Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Christ Centered Character of Covenant Theology

Covenant theology affirms:

1. Two great covenant heads over all humanity - Rom. 5:18-19, "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 1 Corinthians 15:22, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive." The contrast between these two federal heads and all in them causes redemption in Christ to stand out in the foreground.

2. Two great covenants over all of history - The covenant of works in Adam and the covenant of grace in Christ. Recognition this doctrine via the analogy of faith is essential to the proper interpretation and proclamation of every biblical text. Covenant theology is the hinge that stands between biblical theology (progressive revelation) and systematic theology (God, Man, Christ, Church, Eschaton) and recognizes Christ as the centerpiece of Scripture, theology, and of practical applications to the conscience.

3. The progressive revelation of the outworking of the covenant of grace to mankind. This is called “biblical theology.” Biblical theology is not just theology that is "biblical." Rather, it is the account of the historical progression of divine revelation in the Bible in each epoch, finding its center and climax in the person of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:12 says, "Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of [the] promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."

4. The doctrine of Law and Gospel in all the Scriptures (Covenants of Works and Grace) are simply the outworking of the two great covenants and their heads in the whole of Scripture. This is the systematic theology formed from exegetical and biblical theology. The law reveals God's demand and our condemnation, while the Gospel reveals that Christ accomplished God's demands for our justification and life. Galatians 3:10-14 says, "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.' Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith.' However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, 'He who practices them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us, for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree' in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

5. The New Covenant of Jesus Christ is the fulfillment and establishment in history of the grace of redemption planned by the Father before the foundation of the world for all the elect in Christ. 2 Timothy 1:8-11, "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 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, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher."

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Mandate for Christ Centered Preaching

Here are some things about the mandate for Christ-centered preaching that I have learned from others.

Our Lord Jesus and His Apostles were masters of Christ-centered preaching. Every word our Lord uttered was ultimately about His person and work as our Prophet, Priest, and King, especially when He expounded Old Testament texts. The Apostles followed their Master’s example in this regard. Every evangelistic sermon and every epistle was ultimately centered on Jesus Christ, His Person and work, applied to sinner and saint alike. In every application to the Christian’s life, there was somewhere a Christ-centered basis for that application, which was always related to His Person and work. I am not saying that Jesus Christ was mentioned by name in every text of His preaching and the Apostles’ teaching. I am saying that who He is and what He has done permeates all Christian proclamation. So, is there a biblical mandate to preach Christ in all the Scriptures? Is the pastoral preacher and expositor required to preach Christ?

The Mandate in Evangelistic Preaching
First, it is clear that the Apostles preached Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to the unconverted (Acts 5:42, 8:35, 11:20). He was the center of their message. When Paul first came to Corinth, he preached Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man, His Person and work, was the subject matter of Paul's evangelistic preaching in Corinth. The same can be seen of Peter on the day of Pentecost and in the other evangelistic messages of Acts (Acts 2; 10; 17).

The Mandate in Pastoral Preaching to Christians
The Apostles did not merely preach Christ in His Person and work to the unconverted. They also preached Jesus Christ to Christians, tying their rebukes, exhortations and doctrinal instructions to the person and work of Christ-- past, present, and future. It is impossible to read the Epistles, which were to be read in their entirety to the churches (and thus were sermonic) without seeing that the Person and work of Jesus Christ is both the power of justification and also the center of sanctification. The letter to the Hebrews is commonly accepted as an example of preaching to Christians.

To the Colossians, Paul described the content of his preaching and teaching to Christians: Colossians 1:28, “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”

John began his first epistle to Christians: 1 John 1:3, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Paul also tied his exhortations to the Corinthian Christians to the Person and work of Christ. For instance, when warning against adultery, Paul said: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul encouraged Christians in their daily work with the resurrection of Christ and its promise of His glorious return: 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

Thus, the Apostolic preaching to both the unconverted and to the converted, was proclaiming Christ to make every man complete in Him. That is the biblical mandate to preach Christ in His Person and Work both to unbeliever and believer.

But is there a biblical mandate to preach Christ in every sermon from every text? There is:

Ever since Gen. 3:15, Jesus Christ, the Savior, has been the centerpiece of God's revelation. Adam represented us and fell into sin, breaking God's covenant of works, which required perfect obedience unto life. Now, Jesus Christ, the last Adam, is the only Mediator between God and man. He is the only Savior of sinners. The entire OT points forward to His coming by way of promise and anticipation, and the entire NT is the revelation of His coming to fulfill that promise. The New Testament explains how the OT is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Therefore, just as He is the focus of God's biblical revelation, so also must He be the focus of our biblical preaching.

Sometimes, in the rediscovery of biblical truth and the Reformed faith of our Baptist forefathers, we hear phrases like this: "The central truth of all Scripture is the sovereignty of God over all things" or "the central truth of all Scripture is the glory of God." Sometimes we hear sermons and read books glorifying the sovereignty and glory of God. But, if we wish to glorify God Himself, then we must glorify God in His perfect self-revelation, which is the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, reigning and coming must be our emphasis to the glory of the Triune God. His person and work must be the focus of all our preaching because God Himself must be the focus of all our preaching.

The center of Scripture in revealing the Godhead’s glory and sovereignty to man is Jesus Christ, His person and work as Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. Jesus Christ is the Father’s representative in carrying out these functions. There is a biblical-theological mandate to preach Christ in all the Scriptures because both the OT and the NT are theologically centered in Jesus Christ.

Federal Theology: The Covenant of Grace

In classic federal theology, the covenant of grace is understood in two different ways. For some, it was understood as one of two covenants, such that God's total redemptive purpose included both “the covenant of redemption,” which was formed among the persons of the godhead in eternity and “the covenant of grace” which was principally formed between God and the elect in time. For others, “the covenant of grace” was viewed as a pact among the persons of the Trinity. They said that the eternal covenant of grace had two aspects because it was made (1) with Christ and (2) with the elect in Him. I take the latter view because the former seems to multiply entities beyond necessity.

The covenant of grace was formed in eternity past, but was executed and obeyed in time during Christ’s earthly life. In eternity past, God made a covenant with Christ in which God promised justification and eternal life to those in Him on the basis of His perfect obedience to the law. During Christ’s earthly life (which was His “probationary period,” corresponding to Adam's "probationary period" the garden), Christ kept the law both by positively obeying its commands and by suffering under its curse. His perfect law keeping merited justification and eternal life for all of the elect. His merits purchased redemption for that moment at which the elect would be vitally united to Him through faith. Thus, the covenant of grace was a conditional covenant of works from Christ's perspective. He had to merit its blessings.

Because Christ successfully satisfied God’s law during His time on earth, those who were chosen "in Him," will necessarily be given all the benefits purchased by His merits. Those who are “in Christ” obtain the right to justification even before they are conceived or regenerated. The right to justification is not the same thing as justification itself. But having the right to justification guarantees and requires that God bring each of Christ’s constituents into physical existence (that they be born) and that He bring them into a state of regeneration and faith so that they are able to experience actual justification and eternal life. The right to justification necessarily issues in actual justification. After regeneration and faith, the elect are immediately granted actual justification and eternal life and based on Christ’s righteousness. Thus, the covenant of grace is unconditional from the perspective of the elect. Regeneration, repentance, and faith are not conditions of entering into the covenant of grace or of remaining in the covenant of grace. Rather, they are unconditional blessings of the covenant of grace. This is true, even though repentance and faith are conditions in the covenant of grace in the sense that they are antecedent to subsequent blessings in the covenant. Ex: Faith is not a condition of the covenant of grace, but it is a condition (logically speaking) of justification in the covenant.

Because all who are united to Christ are blessed with actual justification, which is the right and title to (or, "ownership/possession of") eternal life (objectively), they must also come into the experience and enjoyment of eternal life (subjectively). Only those who are holy can joyfully experience eternal life in Christ. Therefore, God blesses those who are in Christ with increasingly renewed natures, which put off sin and put on good works, such that just as they grow in holiness, they also grow in the joy of knowing Christ. Christ's righteousness purchased not only our ownership of life (justification-objective), but our experience of life (sanctification-subjective) as well! When those “in Christ” die they will enjoy the ultimate blessing of eternal life in heaven, which is the consummate reward of Christ’s perfect righteousness.