Your COMPASS for the Journey on the PATH of Discipleship: August 7-13, 2011
Your COMPASS for the Journey on the PATH of Discipleship is a daily resource designed to help you find direction in your walk with Christ. It includes a ‘Compass’ (a daily reading), a ‘Map’ (a brief comment to aid your understanding of the reading), and an application section called ‘Journey.’ Our focus this week is on the covenants, which provide the foundation for the biblical story.
Sunday, August 7, 2011 OVERVIEW OF THE BIBLICAL STORY
Ephesians 1:9-10 ‘…to bring all things…together…under…Christ.’
9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
The story the Bible tells may be divided into four parts:
- Creation | ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ (Gen. 1:1).
- Fall | God to Adam: ‘…You…ate from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat of it”’ (Gen. 3:17).
- Redemption | God to the serpent: ‘…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heal’ (Gen. 3:15).
- Consummation | ‘Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father…’ (1 Cor. 15:24).
God created everything ‘good’ (Gen. 1:25, 31), but our disobedience (in Adam) marred God’s good creation. This is the situation that underlies the whole biblical story, which tells how (in Christ) God defeats evil and restores the creation.
Consider how your life has been affected by the ‘Fall,’ the rupture in humanity’s relationship with God. Consider also how your life is being affected by God’s redemptive work in Christ. You are part of God’s great movement to ‘bring all things…together under one head, even Christ’ (Eph. 1:10).
Monday, August 8, 2011 COVENANT: GOD’S WAY WITH US
Psalm 40:11 ‘…May your love (Hebrew = chesed) and your truth always protect me.’
Do not withhold your mercy from me, O LORD; may your love (Hebrew = chesed) and your truth always protect me.
If we are to understand how God defeats evil and restores creation, we must understand the covenantal structure of the biblical account. A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties in which promises are made to secure the relationship. (Consider the covenant of marriage.) Our relationship with God depends upon his faithfulness in keeping his promises to us. (The quality of our relationship – though, thankfully, not its security – depends on our faithfulness in keeping our promises to him.) God’s faithfulness to the covenant is often expressed in the Old Testament by the Hebrew term chesed, which is most often rendered in the NIV as simply ‘love’ and sometimes as ‘mercy.’ It refers to God’s unfailing commitment to his promise to redeem us.
Your relationship to God does not depend on your fidelity to him, which is relatively inconsistent, but rather on his perfect faithfulness to his promises. Does this not give you great relief and fill you with gratitude?
Tuesday, August 9, 2011 THE COVENANT OF REDEMPTION
Titus 1:2 ‘God…promised before the beginning of time….’
…A faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.
In a woven fabric, threads run in two directions, some lengthwise (warp) and some crosswise (woof). On Sunday, we looked at four divisions of the biblical story (creation, Fall, redemption, and consummation). We might think about these as the warp in the biblical ‘fabric,’ running lengthwise through history. Running crosswise in the Bible’s pattern are three covenants that will help us understand God’s redemptive work (defeating evil and restoring creation). The first of these has been called the Covenant of Redemption. This is the eternal agreement (‘before the beginning of time’) in which the Father appointed the Son (our Lord) to redeem his people from sin. Jesus referred to this covenant in John 17:4, where he said, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ As our representative, Jesus would live a morally perfect life (fulfilling the necessity of obedience on our behalf) and die a sacrificial death (paying the penalty for our sins).
God saves us not because of what we have done but because of what Christ has done. His death pays for our sins, and his obedient life is attributed to us. Our response is to repent of our sin and to trust in Christ for our standing with God.
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 THE COVENANT OF WORKS
Hosea 6:7 ‘Like Adam, they have broken the covenant….’
Like Adam, they have broken the covenant – they were unfaithful to me there.
What covenant did Adam break? The Reformed tradition calls this broken covenant the ‘Covenant of Works.’ For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith says: ‘The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience’ (Book of Confessions, 6.038). Adam, of course, did not meet the condition of perfection; he failed. However, God was not surprised by Adam’s sin. In fact, he had already provided for the redemption of sinners in the Covenant of Redemption. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.’
A person is either ‘in Adam’ or ‘in Christ.’ Either Adam represents you before God, or Christ does. If Adam is your representative, then his disobedience is attributed to you, along with the consequence of death. If Christ is your representative, then his obedience is attributed to you, along with the gift of life.
Thursday, August 11, 2011 THE COVENANT OF GRACE — 1
Romans 5:15-19 ‘…By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous’
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
The Covenant of Grace is God’s promise to forgive our sins and grant us eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. It was inaugurated in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve’s sin, when God said to the serpent (the tempter), ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’ This anticipates the crucifixion, in which Satan may be said to have ‘struck Christ’s heel,’ and the resurrection, in which Christ may be said to have crushed Satan’s head.
Again, we are called to faith in Christ, whose…
- perfect life is the fulfillment of God’s demand on us for obedience!
- sacrificial death is the payment for the penalty of our sins!
- resurrection is the conquest of death and evil and the assurance of eternal life for us!
‘Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 7:25).
Friday, August 12, 2011 THE COVENANT OF GRACE — 2
Acts 3:25 ‘…You are heirs of…the covenant….’
And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’
The Bible is filled with examples of covenants – some made between one person and another and, of course, some which were initiated by God. Among the latter, there are:
- God’s covenant with Noah: ‘I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth’ (Gen. 9:13).
- God’s covenant with Abraham: ‘On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land…”’ (Gen. 15:18).
- God’s covenant with Moses: ‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession”’ (Exodus 19:5).
- God’s covenant with David: ‘…Because of the covenant the LORD had made with David, the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David’ (2 Chron. 21:7).
- The New Covenant: ‘“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel”’ (Jer. 31:31). ‘In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”’ (Luke 22:20).
It is important to remember that all these covenants (even the one made at Mount Sinai and summarized in the Ten Commandments) are expressions of the one covenant of grace, whereby the sinner is declared righteous before God through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Ten Commandments are not given to us as a means to earn salvation. When God reveals his Law, he declares that salvation has ALREADY been accomplished: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Exodus 20:2). Your obedience to God is not offered to gain his favor; you obey God because already you have received his favor.
Saturday, August 13, 2011 SIGNS AND SEALS
Romans 4:9b-12 (ESV) ‘…the sign of circumcision, a seal of righteousness….’
9b We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
The Reformed tradition recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each is considered both a sign and a seal of the Covenant of Grace. The words ‘sign and seal’ come directly from Romans 4:11 in reference to circumcision, an Old Testament ‘sacrament:’ ‘[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith….’
The sacraments are signs because (like other signs) they point to something beyond themselves. As we participate in the sacraments, we observe two ‘signifying’ features of each: (1) the substances used and (2) the actions taken.
In Baptism, for example, the substance used is water (associated with cleansing, birth, and renewal), and the action taken is sprinkling or pouring. In the Lord’s Supper, the substances used are bread and wine (which point to the body and blood of our Lord), and the actions taken are numerous (among others, breaking and pouring, suggesting the broken body and shed blood of Christ, along with distribution, suggesting the shared life of the people of God).
As signs, the sacraments make God’s action in Christ visible to the eye of faith, but, as the Scots Confession says, the sacraments are not merely ‘naked and bare signs.’ They are also ‘seals’ of the grace signified. In common practice, a seal verifies authenticity (think ‘seal of approval’), guarantees the legitimacy of the contents of a package (think of sealing a letter), or assures that the authority of a greater power stands behind a persons (think of the government’s seal on a passport, affirming true citizenship).
Likewise, with regard to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, each serves as the confirmation of a truth by means of a physical sign. In the sacraments, God confirms that we are his and that all the benefits of salvation (forgiveness of sins, new life in Christ, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the blessed hope of God’s promised future, and so forth) are ours.
The next time you witness a baptism or receive the Lord’s Supper, rehearse in your mind these two aspects of the sacraments: (1) They are signs of God’s covenant, pointing beyond themselves to God’s redemption in Christ; (2) they are seals of God’s covenant, confirming that we belong to God in Christ.
Photo credit: Rainbow by David Campbell