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There seems to be an enormous amount of opinion regarding the Abrahamic Covenant and its relation to the Christian believer. Were there two covenants, one for Israel and one for believers in Christ? If so, does that mean that there are two paths for salvation, both equally valid? How does the Law fit in with the covenants and does it affect the believer’s station in regard to the covenants? In addition, other questions may equally arise. Why does it seem as if there are way too many questions regarding the difference between God’s dealings with the Israelites and God’s dealings today?
While there are many difficult ideas and concepts in the Bible, the concept of God’s covenant with Abraham does not have to be a stumbling block. God, being the wise and far-seeing Lord that he is, provided a guide to assist the Christian in understanding the importance and place of the covenant that He forged with Abraham. Jesus conveyed early on in His ministry that the leaders of the Jewish people had misinterpreted the Law of Moses, and equally clouded up the meaning of God’s covenant with Abraham. While Jesus set the leaders straight on the Law of Moses, it fell upon the shoulders of Paul to clarify the meaning and importance of God’s promises to Abraham and Abraham’s seed. Paul illuminates, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, God’s true meaning of His covenant in two epistles: Romans and Galatians. Just as some call the book of Hebrews, a commentary on Leviticus, so we can also consider the books of Romans and Galatians, Paul’s Commentary on the Law and the Abrahamic Covenant.
To begin, Paul had to dispel the false notion that the Law of Moses was the proper gateway into eternal salvation. What better way to avoid false interpretations of the Law then to point out the true intention of the Law. Paul makes certain that the reason for the Law is firmly established. The origin of the Law is discussed in Galatians 3:19. Galatians 3:19a states, “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions” (NASB). So, the Law was added, after the Abrahamic Covenant because of the transgressions, or sins, of the people. The Law’s original intention was to reveal sin. In Romans 7:7, Paul states, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”’ (NASB). So, the purpose of the Law was to reveal sin. But, what purpose does that serve? The knowledge of what is sin and what is not sin would eventually make sin increase. And with the increase in sin, grace would need to increase that much more (See Romans 5:20).
Therefore, the Law, in effect, must lead to a savior for the people. Galatians 3:24 states, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (NASB). But, verse 25 goes on to state that we no longer need a tutor because of faith. In effect, Christ sets us free from the Law, as Romans 8:1-2 states, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” So, one law has been broken by another law. Do not make the mistake to think Paul is referring to two separate covenants. He is referring to two separate states for humans.
While the Law was needed to reveal sin and lead us to Christ, there were and are still some restraints that the Law possesses. Romans 7:1-4 states the following: “Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.”
The Law still holds sway for those who are under its influence and power, as verse one points out that all are under its jurisdiction. However, as witnessed by the marriage analogy that Paul uses, those who are justified by their faith in Christ are dead to the Law and made alive in Christ. In effect, our first husband, the Law has died and we are now joined with our new spouse, Jesus, who cancels out the Law in us.
Having established the reason and the restraints of the Law, Paul steps forward to clarify the requirements and the recipients of the Abrahamic Covenant. Why is this necessary if the misunderstanding of the Law’s purpose has already been corrected? This is necessary because the Jews were still under the misconception that the Abrahamic Covenant was an umbrella of salvation that they could hide from the wrath of God. What Paul hoped to accomplish was to correct this misconception by highlighting the correct pre-requisites for salvation through the covenant. The Jews were of the opinion that the Abrahamic Covenant automatically covered any Jew that was descended from Abraham. They believed the covenant was a free ticket to salvation by way of their birthright. What they did not understand was that God never intended the Abrahamic Covenant to be effective through the birthright of the Jews. Instead, the pre-requisite for salvation through the Abrahamic Covenant was by faith, as illustrated through the life and commitments of Abraham.
Romans 4:13-16 states, “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (NASB). Verse 13 clearly states that the promise of the covenant was fulfilled by those who have faith and was not by way of the Law. In fact, those who live by the Law cannot even be considered to be inheritors of the promise, because that would make the law of faith void. The descendants of Abraham must be those who are alike in Abraham’s faith because faith alone ensures that the law of grace has not been muddied by any works or cheap associations. The Covenant is eligible to all who are under the Law as long as they commit to the faith of Abraham, making them co-recipients with Abraham.
Now, how do we know that the children of faith are the true descendants? Galatians 3:16 points out, “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “ And to your seed,” that is, Christ.” (NASB). First of al, Paul makes it abundantly clear that the promise was not for Abraham’s direct blood descendants. He points out that the promise was not intended to Abraham’s seeds, or his offspring, but the promise was intended to Abraham’s main seed, which was the Messiah. The promise was through faith in Abraham’s seed. Like Abraham, those who believe are credited with righteousness (“Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” Romans 4:24-26, NASB). Our righteousness through faith is rewarded with peace with God. Romans 5:1 points this fact out when it states, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (NASB). Our peace, gained by justification from the blood of Christ means that “we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:9, NASB).
Now, if the direct descendants of Abraham are not the recipients of the promise, who were the intended recipients? Galatians 3:29 points out that “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (NASB). The children of the promise are those who share in the faith that Abraham shared in. Romans 9:6-8 and Galatians 3:6-9 state the same message. It is not the children of Abraham’s flesh that are the descendants of the promise, but “those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7, NASB). In effect, the promise issued in the covenant of Abraham was intended for all and not just the blood relations of Abraham. Israel had the chance to become rightful heirs of the promise, but instead they “did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Romans 9:32, NASB). The Gentiles, however, arrived at the promise because they “did not pursue righteousness,” but they “attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith” (Romans 9:30, NASB).
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