The story of redemption, as revealed in Scripture, is a depiction of covenant fulfillment. God interacts with his people and accomplishes his purposes through covenant. Today we use contractual language more often than covenantal language, yet there are important differences between the two modes of clear communication. The essential difference between a contract and a covenant is that in a contract, one party can leave at any time. As Gary Chapman observes in his Covenant Marriage, this is the reason many marriages end in divorce. In a covenant though, one is not interested only in his own interests but is deeply committed to the interest and service of another.
While we do not use the language of covenant as much today, it is imperative for us as disciples to familiarize ourselves with what covenant is and why it matters. Covenant refers to God’s free choice to establish a mutually binding relationship with humanity. God in his grace has revealed himself generally through the creation and especially through the inspired word and through Jesus, the Word made flesh, reminding us that God reveals Himself in the context of covenant.
Various covenants appear throughout the biblical narrative, yet one of the most foundational is the covenant God makes with Abraham. The significance of the Abrahamic covenant will become more apparent as we journey together in this post. My goal is to reflect on the Abrahamic covenant and the way Christians are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant by communicating that God restores the relationship between Himself and humanity through the Abrahamic covenant of faith.
Perhaps you are wondering why I have chosen to write about the Abrahamic covenant, rather than the other six or so I could have written about. I have recognized a growing trend or affinity toward Judaism. In particular, some people are applying Kosher dietary regulations, observing Jewish festivals, and devoting a lot of time to reading non-canonical Jewish literature. Let’s review the Abrahamic covenant before we move on to consider the way it relates to New Testament believers.
The Abrahamic Covenant
God’s covenant with Abraham echoes his covenant with Adam. In Abraham, new creation and a new corporate identity shape the people of God. God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12 and 15 culminates in his willingness to sacrifice the promised son in Genesis 22, while also including his seed or offspring, land, and overflowing blessings. Abraham is undoubtedly a key figure in understanding God’s covenant relationship with his people.
One of the most significant passages about Abraham’s response to God’s covenant invitation comes from Genesis 15. Consider the following passage:
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6, NKJV)
Abraham’s action resulted in his being credited as righteous. Paul adopts that terminology in the New Testament. Believers are justified through Christ’s substitutionary death. There are various theories about the atonement, yet the penal satisfaction view most reflects the biblical account and stands in line with the Reformational tradition. This is important because Christians are not justified by any works of the law, but only through Christ’s gift of imputed righteousness. What a treasure!
Grafted into the Promise: The New Covenant
The simplest way to explain how Abraham relates to New Testament believers is through Paul’s language. Jesus grafts unlikely and unworthy people into the covenant of promise through the imputation of his righteousness by faith. In horticulture, one common practice involves grafting a new seed into an already existing plant. It’s a fascinating process to watch. In high school horticulture, we grafted new tomato plants into an already existing vine. In salvation, Jesus essentially does something similar with the believer. Gentiles are grafted into the covenant family of God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. What a rich truth! Let’s look at Paul’s language on this topic from Romans 11:13-27. I share this passage in its entirety to provide context. I know it’s a bit lengthy, so thanks in advance for allowing me to share.
13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.” (NKJV)
Paul labored in Romans 11 to describe God’s relationship to Israel, that is, the Abrahamic people of God. The chapter is exegetically and theologically rich. Paul urged the Gentile Roman believers not to become prideful about their membership in the covenant family and longed for the children of Abraham to recognize the Messiahship of Jesus. There are some eschatological components to this passage as well. Without getting into the various interpretations about the return of Christ, it is only fair and honest to recognize that in God’s divine wisdom, the first covenant people will be brought back into the New Covenant.
My point is to remind the reader about the beauty of the New Covenant. (Read Jeremiah 31 for further reflection on the extent of the New Covenant.) We are grafted into God’s family through faith. Abraham’s children are those who have faith in Jesus the Messiah. (Read Galatians for a further reflection of Paul’s understanding of Abraham!)
Christians are a people of the King. They are devoted to Jesus and indicate that not only in faith but also in practice. Christians must demonstrate that they belong to Jesus in their actions. At the same time, any attempt to merit a good standing before God through works of the law is futile and undermines the once-for-all priestly sacrifice of Jesus. Much more can and should be said about the Abrahamic covenant and its relationship to believers today. I hope this post has inspired you to read further about the Abrahamic covenant and to recognize that the covenant is renewed through Jesus. Let us continue striving to enter God’s rest in the context of a covenant relationship, dear readers!