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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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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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Covenant (part 4) Noah

Continuing our review of the covenants from the visible/invisible distinctions.

Covenant of Grace: with Noah

Visible/Physical elements: Noah’s ark, flood, rainbow.

Invisible/Spiritual: God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy.

Scenario: Those not within the covenant of God’s grace are seen as continuously evil and so according to the covenant of works, they are to be wiped out via the means of the flood. Noah found favor before God and so via mercy, grace, and faith he is to build a boat (ark) that will shelter him, his family, and the animal population. The flood serves a two fold purpose, it preserved Noah while cleansing the world. Just as in the final judgement as fire is said to destroy all things, we are told our spiritual good will remain (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

The covenant is expressed in two parts. First that Noah and family will come through the flood, and then after they are delivered, Noah and all the earth are given a covenant promise that God would never again flood the entire earth. New commands are given that they can eat anything moving or plant life, but that mankind will be at odds with the animal kingdom. Man, as seen in grace, is reissued the command to be fruitful and multiply.

So via our visible/invisible distinction we can say that the visible deliverance and destruction are a one to one comparison to their invisible subjects (Noah in an estate of grace and the destroyed as in their estate of sin and judgement under the covenant of works). Yet we can also say that although His entire family is saved outwardly it is not a sign of the entire family’s righteousness. Ham will later be cursed by Noah and in a manner cut off from his family. So those within a visible family can contain both spiritually/invisibly saved and unsaved persons, although outwardly it would appear they are all part of God’s family.

The NT, in 1 Peter 3:18-22, calls us to compare Noah’s ark to baptism. Within the context of this section we are to understand that Noah was not exactly a type of Christ, because whereas Noah was safe above the flood in the ark, Christ had to be killed in/by the “flood” (wrath of God) for our sins. In the spiritual conquering death, Jesus satisfies the spiritual/invisible judgement of the flood, which is why our spiritual baptism (symbolized in our visible/physical baptism) is identification with Him via the Holy Spirit, as already conquered death, so we say we have eternal life “in Him”. Whereas the flood could only cleanse the earth of people polluted and guilty of sin, Christ actually dealt with the pollution and guilt of sin, such that we can be identified as back in covenant relationship with God.

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Visible or True Israel

Working with the visible and invisible concept of the church from the last post (1 John 2:19), I want to now see how scripture applies this distinction to Israel and later to covenants. It’s important to grasp this invisible/visible, spiritual/physical, or internal/external scope of scripture because without it many things can become confused.

In summary what I defined so far was that the visible church is the physical people and their external activity that we see in church each week. Because we cannot see the internal spiritual heart of each person, we say that the invisible church are those we see each week who are born again by the Holy Spirit. On one hand they overlap, and on the other hand they are totally separate groups because some in the physical visible church may not be saved (although they may outwardly be doing everything those who are saved are outwardly doing).

I belabor the point as both review and emphasis because although the above is agreeable to most, once it is applied to the people of Israel, it sparks debate. So as applied, as simply as possible: Physical, political, ethnically visible Israel is not the same population as Spiritual, invisible, saved Israel. Romans 9 touched on this in the last post. We also see it repeatedly in John 8:44 as Jesus’ rebukes the religious leaders saying they are not of Abraham, but of their father the devil. Jesus cannot be speaking in physical terms, because they really are direct descendants of/from Abraham, so His context or perspective must be as one who can see their hearts and declare that from a spiritual/invisible point of view, they are not of His sheep, and in effect (related to Romans 9) they are not “true Israelites”.

In the Old Testament we encounter the same understanding of this biblical concept. Hosea 2 is used within the context of Romans 9 as proof that as salvation is being spread to Gentiles, it was something God had in mind all along when:

“As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”

So we are to understand that as the Gentiles are not God’s physically identifiable people, God via salvation, by the same grace and faith, will call the Gentiles His people and His beloved.

My main point in all of this is that as we encounter God’s relationships with Israel in the OT we need to be careful in our discernment of them being viewed as true or false Israelites (physical descendants or spiritual believers. Does God speak to them as His Children and protect them via His promises or do they face justice and His wrath. If under the Abrahamic Covenant God assumes all the penalties for not keeping the covenant, then Israel as a whole should never face discipline or judgment, but as they do, the remnant that always remains are the true Israel of God’s promise and grace.

Many throughout church history have seen this visible and invisible view to God’s dealing with people in all ages and have concluded, in line with the New Testament language, that the saved in all ages are the same and thus the terms of Israel, true Israel, the Church, Saints, God’s people, the Elect… are all interchangeable. There is resistance to this as some incorrectly call this idea “replacement theology”. The confusion rests completely in this idea of there being a visible and invisible, or true Israel. The mistake is not that the physical church replaces national/physical Israel, but that all the promises of God to Israel (as true or spiritual Israel) now fully belong to the church in this time, which is not a replacement because there is no transfer but they always belong those who are saved by grace through faith in all ages. This is why the church in the NT can be called names from the OT that belonged solely to Israel and Israel in the OT can be called the church in its youth.

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Visible & Invisible Church

The terminology of the visible and invisible church, is helpful but only when correctly understood. When it’s not, it adds to the division and tension between denominations and between fellow believers. I’ll try to sort this out as best I can.

As definitions go the visible church is simply the Christians/people you see in/at “church” each week. It’s called visible because of the external things you see or witness being done. You see the visible and external acts of worshipping, praying, preaching, professions of faith, baptisms, singing, gathering together, fellowshiping, and so on. As visible, no one can tell the true condition of the heart and mind of each person participating (saved/unsaved). Because of this inability, the general definition for the invisible church is necessary to discuss those who are internally truly born again and have a new heart via the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. In most cases you can imagine the two definitions overlap, as true believers internally will be at a church externally worshiping and so on. But there are also times where true believers may not be at a visible church, or a non-believer may attend a visible church but because of their unbelief they are not considered part of the invisible church. Some common distinctions would be to say that everyone of the invisible church is saved and that the visible church is commonly a mix of saved and unsaved.

Pretty simple and straightforward? I hope so, because this is foundational to be able to then apply it and build upon it.

Next, is to remember that you have to maintain this distinction as you read the Bible. We do not read it into the Bible, but get this from the Bible. Let’s see how.

1 John 2:19 is usually the clearest passage cited that gives us biblical warrant for having and using these two distinctions. In it John states that some have left, presumably the visible church, because they were not truly part of the invisible church. It makes sense that those who are not saved, although interested in “church” for a while, will eventually leave because there is no internal connection.

Romans 9:6-9. Although these verses are theologically charged with differing interpretations, I only want to focus on the fact that in verses six and seven Paul gives two example that he then explains precisely what he is saying in verse eight, “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” All I want to get from this at the moment is that to be a child of God (counted as His offspring) is not to just be an external/physical/visible child of Abraham, but instead required/requires belief in the promise. So we see visible church is to Abraham’s physical/external linage as the invisible church is to those who believe internally in the promise.

Go and see if you can identify the visible/invisible distinction in Galatians 3.

Next post, God willing, we’ll take this concept, combine it with the posts on Covenant, and apply it to some more passages.

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