Covenant Theology: Means of Grace [Reformation Month 2020]

Covenant Theology: Means of Grace [Reformation Month 2020]

So this is probably going to be a very long post. I’m going to try to keep it together the best I can, but please ask questions if you have them. Credos, feel free to correct me if I misrepresent your position. I also want to start this off by saying this is not an opportunity to have a baptism debate. I am not even remotely interested in them.

What are the Means of Grace?

I chose the Means of Grace as the title for this one because I wanted to explain a little bit of the reformed view of the church. Those coming out of Roman Catholicism may think that reformed folks have a lower view of the church because we hold the church as subservient to scripture, whereas Roman Catholicism looks at scripture on an equal playing field as church tradition. Those, like me, who come out of evangelical baptist circles may see the reformed view of the church as overly traditional or stiff and lacking a lot of the emotional comforts that informal services tend to bring.

The truth is, in the eyes of sixteenth and seventeenth century reformers, the church was the major vehicle by which we experience the means of grace, which are the Word and Sacraments. A Tabletalk article from earlier this year explains it well here:

The means of grace are God’s appointed instruments by which the Holy Spirit enables believers to receive Christ and the benefits of redemption. Although He could have chosen to reveal Christ immediately to His people, He has determined instead to do so through certain means. God assigned the Word, sacraments, and prayer to be the foremost means by which He communicates Christ and His benefits to believers.


I will touch more on the Word when we go through Sola Scriptura next Saturday (the 24), so today is all about the Sacraments. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the means of grace, there will be resources below.

Old Covenant and New Covenant:

So, the first time I had heard of covenant theology, I assumed that the people were referring to the old covenant and the new covenant. I had not been super familiar with the covenants of redemption, works, and grace, and I grew up in a dispensationalist church, so all of these ideas felt very very complicated to me. If this sounds like you, I am writing this for you and I’m going to try the best I can to explain this for people who aren’t familiar with covenant theology already.

When we say the Old Covenant, we are talking of the promise of Christ to come. When we talk of the New Covenant, we are talking of Christ coming and fulfilling the Old Covenant and giving us his benefits. Within that, the Old Covenant speaks of the Covenant of Works, the Law, and the incomplete Covenant of Grace. The New Covenant is the fulfilled Covenant of Grace, the renewed sense of the Law, and the Gospel. This week, we have talked about the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. Next week, we will be talking all about the Law and the Gospel. But today, we will be talking about who is part of the New Covenant and who is receiving its benefits.

The Lord’s Supper:

Not gonna lie, I had to start this off with the easier side of things lol. As many of us know, the Lord’s Supper comes from Jewish Passover, which was done to remember Exodus 12. I was going to copy and paste the passage, but it’s really long and I know most of our group knows it already, so just as a little recap (though I encourage you to read it on your own). Exodus starts off with Israel enslaved in Egypt and God calling them out of Egypt through Moses. Moses has been going back and forth with Pharoah (Ramses II) telling him to let God’s people go and Ramses refuses every time. In Exodus 12, God tells Moses to have the Israelites to kill spotless lambs and paint their blood on their doorposts. Overnight, God goes through all of Egypt and takes the lives of the first born sons of every Egyptian that doesn’t have the blood painted over their doors and this is what finally prompts Ramses to let the Israelites go. I know this is a very cheap recap, but this is your free lesson for the day, so it’s the recap you get lol.

Passover was named so by God because God passed over the houses of the Israelites. Now, every spring, Jews all over the world observe and remember what God has done for them. The Passover reading is so rich with symbolism pointing to Christ from Jesus as “the lamb of God” who acts as a propitiation for our sins to the death of the first born sons. But this is all ultimately replayed in Matthew 26, where Jesus has his Last Supper. As he leads the table in dinner, he says, “this cup is my blood of the new covenant.” And so, we have the ushering in of a New Covenant and a sign of the work that Jesus did for us.

Credobaptism and Paedobaptism:

As I stated earlier this week, I am a paedobaptist. The guys at The Reformed Brotherhood recently did a podcast episode on 1689 Federalism where they contrast it with paedobaptist covenant theology and I think they handle the topic really well, they also do a similar job to Ligon Duncan’s lecture on baptism, but it’s just a different focus. It is worth noting that not all reformed baptists hold to 1689 Federalism, but if a baptist is dispensational and Calvinistic (so men like John MacArthur), they are not reformed because dispensationalism goes against baptist covenantal theology, as well. This does not make them a second class believer, it’s just a different set of beliefs. I have done a theological errors post on dispensationalism in the past, if you would like more information on that.

Dr. Duncan cites baptism as a symptom of the disagreement between credos and paedos on who the real church is, which was an aha moment for me the first time I listened to it. Baptists value autonomy and try as much as possible to have the visible church and the invisible church be the same thing. When asked the question, “who is in the New Covenant?” their answer is “those who have been regenerated.” The way they see the Covenant of Grace is a bit different from how I described earlier. In baptist covenant theology, the Covenant of Grace began after the fall and continued through the Old Covenant and New Covenant, but the covenant was not fully realized until Jesus died on the cross. So the OT covenants with the patriarchs aren’t necessarily part of the Covenant of Grace, but they point to the Covenant of Grace.

This makes the differences between the two of them more of a different hermeneutic rather than using different verses to support their views. Paedobaptists and credobaptists both see baptism as a sign and a seal of the new covenant, as per Colossians 2:11-15:

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

That passage is a reference to the earlier passage on circumcision in Genesis 17, specifically hitting verses 7-12. In his lectures, Dr. Duncan recalls all of the credo only baptisms in the NT: Acts 8:12, 36-38, and 9:18. And also the household baptisms: Acts 10:48, 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, and 1 Corinthians 1:16. At this point, many credos check out and think, “oh you’re arguing from a place of silence” because many have stated the argument as, “well, it’s a household baptism and there’s probably babies in the households.” and while that argument is one that could be used, according to Dr. Duncan, the real argument is “in an evangelistic age, you expect adult only credo baptisms. The stand out here is that the whole household is being baptized. You, your children, and all who dwell in your tent parallels Genesis 17.”

He also asks 3 questions as food for thought:

  1. Is baptism a covenant sign?
  2. Are the children of believing parents part of the community of the covenant of grace in the New Covenant like they were in the Old?
  3. If God gave a sign of promises to believers and their children in the Old Testament, should we give the sign of the promises to believers and their children in the New Testament to believers and their children?

He also notes:

“Does this mean all children who are baptized are saved? No more than it means that all who are circumcised who are saved. Nowhere does it say that circumcision saves. Faith has always been the way.”

This is also something that credobaptists have to deal with. There’s always going to be false converts in the church and we may never know who they are. So we can’t have a true church that is only made up of regenerate people. Paedobaptism allows the freedom to have the passages that reference reprobation, like 1 John 2:19: 

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

And with these passages, you can see that it’s possible for someone to be part of the church (in this case the visible church), yet not part of the church (in this case the invisible church, which is the elect).

Where the Confessions and Catechisms Address the Means of Grace:

  • Canons of Dort Head 1, Article 17
  • Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 27-29
  • Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 161-177
  • Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 91-97
  • Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 66-82
  • Belgic Confession Articles 33-35
  • Second Helvetic Confession Ch 19-21
  • 39 Articles of Religion Articles 25-29
  • Savoy Declaration Ch 28-29
  • 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith Ch 28-30
  • Keach’s Catechism Q&A 96-103


Resources on the Means of Grace:


Resources on Covenant Theology as a whole:

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Covenant Theology: Covenant of Grace [Reformation Month 2020]

Covenant Theology: Covenant of Grace [Reformation Month 2020]

I do not think it’s humanly possible for me to distill how thoroughly the Covenant of Grace permeates through scripture in a post like this, so if this is something that you want to dive deeper on, I would encourage Ligon Duncan’s lectures because he has a section on each of the OT covenants and also talks about covenant theology in the NT, as well.

What is the Covenant of Grace?

The Covenant of Grace is the covenant that God made with Adam that the seed of the woman (Jesus) would come and fulfill the Covenant of Works. Through this covenant, all other covenants between God and man are tied together. Herman Bavinck articulates 3 characteristics of the Covenant of Grace in his book, Our Reasonable Faith:

  1. The covenant of grace is everywhere and at all times one in essence, but always manifests itself in new forms and goes through differing dispensations.  Essentially and materially it remains one, whether before, or under, or after the law.  It is always a covenant of grace.
  2. The second remarkable characteristic of the covenant of grace is that in all of its dispensations it has an organic character.  In history the covenant is never concluded with one discrete individual, but always with a man and his family or generation, with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and with the church and its seed.  The promise never comes to a single believer alone, but in him his house or family also.
  3. A third and final characteristic of the covenant of grace which goes along with the second point above, is that it realizes itself in a way which fully honors man’s rational and moral nature.  It is based on the counsel of God, yes, and nothing may be subtracted from that fact.  Behind the covenant of grace lies the sovereign and omnipotent will of God.  But God’s will is the will of the Creator of heaven and earth, who cannot repudiate his own work in creation or providence, and who cannot treat the human being he has created as though it were a stock or stone.  It is the will of a merciful and kind Father, who never forces things with brute violence, but successfully counters all our resistance by the spiritual might of love.


I want to clarify that dispensations above is more synonymous with administrations than the way dispensationalists use that terminology. Each covenant with a patriarch is an administration of the Covenant of Grace. So it is its own thing, but also tied to the greater whole. While the Covenant of Grace was established with Adam after the fall, it is reestablished again and again throughout the OT in God’s covenants with the patriarchs. The most commonly used example is through God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

This is definitely a gracious covenant that required very little from Abraham and his people and includes a sign of the covenant that we see translated differently into the New Testament, which I will be addressing in the Means of Grace post later today.

But what about the Mosaic Covenant?

While there isn’t really any disputes about the Covenant of Grace as a concept, there is some disagreement within reformed circles as to whether or not the Mosaic covenant falls into the Covenant of Grace. A well loved and big proponent of it not being part of the Covenant of Grace is Michael Horton, who argues that the “do this and live” nature of the Moral law handed down through the 10 Commandments is law and not gospel, and therefore falls into the Covenant of Works and not the Covenant of Grace. I will let him speak for himself here:

What then are we to say about Moses’ status in the church today? Reformed theology has traditionally insisted that the moral law (that is, the Ten Commandments) remains in force, while the ceremonial and civil laws of the old covenant are now obsolete along with that covenant itself. No other nation was brought into a covenant relation with God as a typological witness to His coming kingdom. While the Sinai covenant is itself a covenant of works, where Israel promises to do everything it says on pain of death, we inherit God’s promises in a covenant of grace. And precisely because Christ has fulfilled the covenant of works for us, we can inherit all of the everlasting promises in a covenant of grace. Only the heirs of that covenant, after all, are able to begin in this life to say with the Psalmist, “How I love your law, O Lord!”


On the other hand, we have Ligon Duncan, who argues differently in an excellent sermon refuting theonomy, dispensationalism, and Lordship Salvation all in one shot, which I will link below.

Now Covenant Theologians have described the covenant with Moses differently over the years, and there has been some confusion over this issue even amongst Reformed Theologians.  But in general, while Reformed Theologians acknowledge that there are aspects of the Covenant of Moses or the Covenant of Law, which reflect some of the language and ideas of the Covenant of Works, nevertheless, the Covenant of Law, or the Covenant of Moses, or the Mosaic Economy, is squarely within the stream of the Covenant of Grace.  It is not an alternate option to the Covenant of Works given to us by God in the Old Testament   It is part of the Covenant of Grace.  It is not saying, “Well, okay, if you don’t get saved by faith as under Abraham, you can try law under Moses.”  That is not the point.


I can see both sides of the conversation and I think a lot of each side ends up getting strawmanned by each other because people generally lack nuance when they read it, but I think the important thing is to see the unity that we all agree that the moral law is still something we need to do, but because we cannot do it perfectly, the point of the Covenant of Grace is that Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf.


The Covenant of Grace is how the Covenant of Works is fulfilled. It establishes how Jesus’ sacrifice atones for our sin and gives us the Gospel throughout the Old Testament. The Covenant of Grace is also how Irenaeus was able to show that the God of the Old Testament is actually the God of the New Testament, in that it shows a continuity with how God interacts with his people. As it is written in Hebrews 13:8:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Resources on the Covenant of Grace:

Where the confessions and catechisms reference covenant theology:

  • Westminster Confession Ch 7
  • Westminster Larger Catechism Q & A 30-36
  • Savoy Declaration Ch 7
  • Second Helvetic Confession Ch 10
  • Canons of Dort Head 2, Paragraph 2 & Paragraph 4
  • 1689 London Baptist Confessions Ch 7

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Covenant Theology: Covenant of Works [Reformation Month 2020]

Covenant Theology: Covenant of Works [Reformation Month 2020]

What is the Covenant of Works?

The Covenant of Works is the covenant between God and Adam “before the fall, in which God promised them blessedness contingent upon their obedience to His command. After the fall, the fact that God continued to promise redemption to creatures who had violated the covenant of works, that ongoing promise of redemption is defined as the covenant of grace.” (RC Sproul)


A gracious covenant?

I grew up largely theologically illiterate, so any sense of understanding covenants I had was very twisted. I had often conflated the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace, but they are not the same, though the Covenant of Works is the foundation for the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Works says, “do this and live,” where in the Covenant of Grace, Jesus says, “I have done, so live in me.” RC Sproul also elaborates on this very well in the link above:

Technically, from one perspective, all covenants that God makes with creatures are gracious in the sense that He is not obligated to make any promises to His creatures. But the distinction between the covenant of works and grace is getting at something that is of vital importance, as it has to do with the Gospel. The covenant of grace indicates God’s promise to save us even when we fail to keep the obligations imposed in creation. This is seen most importantly in the work of Jesus as the new Adam. Again and again the New Testament makes the distinction and contrast between the failure and calamities wrought upon humanity through the disobedience of the original Adam and the benefits that flow through the work of the obedience of Jesus, who is the new Adam. Though there is a clear distinction between the new Adam and the old Adam, the point of continuity between them is that both were called to submit to perfect obedience to God.


The Covenant of Works is what governed man’s state before God. God promised righteousness for obedience and sin led to death and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The Covenant of Works is necessary for covenant theology because it is the covenant that Christ fulfilled. It is the basis of the Covenant of Grace. The whole point is that righteousness is tied to life, so when Jesus fulfilled that covenant, he shares it with the elect in the Covenant of Grace. Dr. Sproul explains it well here:

Beyond the negative fulfillment of the covenant of works, in taking the punishment due those who disobey it, Jesus offers the positive dimension that is vital to our redemption. He wins the blessing of the covenant of works on all of the progeny of Adam who put their trust in Jesus. Where Adam was the covenant breaker, Jesus is the covenant keeper. Where Adam failed to gain the blessedness of the tree of life, Christ wins that blessedness by His obedience, which blessedness He provides for those who put their trust in Him. In this work of fulfilling the covenant for us in our stead, theology speaks of the “active obedience” of Christ. That is, Christ’s redeeming work includes not only His death, but His life. His life of perfect obedience becomes the sole ground of our justification. It is His perfect righteousness, gained via His perfect obedience, that is imputed to all who put their trust in Him. Therefore, Christ’s work of active obedience is absolutely essential to the justification of anyone. Without Christ’s active obedience to the covenant of works, there is no reason for imputation, there is no ground for justification. If we take away the covenant of works, we take away the active obedience of Jesus. If we take away the active obedience of Jesus, we take away the imputation of His righteousness to us. If we take away the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, we take away justification by faith alone. If we take away justification by faith alone, we take away the Gospel, and we are left in our sins.


Resources on the Covenant of Redemption:

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