Series

One Tree

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

In Romans 11, Paul uses the metaphor of an olive tree to teach the Roman Christians – whether Jew or Gentile - about their place in the people of God.  Paul begins this chapter by asserting that though Israel rejected the Messiah, God did not reject His people.  Paul is anticipating the question, “Did God reject His people?” because the reality is that Israel, as a nation, has found herself separated from God.  They have, as Paul said in Romans 9:32, “…stumbled over the stumbling stone.”  They had sought to establish their own righteousness before God and had rejected the only One (Jesus) in whom righteousness can be found.  So then, the reality is that Israel is, in fact, separated from God.  And because of this reality, Paul anticipates and deals with the question, “has God rejected His people?”  He answers with an emphatic, “no.”   

Paul says in verse 1 and following, “I ask then: Did God reject his people?  By no means!  I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew…So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.”  As was discussed in my previous blog in this series, at no time was all Israel, the nation, saved simply because they were born into ethnic Israel.  They were born into the covenant family of God and enjoyed the blessings of that, but that did not qualify them for salvation.  The nation of Israel functioned as the church and just as there are those within the visible (local) church today who are not saved, there were those within the visible church of the Old Testament who were not saved.  Salvation is only by faith.  This is exactly what Paul was teaching in Romans 2:28-29 where he says, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” 

Therefore, it was not circumcision that made one a Jew (a true Israelite), no more than baptism makes one a Christian (a true Israelite), but the inward working of the Spirit who circumcises the heart. There was a true Israel within ethnic Israel; Paul calls them the remnant.  God will always have His remnant in every age.  Paul goes on to say that because of Israel’s (as a whole) transgression, “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”  The gospel had gone out to the Gentiles that Israel might become envious and turn to Christ and so, therefore, be grafted into the true olive tree along with the believing Israelites and believing Gentiles.  Paul, then, speaking to the Gentiles, explains to them that by their belief they have been “grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root.”  Paul does tell us that there are two trees: a wild olive tree and a cultivated olive tree.  The wild olive tree is the seed of the serpent and its branches will be thrown into the fire and burned.  But the cultivated olive tree is God’s people - His remnant, the seed of the woman - that by grace, through faith, will share in all the blessings of being co-heirs with Christ.  But the point here is that there is only one cultivated olive tree and Scripture no where speaks of there being another. Jesus has opened the door of faith to the Gentiles and Japheth will dwell in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27).  Abram’s name was changed for a purpose, not that he would be the father of a nation, but the “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4). 

Interestingly, proponents of both sides of the debate concerning the people of God use this passage of Scripture in Romans 11 to prove their point.  The non-dispensationalists use Romans 11 to show that there is one cultivated tree.  However, the dispensationalists use Romans 11 to argue that at some future time, all Israel (national) will be saved using verse 26, “And so all Israel will be saved…”   But we must remember the context; Paul’s argument is that some Roman Christians (Gentile believers) were looking down upon the Jewish Christians and did not want to worship together with them.  Paul was telling the Gentiles both their place and the Jews’ place in the tree – he was telling them that they all are part of the same tree.  When all God’s elect, both Jew and Gentile, are engrafted into the tree, all Israel will be saved.

Many theologians do see a time in the future that there will be a mass conversion of Jews.  Many believe that “all Israel will be saved” points to a great engrafting back in of the Jews at the end of this age.  Certainly, Paul plainly teaches that the “natural branches are grafted back in” in some way, at some time.  And yet, the important thing (the absolutely crucial thing) to consider is this:  those natural branches aren’t grafted in outside of Jesus Christ.  The way they are grafted back in is through faith in Jesus Christ – not simply because they are Jews.  This, of course, goes back to the fact of the one plan of God.  It is also of utmost importance here to understand correctly the root of the tree.  To confuse this is to be Israel-centric rather than Christo-centric.  May Jesus Christ not be eclipsed by a people for whom He came to save.  Israel is not the root of the olive tree.  They are branches so long as they are in Christ, just as those Gentiles are branches so long as they are in Christ.  This really is the crux of the matter - Jesus Christ is the root of the tree.  Many today have failed to apply this all-important truth.  In Romans 11, Paul speaks of all the branches sharing in the nourishing “root” of the olive tree – the faith of their fathers – that faith placed in the promise of a Messiah, the Messiah who was to come and now, the Messiah who has come.  He warns against being arrogant in thinking that it is the branches supporting the root rather than the root supporting the branches.  He is here specifically speaking of the Gentiles but just as important is a warning of attributing to the Jews a place that is reserved for Jesus Christ. 

Paul quotes Isaiah in Romans 15:12, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles.”  Revelation 5:5 says, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”  And then so beautifully and wonderfully clear, Jesus proclaims in Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches.  I am the root and the descendent of David, the bright morning star.” 
May there be no mistaking who the “root of the tree” truly is.  May there be no giving of the honor and glory of Christ Jesus to any one else! 

There is one plan and one tree.

Application to faith and life:

Maybe you, as a young person, are enjoying or, as an adult enjoyed, the privileges of being raised in a Christian home.  Are you trusting your genealogy for your salvation?  Many Jews did that, too, and as you have learned, Paul tells us that they were cut off from the “nourishing sap” of the olive root.  They perished along with others who did not possess faith in Christ and died without hope.  In Genesis 3:15, and forward throughout the Scriptures, God points us to His Son as the only way - His only plan of salvation, to be engrafted into the cultivated olive tree. 


I am often asked about the turmoil in the Middle East and what significance I thought it played in the discussion of biblical prophecy.  Rather than answering directly, I often ask, “What is the biggest need for those in the Middle East?”  So often, the church gets so caught up in “end-times” hysteria as prophecy is interpreted through the media (newspaper exegesis) that the fact is forgotten that thousands of men and women are dying without Christ to spend an eternity separated from God.  Their greatest need there, whether Jew or Gentile, is not temporal peace; it is not even to settle the land dispute, it is that they need the precious gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul said the gospel has gone to Gentiles that Israel (ethnic) might be envious; have we made them envious?  Instead of making them envious we’ve sought to comfort them in their rejection of Christ.  Have we acted as though the Scriptures of the Old Testament belong to them and the New Testament belong to us?  What have they to be jealous about?  Too many Christians today have never been taught to read the Scripture as Christians, even as Christ has taught, with Him both as the lens and the object (Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself), and therefore they remain in the shadows.  Read the Scripture as a Christian and see Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purposes in all its wonder (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

Just Make a Decision, Will You?

This post is part of the to whom do they belong: children in the covenant series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister during the time of the Second Great Awakening.  He has been called the “Father of Modern Revivalism.”  He was (and is) well-known for his so-called “new measures.”  These new measures were methods of gaining a desired response from those to whom he preached.  In many ways, for Finney, theology took a back seat to what he deemed to be important; the decision of an individual.  His methods, or measures, were used to bring an individual to a certain decision and that decision, then, was what mattered in the determination of the eternal state of one’s soul.  Of course, to say that theology didn’t matter is probably a bit unfair.  To be accurate, it was poor theology that led to much of his philosophy of evangelism.  Iain Murray says in Revival and Revivalism (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994; pg. 245) that for Finney, “It was Adam’s will, not his supposed nature, that controlled his actions and, Finney declared, what was true of Adam remained true for all men; a decision of the will, not a change of nature, was all that was needed for anyone to be converted.”   So we can see then, that for Finney, all that was needed for life and salvation was not a changed heart or a conversion wrought by God in the heart of a sinner, but a decision of the will by the individual.  Therefore, a preacher’s role, or an evangelist’s role, is not simply to tell the truth of the gospel but to elicit a decision of the will.  This belief drove these new measures.

You may wonder why this introduction and snippet concerning Charles Finney is included in this series on Covenant Children.  I believe that the effects of Charles Finney’s (and other’s) ministry has so infected the American church that we hardly even know all the areas polluted by it.  Our understanding of and expectations concerning Covenant Children is one of those areas. 

I remember as a young Christian lamenting the fact that I didn’t have a powerful testimony.  If only I had rebelled!  If only I had done drugs and treated my parents as if I hated them, and then made a radical decision to come to Christ – what a testimony that would be!  I would then have something to share.  It is almost as if this is our desire.  And dare I say, it’s almost as if this is what we expect of our covenant children. 

I heard an illustrative story one day but, for the life of me, I cannot recall where or from whom I heard it.  I have racked every recess of my miniscule mind (so it didn’t take very long) to try to think of it so if you know from where this comes, please leave a note! 

In a small mountain town, a man was overhead telling a story in a bar (restaurant for those of you who might find that offensive) of the wonder, might, and providence of God.  This man was new to this small mountain village and had only driven the dangerous downhill trek from top to bottom a few times.  But one of those few times was in the midst of a snowstorm.   He came around a corner and his truck slid on the ice and he careened off the side of the mountain.  Down and down his truck tumbled, end over end, side over side.  He finally came to rest in a crevice from where, somehow, his lights were seen shining up into the darkness by a passerby.  That onlooker called the authorities and the man was rescued from a long and bitter night.  As this man finished his story, he said, “Certainly God is sovereign!  Look at the providence of God and His protection of me.  I am bumped and bruised and certainly there are consequences to my wreck, but I was out of control, my truck was falling, and yet, I was stopped before finally dropping off the cliff.  And more than that – what if that driver hadn’t had seen me, what would have come of me?!  Oh, the providence of God!” 

The one who overhead the story could barely keep from interrupting and he finally spoke, “Oh, that is indeed the providence of God!  We serve a wonderful, good, and gracious God do we not?  May I share with you another story of the wonderful and precious providence of God?  That road that you drove down and from where you slid . . . I have grown up here on this mountain, I have driven up and down that road countless times, in all types of weather, and not once have I slid off the road.  In all those times, God has protected me.  He has watched over me.  He has been with me.  He has brought me safely down and through that treacherous road.  Not once did He let me slip; not once did He let me run off the road!  Oh, the providence and sovereignty of God!” 

The same underlying theology that drove me as a younger Christian to desire a “better” testimony is often that which drives us as parents.  We somehow think that it is a greater testimony to have rebelled and been reclaimed than it is to have been raised in such a way that one can’t remember a day that he/she didn’t claim Christ as Lord and Savior.  We are in danger of confusing our children by expecting them to rebel so that at some point, they then might “make a decision for Christ.”  We are dangerously close to that which Finney would have argued; as parents, if you do it right, if you argue right, if you can get your kids to make a decision, then you’ve done your parental duty.  If we doubt that Finney would have said such a thing, let us take him at his word as he said, “pious parents can render the salvation of their children certain.”  But Finney, and we, must confess, that as is the case in every case, salvation rests in the sovereign will and mercy of God.  Some thirty-two years after his confident claim, Finney would stop during a sermon he was preaching on the training of children and say, “Brethren, why am I trying to instruct you on the subject of training your children in the fear of God when I do not know that a single one of my children gives evidence of having been converted?”  We grieve, even as he, I’m sure, grieved, over such a thing! 

We all desire our children to walk in the way of the Lord.  While John was speaking about his spiritual children, certainly this holds true for our own children, “I have no greater joy than to know my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).  This is the Christian parent’s desire and hope – and it is our calling.  The prophet Malachi says, “And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15).   We are called to raise godly offspring.  We are called to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).  This isn’t a series on child-rearing and I do not pretend to have the answers in this regard.  My hope, as does everyone’s, rests in the sovereign mercy of God.  The concern here is how we view our children within the life of the church and how that impacts that way in which we minister to them.  

There are those who come into the kingdom by way of dramatic testimony.  The Apostle Paul’s striking experience on the Damascus Road is a biblical example.  However, there are also those who come into the kingdom by way of a covenant home.  This should be our prayer.  Our prayer should be that our children’s testimonies are that of Timothy, “and how from infancy you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). 

This hope in no way denies the need for conversion.  The Scripture is clear that unless one is converted they will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3, John 3:3).  But does conversion always look like what we’ve been taught it looks like?  Should a dramatic Paul-like conversion be what we expect from covenant children or one closer to the experience of young Timothy?  This will be the subject of the next several posts:  the nature of conversion and the means by which that conversion comes about in regards to covenant children.

This post is part of the to whom do they belong: children in the covenant series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

One Plan

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

The promise of a Redeemer to sinners goes all the way back to the very first sinners; Adam and Eve.  Genesis 3:15 is often called the protoeuangelion because it is the first gospel presentation.  Though it is not fully revealed as of yet and though the way in which God will bring it about is not exposed, still yet, there is a promise of a Redeemer to come.  It says, “And I will put enmity between you (serpent) and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he (Messiah) will crush your head, and you will crush his heel.”  After the fall of man, God did not leave man to perish in this estate of separation from Him.  By His grace, He promised a Redeemer that will defeat the enemy and rescue sinners from their miserable estate.  The struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent can be followed throughout Scripture and the decisive victory was met at the cross of Jesus Christ. II Timothy 1:10 says, “but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  John Owen said it so well in the title of his book, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.   Christ was the once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of those who trust in Him.  I Peter 3: 18 says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”  In the Old Testament, God had directed His people to offer sacrifices to Him.  These sacrifices were never meant to cleanse them from their sin but they were meant to point to the person and work of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:9;10:4).  Just as the protoeuangelion pointed to the person and work of Christ, the sacrifices and offerings that the people of God were to offer to Him also pointed to Jesus Christ. 

The sacrifice of Christ was not an addendum to God’s plan after “he figured out” that the Jews had rejected their Messiah.  Indeed, the Jews did reject the Messiah just as many today, whether Jew or Gentile, reject Him.  God’s plan from eternity past was always to redeem a people to Himself by the sending of His Son; the Lamb of God.  Acts 2: 22 says, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know- this Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”  Christ’s death on the cross was not “plan B” for God.  It was predetermined before the foundation of the world that God would glorify Himself by sending His only Son to redeem a people for Himself. 

The Old Testament saints didn’t earn their salvation or their standing before God by their obedience to the law of God.  The covenant at Sinai wasn’t given as a means of justification.  It was given as a schoolmaster, a tutor, a guardian, to lead to Jesus Christ.  Paul says, “So then the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).  No one was ever justified by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16).  The Old Testament saints were saved by grace through faith.  Paul says of Abraham in Romans 4:9, “We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.”  To reinforce this and to say it another way, Paul says, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith” (Romans 4:13).    The ground of their salvation is the same ground as those after the first coming of Christ.  It is, as Martin Luther called it, an alien righteousness.  A righteousness that is not our own.  Paul says in Philippians 3:9, “And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  This is the same for the Jew and for the Greek.  God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11).  Paul is so very clear about this in his wonderful treatment of all men’s need for Christ in Romans 3.  “What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no not one; no understands; no one seeks for God’” (Romans 3:9-11).  Whether one is a Jew or a Gentile, all are in need of Jesus Christ for salvation.  There is not one plan for the Jew and one for the Gentile.  The Jew doesn’t receive the promises of God simply because he is a Jew.  They do not have any ‘divine right’ outside of Jesus Christ.

There is only plan of God for the salvation of sinners – for all men.  That plan is through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  As Peter said before the council, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).   

There is only one plan.

Application to faith and life:

It might seem obvious at this point what significance this has to everyday faith and life.  However, it is ever helpful for us to remind ourselves daily of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We need to learn to preach the gospel to ourselves.  We all need to be reminded of God’s love for His people.  We are all sinners in need of grace and in need of a Savior.  Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation.  In our culture of relativism, it is not popular to say that there is only one way.  But Scripture is our authority and God has plainly revealed that He has one plan of salvation for sinners; and that is Jesus Christ.  If one is to be saved, that person must by faith, embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for He is “the way the truth and the life” but He also said for “no one can comes to the Father but by (Him).”

In what have you placed your trust?  Have you placed your trust in Jesus Christ or are you “trying out” your own plan of salvation?  Maybe you think your own goodness is good enough to earn you a place in heaven.  The apostle Paul tells us that there is “none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10) and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  The only righteousness that has earned heaven is that of Jesus Christ and it is only by His righteousness that God receives anyone.

So whether you are a Jew or an Arab, slave or free, man or woman, American or German, there is one plan of God – Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners!

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

To Whom Do They Belong?

This post is part of the to whom do they belong: children in the covenant series (click to view the other posts in this series).

This series was born out of questions asked by members of the congregation where I serve as pastor.  I serve in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  One of the distinctives of Presbyterian and reformed theology is our understanding of children in the covenant and therefore, as a consequence of that, our practice of covenant baptism.

While covenant baptism is not the particular subject of this series, the fundamental theology that undergirds this practice impacts how we view the church, our families, and our children.  Our confession (Westminster Confession of Faith) states in chapter 25.2, “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” 

We believe the children of believers are part of the house and family of God.  This was the reality in the time of Abraham, as God said to him, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Genesis 17:7).  And this is the reality today as Peter echoes this same truth in the first sermon after Pentecost proclaiming, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). 

So what does this mean for the church and for parents as we seek to minister to these young ones in our midst?  Do we view them as wolves among the sheep or do we view them as lambs within the fold?  Do we view these children of believers as weeds in the garden of the Lord or flowers in need of growth and pruning?  Do we view them as children of God or children of Satan?   How we answer these questions affect how we minister to our children.  It affects how we teach our children about faith, about eternity, about God’s sovereignty, about their responsibility, about trusting in the Lord Jesus, about calling on the Name of the Lord, about conversion, and about a host of other deep, spiritual subjects. 

These are important questions for the church because we are dealing with important matters.  The issue of children was important to our Lord Jesus as is demonstrated by the way He Himself received them.  In Luke 18, there were those who were “bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.  But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:15-16).  Some will say that Jesus’ treatment here of the infants has nothing to do with covenant baptism or covenant inclusion but He is simply, yet profoundly, making the point that anyone who enters the kingdom of God must do so like one of these children.  It is agreed that Jesus isn’t explicitly teaching either one of those things, but we do certainly see Jesus’ clear desire for children to be in His presence and His rebuke of those who would keep them from coming (and even more correctly, being brought) to Him.  And not to make too much of this but is it not interesting to consider the full impact of what Jesus is saying here?  How do we receive the kingdom of God like a child?  In the very picture Jesus gives, these infants didn’t come on their own accord but were brought into His presence that He might touch them.  Who would hinder them from coming?  And more than that, who would even forbid them to come when Jesus commands, “Let the children come to me”? 

This is the weighty subject and wonderful questions to which I will seek to give some wisdom, biblical insight, and godly perspective in the next several posts in this series...  stay tuned!  

This post is part of the to whom do they belong: children in the covenant series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

The People of God - Intro, Part 2

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

From a very practical standpoint, beginning to understand this issue of the people of God will help God’s people read, study, and apply the whole counsel of God (the Old and New Testament) in a way that is consistent with His revelation of Himself to us.  Hopefully one might be encouraged to read the Bible as that unfolding story of God whereby He saves a people to be His own.  This blog series is not intended to be a theological treatise but something everyday people can read as he or she seeks to read and understand the Bible.  It is my deepest desire and prayer that this might cause those who read it to dive into the riches of His Word and study for themselves what God has said to us about Himself and His people.  If this happens, may God be praised for a renewed desire, passion, and hunger for His Word.  As we begin to understand that from Genesis to Revelation, there is one plan of God for one people of God redeemed by the Son of God, we begin to see the grace, compassion, love, forgiveness, and faithfulness of the LORD our God and the absolute wonder of the Gospel.  

It’s appropriate as part of this second installment to define a few terms that will help in one’s thought processes.  It’s important to acknowledge that for many of us, we’ve been taught through a particular framework or structure about which we’ve never been informed.  For many in the Christian culture of the area in which I live, the dominant and popular teaching is rooted in dispensational theology.  Most people don’t even know what this is, much less the implications this structure has on biblical hermeneutics (interpretation).   That is not to say that people have tried to hide it or conceal it but that the foundations for their particular doctrines simply are not taught.  So what is dispensationalism and what is its counterpoint?

The two systems of theology among Christian evangelicalism today that will be addressed in this blog are dispensationalism and covenant theology. There are others but for the purpose of this series, the short introductions and even briefer definitions of these two will suffice as a foundation.   There are many differences within these two systems of theology. 

To be fair, it is difficult to get a consistent definition or understanding of dispensationalism.  For some it has changed much from its roots in the 19th century and there is great divergence between differing understandings.  However, what makes any system “unique” is in how it distinguishes itself from other systems.  And while there may be differences, there are some presuppositions that seem to be consistent throughout and upon which much of contemporary evangelicalism seems to be based.  Charles Ryrie, on page 47 of “Dispensationalism Today,” says, “The essence of dispensationalism then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church.  This grows out of the dispensationalist’s consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well.”  As you quickly see, there are then three presuppositions held by dispensationalists as they read and study their Bibles: the church and Israel are distinct; consistent normal or plain interpretation (literal); and the glory of God as God’s purpose.  So then, dispensationalism is a system of interpreting the Bible through the lens of these three presuppositions and viewing God as superintending His creation within distinct stages or dispensations. 

For Covenant theology, we start where it agrees with Dispensational theology: the glory of God is God's ultimate purpose. However, in contrast to Dispensational theology, Covenant theology doesn't view Scripture as a series of distinct dispensations, but sees it as one unified and integrated story through the lens of God's covenant with man throughout history. Covenant theology does not make a radical distinction between Israel and the New Testament church as the people of God. The church, as found in both the Old Testament and the New, is the one unified people of God.   There is also a difference in the guiding rule of interpretation.  Whereas a dispensationalist would argue that the rule for interpretation Scripture is “literal where possible” a reformed or covenantal hermeneutic would argue for the rule, “Scripture interprets Scripture.”  Rather than allowing a presupposition to determine Scripture’s meaning, Scripture determines its own meaning.  Certainly much more could be said in regard to Covenant Theology but since this isn’t the focus of this particular series, this concise definition will suffice.  If you would like further study on the covenants, see Ligon Duncan’s wonderful work on this topic here.  You may also pick up a copy of Michael Horton’s book, God of Promise; Introducing Covenant Theology

Why is all this important? Why should we be concerned with this? As I mentioned earlier, many of us have been taught individual ideas without also learning the big-picture framework from which these individual ideas are born. So, what happens if we discover that the overall framework isn't biblical? How would it affect the individual ideas that we have been taught? For many of us, this would be a difficult thing to discover. We all find it demanding to wrestle with whole paradigm shifts.   However, if we are truly submissive to Scripture, recognizing the authority it has over us, we will believe what it says regardless of our previous misconceptions or presuppositions.

In the articles to come, we are now ready to examine Scripture’s teaching that that there are not two plans, two trees, two faiths, two lands, or two peoples of God.  There is, indeed, only one plan, one tree, one faith, one land, and one people of God.

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

Series

The People of God - Intro

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

On this same site, Greg Billingsley has a blog series that began with the question, “What does the Bible say about promises of land?”  I want to ask another broader question in this series that profoundly affects the answer to his question.  What does the Bible say about the people of God?  Perhaps one of the most misunderstood issues in the evangelical church, at least in the area in which I minister, is the matter of the people of God. 

Who are they?  How many “peoples of God” are there?  And how does that, if at all, affect Christian faith and life?  Many might regard this subject as one that should be reserved for the ivory tower of academia or at least reserved for those who call themselves theologians.  But I think the importance of this theological concern truly is nothing less than the glory of Christ Jesus.  A proper understanding of the people of God magnifies the One in whom that people is found – it magnifies Jesus.  To misunderstand this issue or to fail to understand the Scripture’s unfolding plan of redemption culminating and climaxing in Jesus Christ is to cloud the glory of Christ and place something else above Him. 

Today there are Christians calling others to serve and bless the nation of Israel as if this is where their own blessing is found.  Whether it’s Genesis 12, Isaiah 60, or Isaiah 40, there is a profound failure to see the fulfillment of these texts in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The call is not to serve and bless a nation that was a type to point us to the reality – the call is to serve and bless the reality – the antitype as it were, the true Israel, Jesus Christ.  In Him there is blessing; in Him there is hope; and in Him there is salvation.  And it is in no other.  As Paul so clearly says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.  That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory.” 

There’s been a disturbing trend to “return to our roots” as Christians.  If that root is properly understood as Christ, that would be wonderful.  But as it is, more often than not, it’s seen as a return to mere types and shadows. It’s a return to that which simply pointed forward to Christ as the reality – and Christ is eclipsed.  One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Zechariah’s prophecy concerning Jesus that he spoke at the birth of his son, John the Baptist.  In this passage he glories in the fulfillment of the promise of God in Christ Jesus. 

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us, that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”  Luke 1:68-75

The Jews didn’t see Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.  They expected something different.  They expected a political king, one who would rescue them from their surrounding enemies.  And what they missed is that Jesus Christ did rescue them from their enemies but they profoundly misunderstood who their enemies were.  Zechariah is very clear concerning the fulfillment in Christ. 

The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah – but He has already come!  Sadly, tragically, too many Christians are waiting right along with the Jews, thinking that His coming to deal with sin was somehow simply an added bonus to the program.  This was the program!  And many think, “well, they’ll catch Him on the next coming – after all, He is coming again.”  Yes He is!  But this time, not for sin, He’s already done that.  Hebrews 9:28 says,

“So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”  

You see, here’s the bottom line, this is why this is so important – one can’t look forward to a messiah to come who hasn’t already dealt with sin, because if the first coming is denied, one misses the forgiveness of sin; for after all, the Messiah, by definition,  IS the one who has dealt with sin.  A messiah who has not done so is not the Messiah. 

The driving force of this blog series is simply this:  that Christ may not be eclipsed by a people for whom He came.  May He be exalted.      

This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).

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