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Covenant Before Law

by Danny Mihailovic last modified Feb 23, 2014 12:54 AM
God’s covenant stands firm.

A small interlude in thought brings us to an “aside”. As if Paul remembers he is speaking to mere mortals with regards to God’s promises. With regard to the Covenant, he implies that if man is so solemn about his earthly and mutable contracts and a contract is legally binding after all, then how much more is God bound to His covenant, which is divine in origin, therefore infallible in every aspect of its execution both now and in eternity?

The question Paul raises in this section of the letter has to do with whether or not the covenant was conditional upon full propitiation of the Law. And he unequivocally says, “NO!” Furthermore, the law came four hundred and thirty years later, after God had made His covenant with Abraham. Therefore salvation, which is at the heart of the covenant promise to Jew and Gentile alike, could not be annulled by works of the law due to the fact that the covenant was never made on the basis of law keeping. Originally, before Adam fell into sin, the covenant of life, in itself was a form of works, but essentially it meant obedience to God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, including also the imperative from God, to not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The law as it stands now, simply confirms our inability to comply with that command rendering our condition as incapable of self-redemption.

The confirmation of the Covenant (promises of God) was always to be found in Christ and no one else. It is the seed of the woman (Christ) who holds together the two “testaments” old and new in His hands; hands which were nailed to the cross and not without significance or by accident. But by God’s decree. One testament was that of full propitiation of the Law…i.e. fully satisfying God’s justice and righteousness demanded of those created in His image. The other is that of God’s promises being YES and AMEN in Christ’s finished “works”. In other words the works of the Law were confirmed in Christ already when the covenant was made with Abraham. There is no other guarantee other than this covenant of “grace” that assures redemption for the sons of Adam, now made sons of Abraham in Christ; the Holy Spirit being our present guarantee that these things are so! This should give Gal 3:3 its context and sense. “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, do you now perfect yourself in the flesh?”

At this point it would be helpful to raise the issue of “Covenant” as opposed to the idea of “many Covenants” (Romans 9:4-5). The Apostle Paul has specifically mentioned that the covenant could not be annulled by the Law which came later. Yet the Bible mentions covenants made between God and His people throughout the Old Testament. The simplest way to understand the historical unfolding of the Covenant is that “The Covenant of Salvation” found only in Christ is the one continuous covenant from Genesis to Revelation. This covenant is revealed to the Old Testament church whose faith was in Christ for salvation and never the law itself. If the gospel is to make any sense, it must be born out of this covenant. If Ephesians 1 is to be consistent with God’s sovereignty in salvation in that he predestined us in Christ from before the foundation of the world to be blameless and holy before Him in love, then its message must also be derived from the heart of this covenant. The law served as the schoolmaster to Christ; its ceremony and statutes all reflecting a Holy and Righteous God, whose demands could only be satisfied by the Christ of the Covenant. Moreover, the promise of Christ could never be annulled by man’s inability to comply with God’s Law.

The covenants made with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joshua…Israel as a nation, are in themselves assurances from God to His people for one purpose only according to Romans 9:4-5 and that purpose was to ensure the lineage of Christ. These were not new covenants negating former ones. In Christ now we have the full revelation of what that covenant meant not only to the Old Testament saints, but to us now. The problems associated with including the gentiles into the covenant originally, were to do with the fact that the Jews saw the covenant as specifically for them. Jesus corrected them in saying that God could raise children to Abraham from the very stones under their feet. That in God’s mind, the Covenant was never to be exclusively Hebrew, but according to the promise made to Abraham, the covenant would include all the families (nations) of the earth. Israel had the privilege of bringing salvation or at least its message as such to the world. Jesus Himself confirmed that salvation was of the Jews…i.e. Christ Himself was born under the Law…but it was the Messenger of the Covenant, Christ, who extended salvation to those who were not of the sheepfold (John 10)…but yet who were His.

So then the line of the Covenant, revealed through many a historical hiatus in the life of Israel, is essentially one covenant, confirmed by Christ in His Life, death and resurrection, fully sealed by the Father’s approval as evidenced in the resurrection of Christ.