Before we begin, it is important to note that Exploring the Truth is not in agreement with all aspects of Covenant Theology. While we agree in regards to the doctrines of grace (Calvinism), we do not agree with Covenant Theology in regards to the relationship between Israel and the Church, and in regards to the end times. We are Dispensational in that we believe that there is an everlasting covenant with National Israel and that they as yet have a future redemption assured to them and a future role in Redemptive History.
What is a covenant? It is an agreement between two or more parties. In the case of the Bible there is agreement between the Godhead (Covenant of Redemption) and there is agreement between God and Man (Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace)
Additionally, a covenant is a sovereign pronouncement of God by which He establishes a relationship of responsibility:
- between Himself and an individual (Adam in the Edenic Covenant, Genesis 2:16.),
- between Himself and mankind in general (in the promise of the Noahic Covenant never again to destroy all flesh with a flood, Gen. 9:9),
- between Himself and a nation (Israel in the Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 19:3.), or
- between Himself and a specific human family (the house of David in the promise of a kingly line in perpetuity through the Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7:16).
A covenant of one category may overlap others; i.e. the Davidic Covenant, where a continuing kingly house is promised with ultimate blessing, not only to David but also to the whole world in the reign of Jesus Christ.
The covenants are normally unconditional in the sense that God obligates Himself in grace, by the unrestricted declaration, “I will,” to accomplish certain announced purposes, despite any failure on the part of the person or people with whom He covenants. The human response to the divinely announced purpose is always important, leading as it does to blessing for obedience and discipline for disobedience. But human failure is never permitted to abrogate the covenant or block its ultimate fulfillment.
The nature of God’s covenantal relationship with his creation is not considered automatic or of necessity. Rather, God “chooses” to establish the connection as a covenant, wherein the terms of the relationship are set down by God alone according to his own will.
Having created man in His image as a free creature with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, God entered into the Covenant of Works whereby the command was “do this and live” (Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12). When man failed, God instituted a Covenant of Grace which is the overarching covenant until Christ delivers the Kingdom up to the Father.
Let’s look a little further at the 3 Major Covenants
Covenant of Redemption
The covenant of redemption is the eternal agreement within the Godhead in which the Father appointed the Son to become incarnate, suffer, and die as a federal head of mankind to make an atonement for their sin, this is why we refer to Him as the second Adam. (During His incarnation, Jesus fulfilled the Covenant of Works perfectly and the perfect accomplishment was imputed to us.) In return, the Father promised to raise Christ from the dead, glorify Him, and give Him a people.
Covenant of Works
The Covenant of Works was made in the Garden of Eden between God and Adam who represented all mankind as a federal head. (Romans 5:12–21) It promised life for perfect and perpetual obedience and death for disobedience. As our Federal Head, when Adam failed to fulfill this covenant, that failure was then passed to all of his posterity. To a degree, we see the covenant of works continuing to function after the fall as the moral law.
Covenant of Grace
The covenant of grace promises eternal life for all people who have faith in Christ. He also promises the gift of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power to His Elect to give them willingness and ability to believe. Christ is our substitutionary covenantal representative (Federal Head) fulfilling the covenant of works on our behalf, in both the positive requirements of righteousness and its negative penal consequences. When speaking theologically, we commonly describe this as Christ’s active and passive obedience. This is the historical expression of the eternal covenant of redemption. Throughout Reformed Theology, Genesis 3:15, with the promise of a seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, is usually identified as the historical inauguration for the covenant of grace.
The covenant of grace runs through the Old and New Testaments, and is the same in substance under both the law and gospel, though there is some difference in the administration. Under the law, the sacrifices, prophesies, and other types and ordinances of the Jews foreshadowed Christ, and men were justified by their faith in him just as they would be under the gospel. These were done away with the coming of Christ, and replaced with the much simpler ordinances of Believer’s Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
There are three universal and general covenants, which are: the Adamic, the Noahic, and also the Edenic in that the whole human race is represented as present in Adam in his failure. All the other covenants are made with Israel or Israelites and apply primarily to them, although with ultimate blessing to the whole world.
There are eight major covenants of special significance in explaining the outworking of God’s purposes with man. (I would encourage you to research each of them.) They are: the Edenic (Genesis 2:16); the Adamic (Genesis 3:15); the Noahic (Genesis 9:16); the Abrahamic (Gen. 12:2); the Mosaic (Exodus 19:5); the Land Covenant (Deuteronomy 30:3); the Davidic (2 Samuel 7:16); and the New Covenant (Heb. 8:8).
- In relationship to redemption, what is the significance of Jesus perfectly fulfilling the Covenant of Works?