know that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree? Well, of course, God already knew what they had done, but He made Adam confess with his own mouth the transgression that he had made. So in the end of that chapter, in the early chapters of Genesis 3 and 4, what happens? Adam and Eve die, the story ends, and the book of the Bible is over.

That's not what happened. Instead, we see the first act of grace, the first act of salvation and redemption, where God stoops to the weakness of His creatures and provides a covering for them of skins made from animals to cover their shame, to cover their guilt, and the whole history of the Bible. It's one repetition after another, one dramatic symbol after another of God's covering the guilt of His people through the blood that was poured out on the mercy seat in the tabernacle and in the temple, and ultimately through the blood that covers our sin through Christ, where our shame is removed from the gaze of God and we are welcomed into His family. That is pure, unvarnished grace, so that every covenant that proceeds after the covenant of works is a manifestation of one or another covenant of grace. Now, you've heard me preach until I'm blue in the face and you're sick of hearing it, that the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Pastor Burke has been preaching through Romans, and Paul has been laboring how our salvation and our justification is not through the works of the law, and he even repeats here in the Galatian Epistle that by the works of the laws shall no flesh be justified, that just shall live by faith. Yet, ultimately, we know that there's only one way that anybody can ever be saved, and that's by works. You heard it.

I haven't lost my mind. Yeah. But ultimately, I said ultimately, the only way anybody is saved is through works.

Why? Because the creation covenant given to Adam was not abolished. The works required by God in creation remain intact.

And so the only way anybody will ever eat of the tree of life is if that covenant is kept. So you're justified by works. Now, unless we're totally confused, and I'm totally crazy, you understand what I'm saying is that the only way you'll ever be justified is by works. But the issue is whose works? It's not my works.

It's not your works. And by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified except Jesus, who alone keeps that Adamic covenant of creation and opens for us and is Himself the tree of life. And so Paul now moves in chapter 3 to this illustration where he says, to give a human example, brothers, even when a man-made covenant, with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. And he's talking about a testament, and it's somebody's last will and testament. And if you confirm that testament or that covenant in a law court and ratify that document legally, and then the person dies whose will it is, it's too late to go back and change the terms of the covenant.

They're signed and they're sealed, and the obligation of the court is to make sure that the desire of the person who made that last will and testament be maintained. Now people may challenge me. People may be opposed to whatever the terms of the covenant may be. But what Paul is saying is even, we understand as people, when a legal covenant is made, it can't be annulled after it's ratified. Now why is he so jealous to make this point?

Well, let's hear why it is that he's so concerned. He says, Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring or to his seed. It does not say and to his offspring's plural or to his seed's plural, referring to many, but referring to one in the ultimate offspring in view here, Paul tells us, is Christ. If we understand this, we know that the term offspring and the term seed can be used in the singular sense and be collective in reference.

That's clear. But Paul now is making a fine point. And if you go back to the original covenant of creation when it was broken and God put His curse upon the serpent, and we read the first expression of the gospel in the Old Testament, what did it say? That in the context of the curse of the serpent, God said that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, yet in the process of that head being crushed, the seed of the woman's heel would be bruised, clearly fulfilled in the cross, where the pain that afflicts the heel of our Savior is not fatal ultimately, but He is raised from His bruise. But with that action, the head of the serpent is crushed in the atonement of Christ. And so that curse of the serpent was the blessing to Adam and Eve and their progeny.

And so Paul reminds us of that in human terms. And then he says, this is what I mean, that the law which came 430 years afterwards, after the promise God made to Abraham, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God so as to make the promise void. Do you ever wonder about the relationship between the covenant God made with Abraham and how 400 and some years later God makes a covenant with the people of Israel, with Moses acting as the mediator and the angels deliver the decalogue and the law and this whole new covenant? We looked at it recently when I went back to Deuteronomy, which said the stipulations and the sanctions for that covenant had to do with blessings and curse. And Paul had already talked about how Christ became a curse for us. So the terms of the law of Moses describe that if you break the law of Moses, you get the curse. If you keep the law of Moses, you get the blessing.

So what's going on here? First of all, God makes a covenant with Abraham, and Paul again labors the point that before Abraham ever did any act of obedience, before he ever kept any of the law, before he offered Isaac on the altar, this was in chapter 15 of Genesis where Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Abraham didn't have to do a single work in order to receive the full measure of God's blessing and salvation in the covenant. He calls Abraham out of pure idolatry. His parents worshiped idols, and God unilaterally, sovereignly, efficaciously chooses Abraham and gives him a promise of salvation.

And you know what happens. Abraham believes God. And then he falters for a moment, and he asks the question, God, how can I know for sure that you're going to keep this covenant?

I've told you this story before. I don't know where people ever got this idea, but when I speak in conferences and places like that, people come up to me with their Bibles, and they'll ask me to sign their Bibles. I'm not the author of the Bible, but I don't know why people want me to sign their Bibles. But then they add more confusion by saying, please write your life verse. This has to be a Baptist thing or something because I never in my life heard what a life verse was. But I don't want to fuss with people at this, and so I've characteristically give them my life verse, and I write Genesis 15, 17, and then I hand it to them, and they thank me, and I know what happens. They're going to go, and they're going to read that verse, and they read that verse and say, what? As they read this verse, and the verse says that this smoking pot or burning flame walks between the pieces. This is my life verse. I say, look, if I want to have one verse in all of Scripture, if I'm in solitary confinement in prison someplace, that's the verse I want.

Why? Because when Abraham said, God, how can I know for sure that you're going to keep this covenant? God directed him to go and get all kinds of animals and slay them and cut them in pieces and then put an aisle like a gauntlet. And then in the night dream, as God put Abraham to sleep, behold, this smoking and burning pot moves between the pieces. And it says, and God made a covenant that day with Israel.

What's going on in this drama where the theophany, the figure of God is walking the gauntlet between these pieces of animals that are torn asunder? What God is saying, as the author of Hebrews tells us, that God is making a promise to Abraham, not by saying, I promise you on my mother's grave because God doesn't have a mother, and He doesn't say, I promise by the heavens, or I promise by the earth, or cross my hands, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. What He's saying, Abraham, look at these pieces that have been torn apart, ultimate mutations. And I am saying to you that if I don't keep my promise, may I be torn asunder just as I have had you cut these animals into pieces, and may my immutability suffer mutation, my eternality become temporal, my omniscience may become ignorance, and my omnipotence, impotence. And because God could swear by nothing greater, He swore by Himself. This is the whole drama of the covenant, that when God that when God makes a promise, He seals and ratifies that promise by His own character, and not just by His character, by His very being. That's what stands behind the promise of God. And God here in His Word, Paul is saying to the Galatians, don't you get it?

That when God made that promise to Abraham, it wasn't based on works, and there's no way in which that promise, which God swore by Himself, could ever, ever, ever, ever, ever be annulled or set aside. Well then, why the covenant with Moses? Why, four hundred and thirty years later, does God make another covenant based on the law? That's the question Paul's dealing here with, and that's the question that he's addressing with respect to the Galatians who wanted to go to the law and replace the promise with the law.

So he said, this is what I meant. The law does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it doesn't come by promise. But God gave the covenant to Abraham by a promise.

Now comes the question. Paul asks himself or asks the readers the rhetorical question, well then why the law? Why Sinai? Why the Ten Commandments? And let me skip fast forward for just a second to Romans where Paul asks the same question there when he says, did people know the law of God before they got the Ten Commandments? He says the Gentiles have the law written on their heart. They already know the law of God through their consciences.

They may sear that conscience and trample on the conscience, but they can't destroy or annihilate that conscience. And he goes on to argue that from Adam to Moses, death reigned. And if there is no law, there is no sin.

If there is no sin, there is no death. So QED, Paul is saying, there had to have been law before Moses ever came around, otherwise nobody would have died. And now he's asking the question, well why at this late date do we have the law? And he answers this question briefly, which I hope God willing to expand on it in the weeks to come. But he answers the question this way, why then the law it was added because of transgressions until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary, and an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. But the point is it was added because of transgressions. What Paul is saying is the soul of men became so weakened by sin, the conscience so seared and corrupted by sin that we came into a state of profound, torpid, spiritual unconsciousness.

This is what we do. We rationalize our sin. We minimize our sin.

Like every other human being in the world, we consider our sin no big deal because we've repressed our understanding of the holiness of God. And then boom, here comes the law, and it's the mirror that God gives us, not only of His perfection, but of our imperfection. You steer for one second into the mirror of the law, and you know that you can't lie anymore. You know you're guilty. You know you're a sinner. And you know the only hope you have in life and death is in that promise that God gave to Abraham. And you know now that by the works of the law, no flesh will ever be justified. You know when you look in the law that that law will never save you. You know, that's why in our liturgy we regularly repeat the Ten Commandments to give us another wake-up call, to remind us every time we read the law that we are law that we are law-breakers, that we are covenant-breakers, and that the only way we can be saved is by the One who kept the law for us.

It's true. A cursory look at the Ten Commandments reveals that we're guilty. Lying, cheating, stealing, coveting—we're all guilty. But today, here on Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul has pointed us to the glorious good news of the gospel. If you have not repented of your sins and trusted Christ for your salvation, I encourage you not to wait. Today is the day of salvation.

The good news we've heard today is from R.C. Sproul's sermon series from the book of Galatians. In first-century Galatia, false teachers were creeping into churches and convincing Christians that they had to keep the law of Moses to be saved. To call these churches back from the brink of destruction, the Apostle Paul wrote an unyielding defense of God's saving grace found in Jesus Christ. And our resource offer today will help you mine the riches that are found there. When you give a donation of any amount today, we will send you the hardbound edition of Dr. Sproul's commentary on Galatians. You can give your gift online at, or if you prefer, you can call us at 800-435-4343. And in advance, let me thank you for your gift. We are grateful to see how God is expanding our ministry around the world. We're producing more resources in more languages, and it is your generous financial support which is fueling that effort. Well, the church in Galatia was confused and needed correction. Paul was faithful in his duty as a pastor and brought not only correction but also instruction. Join us tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind as Dr. Sproul continues his series from the book of Galatians. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-06 03:40:42 / 2022-12-06 03:49:02 / 8

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