Author: Ron Graham
The Priceless Covenant (A)
—The gospel for faith and obedience
This lesson looks at the second C in Ephesians 2, the Covenant legislated by Jesus Christ and ratified by his blood. This covenant is the constitution of the church of Christ.
In this lesson we see it as the covenant which previous covenants promised, the covenant which all mankind must obey, a covenant of both grace and works.
Excerpts from Ephesians 2
“And you he has made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. In them you walked in time past according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2).
“At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
“[But God made us alive showing] the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:7-10).
1 The Covenant Which Other Covenants Promised
God made covenants with man from Creation. For example, he made covenants with Adam, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Moses, David, and others. The covenant he made with Israel through Moses is the one that is detailed and emphasised in the Bible. The covenants were "covenants of promise" in that they looked forward to Christ the Saviour.
The prophets of old promised "a new covenant" (Jeremiah 31:31).
The new covenant in Christ would take the place of the earlier "covenants of promise". Of course the new covenant has promises too, magnificent promises, but these do not rely upon another covenant to be fulfilled.
The "covenants of promise" could not fulfil their promises, but relied upon the new covenant to come. The new covenant itself, however, is all sufficient because it is the covenant of the all sufficient Christ. That, incidentally, is one reason why we must not to add anything to this covenant or take anything from it.
2 The Covenant All Mankind Must Obey
It goes without saying that "children of disobedience" will not be saved. They are "children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3) until they become children of faith and obedience. And what must they obey if not the covenant God has made with them?
God prepared beforehand that people should walk in good works (Ephesians 2:10), and these are laid down in the covenant God has given us in Christ. People must obey these requirements or else.
Is a covenant an agreement?
We often hear the word covenant explained as "an agreement". This can be misleading if we think that the covenant is something negotiated between man and God, or if we get the idea that the covenant does not apply to us unless we agree to it. That is wrong.
The covenant is handed down to us by God, and mankind has no say in its terms, conditions, and requirements. It does, however, require our agreement, consent, and obedience, if we are to be saved by it.
If we refuse our agreement and do not obey, then the covenant condemns us. This is because a lack of acceptance and obedience consitutes a lack of faith. Since we are saved "though faith" (Ephesians 2:8) then we are necessarily condemned without it.
3 The Covenant Of Grace And Works
Whilst the covenant requires obedience to its commandments, it is based upon "grace...through faith". Were the covenant based upon the obedience it requires, then it would fail. It would be a "a law of commandments" that would create "enmity" between us and God (Ephesians 2:15).
There's nothing wrong with a covenant being a law of commandments, so long as it is based on its mediator's grace and power to offer forgiveness (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:6-7, Hebrews 9:14-15).
The new covenant is effectual because of "the cross" (Ephesians 2:16) on which Christ made the perfect sacrifice of his flesh and blood. If it were not for this sacrifice, and the grace of God behind it, the covenant would not be successful.
The covenant would fail because it would rely upon us entirely, and our works of obedience would be insufficient. Instead the covenant certainly requires our obedience and faith, but relies upon God’s grace in sending his Son to die for us that we might be able to live (Romans 3:23-24).