Preaching Christ: the Guarantor of the Covenant of Grace

In the two preceding articles on what it means to ‘preach Christ’ we have already noted the connection between God’s promise of salvation and the covenant he made with Abraham in relation to his seed. However, the question arises as to with whom exactly was this covenant made and by whom it is ultimately guaranteed.

It can be tempting to answer it by focusing on ourselves as the individuals who are the beneficiaries of this covenant promise – those to whom God has bound himself through his saving grace. Whereas this may be true up to a point, it fails to capture the full depth and dimensions bound up with this covenant relationship as it is revealed throughout the Scriptures.

The Westminster Larger Catechism addresses this question directly and provides us with the clearest and most biblical answer:

Q. 31 With whom was the covenant of grace made?

A. The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and

     in him with all the elect as his seed.

The Westminster divines were, of course, simply highlighting the central importance of union with Christ in our understanding of salvation. As Paul spells out in the opening section of Ephesians, God is to be praised because he has ‘…blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (Eph 1.3). None of these blessings can be ours in isolation. We only have them by virtue of our being joined to Jesus in salvation.

When it comes to proclaiming the gospel persuasively, this much-neglected doctrine can be remarkably helpful. People are instinctively suspicious of mere arguments; but the concept of relationship resonates deeply with us all. This detail needs to be flagged up for preachers – especially those who put a high premium on doctrine – because they face a strong temptation to preach doctrine in a way that is disembodied. They (we) fall too easily into the trap of proclaiming divine truths without setting them in the context of the incarnate Son in whom alone they have saving efficacy. The gospel has a face: that of Jesus – the Word made flesh who made his dwelling among us (Jn 1.14).

More than this, again for those who appreciate the importance not merely of each of the great doctrines of the Bible in isolation, but who appreciate that all doctrines together belong to the interwoven tapestry of truth in its systematised unity, this too can never be dislocated from Christ. It is tempting to be so entranced by the sheer beauty, coherence and logic of divine truth that we end up presenting it merely as an exercise in logic, thus cutting it loose from the beauty, coherence and life that it possesses through the divine person in whom it is revealed, namely Christ.

So, whether we are preaching the word to those who are lost, seeking to persuade them of their need of salvation; or to those who are already believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, the persuasive power of the message is found neither in its logic, nor even in the attractiveness of what it promises; but rather in Jesus himself. Because of who he is, the life he lived, the death he died and the resurrection, exaltation and enthronement by which he has been vindicated, he uniquely ‘puts flesh’ on the gospel. Through the incarnation he became one with us in order that he would be qualified to act for us and thus give to us the great salvation promised in the covenant of grace. He is its guarantor because he has fully satisfied all its requirements and stipulations.

The gospel in its very essence is a relational message and it is only as we proclaim Christ, as the one who relates to sinners by means of grace, that God allows us to see the ‘face’ of salvation.

When it comes to the most precious of all human relationships – that of marriage – it is striking to see how this union has profound implications for both husband and wife. When they are formally pronounced to be ‘one flesh’ through the marriage bond, each assumes the benefits and liabilities of the other.

The Bible uses this imagery as one of its preferred ways of illustrating the spiritual marriage bond between God and his people in salvation. Indeed, Paul explicitly goes on in Ephesians to spell this out in terms of how Christ and his church relate (Eph 5.21-33). In this context it is crystal clear that Paul is not speaking of a marriage between equals; but quite the opposite. In this bond Christ assumes all the debts and liabilities that are rightly ours in our fallenness; but in our union with him we become the beneficiaries of all that is rightly his through his righteousness and substitutionary atonement on the cross.

All the blessings of the covenant and the very essence of this bond itself are guaranteed for us in and through Christ alone as our federal head. In him God’s promises are ‘Yes’ and ‘Amen’ (2Co 1.20). Again this carries unique weight when it comes to showing the reasonableness of the gospel. Those who believe in the Christ it proclaims are not left constantly looking to themselves and their own worthiness for assurance of salvation; but to Jesus Christ and him alone.

Mark Johnston