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The Covenants

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 25, 2023 12:01 am

The Covenants

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 25, 2023 12:01 am

Throughout history, God has related to His people according to covenants. But what is a covenant? Today, R.C. Sproul explains this important subject and outlines the three major covenants that form the framework of the entire Bible.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul
Growing in Grace
Doug Agnew

In the final analysis, our whole Christian life rests upon trust or faith in a promise. That is, in the promise of God to redeem us through the person and work of Jesus. When Christ does come, He is introduced to us by John in his gospel as the one who is the incarnation of the Word. God doesn't just speak His Word of promise, but that promise is incarnated in the Word who is Christ. As a father, it can be easy to make promises that I can't keep.

Let's do that this weekend, or we'll work on that tonight. But then plans change. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us for this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Although we're commanded that our yes be yes and our no be no, our Word is not always sure, but not so for our Heavenly Father. And that's what R.C. Sproul is going to consider today as he continues his overview of what Christians believe, looking at God's unfailing promises and His work through covenants.

Here's Dr. Sproul. One of the major themes that we find in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament is that of the superiority of Christ, and particularly in His function in the role as our great High Priest. When the author speaks of the greatness of Jesus in this regard, he makes a comparison and a contrast between the covenant that God made with His people through Moses and the new covenant that has now been mediated through His Son, Jesus Christ. And we read in the eighth chapter of Hebrews these words in verse 3, For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.

Therefore, it is necessary that this one also have something to offer. For if he were on earth, he would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law, who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. And then later in verse 6, But now he has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as he is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. Then the author goes on to explain how the new covenant is a better covenant than the old covenant and now makes the old covenant obsolete. But we notice also in this text that the new covenant is seen to be better not only because we have a better mediator than Moses, but also that we have a better promise.

And that's significant because it opens up for us some information and knowledge about the very nature of covenants. We see that if there is any basic structure or framework for the whole unfolding of the plan of redemption in Scripture, that structure or framework is expressed in terms of the concept of covenant. We read about all kinds of covenants in biblical history. There is the covenant that God makes with Adam and Eve, which we tend to call the Adamic covenant.

There is the covenant that God makes with Noah, where God sets His rainbow in the sky as the sign of that covenant, which we call the Noahic covenant. And then God enters into a covenant with Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant, which is renewed then with His descendants, Isaac and Jacob, and so on. But usually when we think of the old covenant, we think principally of the covenant that God makes with Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai, and that's usually called the Mosaic covenant or the Sinaitic covenant because it was established at Mount Sinai. Now, what is a covenant? Well, basically a covenant is an agreement between two or more parties, and that agreement is based chiefly and principally on a promise.

And that's what we noticed in that text from Hebrews that I read a few moments ago, that the new covenant, part of the reason why it's better is because it has an even better promise than those promises that were contained in the Old Testament. Now, we see covenant promises existing outside of the Bible in virtually every arena of human life. We see the very structure of marriage being based upon this concept of covenant, where promises are made between two persons, and they are sealed with sacred vows and oaths in the presence of God, and so on. Even our national government is based upon the concept of a covenant or an agreement between those who govern and those who are governed. And so, there are promises involved in every covenant, and we also understand that a covenant in the ancient world, in addition to having promises, always had stipulations or laws that were part of the agreement.

That is, promises were made on the condition that certain stipulations were fulfilled. And then with those promises were attended, as I said, by oaths and vows and various ceremonies and rituals that dramatized the reality of the promise. Now, that's so important to our understanding of biblical Christianity, because in the final analysis, our whole Christian life rests upon trust or faith in a promise. That is, in the promise of God to redeem us through the person and work of Jesus. In a very real sense, in terms of covenant, what God has done for His people is that He has given us His Word.

And I think it's ironic in the New Testament that when Christ does come, that He is introduced to us by John in his gospel as the one who is the incarnation of the Word. God doesn't just speak His Word of promise, but that promise is incarnated in the Word who is Christ. And so, there's no way we can overemphasize the importance of this structure of covenant for our understanding of the Christian faith. Now, if we look at the Bible, and apart from these specific covenants that I've mentioned with Adam and Noah and Moses and Abraham and so on, in general terms, we speak of three major kinds of covenants that appear in the pages of Scripture. And those three major covenants we call, first of all, the covenant of redemption, second of all, the covenant of works, and thirdly, the covenant of grace.

Now, there's a lot of confusion about this terminology, and one of the things we want to do today is to try to clear up some of the misunderstandings that frequently attend these concepts. You hear very little, it seems nowadays in the church, about this first one, which is the covenant of redemption. But yet, I find to be one of the most thrilling concepts that we have in systematic theology. The covenant of redemption does not refer to a covenant that God makes with human beings. It's not the covenant that God makes with us, but rather it is the covenant that God makes with Himself.

That is, it is the covenantal agreement that takes place in all eternity among the three persons of the Godhead. And that's so important to understand because in the biblical revelation of the drama of redemption, we see the activity of all three persons of the Godhead. Creation itself is a Trinitarian work. We are told that it is God the Father who calls the world into being, and yet when He brings order out of the void in the darkness, it is done because the Spirit of God hovers on the waters and brings things into being. And yet the New Testament is replete with references to Christ being the agent through whom the Father creates all things.

In Him are all things made, and there's nothing that was made that was made apart from Him. And so creation is a matter of the involvement and engagement of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And by the same token, when we look at the concept of redemption, we see that it also is a Trinitarian work.

Now we make a distinction sometimes in theology, which we speak of as an economic distinction or as a functional distinction among the members of the Godhead. It is the Father who initiates the plan of salvation. It is the Father who we associate with the eternal decrees of election and His purposes and plan for salvation. And it is the Father who sends the Son into the world to accomplish our redemption for us in His ministry. And then after the Son has accomplished redemption for us, it is still left to have that redemption applied to our personal lives. How do I avail of the work of Christ? How does it make me a redeemed person? Well, it won't unless it is applied to me through the work and the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, who regenerates me, who quickens me from spiritual death to spiritual life and creates faith in my heart.

It is the Spirit who sanctifies me, and it is the Spirit who will glorify me in heaven. And so this whole work of redemption, this whole entire operation, involves all three members of the Trinity working in agreement. I remember when I was in graduate school years ago, a controversy came up among German theologians called the Umstemung controversy, which presupposed that the teaching of the Scripture indicated a struggle between the Father and the Son, wherein what Christ did in His earthly ministry was persuaded or moved the Father to back off from His wrath and His hostility towards the human race.

And that, of course, is a serious departure from the biblical understanding of how redemption takes place, because the covenant of redemption indicates that from all eternity, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost were in complete agreement about this matter of human salvation. So, it wasn't as if the Son came to this world reluctantly. Rather, the Son was pleased to fulfill the plan of the Father and to become incarnate. And we see that even graphically in the struggle that the God-man has at the eve of His atonement there in Gethsemane, when Christ is praying in the garden and He is sweating drops of blood in His passion and in His agony, and He says, "'Let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.'"

So that what He is saying here is, if there's any other way, let's do it, but keep in mind, Father, that I'm with You 100 percent in agreement with Your will. And so, behind the whole covenantal structure of salvation, there is, first of all, the eternal covenant within the Godhead itself. Now, when we talk about the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, this is where we encounter a lot of misunderstanding and confusion. On the surface, what this distinction refers to is the difference between the agreement or the relationship that God has with Adam and Eve before the fall and the fall, and then the agreement that God has with the descendants of Adam after the fall. The covenant of works refers to the original situation in which Adam and Eve are created, where they are placed in a probationary state, where God gives them certain commands, stipulations, gives them certain promises.

What is held before Adam and Eve is the promise of everlasting life, and that is indicated or symbolized by the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. And yet, at the same time, there are stipulations, and the main stipulation is that they are not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And so, what we find in that covenant of works is this, that the destiny of the human race will be determined and decided on the basis of performance, on the basis of the work of Adam and Eve with respect to their obedience or disobedience to the terms of the covenant. If they pass the probation, if they are obedient, if their works are good, then they enter into their eternal state of blessedness. If they fail to conform to the terms of that covenant, then they will die, and they, along with their descendants, will be plunged into ruin, so that the whole basis for the relationship with God and human beings is established here on the basis of works. And what we read, of course, in Scripture is that Adam and Eve miserably failed that test, that probation.

They violated that agreement and the terms and stipulations of the covenant, and as a result of that, plunged the world into ruin. Now, there's a couple of things that we have to keep in mind here. Sometimes when we think of being redeemed or being saved, that what has been accomplished for us is paradise regained. We saw that Adam and Eve lost their estate in paradise, and through Christ we are redeemed, we are redeemed, and people say, oh, so we get back to paradise.

No, no, no. The thing that we have to understand is that what is accomplished in our redemption is not merely a restoration to where Adam and Eve were before they fell, but rather a promotion to the state that they would have achieved had they been successful in obeying the terms of the covenant. So it's not like Christ makes it possible for us to go back to a state of innocence and then we have to go through the probation all over again and perhaps lose it once more. But again, the second confusion here is that because this covenant is called the covenant of works and the other one is called the covenant of grace, we tend to think that this first covenant had no grace in it. But keep in mind that for God to enter into any covenant with a creature, to give any promise to us whatsoever, under whatever conditions He makes that promise, is already a gracious act. Because God is not required by virtue of creation to promise His creatures anything.

When He makes us, we are the ones who are under obligation, not the Creator. And so that He even offers us or promises us eternal life and this felicity of blessedness that He offers to Adam and Eve is already an act of grace. So the point is the covenant of works itself is founded in grace.

But nevertheless, the distinction is still a meaningful one. And the reason is this, that once the covenant of works is broken and violated, if that's not the end and we don't just all perish and God gives a new opportunity for us to be redeemed and He spares His children, Adam and Eve, and redeems them in spite of their fallenness, He does this on the basis of a new promise, which promise focuses on grace because it is the promise it is the promise that they will be redeemed by another. That that promise is the promise of redemption by God's intervention in the work of Christ.

Now here's where the confusion really gets heavy. The Scriptures tell us that we are saved by grace, and we understand that. And that grace is manifest because we are saved through the person and the work of Christ. And what is it that Christ does to save us is that He becomes our champion.

He becomes our substitute. He is introduced in the New Testament as the new Adam, or the last Adam, or the second Adam, the one who now comes into the world and places Himself under the obligation and stipulations of the original covenant of works. As this new Adam, He goes back to the situation where Adam and Eve were in paradise. And this is dramatized, of course, in the wilderness experience of Jesus where He undergoes the 40 days of temptation from Satan.

But that is not the end. Throughout His whole life He is exposed to that temptation, and that's why I emphasize and will continue to emphasize that we are saved not only by the death of Christ but also by the life of Christ because it is in His life of perfect obedience that Christ fulfills all of the terms laid down in the original covenant of works so that in the final analysis we see that we are saved by works. You say, wait a minute, I thought we taught justification by faith alone. Yes, but justification by faith alone means justification by putting our faith in Christ alone because Christ alone has fulfilled the covenant of works. We are still saved by works, but we are saved not by our works but by the works of Christ so that the covenant of grace does not nullify the covenant of works. On the contrary, it fulfills the terms of the covenant of works. I was recently lecturing in a church about the cross, and I mentioned that sometimes people think that the Old Testament is all about God's justice and wrath, and the New Testament is all about His mercy and grace and love. And I reminded the people that the clearest example anywhere in Scripture of the wrath of God and the justice of God is found not in the Old Testament but in the New Testament. It's found in the cross because here the wrath of God is poured out on Christ, and God's justice is satisfied fully and completely in this act. And yet, this act which so demonstrates the justice of God is also at one and the same time the clearest example of the grace of God that we find in Scripture because that wrath is received by somebody else. It is received by our substitute who submits Himself to the terms of the first covenant and fulfills all of those obligations for all who put their trust in Him so that the covenant of grace and the covenant of works, though it's important to distinguish them, fit hand in hand together and together fulfill the promises of God from all eternity.

That was R.C. Sproul explaining the importance of covenant in understanding Christianity and the gospel. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind. Today's message was from his series Foundations, which is truly an expansive overview of what it means to be a Christian and what we truly believe. It's 60 messages in total, and you can request your copy of this series for your donation of any amount. You can give your gift today by visiting, and not only will we send you this DVD package, we will give you digital access to both the messages and the study guide so you can dig deeper, perhaps even using it with a small group or your family. That series again is Foundations, and you can give your gift at Next Saturday, Dr. Sproul will give a sweeping overview of the Bible and paints a portrait of the biblical Christ. So look forward to you joining us then here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-25 05:43:29 / 2023-03-25 05:51:15 / 8

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