When we first begin to look at the Covenant of Grace that we are in as Christians, one of the easily overlooked facts is that the nature of the grace that we are in as Christians comes in the form of a covenant. It can be very easy to speak about the New Covenant without ever really taking notice for what it means to be in a covenant. A covenant is not just a meaningless term, but is a legal compact. When God paid for the sins of His saints on the cross, He did it in the form of a legal transaction. This is important for our confidence in Christ in taking note that God considers Himself legally bound to follow through with the promises that He has made in His legally binding Covenant with man. While in the Old Covenant God has a covenant with the people of a nation, the New Testament recognizes that the covenant of God is with a nation that is not a nation. In the New Testament the covenant of God is with the invisible body of believers.
The nature of the covenant that God has made with us humans is based on His divine grace towards us as sinful people. There is nothing that we can do to win the favor of God. There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s favor. There is nothing that we can do as humans to make God owe us. Everything that we have to do does not win us any favor with God since the good that we do is our duty and not something that we can do so that God owes us for giving Him something as if He could not do it without us. All of the favor that we have as humans comes through the cross of Christ when He shed His precious blood on Calvary and rose from the dead on the third day so that we might join Him in His resurrection life. And yet before we joined Him in His resurrection we were dead in our transgressions and completely unable to help ourselves. And yet by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit has sealed in us the assured promises of God in the form of a covenant.
From the Old Covenant we can see that Christ came to form the New Covenant out of the divine promises of God. And the covenant of old was filled with the promises of the Messiah to come so that it could be plain that the grace that was to come through Christ would be in the form of a legal covenant from God. The Covenant of God depended not on the love of God, or the mercy of God, but the covenant was conditional upon the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. To be legal, a debt had to be paid. No amount of love could make God just if He turned a blind eye to sin. And so to be legal Christ had to fulfill our condition of the covenant by shedding His precious blood in our law-place. Without the accomplishment of this task the covenant would be null and void. But the grace of God brought Christ to that place at which no greater love has ever been demonstrated than what Christ did out of necessity out of the love He had for His people.
All men have the opportunity to enter into this covenant by having placed their faith in what the Theanthropos has done. It is only through the cross that God can show His mercy to His people because outside of the cross and no man can enter into this legal transaction that God has mandated for all people to enter into on pain of eternal damnation. And because the grace is in the form of a covenant the promises carry the full legal weight that comes with the Sovereign power of the Almighty. The legal promises of the Covenant carry with them beyond all of the highest conceivable good for those who have entered into this legal Covenant. Throughout all of the covenants of God there are the same punishment of eternal damnation for those who transgress and eternal life for those who are faithful to the promises of God. It was this hope of salvation in the hereafter that has throughout the history of the people of God been the great hope.
This faith in God which allows us to enter into the promises of God is not merely a faith in some general concept of God but in the specific concept of God that has been revealed by God in the Bible and which represents a faith in the legal work that was done by Christ specifically on the cross and in His bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day. The faith that brought the Old Testament saints to salvation was a faith that was based on the Messianic hope of Jesus Who was yet to come. And so Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all of the heroes of the Old Covenant were saved by Jesus just as much as the Christian is today because of their hope in the deliverer that was promised by God to them in the form of a legal promise in Whom they placed their hope in. While there is so little that is revealed about the period extending from Adam to Abraham that we cannot say with certainty exactly how much they knew about the things that were to come, by the time of the dispensation of Abraham to Moses and of the dispensation from Moses to Christ we can see that the Old Covenant was filled with the knowledge of the specific redemption that God would accomplish on behalf of His people that the people of God had to place their faith in for their salvation.
The culmination of the dispensations of God comes with the legal covenant of Grace. In this covenant of Grace we can see that it is a legal requirement that God is expecting of all people. In the Covenant, the law is set up as more of a spiritual and inner exercise than of outward symbols. Because the Covenant of Grace is a legal requirement that God has made mandatory for all people, the Covenant of Grace is by necessity a covenant that is more highly evangelical in its emphasis. The Covenant of Grace requires that we who believe preach about the good news of the salvation of God to the unbelieving world that is still lost in its sins. In this Covenant of Grace the Holy Spirit has a very special role to play in the lives of all believers. And while the Old Covenant was set up to prepare us for the New Covenant of Grace, the Covenant of Grace itself is for the last generation of people, that is, the New Covenant is the covenant of which all people need to have their hope in for their salvation.