Thursday, March 8, 2012

What's Wrong With Dispensationalism I

The Covenant of Works – its Nature

The central tenant to a proper Biblical understanding of Salvation is what the theologians call the Covenant of Works, which states that because God is holy, in order to have a relationship with Him we must be holy (Heb 12:14) as well. God, therefore, in desiring a relationship with Adam set up a way for him to enjoy his creator forever through rules that he could keep to be holy.  In other words, God gave Adam the Covenant of Works so he could be holy, and thus have fellowship with Himself, and the command given amounted to “obey Me and live” (Genesis 2:15-17).

Now the corollary to such an arrangement is immediately obvious: if you do not obey me then you will not live; and here the Bible is explicit in it's affirmation of this point, “On the day you eat of it you will surely die.” This was proved out for Adam ate and was banished from God’s presence for violating the terms of his covenant, because in rebelling he made himself (and because he acted as a representative for humanity) and all of his future descendents unholy. It was be holy and live, Adam chose to be unholy, therefore Adam chose to reject God and His blessings.

The good news however is that because God’s promises are eternal and indestructible, the Covenant of Works is too, and since God made it with our spokesman the offer still stands for us. Thus if any man be blameless before God He will be welcomed into His presence, and here again the Bible is explicit in this re-affirmation of the Covenant being for everyone, particularly the Jews (Exodus 19:5, 1 Kings 6:12) and like Adam, chose to rebel (Hosea 6:7).

The clearest assertion of the nature of the Covenant of Works is found in Romans 2:6-11 - “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.”

Keep every one of My commandments, do all of My will, obey Me in all things and you will live, says the Lord, for this is my first and greatest Covenant with you.

 

The Covenant of Works- its Intention

It hardly needs to be mentioned then (but this important for later, so I’m going to do it anyway) that the intention of this Covenant was to make men holy so they could be with God in paradise. It was a mechanism, a tool, a highway, that would enable us to come to God.
And really, isn’t the question, ‘how may I be right with God?’ the most important thing we can ever answer considering our immortality in the next life?

 

The Covenant of Grace

Adams act of rebellion in the garden instantly transformed him into a sinner, rendering him incapable of keeping the Covenant of Works from that point on, thus forever excluded Him from God’s glorious presence. Even assuming Adam was able to keep a perfect record from then on out his obedience wouldn’t be enough since the Covenant blessing is only available for the holy and spotless, and he already had a single sin again his record.  Likewise with Adam’s original sin tainting us we are no longer capable of meeting the divine requirements for eternal life, no matter how hard we try (Rom 8:8).

What was to be done then if God could not abrogate His original eternal agreement and His creation was rendered forever incapable of meeting His standard? God in His mercy decided to give a second covenant (Jer 31:31-32) whereby He would send a savior who would keep the original Covenant of Works perfectly and merit a heavenly reward, yet this messiah would not keep the blessing for Himself, but would freely offer it to mankind. Through this act of grace God would raise us up to have us fulfill His original Covenant terms and so save us (Jer 31:33, Eze 36:25-27).

The theologians call this arrangement of mercy which fulfills the terms of first covenant without compromising it the Covenant of Grace

 

The Covenant of Grace and Works together- it’s fulfillment

As Christians we understand how these two Covenants come together in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the spotless lamb of God (1 Peter 1:19) who lived a sinless life and fulfilled the terms for the Covenant blessing (Rev 5:12) for us. He is the second Adam, the one who passed the test in the garden and now gives the fruit of His labor to His people (Romans 5:12-20).

He is our sympathetic savior who was just as human as we are, yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).
He lived the perfect obedient life (John 5:19) but died on the cross when God counted Him as a sinner (2 Cor 5:21) so that having a common humanity with us when we have faith in Him God counts us as righteous (Rom 4:24). Having kept the terms of the original Covenant He gives His righteousness to us, and it's as if we had not sinned and lived a virtuous life ourselves (2 Cor 5:19). By His righteousness then we are justified in the sight of God and saved from His wrath (Rom 5:9) which comes from not being perfectly holy. The blessings that accrue under the Covenant of Works are ours in Christ, even though we did not ourselves earn them.

This is the message of the gospel, the good news that we are to take to the whole world: we have fallen but He has rebuilt, with man it was impossible to keep the covenant and live, but with God, all things are possible (Matt 19:25-26). And this is why no man can come to the father except by Christ (John 14:6), because there are none righteous enough to do it (Rom 3:10). Therefore without Christ bridging the gap between God's requirements for perfection and our fallen state, we will never be able to keep the law and live (1 John 2:23).

Christ stands at the center tying the Old Covenant to the New, assuring us that we cannot do it on our own but that if we trust in Him He will do it for us. Just as the cross is the fullest most perfect expression of the holiness demanded by God and the graciousness He gives to save us from it, Christ is the most perfect and beautiful expression and fulfillment of these two Covenants together.

 

Foundations First

Now all of this is about as basic as it can get, nothing here is new or unusual, nothing here was profound in any way, and every Christians can agree that all of this is true.
In part 2 then I will endeavor to show how an agreement with these principles ends the case against  dispensationalism.

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