New Covenant Membership (part 1)

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WrittenFromUtopia

Puritan Board Graduate
The testimony of Jesus Christ and the gospels in regards to the New Covenant

So then, beginning our discussion about the nature of the New Covenant, we will first look at the testimony of Jesus Christ Himself. Who better could we possibly learn from? After all, Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant (Heb 4:14; 6:20; 8:1). Jesus is the Messiah prophesied to come by John the Baptist, who would establish His kingdom among the nations (Matt 3:1-17). And, most importantly, Jesus is God (2 Pet 1:1).

First of all, we will examine the parables (Psa 78:2) Jesus told His followers concerning the "Kingdom of God"; That is, His Church here on earth, of whom He is Lord. For the sake of clarity, the Kingdom of God is synonymous with God's covenant people (i.e. members of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus). The establishment of this kingdom was the doing away with the Old Covenant and its rituals and the establishment of a renewed covenant with all the nations, based on Christ's life and sacrifice and resurrection, so that those within the covenant no longer relate to God in a cold, lifeless way through rituals and rites, but through their mediator Jesus Christ. This is the precise reason why the New Covenant is, indeed, a better covenant enacted on better promises.


The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23)
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


This parable is often used in the context of evangelism, and I think that is a legitimate application. However, of immediate interest to me is the fact that Christ is referring to all four examples in this parable as people who receive the "word of the kingdom" and three of which at least believe/understand what is being said and are in some kind of "new state" after receiving the word. The "word of the kingdom" of course is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this "new state" that three of these four people enjoy is being in some sort of covenant relationship with God (however, only one of them is in a covenant that cannot be broken, which I will explain a little bit later).

In the first example, the person hears the gospel and their sinful heart is hardened by the devil and they refuse to repent and believe.

In the second example, the person hears the gospel and believes in it and receives it with joy. They endure for a while, as part of the kingdom, but then, having no root other than themself (i.e. they are not truly regenerate and saved), they fall away and are revealed to be apostates or what we will call "covenant breakers". Why can we call them covenant breakers? A covenant is something that is made by one person and accepted by another, on conditions. The person acknowledges the conditions of the covenant (the gospel call to repent and believe), and receive it with joy. However, since they cannot fulfill all the requirements of the covenant being unregenerate, the influence of sin and the world eventually overtakes their joy and temporary belief and they fall away from the faith. I'm sure we can all think of examples of people like this, however it is important that we do not "write them off" as having never been a part of anything, for Jesus clearly teaches us here that they received the gospel with joy, and even endured on their own strength, but could ultimately not meet God's expectations of those in covenant with Him, as they had no root in His preserving Spirit of grace that sustains all true believers.

The third person also receives the gospel and believes in it (again, not saving belief but intellectual acknowledgement of it), yet is so caught up in the ways of the world (money, worldly success, sinful lifestyle, etc.) that they cannot endure for very long and are carried away by the lusts and seductions of all the world has to offer. This occurs because although they selfishly entered into covenant with God (no doubt for some kind of personal gain or benefit, which is not the purpose of salvation for those in whose heart God's Spirit works), they could not endure apart from God's sustaining grace and Spirit.

Finally, the fourth person receives the gospel and truly repents and believes in it completely with understanding. These are people who not only enter into covenant with God, but the redemptive benefits of Jesus Christ's death are applied to them, giving them justification for their God-given faith, and the promise of future glory with God. God's Spirit lives within them, and they can endure through any hardship that comes their way. Furthermore, and even more important, their faith is shown to be genuine, because they produce fruit! They are zealous for God's word and His truth, always willing to share it with others and spread the good news of God's kingdom to other people. They show love for one another in Christ. They desire to give God all the glory and to have a progressively deeper and more intimate relationship with Him through prayer and His Word. These people are not only members of the New Covenant with God (who will and can never fall away, seeing as how they are SPIRITUAL members of the covenant, not merely temporal or earthly members who are not rooted in God's power), but they are God's chosen people - His "elect", who receive the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection, being justified in His blood and enjoying the eternal life that comes from the "counsel of peace" between God the Father and Jesus Christ, made in eternity (Zech 6:13; Eph 1:3-6; Heb 4:3; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8; 17:8). This "counsel of peace" or covenant is referred to as the Covenant of Redemption, as it is the guarantee of salvation for all of God's elect, that can never be forsaken or broken, as it was made not between men but within God Himself in eternity past. This is the great covenant between God and men, whomever God has chosen, that cannot and will never be broken. We gain access to the redemptive benefits of this covenant through the Covenant of Grace, and the current and fulfilled expression of that covenant is in Christ Jesus through the New Covenant. I will not become redundant and explain again why the New Covenant is called "better", but we will look at the continuity and discontinuity between all of the expressions or forms of the Covenant of Grace in a later post.


The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43)
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.


This parable is extremely clear and compelling evidence for a mixed covenant community within the kingdom of God.

First of all, Christ explains that all true believers are the wheat, while false belivers are weeds. However, they are all considered (at least temporally on earth) part of the same kingdom. He then exhorts the disciples to not try and discern for themselves who is or isn't a true believer. We are not responsible for ensuring that a member of our church (our covenanting body of people) is elect! That is simply never commanded in Scripture. We are to take their word for it when they say that they have repented and put faith in Christ. However, we are also responsible, as an obedient church, to exercise proper church discipline. Through proper church discipline, many times, the weeds will expose themselves! If we notice a member of our congregation is living in sin, doubting the faith, etc. it is our responsibility to call for them to repent. If, through proper and loving discipline, these people never repent and come back to the faith, they are to be disfellowshiped from our congregation and considered "apostates" unless they prove otherwise through repentance and restoration to the Church. Disfellowshipping someone (or "excommunication") is never for the sake of getting rid of false converts. It is always for the sake of redemption. We show our true Chrisitan love for one another when we correct others who are living in sin or sinning against one another. Only through these means, as instituted and commanded by Jesus Christ, will we be a healthy congregation. This, of course, will never guarantee a church of "believers only" and Christ teaches us here that this shouldn't be our goal, for vengeance is the Lord's (Rom 12:19) and He will deal with His people (Heb 10:30)!

A clear reason why we should not be trying to determine who is and isn't elect is given to us by Christ in this parable. That is, we might wrongfully be accusing wheat of being weeds! We are all sinful creatures, and it is not within our jurisdiction or ability to be able to determine someone's election. However, we are given the means to discipline one another and keep each other in line, which will all but take care of the problem itself, albeit through God's power and authority, not our own.

One more thing to make note of in this parable is found in the explanation later given by Jesus to His disciples:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers

One might assume that since Jesus describes the "field" in this parable as the "world" (Greek kosmos, a most hard-to-define word in English, depending on context), that this parable doesn't talk about the kingdom of God (those in covenant with Him), but the world in general. However, Jesus clears up this misconception for us (at least in English) by stating that the angels will be gathering the weeds from "out of his kingdom", and that these people within His own kingdom will be "causes of sin" and "law-breakers". This sounds a lot like the effects covenant breakers have in our church congregations today. They are constantly causing sin in many forms to be found within the church and they are always breaking God's law. However, they are still considered part of the kingdom, yet not elect or saved. That distinction is important and vital if we are going to understand the New Covenant kingdom of God as presented in Scripture.


There are a few other extremely short parables concerning the kingdom mentioned in Matthew. However, since they do not discuss kingdom membership (usually just the value or growth of the kingdom and how it will be triumphant and sudden), we will skip over them.


The Parable of the Net (Matthew 13:47-50)
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


This kingdom parable told by Jesus is very similar in all respects to the Parable of the Weeds.

First of all, we gather from this parable that the kingdom of God includes people of every kind. This is another one of the primary reasons the New Covenant is a "better" covenant, as it includes not just ethnic Jews, but all the nations of the earth! Truly this is a better promise, and we praise God for His grace that spreads to all the ends of the earth.

The second half of this short parable teaches us that when all of the people have been gathered into the kingdom (in covenant with God as the Visible Church, cg. Augustine), the end of the world will come. At the end, the angels will separate the "good from the bad" and the bad ones will be thrown into the "fiery furnace", which we all know is referring to hell. It is very important to note from this parable that many people may be in some sort of visible, external covenant with God (through the New Covenant in our present time), not everyone within that covenant - within the kingdom - will be saved. Being part of the Church does not save you! Having some sort of belief in Jesus and the gospel does not save you! Only true faith and repentance, as gifts from God, will save anyone. And, as all of these parables have taught us, those who are saved are God's chosen people - the elect - who are chosen before the foundation of the world and are guaranteed (through God's eternal Covenant of Redemption) to never fall away, through God's irresistibly sustaining and saving grace.


Who is the Greatest? (Matthew 18:1-6; 10-14)
1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.


In this passage, we see the clear importance and value that Christ puts on children as part of his kingdom. We are sternly warned (with threat of death!) to make sure we never turn away such children in faith or cause them to stumble in any way.


The Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14)
1 And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 3 and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’ 5 But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 7 The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 10 And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”


I'm sure we all understand the phrase "nail in a coffin". Well, let's look at this passage closely and see what we find in it.

The wedding feast is of course at the end of the world. The King of the wedding feast is of course God. The son is Jesus Christ. The first groups of servants called to invite people to the wedding refused to cooperate. It appears that these servants are ethnic Jews, who were originally God's servants but proved themselves to be apostates and were "cut off" from God's gracious covenant. Not only this, but we see that He "burned their city". Of course, Jerusalem and its Temple was burned to the ground and left in ruins by the Roman army in A.D. 70, less than a generation after Christ prophesied it would occur. Finally, we see that God has other servants go out wherever they can and find people to come to the wedding feast. This, of course, is referring to believers in the New Covenant age, who bring the gospel to all the nations of the earth. However, we must importantly note that the people who are brought are both "good and bad". Furthermore, and even more compelling, we see that God notices the "bad" at the wedding feast. Although this person was brought into the kingdom - into covenant with God - and presumed to be on good terms with God because of some kind of intellectual belief (not saving belief), God recognizes this person as not being one of His chosen people. This is made all the more clear when we read that "Many are called (called to be in covenant with God, part of His kingdom on earth), but few are chosen".

Not everyone who is in church with us on the Lord's Day is "chosen" by God for eternal life. Not all who profess to be true believers are in fact true believers. Many people are deceived, produce no fruit, and only have some kind of temporal belief in either Christ or the gospel. Apart from God and His work within us to truly believe in Christ's gospel and repent of our sinful ways, we have no guarantee of salvation. It is all about Christ's work and it is all about God's saving and sustaining grace. Passages like this, of course, might stir fear or even doubt within us, and I firmly believe that is their intention. These are not merely "hypothetical" passages, but true warnings for us to make our calling and election sure. But, we will discuss more of that and the rest of the New Testament and it's witness towards those ideas in a future post.


The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’


Again, we find a stern warning from Jesus Christ that we are to live according to faith that produces fruit and good deeds. We are to be mindful of our calling and always striving to expand God's kingdom and help others and do whatever it takes to bring glory to God, because we are in debt to Him for His abundant grace. The servant who is part of the kingdom - in covenant with God, and even given blessings by God (although not as much as the fruitful members, he is still given something) - that does not produce fruit finds himself separated from God and cast into hell at the end of time. This is obviously not talking about someone being saved and then "losing" their salvation, for we know that contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture about salvation and it's surety. The only other explanation is that there is a kingdom of God (as displayed and expressed in the New Covenant) here on earth made up of both true believers and false believers (some of whom are exposed as apostates while still on earth), and that those who persevere are those who are truly saved in the end, through the grace of God and His Spirit that has been given to them.
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
1. The Parable of the Sower - this parable does not support your view. You cannot prove that 3 of the 4 were in the covenant by this story. Only one of the 4 was saved - as evidenced by bearing fruit. The others were lost. And there is no evidence at all that would link this parable to identifying covenant or kingdom members. Those who hear but fall away, who go out from us, were never of us in the first place.

2. The Parable of the Weeds - Jesus clearly tells us that the field is the world, not the kingdom or the church. And as for the gathering out of the kingdom of those law-breakers, there is no evidence to support the notion that these are covenant members. They are weeds. They are lost. They do not know Christ nor are they known by Him.

Calvin says of Matt 13:41 - "He pronounces likewise an awful punishment against any hypocrites and reprobate persons, who now appear to be the most distinguished citizens of the Church." They are not, but only appear to be in the kingdom - that is why they are removed from it - they are not a true part of it.

3. The Parable of the Net - again there is no evidence at all regarding covenant membership here. It seems you are adding to the meaning of parables by reading your own systematic into the interpretation of the text.

4. The Greatest - this does not mean that the kingdom includes all children. And he identifies the little children here as those who "believe in Me." So there must necessarily then be saving faith present in those being discussed here, further discrediting your idea of covenant membership.

5. The Parable of the Wedding - again you beg the question that to be at the feast as a "bad" person is to be in the covenant while there is no evidence of this from the text. You are misusing the parables and misunderstanding what Jesus was teaching.

6. The Talents - this again is not intended to tell us who is a covenant member. See John Gill on this where he states: "Then he which had received the one talent came,.... and said, Lord, I knew that thou art an hard man; he calls him "Lord," though he had not served him, and pretends he knew him; but if he had, he would have had a true affection for him, faith in him, and would have observed his commands; and he would also have appeared altogether lovely to him, and of an amiable character, and not in such a light as he represents him; which makes it a clear case, that he was ignorant of him, or he would never have said, that he was an hard, severe, or austere man; one very difficult of being pleased, cruel and uncompassionate to his servants."

He never knew the Lord. He was not in any relationship with Him other than in His employ in the parable. There is not a covenant relationship here.

If you are trying to use Scripture to prove who is and is not in the New Covenant then I suggest an exposition of the texts that talk about the New Covenant instead of the use of all thes eparables to try and make a point that was not intended when Christ told them in the first place.

Phillip
 

Ianterrell

Puritan Board Sophomore
"Calvin says of Matt 13:41 - "He pronounces likewise an awful punishment against any hypocrites and reprobate persons, who now appear to be the most distinguished citizens of the Church." They are not, but only appear to be in the kingdom - that is why they are removed from it - they are not a true part of it

Oh come on Philip. Calvin doesn't intend by his words what you do here. Calvin says of Matthew 13:41 they appear to be the most distinguised citizens of the church but are not. You take the "are not" and make it "are not part of the covenant" but that's not what Calvin means.

Notice here what the BIBLE says: The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers.

The BIBLE says that the angels will gather "all causes of sin and all law-breakers" OUT of his kingdom.

you are adding to the meaning of parables by reading your own systematic into the interpretation of the text.

Respectfully, So are you. When you add to the narrative regarding the little ones in the covenant claiming that they must have believed you are reading your systematic into the text. We should be able to lay down our presuppositions when the Bible says otherwise.
 

pastorway

Puritan Board Senior
Jesus said, "Whoever causes one of these little oneswho believes in Me to sin......"

Matthew 18:6 is in the context of the parable cited in the first post to defend children in the covenant. Yet it says these little ones "believe" in Jesus!

Phillip
 

sosipater

Puritan Board Freshman
If you are trying to use Scripture to prove who is and is not in the New Covenant then I suggest an exposition of the texts that talk about the New Covenant instead of the use of all thes eparables to try and make a point that was not intended when Christ told them in the first place.

:ditto: Well said.
 

luvroftheWord

Puritan Board Sophomore
Originally posted by sosipater
If you are trying to use Scripture to prove who is and is not in the New Covenant then I suggest an exposition of the texts that talk about the New Covenant instead of the use of all thes eparables to try and make a point that was not intended when Christ told them in the first place.

:ditto: Well said.

Alright, here goes.

Ezekiel 37:25-26:

"Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore."

1. The passage teaches that God will make a covenant with "them", David will be king over "them" forever, and God will set his sanctuary among "them" forever.

2. The passage defines "them" as "they and their children and their children's children".

3. The Bible teaches that we as Christians today are members of the "them" of this covenant, the New Covenant (See the whole book of Hebrews, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6).

4. Therefore, the Bible teaches that our children are also members of the New Covenant.

Seems crystal clear to me. That almost seems like an EXPLICIT statement of New Covenant membership to me. So, whatever view of the New Covenant you have must make sense of ALL the Biblical evidence. The Reformed paedobaptist position does make sense of all the evidence. The credobaptist position does not, and that's why I'm no longer a credobaptist.

HINT: The secret to understanding this issue is eschatology. :scholar:
 
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