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The Covenant of Redemption

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 9, 2022 12:01 am

The Covenant of Redemption

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 9, 2022 12:01 am

God's plan of salvation does not find its origin in Israel or even in the Garden of Eden, but in eternity itself. Today, R.C. Sproul discusses the covenant made by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit before time began.

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God has made promises to His people, and He has kept those promises. And we only can exist in the family of God because our God is a God who keeps covenant.

Our God is a God who is a covenant keeper where we are all covenant breakers. God never breaks His promise. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind on this Monday. I'm Lee Webb. All of us, at one time or another, have broken a promise and probably been the victim of broken promises.

This week, Dr. R.C. Sproul will show us that God always, always keeps His promises. He does so through covenants, and today Dr. Sproul will examine the covenant of redemption, the promise that preceded the covenant of redemption. Today we're going to start a new series of instruction, and we're going to focus on the covenants of the Bible. Now, sometimes historic Reformed theology is nicknamed covenant theology. I've never really appreciated that distinction too much, because I believe that all branches of theology recognize to some extent that the covenant of the Bible is a covenant. I've never really appreciated that distinction too much, because I believe that all branches of theology recognize to some extent that the covenant of the Bible is a covenant. I've never really appreciated that distinction too much, because I believe that all branches of theology recognize to some extent that the covenant of the Bible is a covenant. Now, to be sure, there's a certain focus on covenant that you find within Reformed theology, but we're not going to be just simply developing Reformed theology in this course so much as looking actually at the content of the biblical covenants as they occur to us.

I think it's very important for us to understand at the outset that the whole concept of covenant is integral, it's foundational, it's basic to the whole scope of divine revelation. We could even say, for example, that the way that God reveals His Word and His plan biblically is through the structure of various covenants, and yet at the same time as frequently as the Bible speaks about covenants, there's a lot of confusion, I'm afraid, that attends the very meaning of the term covenant. For example, we frequently speak about the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant, and then we speak of the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the tendency is to use those terms interchangeably. That is, to consider the Old Testament as a synonym for the old covenant and the New Testament as a synonym for the new covenant.

Well, of course, those terms are closely related, but they really aren't synonyms. They don't mean exactly the same thing, and I'm hoping that in the process of this course we'll begin to see the distinctions between these two and how they impact our understanding of Scripture. Now, let me just say again that the biblical revelation that we encounter in Scripture is progressive. That is, there is a gradual unfolding of God's revelation. He doesn't give it all to us in the book of Genesis, but as history moves through time, God gives more and more and more revelation of Himself and of His plan of redemption. Now, that continuing progressive revelation is not corrective.

It's not like the newest revelation corrects the old one because God doesn't need to be corrected, but He augments or adds additional content to that revelation as time passes. And again, the basic structure that carries that progression is the structure of covenant. Now, the first question that we ask about covenants is, what are they? What is a covenant?

And again, there is a little bit of confusion there. We understand that a covenant involves some kind of agreement, and just in church this past week I was talking to our congregation about the way in which covenants are foundational to our very culture and to our very lives. For example, we are a republic by way of the political structure and foundation of the United States, and the theory, the political theory that was implemented in the grand experiment in the New World relied heavily on John Locke's political philosophy, where he developed what was then called the social contract nature of government.

Rousseau also had developed ideas along this line, and the concept there was that there was a relationship between the rulers and those who were ruled, between the government and the people, whereby the governors were selected or elected by the people and only were empowered to rule by the consent of the people. And so there was an agreement, a mutual pledge of fidelity between the people who pledged their allegiance to their government and the government officials who took their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution and so on. And so there was a contract or a pact, an agreement binding these two sides to each other. In addition to that we see commonly in our society what we call the industrial contract, which comes in many forms. When people go to work for a company, they may sign a contract where the employer promises them certain remuneration and benefits and so on, where the employee in turn promises to give so much of their time in working for the company. We call that an industrial contract. You see it in labor agreements all the time with unions and so on, but also on a more popular level, every time we buy something with a credit card or on installment, we enter into a contract or an agreement to pay the full amount of the merchandise, which we may not pay in advance.

We may pay over time. And when we do that, that's a commercial agreement, a commercial contract where both parties are bound to deliver on their promises. And of course, most significant, we see it in the marriage contract, where the marriage contract is an agreement that involves oaths and vows, sanctions and promises between two people. Now, all of these different covenants that I've just mentioned in our culture have elements of similarity to the biblical covenants, but they're not identical, though the biblical covenants have indeed elements of promise. One thing makes them different from these other normal customary agreements that we're talking about, and that is that biblical covenants are established on the basis of a divine sanction.

That is, they are established on the foundation of a promise not made by equal parties, but they're made on the foundation of the divine promise of God, and they are inherently religious. Now, people might argue, well, marriage covenants are also religious, vows are taken before God, and that's true, but there's also some even people say that the covenant of industry, industrial contracts are also religious insofar as the vows are taken, so help us God, and all the rest. Now, there are religious elements that you can find in these various or religious implications found in these various other covenants, but they don't have the same profound import of theological sanction that we find in the covenants of the Bible. Now, again, the key function in terms of redemption and redemption history of a covenant in the Bible is the relationship between promise and fulfillment. When I say that the basic structure of redemptive history that we see in the Scripture is covenant, what I'm simply saying is that we exist as a church, we exist as people because God has made promises to His people, and He has kept those promises. He has fulfilled those promises, and that we only can exist in the family of God and in the church because our God is a God who keeps covenant. Our God is a God who is a covenant keeper where we are all covenant breakers.

God never breaks His promise, and His promises that He swears are without mutation. They are everlasting promises that God commits Himself to forever and ever and ever. And, for example, when we see, as we will look at more closely later, when God makes a promise to Abraham, and then later on when the Christ child's birth is announced to Mary, and Mary, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, sings the Magnificat, she mentions in that song that God has remembered the promise that He made to our father Abraham.

I mean, Mary understood her place in church history in terms of fulfillment of a covenant and fulfillment of promises. Again, I say that because the hardest thing in the world for the Christian is to live by faith rather than by sight. It's difficult because we never see God.

We have not been eyewitnesses of the resurrection like the first century apostles were. You know, we live on the basis of the testimony of those who went before us, and we are to walk by faith, that we are justified by faith. And that means by trusting the Word of God. And I said it's one thing to believe in God, that there is a God.

That can be an intellectual conclusion that's not very difficult to come to. But it's quite another thing to believe God. Because what faith is, what living faith is, is trusting the promises of God. That even when everything around us seems to testify to the futility of our lives and would cause us to abandon all hope, we are people who are in a covenant relationship with God. We are people who live by trust in His promises. We break our promises to each other. We break our promises to God. But God never breaks His promises to us.

And that's why in one sense nothing would be more foolish than not to trust in the promises of God, because God has demonstrated Himself throughout history to be supremely trustworthy. Well, let's start now and ask ourselves where the first covenant takes place. And this involves some inferences drawn from the Scripture, particularly drawn from the New Testament with respect to our understanding of the mission and the purpose and work of Jesus. Lately, in fact in this whole past year, I've been preaching out of the gospel according to St. John to our congregation at St. Andrew's in Orlando. And so much of that gospel gives us the record of the controversies that Jesus had with the Jewish authorities of His day. And so much of that debate between Jesus and the Pharisees and Jesus and the scribes and so on had to do with the origin of Jesus and the basis of His authority. And again and again and again in the gospel of John, Jesus is saying that He was sent from the Father, that He was the supreme missionary of God.

A missionary is someone who is sent and authorized by the one who sends them or the group that sends them. And so Christ constantly refers back to His origin, not as a baby born in Bethlehem, but as the one who came down from heaven who was sent by the Father and authorized by the Father to speak the Father's Word. Now, if you look at that, then you understand something of what went on before God even created the world, before God ever created Adam and Eve, before there was any kind of probation in the Garden of Eden. And we talk in the first instance not about a covenant that God makes with us, but a covenant that takes place within the triune Godhead itself. And this we call in theological parlance the covenant of redemption.

Now one of the things that's so important about this is that it speaks to us about the agreement that has existed from all eternity among the persons of the Godhead about God's plan of redemption. I remember when I was in graduate school in the sixties, and there was a controversy brewing among German theologians on the continent that I recall it was called something like the Unstemung controversy, which there were those theologians who were arguing that the ministry of Jesus was impelled by Jesus' desire to overcome the vengeful, wrathful inclinations of the Old Testament God. Going back to the heresy of Marcion in the early church who expunged all references in the New Testament that would make the Old Testament God the Father of Jesus because he thought that there was a basic incompatibility between Christ and the God of the Old Testament.

You still see people like that all over the place who say, well, I like Jesus in the New Testament. It's that Old Testament God I can't stomach. He's such a vengeful God and so on. And so this idea that arose in German theology was the idea that Christ came really, he was trying to change God's mind, to relent from his purpose and plan to judge people and expose them to his wrath. And that basically the salvific work of Christ had to do with the Son's persuading the Father to ease up, as it were.

And so that Christ reveals to us mercy where the Father was all judgment. Well, I can't think of anything that is more distorting of the biblical portrait of both God the Father and God the Son than that kind of understanding. And so the principle that we're talking about here of the covenant of redemption is that the plan of salvation is conceived in the Godhead. And in a sense we can say it's the Father's plan. It's the Father who sends the Son into the world.

It's not that the Son comes on his own initiative. In fact, Jesus said, I do nothing on my own authority, but only that which the Father sends me to do. And so we see the Son coming from heaven to do the will of the Father in this world because the two of them from all eternity, God the Father and God the Son, are in perfect agreement about the mission that the Son will fulfill in this world. That the Father and the Son are one in their eternal purpose. And you could add to that also the Holy Spirit who is also in complete agreement with the Father and the Son in God's plan of redemption. So we have to talk about this prior covenant that takes place within the Godhead among the persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And so we often will say that in the economy of redemption it's the Father who sends the Son into the world to redeem His people. It is the Son who accomplishes that redemption by His work of obedience. And it is the Holy Spirit then who applies the work of Christ to the people.

It's the Spirit who illumines the Word of God for us, it's the Spirit who regenerates us in our souls, it's the Spirit who brings us to the Son who reconciles us to the Father. So that redemption biblically, and we have to understand this from beginning to end, is a Trinitarian work. And again, the point of the covenant of redemption is that this idea of redemption is not an afterthought in the mind of God, a plan B whereby God's going to correct the mess He made out of creation.

No, before He even creates the world, He has an eternal purpose of redemption, of redeeming His people in this world, and that is in complete agreement among all three persons in the Godhead. And so that is where covenant is rooted and grounded in the character of God Himself. Now when we talk about the working out of the covenant of redemption, a distinction is made with respect to the obedience of the second person of the Trinity, with the obedience of Christ, the God-man, between what is called the perfect act of obedience and the perfect passive obedience.

Now that may or may not be a distinction that you're all familiar with, but let me just in a few moments try to simplify what it means. The act of obedience has to do with Christ working as the second Adam willingly placing Himself under the requirements of the law and takes upon Himself that responsibility in our behalf and actively obeys every commandment that God requires from human beings. This is why you saw the confusion at the time of Jesus' baptism when John announces that Jesus is the Lamb of God who is going to take away the sin of the world and presumably the Lamb without blemish. And he calls the rest of the people to come into the river there to be baptized as a sign of cleansing from sin, and Jesus comes and presents Himself to be baptized.

And John says, wait a minute, what's wrong with this picture? I just told everybody you're the Lamb, you know, the one without blemish. You should be baptizing me. I can't baptize you.

You're not a sinner. And what does Jesus say? Suffer it now, John, for these things must needs be fulfilled to fulfill all righteousness. Now, he didn't go into a lengthy discourse with John the Baptist on why he wanted John the Baptist to baptize him. He was just saying, look, he pulls rank, he says, let it go, do it, just baptize me. It has to be done.

Well, why does it have to be done? Because if Jesus is going to be the second Adam, the new representative of the people, he must fulfill in his own person all of the obligations that God imposes upon his people. In a real sense, he becomes Israel, the incarnation of Israel, and he has to do everything that the law requires of those people. And so he actively pursues obedience. His meat in his drink is to do the will of the Father. So then we distinguish that from the passive obedience, and the passive obedience, you can't make this an absolute distinction because he actively submits himself to being passive to the requirements of the Father. This has to do with his suffering.

His active obedience is that obedience by which he achieves perfect righteousness and thereby merits redemption for his people. So he supplies us with the righteousness we need, and we'll look at that more fully later on. But at the same time, he also takes upon himself the punishments that we deserve by submitting himself to the judgment of God. You can see this most clearly in his struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus has this cup of divine wrath set before him, the cup of God's judgment. And he groans under this, Father, let this cup be removed from me.

Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. And of course, the Father requires him to drink the cup and to embrace the cross. And at that point, Christ is passive. He's receiving in himself the curse of the Old Covenant.

He's receiving in himself the punishment of God in behalf of his people. And all of this, of course, was agreed upon in eternity before the Logos ever became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ agreed to do the work necessary for our redemption. That's why we call it the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son, and then by extension also the Holy Spirit. The covenant of redemption made before time began put God's plan of salvation into motion, and His faithfulness, the fact that He will never break a promise, guarantees that those who believe will be given eternal life.

You're listening to Renewing Your Mind this Monday, and what we just heard is the opening message from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, The Promise Keeper, The God of the Covenants. We're airing only a portion of this series this week, but you are welcome to contact us and request all 14 messages. Dr. Sproul covers the covenant of creation, the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, and several others. Throughout this series, we get a better view of our covenant-keeping God. You can request the two-DVD set when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. We'll also add the entire series to your online learning library so you can watch the lectures while you wait for the DVDs to arrive by mail.

You can give your gift online at or when you call us at 800-435-4343. Did you know that last year alone, Ligonier Ministries reached over 56 million people around the world? That's double the amount of people who connected with us in 2020. If you are one of our ministry partners, please know that we could not have done that without you. Dr. Sproul called you the backbone of this ministry because of your commitment to pray for us and provide a recurring monthly donation, so thank you.

Fifty-six million is a big number, to be sure, but when you consider there are an estimated eight billion souls on the planet, there's plenty of work to do. So if you're not a ministry partner but you recognize the importance of what we do, would you consider joining me and the hundreds of others who are committed to reach even more people with these theologically rich resources in multiple languages, including Spanish, French, Portuguese, even Farsi? If you'd like to join us and become a ministry partner, please mention it while you're on the phone with us, and we will add you to this very special group of people. Thank you for your support. Well, tomorrow Dr. Sproul will explain that when God makes a promise, He fulfills it in real time and space.

When Paul announces the gospel in his letters or the preaching in the book of Acts, they talk about how Jesus was born according to the Scriptures in the fullness of time, that God had prepared that throughout all of history, everything in Old Testament history before the birth of Christ was moving towards that moment. I hope you'll make plans to join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-22 00:53:53 / 2023-04-22 01:02:56 / 9

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