How do covenants structure redemptive history? Dr. Richard Belcher unpacks how the covenants help us understand God’s plan for salvation.
Covenants are a complex topic, and there’s a lot we could say about covenant theology, but I think it’s helpful to understand how covenants give a structural unity to the message of Scripture. Covenants are like the architecture of a building, giving a structural framework for redemptive history. Now in explaining covenant theology, it’s helpful to understand that there are two overarching covenants in Scripture: there’s the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. These two covenants are very different from each other, but together they give a bi-covenantal framework that is foundational to the gospel.
The Covenant of Works
Covenants are like the architecture of a building, giving a structural framework for redemptive history.We’ll start with the covenant of works. When Adam disobeys God, the covenant of works formally comes to an end. However, it’s important to recognize that the requirement to perfectly keep the law of God does not come to an end. It is not removed. All of us are under the obligation to perfectly keep the law of God. The problem is we are not able to keep the law of God, and therefore we stand condemned by the law. Now Christ, the second Adam, came and perfectly kept the law of God, and through his death on the cross, he bore the condemnation, the covenant curse, that all of us stand under. He took that upon himself so that God justifies sinners through the imputed righteousness of Christ for those who believe in him. So we could say that salvation in one sense is by works, not our works, but the works of Christ received by faith.
The Covenant of Grace
The covenant of grace is God’s response to the failure of Adam. To begin that process of salvation, God right there in the garden responded in a gracious way to Adam by providing him animal skins to clothe his nakedness, to cover up his shame and guilt. God also promised that there would be a coming redeemer who would do battle with the serpent and would have victory over the serpent. Many call this the first gospel there in Genesis 3:15. And even though the covenant curse made the mandate that God had given to Adam more difficult to fulfill, Adam responds in faith by naming his wife Eve. Eve means the mother of all living.
Redemptive History Unfolds in Covenants
We could say that salvation in one sense is by works, not our works, but the works of Christ received by faith.The development and progress of redemptive history and God’s salvation is worked out in the various covenants of the Old Testament: the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with Moses, the covenant with David. All of these are fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Each of these covenants that I’ve mentioned have their own distinctive emphasis, but together they represent the fullness of salvation that Christ initially brings to us in his first coming and completely fulfills in his second coming. Each of these covenants progress not by replacing the promises of the earlier covenants but by expanding upon those promises and building upon those promises. These covenants represent the fullness of our salvation fulfilled by Jesus Christ. There’s great unity in the overarching covenant of grace as God in redemptive history works out our salvation and ultimately the restoration of all creation in the new heavens and the new earth. Covenants are the structural framework for redemptive history, God’s method to bring about our full and complete salvation.