Discovering The Reformed Confession (Part 2): Young, Restless, And Dispensational

Toward the end of my tenure at an evangelical megachurch, I met a young Dutch Reformed college student named Jason (he now serves as a pastor with me). We would sit and discuss dispensationalism and covenant theology. I distinctly remember wanting to rescue him from his obviously antisemitic “replacement theology.” He did not understand God’s promises to Israel. He was confusing the New Testament church with Old Testament Israel. He was also clinging to Papist doctrinal remnants like paedobaptism. This younger man was well-catechized and loved the Lord. He patiently pushed back against my arguments. At one point he asked me, “Have you ever read any covenant theologians? If you have not read their best thinkers, then how can you critique them so confidently?” I accepted that rebuke and began reading them.

After assiduously reading the works of various covenant theologians for about a year and working through their exegeses, I started to see the Bible’s continuity in a manner that stunned and delighted me. I began to see one glorious God who sent one gracious Savior to mercifully save his one elect people. I began to understand why my reformed brothers spoke of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace—they were distinguishing law and gospel under the federal heads of Adam and Christ.

Adam was the first federal head of God’s people. If he perfectly and perpetually obeyed God’s Law, he would merit eternal life for humanity. Sadly, Adam fell to the temptation of Satan, and transgressed God’s Law. In Adam’s fall, sinned we all. We are all guilty and corrupt in Adam. Thus, no man can keep the Law, and all men are condemned to die. We needed a second Adam to keep God’s righteous requirement for us, the one promised in Genesis 3:15. He was progressively revealed with greater clarity throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly in each promised Old Testament covenant (Abraham, Moses, David, New). We see the fulfillment of all those promises in Jesus Christ. Christ kept the precept (active obedience) and the penalty (passive obedience) of the Law in our place. He fulfilled what Adam, Israel, and we could not. He paid the penalty of God’s just wrath for our sin. He died the death merited by our sin.

I finally started to get a grip on why we speak about the imputation of the active and passive obedience of Christ to us. I began to see how I was missing the distinction that Luther was aiming at with his “two words” of Law and Gospel. I saw how the covenant of works and the covenant of grace helped provide an overarching biblical structure for Law and Gospel. The Law is both a pedagogue that taught me my need for Christ. and a gracious guide that helped me walk in gratitude for the grace that was mine in Christ. Charles Spurgeon was right when he said,

The doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master in divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.1

The unity of the Bible began to sing for me like never before. My expositional preaching shifted as I started to apprehend how to properly preach Christ in all the Scriptures. I was discovering the Old Testament as Christian Scripture, in a manner I had not before. Not only that, but my understanding of pastoral care and counseling was shifting as well. I knew what people needed above all else, was for their pastors to show them Christ in all the Scriptures. They needed to hear about their sin and misery, the grace of Christ, and be biblically instructed to walk in gratitude in Him.

This was an exciting time. Jason and I planted Sovereign Grace Church together.2 We wanted nothing more than to preach Christ to everyone who would listen. We were listening to the White Horse Inn and reading materials from Ligonier, Banner of Truth, and CCEF, as we were trying to figure out how to plant a “gospel-centered” church that honored the Lord and His Word. We read Michael Horton’s book, A Better Way, and started to shape a worship service in accordance with our newly discovered biblical convictions. Yet, we really had no idea where this was leading us. Well, maybe my young Dutch Reformed co-planter did.

notes

1. Charles H. Spurgeon, “The Wondrous Covenant,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 58 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1912), 58: 517.

2. There was a whole team of people integral to that plant. Sovereign Grace is not the story of two men who planted a church. It is the story of a whole group of people whom the Lord captivated with his grace. We were a people experiencing a kind of reformation together.

You can view the whole series here.

Note: This series was also translated into Spanish. You can find this whole series in Spanish here.


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Posted by Chad Vegas | Tuesday, June 6, 2023 | Categorized Discovering The Reformed Confession | Tagged , Bookmark the permalink.

About Chad Vegas

Chad is the founding pastor of Sovereign Grace Church. After completing his M.A. in Theology at Talbot, and being the high school pastor at RiverLakes Community Church, Chad was called to plant a church in Bakersfield. He is also the founding board chairman of Radius International, an organization that trains people to plant churches among unreached language groups. His passion is to know Christ and to make him known. He has been married to Teresa since 1994, and they have 2 children and one daughter-in-law.

8 comments

  1. John 11:51-53 “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”

    Jewish nation.

  2. Yes, they are a distinct nation. The Lord made and kept particular promises to them. Yet, they are in the same house as New Covenant Gentile Christians (Heb. 3:1ff.). They are part of the one New Man with Gentile Christians, who are part of the same Temple, the same citizenry (Eph. 2:11ff.). The Gentiles are grafted into the same tree with Israel (Rom. 11:1ff.). They are all part of the same children of Abraham in Christ (Romans 4:11ff, Galatians 3:28-29). They are all co-heirs of the promises of God in Christ. There is one elect people of the Father, blood bought by the Son, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit from every tribe, tongue, and nation. This was the promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; Gen. 17:1-8) who is the father of many nations, not Jews only. Further, I would press this all further to say that Christ is true Israel. He is the suffering servant in Isaiah 42:1-4, Isa. 49:1-6, Isa. 50:4-9, Isa 52:13-53:12, even though we are clearly told that Israel is that servant in Isa. 41:8, and some of the passages already cited. Christ is the Federal Head of Israel. All those in Christ are united to true Israel, ingrafted into the same tree, now citizens of the commonwealth of Israel, heirs of the same promises, children of Abraham.

    • Thanks, I understand your premise and am by no means a dispensationalist, however, Romans 11 clearly states the uniqueness of the historical Israel into which we as Gentiles have been ingrafted. As verse 29 says, His gifts and call are irrevocable, speaking specifically of the Jewish people. The distinction made in Romans 11 between Jew and Gentile is striking. I sometimes think that people (Gentiles) believe it’s “unfair“ that the Jewish people are still considered special and unique in the eyes of many. At the end of the day, all the elect will be brought to glory.

    • Chad, wonderful summary and article. Looking forward the next instalment. Your study and discovery of the distinction of law and gospel, and the one people of God under grace is just exhilarating.

  3. Last year I was attending a workshop in Bakersfield, so on Sunday I joined the saints at Sovereign Grace where Chad serves as pastor.
    I’m a member of a URCNA church but I knew this church to be in the vein of confessionally reformed Baptist. I was delighted and ministered to as we engaged in solid liturgy and received sound preaching.
    Each of our journeys take different twists and turns, so it’s encouraging to read about this path on which the Good Shepherd is leading Chad and the green pastures and still waters which the flock is enjoying along with him.

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