While I jogged yesterday afternoon, I listened to a sermon about the significance of grace and why we Christians need to be a people recognized by grace, not least because when we demonstrate only condemnation toward others, we’ve thereby excluded ourselves from the grace we claim to have received (see Mt 18:23-35). This is all right and good.
I was perturbed, however, when the preacher began his message contrasting the old covenant, as a covenant of works, with the new covenant, as a covenant of grace. I take umbrage with those characterizations. They simply do not do justice to the covenant pre-Resurrection.
Prior to Christ, we would actually do well to speak of several covenants. We could look at, say, the covenant God made with Noah, following the flood (Gen 9). Having already freely saved Noah and his family from the destruction of the earth, the Lord promises never again to do such a thing to humanity, while Noah is commissioned to govern the earth going forward.
A few chapters later, Abraham arrives on the scene, and God makes an agreement with him (Gen 12). There, the Lord promises, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing” (v. 2). All Abraham has to do is walk by faith to the place God will show him. It’s a covenant of faith and a covenant graciously offered. Actually, that’s also the point Paul makes in Romans 4, that all that Abraham was promised, which essentially included the whole world, was made in faith.
Following the exodus, in which Yahweh graciously saves Israel from Egypt, another covenant of faith is made. The Lord there promises to extend gracious blessing to His people should they simply exhibit faith in His lordship. Provisions are established to deal with waywardness, and the people’s quintessential holiday, Passover celebrates (1) Yahweh’s gracious faithfulness to His promises and (2) the people’s recognition of Yahweh as their lord. (Remind me about this one. It’s another great post waiting to happen.)
Still later, Yahweh makes covenant with David (2 Sam 7), in which the Lord promises to uphold David’s kingly line and bless his descendants for eternity. David’s response demonstrates his grace exhibited in the promise: “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that You have brought me this far” (v. 18)?
The old covenants as covenants of works and condemnation? I don’t buy it. These, just as much as the new covenant made through Christ, are covenants of faith and grace.