Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Covenant of Grace Revisited II: Creation of Space in the Covenant of Grace 3

Personal Application
The same stages that are found in the covenant-history can also be seen in one’s personal life. As I have argued earlier, even those who do not know God or seek God are in a sense children of God. God has given them life, and He has cared and provided for them in many ways. So, they owe it to their Father-God to seek Him and to thank Him; to trust and to obey Him.

If children are born in a Christian family, they may know that they, as little lambs in the flock, also belong to the Good Shepherd. Like the children of Abraham, they may live in the community where they hear God’s Word and experience God’s love. They have the promise of salvation, which at the right time, they must appropriate by faith.

Others are to seek their Father-God, so that –when they hear the Good News- they may recognize it as the truth that they so desperately need to hear. In the Gospel proclamation, they too receive the promise of salvation, and here too, it must be appropriated by faith.

When you travel from the earth’s equator to the North Pole, you pass through several climate zones: from tropical to temperate to arctic cold.
Yet, you can experience the same sort of climate zones when you climb a mountain in a tropical country, but you can do so in a shorter span of distance and time.
I see a parallel in the covenant history. The three stages took thousands of years, yet in one person’s life they can be experienced within a span of less than a century.

Although children in the church are fully part of the two-dimensional covenant, just like the children of Israel, yet they cannot make a credible life-long commitment to follow Jesus. We do not expect them to commit themselves to a life-long partner in marriage, so we cannot expect them to make a similar decision towards Christ, even though He has –in a sense- already offered them His wedding ring!
As we saw, Peter, at Pentecost addressed the God-worshippers with the claim, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2: 39). Surely, God’s promises of salvation and the (indwelling) Spirit were for all who heard Peter’s message. These promises were for the Jews and converts to Judaism as well as their households; they were also for all those who would yet, in ages to come, hear the same Gospel message.
Yet, not all who heard the message and had the promise accepted it in faith, for Luke writes, Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

The Position of the Young Children (of Believers)

When the Hebrews escaped slavery in Egypt, the children joined their parents. When Lot was saved from Sodom, the children came with him. When Jesus ‘saved’ children from their diseases, he did so on the ground of their parents’ faith. When the prison guard became a disciple of Jesus, his whole family was saved (Acts 16: 31-33).
When I took a course on ‘church planting’ at a Baptist seminary, a former missionary to the Middle East urged us, “If a father in that culture decides to follow Christ, we should be prepared to baptize him and his family”. It is normal in that culture that the family follows the father. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘and isn’t this the same culture where we find the early Christian church?!’
When a baby was born to Christian friends in China, they regularly asked me, as pastor, to bless their newborn child. On one occasion, I noticed in the bedroom a calendar with a picture of ‘the Good Shepherd’, so I assured their parents that their little lamb also belonged to Jesus, and we prayed together that she would later indeed choose to (continue to) follow Him.

Nevertheless, I have often observed that in churches where infants are baptized a false assurance lives that the child is guaranteed to go to heaven. There the very word ‘covenant’ brought up associations with ‘the wonderful comfort that we might have in infant baptism’.
The liturgical form does little to stress that covenant blessings, if spurned in later life, actually result in a greater curse and condemnation.[1]

This is what the Reformed churches (GKv) in The Netherlands have in their liturgical form for the baptism of infants:

De heilige Geest garandeert je dat hij in je komt wonen. Hij maakt je één met Christus. Hij maakt tot je persoonlijk eigendom wat je in Christus al heb . Daardoor zul je eens volmaakt zuiver zijn. Dan zul je eeuwig leven te midden van het volk dat God heeft uitgekozen.

The Holy Spirit guarantees you (in baptism) that He will come to dwell in you. He makes you one with Christ. He makes that (all Christ’s promises) will be your personal possession. Through this work, you will be made pure and perfect. Then you will dwell forever among the people that God has chosen.

And what is the biblical passage that is supposed to teach that this is true for all baptized children? 1 Corinthians 6: 19, which reads:
”Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”
Yet, it seems to be clear that Paul is here not addressing infants in the church, but believers.

Sure, the next paragraph in the form states that there are still obligations for the child, but how could a guaranteed rebirth ever be undone? Besides the rebirth or indwelling Spirit is only true for the elect. Reformed theology professors have given me vague, inconclusive answers when I questioned them on this point.
One told me that the Holy Spirit gives the assurance, but that’s not the same things as a guarantee. Nevertheless, baptism is listed as a sacrament, which implies not only that it is a sign, but also a seal. And a seal is a guarantee, so the newer translation does not change the meaning that was already intended by claiming it’s a guarantee.
Another one assured me that the real basis for (infant) baptism is the receiving of the promise and not of the promised things. Yet, regular church visitors (in the preaching) also receive the promise, while the church would not consider them for baptism until they make a credible public profession of personal faith!

Obligation for Obedience
As I mentioned, the form continues:
Van jouw kant ben je nu verplicht God zo te gehoorzamen als bij je nieuwe leven past. Je moet geloven in deze ene God - Vader, Zoon en heilige Geest - en hem liefhebben met heel je hart, met heel je ziel, met heel je verstand en met inzet van al je krachten. Je moet met de wereld van de zonde breken, wat zondig in je is laten afsterven en vol ontzag voor God leven.

From your side, you are now under obligation to obey God as it befits your new life. You must believe this one God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You must break with the world of sin, let sin die in you, and live in full respect for God.

At the time that I publicly challenged these things in our churches, it was a common idea that the obligations for the baptized person have no eternal consequences, for…
·       God has given his guarantee. We cannot make this undone.
·       If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Tim. 2:13)
·       The Canons of Dort teach us that God’s grace is irresistible
·       They also teach us about the perseverance of the saints

Now, this is the problem.
If the Reformed children have the guarantee of salvation, and it cannot be undone, then salvation is guaranteed for all the children in the church. That impression was given in our church at the time, but the Bible clearly teaches no such thing.
On the other hand, if salvation is first graciously given, while the final salvation depends on the fulfilment of the righteous requirements, then we are not saved by grace alone. There are Reformed leaders, who teach this two-step-justification-theory.[2]
Thank God, Baptists like John Piper, Don Carson, and Stephen Westerholm[3] have pointed out the subtle but serious error in this teaching.


The issue of ‘infant baptism’ is not nearly so clear as I have been led to believe. I was told that Baptists cannot be Christian believers. The Bible clearly tells us to baptize children of believers, they claimed, so those who refused to do this cannot truly believe the Bible.
Over the most recent twenty years, however, I have observed with amazement how many Baptists became more and more Reformed, even as most ‘Reformed’ churches today no longer stand for the core values of the Reformation.

Thank God for The Gospel Coalition, where the Reformed and the Baptists can work effectively together, without compromising the Truth or the authority of Scripture.

A few months ago, I was baptized by immersion in a Baptist church. This was my testimony:

“When I was –about sixty years ago- born of believing parents, they brought me into the church to receive the sign of the covenant: God also wanted to be my Father and Savior’.
It took about twenty years before a radical transformation occurred in my life. No longer did I want to be in the center of my life. In deep gratitude for God’s love in Jesus’ sacrifice, I now wanted to live for Him and to be His witness.
Yet, at that time I had little notion of conversion or rebirth. This only came another twenty years later, when I wanted (like the Bereans) to search the Scriptures to find out whether what I had learned was true. That is when I came to know the work of Don Carson and John Piper. I recognized my Master’s voice! Yet, at that time I was not ready to be immersed.
Nevertheless, today the day has come –some twenty years later again- to renew my covenant with God and to enter the deep water of baptism!”

[1] Dr. J. Van Bruggen warned about this in his book “Het Diepe Water van de Doop” (the deep, hence threatening water of baptism.)
[2] the movement has been called The Federal Vision.
[3] Stephen Westerholm: “Justification reconsidered”

The Covenant of Grace Revisited II: Creation of Space in the Covenant of Grace 2

The Trinitarian Covenant Model

In my book ‘Praying for Rain’ (1998) I already suggested that the concept Covenant of Grace receives a greater filling throughout the biblical history. Its gifts and promises become richer with the broadening of God’s self-revelation.

Paul addresses the Romans

1)    Consider Romans 1.[1] God has revealed himself to ‘people’, but ‘they’ neither sought him, glorified him, nor thanked Him for his gifts and blessings. This is about all humanity. God has also revealed himself to them as their Good Father: their life-giver and care-giver. He has given them many gifts, so they owe it to Him to seek Him and to walk with Him.
2)    In the next two chapters, we read that God has further revealed Himself to the Jews. They received the Word: the Law and the prophets. Yet, they did not live in accordance with the Law and did not heed the prophets’ warnings. Now, the Law and the prophets were supposed to bring God’s people to their knees before Him in anticipation of God’s own Sacrifice. The Word-became-flesh is the climax of the covenant.
In 3:21 through chapter 7, Paul explains that justification only comes by faith while true faith will produce fruit of righteousness. They had been under the law and slaves to sin, but now they have (voluntarily) become slaves of Christ, under grace.
3)    In chapters 7 and 8 Paul comes to the new life in the Spirit. That is the mark for those, who are in the New Covenant. Their lives no longer revolve around self and sin, but around God’s Word and Spirit.[2]
4)     Even so, life for the Christian involves ongoing warfare. The enemy does not easily give up his prey, and deep down, also in the reborn Christian, there remains a craving for things that would distract us from the new life in the Spirit[3].

Who is the true ‘Child of God’?

So, we can summarize the status of a person ‘as child of God’ accordingly:
1          God has created humans in his image to be His children, for His glory.
Through the Fall, humans have turned their backs to Father-God and have become slaves to Satan and sin. And so, they have been ignoring God, His gifts for them, and his claim on their lives.
Although their image-of-God has been corrupted, God is still their rightful Father to whom they must return.
2          In and through Abraham’s seed, God has revealed Himself in His Law and by his prophets, and eventually by His Son and Holy Spirit. In His Word, he gives the promise of reconciliation, forgiveness, the indwelling Spirit, and eternal life with Him. Through Christ’s death on the cross people can be restored as children of God, when –revived by God’s Spirit- they begin (in trust and obedience) to look again like children of God.
3          Now, in the New Covenant, the real sign of being a ‘child of God’ is that this person no longer loves to serve self, sin, and Satan. They love God, and they walk by the Spirit. Dressed in God’s armor, equipped by God’s Spirit they do not shrug their shoulders, saying, “Ah, you know, we’re all wretched sinners anyway!” No, they hate sin, and they actively wage war against sin and Satan![4]
4          We’re not there yet! Only at the end of time will the true sons-of-God be revealed and will our adoption as God’s sons be complete.[5]

Creating Space: The 3-D Covenant Model

About a year ago we ‘happened to’ walk into a Klezmer concert in the city of Leeuwarden in The Netherlands. The group of three musicians called themselves C to the third power. Their names all started with a C, and they felt that each one of them not only contributed of his own experience and skill, but he also inspired the other two to greater accomplishments.

So, the accumulated benefits of the group were much greater than just three times that of one artist. So, instead of 3 + 3 + 3 (=9), the effect was rather like 3 x 3 x 3 (=27).

Geometrically we can see this when we consider dimensions.
·       A point is none-dimensional; it has location, but it does not take up space.
·       A line is one-dimensional. We experience time this way. It is like a railway-track without switches. It gives a lot more options than the point, yet it is quite restrictive.
·       A plane is two-dimensional. We can walk a field in all kinds of directions, but anything up or down (from the field) is still no option. There gives much more freedom than the train-track (much more than just two crossing tracks), but something greater still exists.
·       Space (as we experience it) has three dimensions. With airplanes and drones, we can go up and with submarines we can go down. In fact, in most cases we rely on sophisticated technology to utilize some of the third dimension.

So, I picture the Covenant of Grace as a three-dimensional model.
It starts out with one line, one axis. It is of infinite length but limited reach. Then, a second line is drawn and together they form a flat plane of infinite area. Finally, when the third line is drawn, perpendicular to the first two, the full 3-D spectrum opens up.
Actually, if we use fixed dimensions, we get successively: a line-segment, a square, and a cube. I like it this way, because in the Bible God’s Holy Presence is also symbolized by a cube. We see this in the shape of the Most Holy Place and at the end: in the New Jerusalem.

1.     After the Flood, God made a new beginning. He promised to be the Father-creator and Father-provider, sustainer of all creation, all humanity. God keeps giving sunshine and rain to all, and all must seek Him, trust in him alone, and live in thankfulness to Him.
2.     After the dispersion from Babel (Gen.11) God selected Abram to make a new beginning. Over the centuries God made Israel into a numerous nation and gave them the lands of people groups that had become very perverted over time. After a long period of quarantine in Egypt, God set them free from slavery and presented them with his Law. Over time, God gave further revelation through his prophets. The purpose was that Israel should live as a light on the mountain for the glory of the rightful King.
3.     When the time had come for God to ‘remember His covenant’, He sent his Son to fulfil the Law and to pay the price of human obedience. To those, who follow Him in obedience and trust, He gives His Spirit to dwell in them. They are now called to remain steadfast and to produce fruit of the Spirit. As the parable of the seed-sower (Matthew 13) teaches us, not all the seed that germinates in faith does persevere and bear fruit. Therefore… if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 


Noah; all creation
Church and Mission
A great nation; a prosperous land
Inheritance of the New Earth; co-government with Christ, the King
All humanity
(Noah and family)
All who hear God’s Word and experience His grace: Abraham’s offspring > Israel
All who accept hrist as their only Savior and follow Him in voluntary service
After the Great Flood
At Mount Sinai
Pentecost; Jerusalem
(New) Revelation
In creation, providence
In God’s Word: Law and Prophets; Christ and apostles
By His Spirit, who uses the Word and provides leaders, teachers
The (rain)bow: sun and rain together
The blood; circumcision
The Spirit; baptism
Gracious Gift
Saved from drowning; new life
Saved from slavery; the Law and the Prophets
Forgiveness of sins; transformed heart; everlasting life
God’s Fatherly Care
Protection; blessing
Spiritual guidance, church leaders
Respect and protect humans as God’s image-bearers
Trust and obedience
Perseverance and fruitfulness
Seek God, expect all good from Him alone; thanksgiving
A light to attract the nations in darkness to the Living God
Call all people to faith and repentance

[1] 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

[2] You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you. (Rom.8)

[3] 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

[4] 12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

[5] 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved.