Covenant, Free will, and Apologetics

Usually in apologetics when total depravity and free will are being discussed, the refutation (or qualifiers) point to the doctrine of sin and its scriptural references to being “dead in our trespasses”. The argument goes that a dead person must first be made alive prior to being able to make any decisions. So to be spiritually dead requires that God grant us spiritual life (regeneration), prior to us being able to choose Jesus at all.

I agree with this line of thinking but would rather couch it within the context of the Covenant, as the above is rather one sided. Within the first covenant we can say that mankind, as represented in Adam, was in a perfect relationship with God. One attribute of God is called His simplicity, which is shorthand for saying He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So when Adam sins against God, this becomes or is an eternal offense. When man walks away from God to make his own choice (eat the fruit), it’s a way declaring rebellion against God who said not to eat of it.

Offending God, in scripture is compared to adultery and murder, which are things you just cannot go back to the person and say, “I’m back, let’s let bygones be bygones.” Because God is the one offended, we cannot by our own volition just choose to go back to Him. Even if we did want to, we don’t have anything to offer Him, that is not His already. We cannot mend the relationship from our side. God must be willing and wanting to pursue us and provide a way to reconcile us to Himself. There is nothing by which we could possibly go and attempt to stand before Him and offer to appease His wrath, for having been wholly offended.

As the argument goes, we do not pursue God because of our estate in sin as a nature, and the death we suffer in the fall is the loss of a wholistic love for God and all that is His. This is indicated over and over as in the Law we are told what outward love for God and neighbor must look like, and then as Jesus tells us, that the outward act is nothing if not from an inward heart of real love for God.

Covenantally If our righteousness originally required perfect and continuous obedience, then one offense shatters the whole, because there is no room, time, or act that can make up for the offense. If you are to always to be right with God, then there is no “down time” by which you could say you wanted to work overtime or do “extra” to make up the deficit.

So clearly if there is to be any reconciliation, God must move towards us, before we could possibly think of moving towards Him.

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Jade Stones and Christians

A Chinese boy decided carving jade would be a worthwhile profession. So the next day he went and submitted himself as an apprentice to the area jade master craftsman. On the boys first day the wise master put a piece of jade stone into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he went to work . After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home. The process was repeated for weeks. The boy was becoming increasingly frustrated—when would he learn to actually carve the jade? A week later the boy decided to give up and consider another trade. Upon telling the jade master of his decision the master only asked if on his way out the boy could bring him a big piece of jade from his work bench. The boy agreed, but upon picking up the stone the boy cried out instantly, “That’s not jade!” The master said, “That’s lesson number one, come back tomorrow and we will start lessons number two.”

So too the Christian gets frustrated in their daily walk with God, when He repeatedly leads you to work and all you see are the jobs you’d rather be doing. Or in your relationships but hate being single. Possibly in church your the critic who knows what the pastor should have said or done each week, wanting to be an elder or in some position that you have yet to be recognized for. Be patient, don’t get frustrated, look around where God HAS lead you and just trust that He is teaching you whatever you need to know. Be where you are in your walk with God appreciating just being with God.

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Covenant (part 7) in Christ

Covenant of Grace: in Christ

This may also be referred to as the “New Covenant” and yet salvation by grace, through faith in Christ, as regenerated by the Holy Spirit, has always been God’s plan of salvation.

Visible/Physical elements: Israel, the Church, Baptism, Lord’s Supper,

John Calvin, although years ahead of Covenantal vs. Dispensationalism schools of thought, laid out in his Institutes, great sections on the continuances and differences between the new and old covenants. As I’ve shown before both the New Covenant (NC) and Old Covenant (OC) are two ways of looking at the one Covenant of Grace (or Salvation) as under two different forms of administrations. Some would illustrate this as running the same house but as differently in summer than in winter. I like to illustrate it as going to a concert. You act one way in line as you await the opening of the venue, but once the band is there and the venue open, you don’t continue to wait in line (what was right and appropriate while awaiting their arrival), you go in and enjoy their full presence.

So In the New Covenant, although we invisibly still have salvation by grace, through faith in Christ, as regenerated/baptized by the Holy Spirit, the “types and shadows” that OC saints looked to in hope of a messiah, are all outwardly replace or fulfilled by the actual Messiah, Jesus. The book of Hebrews is the best resource for looking at the OC as realized in Jesus. This is typically admitted when we look at the OC outward animal sacrifices, and we conclude that Christ’s NC once sacrifice of himself was the only true sacrifice that atoned for sin, thereby animal sacrifices are discontinued. It is this exact principle where the invisible reality was believed in by faith in both the OC and the NC, but outward visible sign is replaced by the actual. Some OC to NC transitions are not so easy if you’re not accustomed to seeing them. One example would be that as eternal life is the invisible reality in both covenants, the visible “promise land”, in the OC is replaced by the NC teaching of a new heaven and earth. Proof that the Israelites understood this transition is that they had no issue selling off ancestral land to see the Church grow.

The most tense discussions surrounding the institution of the NC is that Israel as the outward national people of God, are now clarified in the Gospels and in places like Romans 9 to really be those who believe, and yet true Israel was never those just born to Abraham, but those who believed the promises just as we now believe the promises are fulfilled. So who were any of the promises really made to, but those of faith in all ages, and according to those true invisible qualities? The unbelievers in all ages or covenants, at best only ever enjoyed the physical and visible signs of the promises, but will never really enter God’s true rest. So can national Israel still be the “people of God”? No, because those who do not have the Son do not have the Father. In a manner of speaking (visible/invisible distinctions) it both never was fully outwardly, but the people in it or even around it that believed, were the true Israel all along. It is in this same sense that the Church now exists, as the people of God by faith, and yet have visible sacraments to outwardly identify it from the rest of the world. But as stated in other parts of this series, just following the visible signs does not automatically make on inwardly and invisibly saved.

If anything I hope the series helps those unfamiliar with Covenant theology see the distinctions we hold and how we make the transition from new to old testaments, and how we see God working in one consistent manner in all ages. In opposing circles, I’ve been a part of, there is more confusion and inconsistent mixing of the signs and things signified or rather visible types get confused, fused or disconnected from their invisible and yet true spiritual realities.

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Covenant (part 6) Moses

The Covenant of Grace: with Moses

Immediately I understand that categorizing the covenant made with Moses (and Israel) as part of the covenant of grace, is not commonly understood or accepted. Arguments against this placement will usually cite Paul’s various Law vs. Gospel distinction passages. I admit these and yet like to clarify that Paul is not against the Law, as if it were evil, but wherever Paul or any NT writer, in shorthand, condemns the “Law”, they are in fact only ever condemning the incorrect use of the Law, as if it were meant to be a system of righteousness, which it is not, cannot be, and was never given to be such a system.

Visible/Physical elements: Moses, the people of Israel, the Ten Commandments, promises and curses.

Scenario: a seed of Abraham had become a physical blessing to many nations, as Joseph rose to fame and power in Egypt and saved many from starvation. A new Pharaoh rises who hates and is threatened by Israel and so imposed a harsh bondage upon them, whereas the people cry out to God for deliverance. Moses comes on scene as a deliverer figure fulfilling Gen. 15:13, Ex. 2:23-24. Via the power of God represented by and communicating through Moses, the people are set free from Egypt and journey towards the land originally promised to Abraham.

It’s important to note that, as the New Testament teaches (Gal. 3:17), the covenant of grace/promise via Abraham is still the context in the days of Moses as to why Israel is considered the people of God, why they can call on God, and why He moves to deliver them. The institution of the grace/law covenant with Moses, DOES NOT replace the promises, but only adds the dimension that if you are a child of promise, by faith, given to you as was given to Abraham, then this new heart should function in these “10” ways.

Now, because physically they cannot see everyone’s heart, but yet physically all reside with or are within a household of Abraham/Israel, all the males are to be outwardly circumcised. Now all those outwardly circumcised (regenerate by faith or not) are expected to keep the commandments of God, as expressing their love for God and neighbor in tangible everyday living. To the invisible/spiritual Israel or church they are just living out the faith and love they have received internally. The unsaved or those who do not have faith, but are externally part of physical Israel are still required conditionally to obey the commandments, which because of sin can only offend them and drive them to be “stiff-necked” toward God and others.

So the Ten Commandments, along with all other instituted levitical laws do not replace the covenant of grace, but as it were, enhances it to now say what the people of God’s name and faith actually do. It’s to show the world how their hearts beat differently than others in all matters of tangible daily living. The faith filled Israelites, I think, would rejoice in this, as now elements of their entire day allows them to focus on God. The new commandments are embraced because of the heart they’re given, and not the other way around. Doing the commandments did not and could not make someone a child of grace, faith and promises, except in their external/physical sense. In the modern church we claim a better than type and shadow revelation, stronger witness of the Spirit and freedom in Christ, but our outward and daily walk with God can hardly be said to entirely focus on God. We consider ourselves “good” if we remember to pray before falling asleep.

Taking things just a bit further. You see throughout the rest of the Old Testament this visible/invisible and physical/spiritual context and tensions in how God treats “His people”. Israel is typically in trouble for breaking covenant relationship with God. So God physically punishes them (removing sometimes almost all physical covenant blessing from them), for their breach, but yet invisibly still calls the faithful of them “His people” (because by the promise to Abraham, God will answer against Himself for their breaches) and further promises to restore them.

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Covenant (part 5) Abraham

Covenant of Grace: with Abraham

Visible/Physical elements: A son for Abraham, Abraham the father of many nations, Abraham as a blessing to all people, God to be Abraham’s shield and great reward, the caldron through the pieces, sign of circumcision, land promise.

Scenario: In a few instances where God proves to deliver Abraham in battles and causes him to prosper, God verbally and via theophanies makes promises to Abraham about his future, security, fame, and linage. Yet, because God both issues and ratified the covenant in and by walking through the animal pieces Himself, the covenant is really 100% God’s and therefore to be maintained and fulfilled from a spiritual context. But, just like in salvation for us, Abraham is given physical gifts and promises that although they have visible signs are in reality only invisibly and spiritually fulfill in Himself, in Christ. I think most of us get the idea that Abraham is like us in that:

1. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, as we are to be living sacrifices,

2. We don’t really die on our behalf, just as Abraham didn’t really have to sacrifice his son.

3. This obediance is a product of the gift of faith, Abraham didn’t refuse his son, or anything from God, so too are told if we love God we will keep His commandments and be perfect.

4. We do neither perfectly, but as such it’s God who is to atone/answer for our failure.

So inwardly Abraham is just like us, receiving the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, just as we are synonymously made alive, given a new heart, born again, baptized by the Holy Spirit. He is thus given by God an outward sign of the transformation of circumcision and instructed to pass along the sign to all his physical posterity whereas we are given the sign of water baptism and likewise by Christ, instructed to pass down the sign to all disciples.

Visibly Abraham is to walk with God as a physical father of a physical people who will be outwardly marked by circumcision and a designated land indicating that they belong to God. Spiritually/invisibly Abraham is the father of all who will believe by faith, as inwardly born again of God, regardless of nationality, lands or outward signs.

I plan to say more on circumcision later, but for now it’s enough to say that it’s a visible sign used to signify an invisible reality, whereas they are distinct in this way, they must not be viewed as able to be separated. God so tied Abraham to the importance of the visible sign, that anyone without it is cut off from his people (curse language as of those things to be offered up to destruction). Yet via the New Testament, it is clearly delineated that faith and righteousness came to Abraham apart from and prior to the sign.

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A Sweet Aroma

The Christian lives as a sacrifice before God daily, as did Jesus. It is our reflection of His grace that we expend ourselves in His service and service to others. As we die a bit more day by day or are crushed by the world little by little, we have the opportunity to pour out our gratitude and love for God and neighbor. As like the Old Testament sacrifices, we are thus a sweet aroma pleasing unto Him. This follows from nature that in the same manner that spices and incense give off more and more of their flavor/aroma as they are burned or crushed so do we in our sufferings unto God. This is why murmuring and complaining in such circumstances is not befitting the true Christian. Psalm 44:22, Romans 8:36, Psalm 116:15, 2 Cor. 2:14-15, Eph. 5:1-2.

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The best business advice

As Jesus was teaching/preaching, a man was churning something over and over in his mind that had nothing to do with the sermon at hand, much like some do during modern church services.

“Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.””

Luke 12:13-21

Jesus takes the opportunity to make what was a disruption into a famous teaching moment. This is the best advice I can think of for all business persons.

Materialism distracts us from recognizing that God gives us the increases we receive in life, yet somehow this businessman/farmer was able to look past all that God had done to bring about his abundant crops, and could only see himself and his security in that wealth. Yet the bigger problem was not his lack of space to hold it all, or really that he had to come up with a plan to resolve his storage problem. His biggest issue was that in all his life’s work and planning, he never took time to make God a part of his plans.

It’s the thought that you can always get to God later in life once you’ve taken care of your material needs. The Devil rarely tries to convince people that God’s not real or that there is not pending judgement day. The Devil’s best tactic is to convince people that there is always room to get right with God, tomorrow. Business people have so much going on, that if you could poll all of them in one day, I bet there would be a majority that would similarly say they can always accept God tomorrow. But just like the parable, and the population being what it is, the odds are that a few of those same business people will not make it to tomorrow. Worse still are those materialistic people that business people feed into and off of, stats say there are more of those who are betting on tomorrow but will not see the next sunrise. Further in the New Testament, James hits the nail on the head in the advice he is giving:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

James 4:13-17

To bet on tomorrow is and will be a losing bet for someone today. Don’t let that person be you, work to be rich toward God and seek the Lord while he may be found.

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