A Covenantal Sketch

The Covenant of Grace

The Covenant of Grace is the New Covenant, cut by the blood of Christ. It is revealed progressively throughout Scripture, with more light given as we approach the cross. The cross is the climax of everything. After the cross it’s just a gradual wrap up. All the promises of God have found their yes and amen in Christ.

The Mosaic Covenant is not the saving Covenant of Grace. No one obtained eternal life or eternal condemnation because of the Mosaic or Abrahamic or Davidic Covenant. Those who are damned are damned because of the Covenant of Works, in Adam, and those who are saved are saved because of the Covenant of Grace, in Christ. The Old Covenant saints were saved, justified and sanctified by the retroactive (‘working back’) work of the New Covenant. The death of Christ reached back to save those who lived before cross, just as it reached forward to save those who would live after it. There’s only one way of salvation.

The Covenant of Grace is the Covenant of Works kept for us by Christ. Every manner of obedience that God would wish us to do has been done -in Christ. All the obedience we owe is offered by Christ, for us.

Origin of the Covenant of Grace

The origin of the Covenant of Grace is the eternal Covenant of Redemption -the Father’s promise to the Son to give Him a people, and the Son’s commissioning to save the elect. The Covenant of Grace is the historic fulfilment of the eternal Covenant of Redemption.

Israel, The Church, Moses and Christ

Ethnic Israel were God’s people under the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant had promises and curses (see Deuteronomy). The promises and curses were physical (not eternal) and were based on their obedience. In this sense (i.e. that the promises/curses were based on obedience) the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works (though not the covenant of works, which all humans are part of through Adam).

When the people obeyed they enjoyed the promises and knew prosperity, especially under David and Solomon. When they disobeyed, God was patient with them, but eventually brought judgement upon them. However, God promises a New Covenant after He brings judgement on them.

The language of New Covenant promises

The way in which the details of the New Covenant are described is what brings problems for many brethren. Obedience to God is described as ‘having the law written on our hearts of flesh and not on stone’. God’s dwelling amongst his people is described as a great temple being built in the peoples’ midst. A righteous king ruling over people is described as David returning. A place where there is worship and righteous rule is described as Zion.

As you can see, the prophets are taking references of ethnic, Old Covenant significance (e.g. laws on stone, temples, David, etc) and ‘blowing them up’ to describe New Covenant things. The New Covenant will be like the Old Covenant but in a different way. Like a shadow is different from its object.

With the New Covenant having come, the end of the Old Covenant had come. By the time Hebrews is written, pending the destruction of the temple, the Old Covenant is decreased as ‘becoming obsolete’, passing away. Old Covenant promises do not exist. Let me explain that. The promises of curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience as given to Israel, do not exist any more. Israel does not exist as a covenant people. They exist as Jews, and many of them will be saved before the second coming, but not as a fulfilment of any Old Covenant promise. 1

The promises that the Prophets speaks of are New Covenant promises, which the Lord says he will make with Israel. All who are in the New Covenant, are now God’s covenant people. This begins with the Jews who believed in Christ before the Gentiles did. Gentiles are added/grafted into Israel, to form one people of God. One Israel. We Gentiles become Israel/Jews through faith in the finished work of Christ, the lamb of the New Covenant. The Church (Jew and Gentile) is the eschatological Israel. The former Christ died for one woman -His bride, the Church. Old Covenant Israel, was a passing shadow of what was to come – a larger, bigger more inclusive covenant people.

New Covenant promises are given to New Covenant people. This is obvious but important to state. The promises are given to a Jewish audience in the OT, but are given to all New Covenant people, including us, Gentiles. If the New Testament explains that our [New] Covenant promises are about heaven, then that is how we are to understand what the prophets are predicting. Laws being written on hearts of flesh was really regeneration. Temples amongst people was really God’s dwelling place being with man. People coming to worship in Jerusalem was really believing Gentiles being added as fellow-worshippers with believing Jews. Some of these things are stated in the prophets.

The eschaton

Are we obeying fully, as if the law were in our hearts? Yes, but not yet fully. Is God in our midst, as His people? Yes, but not yet fully. Have all the enemies of the people of God been eliminated? Yes, but not yet fully. Are the poor, lame, sick been restored in body? Yes, but not yet fully.
The point is this. The New Covenant promises have began, but are yet pouring in. Theologians say we live in an already-not yet. Justified yet repenting. Saints yet sinning. Dead to sin yet putting sin to death. The Kingdom of heaven is here yet the Kingdom of heaven is coming. We are declared righteous and we wait to be found righteous. Christ is reigning now and He shall reign. The already is true, and the not-yet is also true. We are in the dawn of these things -full day light is coming. It’s coming fast.

We who are in the New Covenant through faith in Christ will live in a full New Covenant life when Christ returns to judge the wicked and remove them from His presence, to eternal destruction. The reign of Christ, the millennium, began when Christ sat on the throne, and will continue forever. As with other New Covenant realities, it will be more fully realised, at least to our physical eyes, after the ungodly are judged, and the faithful are glorified. At that time, we wont just have the downpayment of the Holy Spirit, we will have the whole portion.

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  1. I don’t deny an ethnic distinction. Even judgement will be “first to the Jew then the Gentile”. The same way an elder brother goes first at a meeting, though you’re all equally brothers. However, there is no other covenantal framework for a distinct redemptive-historical future for ethnic Israel. Their ingathering before the end will be through faith in Christ -they will be added into the New Covenant, grafted back into the one tree Gentiles are in -Christ.