What do we mean when we say we are a "Reformed" Church? Part 6 of 10 - Covenant Theology

[Editor's Note: Read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5 of this series.]

We believe that all of God’s promises throughout history have been fulfilled in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ!

In a previous post, we explained that Reformed Christians believe the story of the world can be summarized in four chapters: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. To specifically understand how the internal aspects of the Bible relate to one another, particularly the Old and New Testaments, Israel and the church, or promise and fulfillment, Reformed Christians focus on the interrelated themes of covenant and kingdom. This is why Reformed Christians can be called covenant theologians. This means the unity of the biblical story should be discerned by looking at the various covenants God has made with his people and their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ and his work to establish the New Covenant with his own blood. While a lot to be said about this topic, three particular points stand out.

God Relates to His Creation by Covenant

Reformed Christians believe God relates to us through covenants. This stands in contrast to other understandings of how man relates to God such as is found in rationalism, individualism, or mysticism.

Covenant is not a common word. So what is a covenant? A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.  Or we could say a covenant is a life and death relationship sanctioned by a king. Covenant relationships have specific duties, practices, and privileges that shape the nature of the relationship. Throughout the Bible we see God establishing covenants with his people.  At creation, God established a relationship with mankind, and he gave a command that outlined how the relationship was to be enjoyed. When those commands were broken, the bond was severed, and death reigned.

One Covenant of Grace

The Bible records many different covenants between God and men. The most evident ones are with Abraham, with Noah, with Moses, with David, and with Jesus Christ. Reformed Christians believe that God’s initial creation covenant with Adam was broken.  In that arrangement, mankind was obligated to remain faithful to God’s commands in order to continue enjoying life with God.  However, once sin entered into the picture, God’s grace was necessary for covenant fellowship between God and man.  So God established a covenant of grace with mankind that took various shapes in various times and centered on various people. In other words, God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus Christ were all expressions of God’s one covenant of grace. Despite the differences in the particulars of these arrangements, all of these covenants found their fulfillment in the New Covenant through Jesus Christ.

So Reformed Christians believe we were created to live in covenant with God at creation but due to sin, we now relate to God because of the covenant of grace in Jesus Christ.

One People of God

One of the most significant applications of this understanding of the biblical story involves the question of how Israel and the church relate to one another.  Reformed Christians believe that there is only one people of God. In each stage of God’s progressive work of redemption, God’s people related to God under various terms, but  all of God’s promises and all the covenants came to their fullest and climactic expression in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. The church is the true Israel, the new humanity, Jew and Gentile together as new creation.

At first the significance of this reading of Scripture may not be clear.  But understanding the unity of Scripture in this way has massive implications for how we think theologically from Scripture. Remaining posts on what it means to be Reformed will unpack the significance as it relates to God’s law, his church, and worship.

[Editor's Note: Read part 7part 8part 9, and part 10 of this series.]