THE COVENANT OF GRACE
I WILL BE YOUR GOD AND YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE
Sermon #1 - "An Introduction to the Covenant of Grace"
INTRODUCTION - As we begin our study of the Covenant of Grace, we must understand that here is a doctrine which truly affects the way we read all of Scripture. It will influence the way we look at our families, the world in which we live, along with all of the practical areas of Christian living. Yet more than anything, the Covenant of Grace will affect the way we think of the person of Christ and His work. We shall begin with a quote of three paragraphs from our Church Confession, Chapter Seven, which is entitled "God's Covenant."
1 The distance between God and His creature man is so great that, although men, endowed as they are with reason, owe obedience to Him as their creator, yet they could never have attained to life as their reward had not God, in an act of voluntary condescension, made this possible by the making of a covenant.
2 Furthermore, since man, by reason of his fall into sin, had brought himself under the curse of God's law, it pleased the Lord to make a covenant of grace, in which He freely offers life and salvation by Jesus Christ to sinners. On their part He requires faith in Him that they may be saved, and promises to give His Holy Spirit to all those who are elected unto eternal life, in order that they may be made willing and able to believe.
3 God's covenant is revealed in the gospelů
Over the past weeks we have been involved in a study of the Church in the Old Testament. It is here that we see that we are not just a New Testament Christians, but we are a people of the entire Bible. Both Old and New Testaments apply to us. God's Church, His people, stretch throughout both Testaments, and the message of the Bible is for God's people in every age. We have one God, one Savior, one Bible, and all the promises coming to one people. As we study the Covenant of Grace, we shall see even further the great unity and harmony which God's people enjoy in both the Old and New Testaments. Let us look tonight at the great unity which exists in Scripture by considering the one Person, the one promise, and the one Covenant, which ties all of Scripture together.
1) THE WHOLE FOCUS OF SCRIPTURE IS ON ONE PERSON - THE LORD JESUS CHRIST - This statement might sound rather obvious, yet it is not always carried out consistently in our practice and teaching. Both Old and New Testaments concentrate upon the person of Christ. In Luke 24:15-27, Christ met with the men on the road to Emmaus. They had become quite discouraged since the death of Christ, but now, as they were walking home, Christ appears to them and begins to teach them. Their lesson from Christ was this: "Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27). In other words, the entire Old Testament, in every law, psalm, proverb, and prophecy, one can see the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the solitary focus of Scripture and this is the way that we are to read our Bibles. Every verse, doctrine, story, every word of Scripture must have Christ at its center. In Acts 5:42, we see the early church confessing this truth as all of their preaching and teaching concerned only one thing - Jesus the Christ. The focal point of the teaching, preaching and writing ministry of Paul was, as he said, "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:1,2). The reason why we must make a great issue of this is because in the days of Christ and in our own day, there is a great temptation to make the focus of Scripture something else. The Jews of Christ's day were great students of Scripture, yet they missed seeing Christ as the Messiah, even though He is the whole focus of Old Testament Scripture. Yet the Jews did not see Christ as the primary focus and so they went astray (John 5:39,40,46,47). Instead, they substituted the law, their traditions, their Judaism, and by focusing on this they could not understand the Scriptures. In our own day, we see the same extremes taking place. Arminians have decided that the focus of Scripture should be the free will of man in choosing his salvation. By focusing on this one point and not on the person of Christ, they have been led into all sorts of distortions of truth. Yet let the Calvinist also beware, for should he make predestination, or covenant theology, or a creed or confession the focus of Scripture, he too will walk into error. The focus of Scripture is not the law, the covenant of grace, predestination, the choice of men, our eschatology, or our creeds and confessions. We must begin with the person of Christ, for it is He that will give proper focus to everything else that we desire to study. Christ and His work are at the forefront of the Bible's focus.
2) THE WHOLE PROMISE OF SCRIPTURE CAN BE UNDERSTOOD IN ONE PHRASE - "I WILL BE YOUR GOD AND YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE" - What would we say is the culmination of all of the religion and activities found in the Old Testament? Where was all of this history leading to? We can say that all of the Old Testament (and later the New Testament) is summed up in one promise which God makes. We read it when God speaks to Abraham in Genesis 17:1-8. A holy, just and righteous God has decided to come to rebellious sinners. He has decided, in His grace and mercy, that He will enter into covenant with these sinners. In this covenant, He tells these chosen people, "I will be your God and you will be My people." This is the whole promise of Scripture, which is naturally bound up in the work of Christ. God has decided to choose a people for Himself, from among sinners. This is the promise which He spoke to Abraham. Later, as we come to the book of Exodus, we might get confused or overwhelmed with all of the stories and details of this book. We read about the exodus from Egypt, the wanderings in the wilderness, the construction of the Tabernacle, and all of the laws given to Israel. One could get lost in all of this detail. Yet what is the focus of Exodus? It is the Lord Jesus Christ. What is the one pervading promise which brings a complete unity to Exodus? In Exodus 6:1-8, the promise to Abraham is repeated during the days of Moses, "I will be your God and you will be My people." Old Testament history is full of this one promise which God has made to the descendants of Abraham. When we consider the significance of the Tabernacle and the Temple in the Old Testament, we must realize that these edifices go back to the promise that God will be with His people. The Tabernacle and Temple symbolized God's presence. Here He was worshipped and here offerings were presented to Him. These were pictures of God in the midst of His people. Yet as we come to the Old Testament prophets, we realize something much greater was coming. Isaiah 7:14 speaks to us of a greater presence of God, not to be found in the Tabernacle or the Temple, but to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called "Emmanuel" - God with us. This is the culmination of the Old Testament promise. God entering into union with His chosen people, God dwelling in the midst of His people. Christ, therefore, is the literal expression and fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, "I will be your God and you will be My people." In Christ we see the fullness of the godhead bodily, God "tabernacling" among us (John 1:14). Lest we think that this promise was just for the Old Testament people, the same promise is repeated to the New Testament Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, in II Corinthians 6:14. So here we see how the Bible is held together. It has one focus in both Testaments - the Lord Jesus Christ. It has one promise in both Testaments - I will be your God, you will be My people.
3) THE WHOLE REVELATION OF THE BIBLE'S FOCUS AND PROMISE CAN BE SEEN IN ONE DOCTRINE - THE COVENANT OF GRACE - The Bible has a wonderful structure to it and if we miss the structure it can become a rather confusing book to read. Scripture reveals to us the focus and promise which God has made. As we begin in Genesis, we find that both Christ and the promise are slowly revealed, progressively revealed throughout the ages. In Genesis 3:15, we have God mentioning both the Christ and the promise. Yet here we are reading the Gospel in its infant form. It is enough for Adam to believe, yet we will find Scripture expanding on these themes until they find their fulfillment in the coming of Christ into the world. God makes this revelation of Christ and the promise to men through Scripture by what we call the Covenant of Grace. First, God comes to Adam and reveals His plan to the first man. Later, Noah is given further information concerning the grace of God. Then, Abraham is told about the promise and the Savior, only now the information has grown considerably. When we come to Moses, the revelation of God has developed even further. Then, with David, this king is given even more insight into the great promise and plan of God. Finally, when Christ comes into the world, the entire Old Testament picture comes into a beautifully finished portrait. Yet we must understand, God's message to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David did not conflict. He was not saying different things to each of these men. Instead, God was simply building upon the same promise, "I will be your Godů", and the same person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He reveals this promise and person through His covenant with men, His covenant of grace. This is what gives Scripture structure and helps us see it as a Book not to be divided into all sorts of sections, but to be seen as a whole as God speaks to men through a Covenant of Grace, about the person of Christ who will fulfill the promise that God is calling out a people for Himself.