Friday, January 18. 2008
Millions of people do millions of things, live and die, every day. There are two, only two people, and what they did, in all of human history that are truly pivotal. (We know this and what we are going to write next, only because God, in the Scripture has revealed it.)
Before the beginning of time, God had a vision of a world and of people in that world. He created the earth and put the first person on it. This person was the first of billions- the prototype, if you will. He was created to be the image of God on earth- like God in a number of key ways and as such he was intended to represent God as His caretaker of the earth. Most of all this man, and all human beings like him, were meant to live in a perfect relationship with his Creator. That perfect relationship required perfect obedience. Failing this would require God to scrub the entire mission.
The one man did fail. He could not live up to his Maker’s (his father’s) expectation of him. His Maker had devised a test case: if Adam (the man’s name) were to obey his “Father” perfectly in this matter (he was commanded not to eat a particularly desirable piece of fruit) all would be well and his Maker would grant him Real (Eternal) Life. Obviously, Adam already had physical life and up to this point had been a good person. This deal between God and Adam has been called, by Theologians, a “Covenant”, specifically the “Covenant of Works.” Adam’s work of obedience in this case was required of him if he were to be given Life. His obedience would not earn or merit life- it was not a quid pro quo (Obedience for Life) as though they were of equal value or importance, nor did Adam’s obedience force or compel God to give him Life. The latter would remain a gift- God owed that Man nothing and certainly the creature had no coercive power over his Creator. The whole “covenant” was His idea in the first place. If Adam lived up to His expectation, it was God’s gracious will to freely give him this gift of Life- conditioned, yes, but not required or deserved. But Adam failed. He was denied Life.
What makes this one act so devastating for the rest of Humanity, is that Adam represented all of us. He was our “federal” head. Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 teach that Humanity is represented by Adam. He is our federal head, as it were. “Federal” comes from a Latin word for a ”Compact” or League and that word, in turn, comes from another word, meaning trust. “Federal” refers to a compact or agreement in which separate states, in trust, surrender much of their authority to a central government over them all. In Theology, it is said that all individuals, all humanity, is united under the authority of Adam. As our representative, he acts on our behalf. What he does involves us all. We all are accountable for his actions. We all disobeyed “in Adam” and we all died “in Adam”. His actions are our actions. The big difference- we never voted on this arrangement. It is not voluntary. It is a God-idea.
Likewise, Christ is the Second Adam. He is the federal Head, the representative of those who have chosen out of Humanity to be God’s Elect. He represents us and acts on our behalf. What he does involves us all. We all are accountable for his actions. His actions are our actions. We never voted on this arrangement, either. It, too, is not voluntary. It is also a God-idea. And we are eternally grateful for it!
Adam’s act was not simply one of millions of human acts- it was of mythic proportion- of far greater importance and effect than any other. Upon this One Act hangs the destiny of all Mankind. We know this only because God has revealed it, centuries later in Scripture. It was not simply a bite of forbidden “apple” (I mean who hasn’t done something like that?) or like an “oops, better get Maaco” moment; and saying, “I’m sorry Dad, I screwed up, but come on, it’s not the end of the world.”, just will not do. In God’s eyes, that moment was pivotal for the destiny for every human being ever to be born. Thus, I call it “mythic”, but that is not to question its historicity, because it is parallel to another singular act that absolutely was historically true.
Now God foresaw, or knew of, Adam’s failure and the predicament it caused, long before it even happened, actually from all Eternity, He devised a Plan whereby there would be another Adam, the Second Adam, who would more than counter act and literally atone for what the First Adam had done. Of course, that would be Christ. Actually, God the Father and God the Son and God the Spirit, together, agreed on this Plan and how (they) would affect it. That agreement, Theologians call, the Covenant of Redemption. God still wanted a People to represent and serve Him on earth. As it was, as a result of their federal head’s disobedience, all people would be born spiritually dead, alienated and separated from their Maker. Worse, they would hate Him deep in their hearts and strive to be autonomous from Him (Reformed Theologians call this The Antithesis) They would be helplessly enslaved to a “fallen nature”, called Total Depravity, by those same Theologians. In other words, people being born would no longer make good prospects to be the People God had in mind. As it happens, we are told in the Book of His Revelation, God chose millions of these lost sinners to become His People, known as the Elect. He did this from Eternity, before they ever existed on earth. God can do something like that because He is God.
He began to reveal a Plan in the Bible, called The Covenant of Grace, that He would make with the Elect to counter the effects of the Covenant of Works He had made with Adam. In fact, He began to reveal this Plan to Adam himself, right after his big transgression. This Plan would not fail. The heart of it was (is) the perfect life and obedience of the One of whom Adam was the “type” (in the Bible, a type is a person or thing prefiguring a future person or thing, such as the Tabernacle was a type of Heaven) Christ is the Second Adam. All of human history is grounded in these two Figures. Amazing! All human beings today are either in union with the First Adam or with the Second Adam. (The most important question you could ask anyone is: “Are you in Adam or in Christ?” Of course, most will have no idea what you are talking about!)
Millions of men, since Adam, had lived, done millions of things, and died. The historical life and singular act of only one of them is “mythic” in the same sense that Adam’s was. The life and act of this one man would change the eternal destiny of hundreds of millions of the sons and daughters of Adam. Christ’s perfect obedience would counter Adam’s disobedience and by it, billions of lost sinners would be saved and become the People that God always wanted.
The Covenant of Grace involved the incarnation of God the Son, Jesus, and the sacrificial offering of his perfect life on behalf of those whom God had chosen. That offering would be his act of obedience.
Now, their wills being in bondage to their fallen nature, no person would or could chose to accept Christ or what He did on their behalf. God’s Plan of Election was the only way any people at all would be saved. God the Spirit effectively called the Elect (and still does) when they hear the Gospel. He works the miracle of regeneration in their hearts, freeing them from that spiritual bondage so that they are free to chose Christ. God the Spirit convicts them of their sin and awakens saving faith within them. That is, God gives the chosen both repentance and faith. They come to Christ. They willing accept Him as Lord and their Savior. That is all of Grace, all of God own doing.
Revival techniques can be used to artificially generate pseudo repentance and people can be manipulated to pray the Sinners Prayer. Such repentance and faith is of no avail. It is must not be accepted as the “real thing”.
If it were left to sinners to decide whether or not to come to Christ, they would chose not to do it. To allow the fulfillment of God’s Plan to rest on the “free” will of sinners is unthinkable. To allow the sacrificial offering of Christ on behalf of sinners to be rejected and come to nothing is unthinkable. Unconditional Election (the work of God the Father) and prevenient and irresistible Calling (also known as Irresistible Grace, the work of God the Spirit), are the only hope for any lost sinner to be saved. The consequence of Adam’s disobedience requires it. That made Election essential and an Atonement limited to only those who were elected to accept it, the effective way of achieving it. If it were not for the Covenant of Grace, none of us would be saved.
Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement and Irresistible grace, as well as Perseverance, are known as the Five Points of Calvinism, TULIP, or the “Doctrines of Grace“. In my experience, most Evangelicals are not Calvinists and many of those who are “5 Pointers” are not Reformed Calvinists, meaning they are not Covenanters. This leads to the next topic: Covenants today.
The Elect, in their personal history, enter into union with Christ by repentance and faith. They do not simply have a Savior, they actually have a union with Christ. This is an extremely important doctrine. Just as we were lost “in Adam”, so we are saved “in Christ”, our federal Head. Many seem to think that they are saved by having the experience of being born again or because they said the Sinner’s Prayer or simply because they believe Jesus died for them. Not so! If anyone is saved it is because of a union with the Second Adam, just as people are lost because of their union with the First Adam.
God sees, reckons or considers those who entered into never ending union with Christ by repentance and faith, as righteous. They have no righteousness in themselves. The repentance and faith are not works of righteousness. Instead, they have the righteousness of Christ. We have a right standing before God because the perfect obedience of Christ is imputed to us. (By His imputed obedience, we are saved- exactly as, by Adam‘s disobedience we had been lost sinners). This is the Gospel of grace.
This Gospel of Grace or, better, this Covenant of Grace has always been the way sinners become saved. There have been saved people since Adam’s day on this same basis of grace. People were never saved by the Law, always by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We look back to the Cross. Saints in the Hebrew Bible (what we misleading call the Old Testament) looked forward to the cross, starting with Adam and his family.
The Covenant of Grace was progressively revealed through out the Bible- some to Adam, more to Noah, even more to Abraham and then to Moses and the Prophets. There has always been only one Covenant of Grace, although the way in which it was ministered and the responsibilities laid on its beneficiaries has changed through the years. Finally, this Covenant in its fullness was revealed by Jesus and the Apostles. In this form, it is properly called the New Covenant- the original old Covenant of Grace now in its final finished form. (All this makes for the unity of the entire Bible and for a fascinating Bible study.) Many Christians in my experience do not know anything about the Covenant because older ones were raised in Dispensationalism and newer Evangelicals are being raised in a pared down, “mere” or core expression of the Faith. (The primary exception are those few Christians raised in conservative Presbyterian and Reformed circles).
What practical difference does all this make? The first difference is in the amount of glory God receives. In this Two-Man, Covenantal approach- salvation is all God, beginning to end. In the usual evangelical approach it is part God and part Man: God offers Salvation, Man decides whether to accept and keep what God offers. In practice, doesn’t that make Man superior?
The second major difference is that the Two-Man, Covenantal approach is a better foundation for assurance and daily Christian living. That is because both of them are grounded and secure in God Himself. It teaches the difference between our objective standing or position in Christ and our subjective experience of being in Christ. Without the former foundation, the latter depends a lot on changing circumstances and feelings and requires the constant search for something to pump us up spiritually. The third very practical difference has to do with Ecclesiology. I will try to explain next in more detail.
Church as a Covenant Community
The concept of Covenant is central in the Bible and very important in all of God’s relationships with People, in fact, with all of Creation. The key Hebrew word is berith, while its Greek equivalent is diatheke Together they are used 292 times in the KJV or 319 times in the ESV. Diatheke is usually translated “Testament”, as in “Last Will and Testament“, a legal paper (a Will) in which the person dictates to whom his estate shall go and the conditions for its inheritance, if any, upon the testator’s death
Obviously, neither the 39 “Books” known as the Old Testament nor the 27 “Books” known as the New Testament are collectively an actual Testament. Tradition has misnamed both the Hebrew Scripture and the Christian Scripture, even though it is accurate to say our Bible teaches us about an Old and a New Testament or Covenant!
How central and important the word and concept of Covenant are is indicated by the fact that the central act of our corporate Worship is based on the declaration of Jesus that we are remembering the “Blood of the Covenant“ (Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24)
And central and important to remember about Covenant is that it is made primarily with a nation, not with individuals. If we want to endorse and use this concept we must accept the fact that covenant is first and foremost corporate. All Covenants include both promises and conditions. God’s Covenant with His people, to be known as Israel, consists of His Promises to them (basically to be their God, providing for them) and the condition that they would serve and obey Him (basically, keeping the Ten Commandments)--as a Nation.
The Covenant Nation of Israel came into existence in history when the various tribes of the Hebrew people agreed together to accept both the Promises and Conditions God dictated to them at Mt Sinai. (They did not negotiate with God about either). Male Circumcision became the official sign of membership in the Covenant People of God. No male without circumcision could be considered a member (females were considered members by association with the males in their family unit).
Remembering their deliverance by God from slavery in Egypt was a required annual Festival, complete with a Family Meal (The Passover) to maintain their national identity. There were other required Festivals, as well. Israel was to rehearse and remember what God had done for them as a People and to be thankful to Him.
The Torah contained God- given norms or principles by which they, as a Nation, were to conduct all their affairs. Obedience was an essential requirement of the Covenant. The Nation was only as good as its citizens. Every member, every individual, was to do their part in keeping all these conditions for being God’s Chosen People.
Now, no one could know who among all the members were actually regenerate, Israelites who had circumcised hearts and the personal faith of Abraham. That only God knew. Many were, many were not. The important point here is that every circumcised member and his family was treated the same. All were considered publicly to be among the Chosen, even though actually all were not. (Jesus would speak of tares and wheat growing together in the same field and that no attempt should be made to separate them out).
On the other hand, if citizens of Israel or Israel itself were to demonstrate gross disobedience or infidelity, publicly disavowing the Covenant, they would be considered cursed and punished. Individuals could be cast out and separated from the Nation and the Nation itself could fall under Judgment involving hard times, destruction and exile.
Again, I wrote above, “There has always been only one Covenant of Grace, although the way in which it was ministered and the responsibilities laid on its beneficiaries has changed through the years.” The life, death and resurrection of Christ inaugurated that form of the Covenant known as the New Covenant. The way it is now administered and the responsibilities laid on its current members has changed from the times of Moses. But it still involves a People, a Chosen Nation and there are still Promises and Conditions.
God’s intent has always been to have a corporate people, a Nation that would worship, serve and obey Him, not simply to save individuals. The latter has been the emphasis for most evangelicals. Nevertheless, God’s intent remains. The Covenant remains in place and the Covenant is a corporate concept.
Reformed Christians argue about the difference between the so-called invisible Church, meaning the Elect and the visible Church meaning the institution in which are both the Elect and the non-Elect together. I believe the latter is what we should consider to be the primary and functional meaning of “Church”.
God the Son not only died for the Elect, He actually founded an organization: “I will build my Church”. He meant an institution of which the Elect would be members. He was not talking about an invisible Body of the Elect. The Church He would build has ordained Leaders (Apostles), a Doctrinal Foundation (based on revealed Truth and grounded in who Christ is), Sacraments (Baptism and Lord‘s Supper), Regulated Worship, and Discipline. This is not an invisible, spiritual Body, but a very visible one. There is no union with Christ apart from union with His Body. This Body, while definitely not synonymous with it, is inseparable from the organized Church. Those who come to saving faith and enter into union with Christ also enter into union with the corporate Body of all other Covenant People.
The Covenant Community under the old Mosaic version of the Covenant is the model for the new version. The latter is analogous to the former in essential ways. Old Israel was a visible body. The New Israel (the Church) is a visible body. It would greatly help the debate on this subject if the Church were considered, first and foremost, to be a Covenant Community.
Inasmuch as the sign of initiation and the seal of membership in the Community under the Old Covenant was circumcision of believing men and their male children. The equivalent sign and seal in the New Covenant is Baptism of all Believers and their children. Likewise, as the means by which Covenant obligations were renewed in the Old Covenant were Passover and other Festivals, the means for covenantal renewal under the New Covenant is frequent Communion at the Lord’s Table. These are very public and visible signs and seals for a very public and visible Community.
And obedience to the Torah, interpreted now by Christ and the Apostles, remains a necessary condition for Covenant membership and the blessings of God upon His People.
The analogy also holds in the matter of judging membership. No one knows who is truly regenerate and among the Elect. That, of course, is determined completely by God and known only to Him. Therefore, all the Baptized should be considered publicly as Chosen, true Believers unless and until they should publicly disavow God and their faith by their words and actions. Every member of the Church is to claim both the Promises and to be held accountable for the responsibilities spelled out by God in the Covenant. Of course, that does not mean that all the baptized members of a local Covenant Community are regenerate. Many will not be. But we move forward by doing as Paul did in his letters to such Communities, addressing all their members together as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ- their Lord and ours.” 1 Cor. 1:2
Please do me a great favor: if you read this all the way through, please let me know that you have done so with a Comment that says so. You need not write more than that. Thank you very much.
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I see that my comment from a while ago is not posted here--apparently I can either not see correctly or not type correctly or both! Anyways, just a note to say that I read it all the way down to the small print
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