We’re a culture with severe trust issues. Politicians have long struggled with this thing called honesty. Employers break their word when it’s in the apparent best interests of the bottom line. Spouses break their vows in the pursuit of “happiness.”
So it makes sense that we’d take our trust issues and put them on God, doesn’t it? When you strip away the nuances of so many of our doubts and questions about God, the thing we really want to know is:
God can really be trusted?
R.C. Sproul wants to give readers confidence on this matter. To know that the God of the Bible is a promise-making—and promise-keeping—God. His most recent book, The Promises of God: Discovering the One Who Keeps His Word, examines the promises God has made and why we have good reason to trust Him to keep it.
When seeking to understand God’s promises, you need to start with the concept of covenant. Our God is a covenant-making God. The concept, therefore, “is integral and foundational to the divine revelation” (9). But what does “covenant” mean and what are the covenants God makes?
Sproul begins by explaining that while all covenants are, at a fundamental level, agreements between two parties or more parties (think wedding vows or industrial contracts), biblical covenants are unique in that they “are established on the basis of a divine sanction. That is, they are established not on the foundation of promises made by equal parties, but on the foundation of the divine promise of God. In biblical covenants, it is God who declares the terms and makes the promises” (11).
While this might seem obvious to some, this is helpful to understand. Too often we seem to treat God’s covenants as two-person agreements, as though we had a say in the drafting of the terms. But when you look at any biblical covenant—from the beginning of redemptive history to its end—you don’t see negotiation taking place. You only ever see God say, “This is my covenant with you.”
The foundational covenant
From there, Sproul goes on to define the different covenants God makes throughout redemptive history: the Covenant of Redemption, the Creation Covenant, the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic Covenants, and finally the New Covenant.
His placement of the covenant of redemption at the beginning of the list is no accident. Sproul explains:
The great truth that rests on the concept of the covenant of redemption is that redemption was not an afterthought in the plan of God. It was not God’s Plan B, which He was forced to come up with to correct the mess humanity made out of creation. No, before He created the world, God had an eternal purpose of redemption, a plan for redeeming His people in this world, and all three persons of the Trinity were in complete agreement about it. (30)
This is where we get so messed up when we ask if God can be trusted—and this is where God’s Word gives us so much encouragement and confidence. Because the plan of redemption was made before the world was ever created, we don’t have to worry about whether or not it’s going to work. There’s no need to hedge our bets, as though there were even a small chance of error.
Jesus promised before the world was that he would actively obey the Father’s will and that he would passively accept the consequences of our failure to obey God’s commands.
“All of this was agreed upon in eternity before Christ ever became flesh and dwelled among us,” Sproul writes. “He agreed to do the work necessary for our redemption.” (32)
The context of redemption
So what’s the need, then, of the remaining covenants? In a sense, the other covenants do two things:
- They provide the context in which the covenant of redemption is fulfilled; and
- They reveal the covenant of redemption in its fullness.
Each covenant builds upon the next as God progressively reveals His will to His people. So the Creation covenant (that is, the Adamic or covenant of works) provides the basic backdrop for humanity’s situation. It is the only covenant that applies to humanity in general, rather than specific groups or individuals.
“Since Adam represented the entire human race in the covenant that God made with him, all human beings who descend from Adam participate in the Adamic covenant,” Sproul explains.
As children of Adam, we are necessarily involved in a covenant relationship with God.… The question is whether we are covenant keepers or covenant breakers. We are all one or the other, but none of us is outside of the covenant. 42-43)
Do you see why this understanding is foundational to the redemptive story of the Bible? Because we’re all within a covenant with God, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all accountable to Him for our actions. This is why Paul could and does universally condemn humanity as “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), as being “without excuse” for failing to acknowledge God’s person and commands (Rom. 1:20).
And equally importantly, it’s in light of the breaking of this first covenant that we see God’s grace break forth into creation:
- When God flooded the world and spared only Noah and his family, He showed infinite grace to them as well as to all of creation. In this covenant, we begin to see the cosmic scope of redemption.
- In the Abrahamic Covenant, we see God promising unconditionally that Abraham the land of Canaan, that his descendants would become a great nation, and that from him, all nations would be blessed. This would be His work alone.
- In the Mosaic Covenant, God gives His redeemed people the moral and ceremonial laws of what was to be a nation under His rule—a nation serving as a symbol of His consummated Kingdom.
- In the Davidic Covenant, God promises that David’s throne would be established forever and his Son would sit on the throne forever.
And all the promises of God come to fruition in Jesus Christ. The covenants give the context for redemptive work of Christ. They help us understand the requirements for salvation, and they help us to see that only one Man has ever met those requirements. We are saved not by our works, not by our futile attempts to keep God’s covenant, but by Christ’s keeping the covenant on our behalf.
Is that not the best news you could ask for?
Know the God who can be trusted
Can God be trusted? Absolutely. He kept His promises to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David—and He continues to keep His promises to us in Christ. What wonderful assurances comes from grasping this truth—it changes everything! Don’t forget this truth. Don’t overlook it or neglect it. Instead, read The Promises of God, let it guide your study of this important subject, and give thanks to the God who really does keep His Word.
Title: The Promises of God: Discovering the One Who Keeps His Word
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: David C. Cook (2013)