Doctrine of Covenants: NT Survey, Conditions, and Uses
August 1, 2021 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith
Scripture: Romans 3:19–3:31
Scripture: Romans 3:19-31
Last week we took a survey of some of the usages of the Hebrew word for covenant, “berith,” as found in the Old Testament.
We started with the Old Testament
- so that we could gain an unbiased view of how covenants were implemented in the Old Testament
- So that we could try to prevent our own presuppositions from interfering and clouding the meaning of the text.
- Because we recognize that the Old Testament lays the foundation for understanding the New Testament
In the survey, we looked at the unilateral & bilateral nature of covenants.
The unilateral covenants:
The bilateral covenants
Abram and Mamre
Jacob and Laban
Joshua and Israel
Hezekiah and the people
Josiah and the people
Ezra and the people
We ended with some applications (or uses) that we can take away from these:
- There is a strong consolation and assurance to be found in God.
- There is a strong assurance that God will keep His chosen to the end.
- There is a strong comfort in the continuity and plan of God.
Each of these is reinforced through a proper understanding of the administration and nature of the covenants as laid out in the Old Testament.
Today, we are going to continue our survey by taking a brief look at the usage of covenants in the New Testament.
- There is almost universally one word used to translate *berith* in the LXX
- That word is diatheke
- It is used the NT quotations of OT Scriptures where berith is used
- When any of the OT covenants are referenced, this word is used.
- There are 33 uses in the NT
- 20 are translated as covenant
- 13 are translated as a testament
New Testament Translation of Covenant
The word diatheke speaks more of the unilateral nature of covenants
- It is the word of choice for a testamentary disposition
- like a last will and testament
- The bilateral concept of mutuality in the NT is wholly absent.
As we did in the Old Testament, let’s now look at some of the unilateral usages of the word covenant (diatheke) in the New.
New Testament Unilateral uses of the word Diatheke
- Luke 1:72 - the Abrahamic covenant is referenced
- Acts 3:25 – this is similar to Luke 1:72 much the same thing
- Acts 7:8 - recounts Genesis 17.2, replicates the “giving a covenant”
- Romans 11:27 - it is the Lord taking away our sins (re: Jeremiah 31:31ff)
- Galatians 3:15-18
- The Covenant was “God’s Covenant”
- The word “promise” stands as a functional synonym for covenant
- Hebrews 8:7-10 - this is unilateral language
- Hebrews 13:20 – the covenant is everlasting -> it must be unilateral
New Testament Bilateral uses of the word Diatheke
There are no real examples in the NT.
- This is because the NT is speaking about the Covenant of grace
- The covenant of grace is a unilateral covenant.
- Berith (and the NT equivalent diatheke) might be used in the OT for bilateral covenants between men
- but this is not the case in the New Testament
- All 33 instances in the NT
- speak of the Covenant of Grace
- and therefore, is unilateral in nature
Conditions in the Covenant of Grace
We have learned of the difference between
- unilateral covenants
- these are one-sided
- sovereignly administered
- almost like a “command”
- bilateral covenants
- these are two-sided
- entered by mutual agreement
- each makes contributory (beneficial) commitments to the other
What is interesting about the Covenant of Grace, is that this covenant is both unilateral and bilateral at the same time.
- It is unilateral in that it is sovereignly pressed upon Christ by the Father
- Luke 22:28-29 - It is said by Christ that the Father “covenanted” with Christ.
- It is bilateral in that Christ had to perform/ satisfy some requirements
- He had to do the Father’s will
- He had to redeem His people as their surety and head
- to die upon the cross
- to perfectly fulfill the law
However, when we partake of the Covenant of Grace
- We must understand
- our participation is not a bilateral one
- our participation is a unilateral one
- Christ has performed as a surety all that is required of us
- to us that Covenant is in that sense unilateral
- It is all on His side, and on our side, there is nothing we contribute
- Hebrews 9 figures prominently
- Much like we participate in a testament or a will
When a testator dies, we recognize the following
- The wealth and estate of the Testator is his to do with as he pleases
- There is something to bequeath to his chosen
- Death is the condition of the dispersal the will
- There is nothing required on the part of those who inherit
- those who receive the benefits of that testament.
- In many cases, the disposition is not known until the end.
But, we do understand that there are still conditions placed upon us.
Shorter Catechism # 85 & Larger Catechism Question #153
Q. 85 What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.
Q. 153 What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse due to us by reason of the transgression of the law?
A. That we may escape the wrath and curse of God due to us by reason of the transgression of the law, he requireth of us repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and the diligent use of the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation.
Both questions and answers make it plain that there are conditions required of us as part of the covenant of grace.
- Diligent use of means
But before we respond with something like “See, it is a bilateral covenant which means we get to respond and enter into the covenant if we choose!”
We must remember, there is no instance in Scripture where God comes to someone with whom we are to enter into covenant and asks their permission.
God is sovereign and does and He so decrees – not as His creation sees fit to allow.
Clarification on the Bilateral Nature of the Covenant
Admitted: Faith is a condition set and required of man.
- However, faith is a gift from God.
- However, faith is supplied from God.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. – Eph 2:8-10
Admitted: Repentance is a condition set and required of man.
- However, repentance is a gift from God.
- However, repentance is supplied from God.
Clarification on the Bilateral Nature of the Covenant
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; - 2 Timothy 2:25
Admitted: A diligent use of means is required of man.
- A diligent use of means, in man’s strength alone, accounts for nothing.
- It is the Lord that works in those means.
- In fact, the Lord is able to work apart from or even against those means.
- 2 Corinthians 2.15-17
- 1 Peter 2.7-8
- Acts 28.26-27
We must remember the gracious characteristics of the covenant.
- Everything that the Lord requires of us
- Is graciously provided to man
- Is graciously made effectual by God
- Is graciously fulfilled by Christ, our Mediator
- Is graciously operating within us by the Holy Spirit
- There are those who search the Scriptures and do not find the Lord Jesus Christ
- There are those who find reasons not to believe in the use of means.
- There are those who, even in using or having access to the means of grace
- will have no disposition to make use of those means
- but rather those means will work further hardening of their hearts
- Means do not work simply in the using of them
- They must be used by the Lord, who then gets all the glory.
Conclusion – Uses
This, then, leads us to some “uses” or “applications” from this morning:
- We ought to grow in our admiration and wonder of our God
- Not only has He provided a way to restore the relationship with Him
- But He has also provided all the means
- He has provided all the conditions
- He has provided all the requirements
- He has provided the entire solution out His unmeasurable grace
- We ought to grow in our desire towards obedience and righteousness.
- The next time we are tempted to
- Choose our own desires over His
- Choose comfort and self-satisfaction over obedience
- The next time we are tempted to
- Choose to replace God’s commands with our own
- Choose to disegard or minimize God’s requirements in favor of will-worship or tradition or misguided belief.
- We should remember all that He had done for us and the only thing required is to live in those graces which He has already so abundantly provides and is working to fruition with in us.
- We ought to set aside any doctrine or practice that does not, in it’s essence glorify Him.
- For knowing what we know now, there is no reason to settle after a lesser god.
- This is nothing to be gained by elevating man to position where he seemingly can negotiate or barter with God.
- If, at any time, you feel that you are benefitting God because of your works or your choices...take a step back.
- And remember, He who sacrificed His only begotten Son so that His chosen might be redeemed, did not require your permission nor does He take pleasure in your works – it is all through Christ.
Turn again to Romans 3.19-31
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