The Significance Of The Covenant Of Grace In Reformed Theology

It is correctly said that covenant theology is the center of Reformed theology. In Eden, while under the covenant of works, all of humanity fell when the first of our race (Adam), rebelled against his creator, thereby plunging the entire human race into sin and death. It will take a second Adam (Jesus Christ) to perfectly obey the commandments of God so as to fulfill all righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:15). It will also require this second Adam to remove from us the guilt of our individual sins, as well as that guilt imputed to us from our first father, Adam’s “original sin” (cf. Romans 5:12-19).

But in order for the second Adam (Jesus) to accomplish these things, there must be a gracious covenant in which God sends Jesus to do what is necessary to redeem us from the consequences of our sin and guilt by earning sufficient merit to provide us with a righteousness which can withstand God’s holy gaze. This brings us to the covenant of grace in which all the requirements of the covenant of works (and its demand for perfect obedience) are fulfilled by the mediator of this covenant, the Lord Jesus.

The covenant of grace is the historical outworking of an eternal covenant of redemption (the so-called “covenant before the covenant”) in which the members of the Holy Trinity decreed before time that Jesus was to be the redeemer of those whom the Father had chosen in him, and that Jesus would do this on behalf of, and in the place of, all those elect sinners chosen from before the foundation of the world (cf. John 17:4-10; Ephesians 1:3-14). God’s saving grace is not directed to the world in general, making people “savable” if only they meet certain conditions (i,e., faith, repentance, or good works). Rather, God’s saving grace is directed to those specific individuals whom he intends to save through the person and work of Jesus. In this covenant of redemption, the Holy Spirit will apply the work of Christ to all those whom the Father had chosen, and for whom the Son will die, ensuring that all of God’s elect will come to faith in Jesus Christ through the preaching of the gospel–which is the divinely appointed means by which God’s elect are called to faith.

As is the case with the covenant of works, the specific terminology “covenant of grace” does not appear in Scripture, although the rich and manifold theme of covenant appears throughout redemptive history (YHWH as the great covenant-making king) and lies at the very heart of God’s redemptive purposes and relations with humanity. As with the covenant of works, God is the author of this gracious covenant and he imposes specific conditions upon Adam and his fallen race. This covenant also includes the promise of eternal life, but is made on behalf of sinners by a gracious God who intends to save his elect from the consequences of Adam’s sin through the work of Jesus Christ–the second Adam. In the covenant of grace, everything hinges upon the sacrificial death and the perfect obedience of Jesus who is the only covenant mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5), yet who can sympathize with us in our weaknesses having been tempted in all ways as we have, yet without sin (cf. Hebrews 3:1-6; 4:14-16).

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Kim Riddlebarger | “The Basics — The Covenant of Grace” | June 8, 2023


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Posted by Kim Riddlebarger | Wednesday, July 5, 2023 | Categorized in Covenant of Grace, HeidelQuotes, Reformed Theology. Kim Riddlebarger. Bookmark the permalink.

About Kim Riddlebarger

Kim is a graduate of Simon Greenleaf School of Law (M.A.), Westminster Seminary California (M.A., M. Div.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). From 1995–2020 he was senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Anaheim. He was a long-time co-host of the White Horse Inn radio show and is currently Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California. Follow his work at The Riddleblog.

One comment

  1. Just an excellent summary of how the covenant of grace spans all of redemptive history.

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