The Condition of the Covenant of Grace
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… even as the rest of mankind. Ephesians 2:1, 3bESV
Question 32 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant? It gives the answer, “The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.” Last time we looked at this question we dwelt upon the graciousness of Christ’s mediation on our behalf. Today we will consider the effect of that grace in us.
In the Covenant of Grace God freely provides and offers salvation to sinners. The provision of salvation is found in the atoning death and righteous life of Jesus Christ. Sinful human beings could not be saved unless God’s wrath against their sin was satisfied by a just punishment. Jesus accomplished this in His substitutionary, sacrificial death, for He was punished in our place, taking all of God’s wrath against our sins. Likewise, God’s holiness had to be satisfied by a perfect righteousness. Jesus accomplished this is His lifelong, flawless obedience. Thus, the satisfaction of wrath and the achievement of righteousness necessary for man’s salvation were both accomplished and secured by Jesus Christ in the Covenant of Grace. But this salvation does not come indiscriminately to all. Each person must do something in order to participate in and benefit from the salvation purchased by Christ. Accordingly, the Catechism clearly affirms that the Covenant of Grace is conditional.
The salvation held forth in this covenant is offered individually to each person and so it must be received individually by each person through some condition fulfilled by the recipient. Scripture declares that this required condition is faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). Thus, even though Jesus Christ truly accomplished salvation and God sincerely offers that salvation, the only way anyone can have an interest in that salvation is by their personal faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the instrument by which each sinner is united to Christ, so that through faith all of the benefits He achieved in the Covenant of Grace flow to each believer. Moreover, as we saw last time, this faith itself is purchased for and worked into the elect (God’s chosen ones), by His Holy Spirit. As God’s elect, we do not muster up belief in Christ from our flesh, but even our faith is given to us and birthed in us by the Spirit of God. Thus, the Covenant of Grace is truly conditional but God meets that condition for all of His elect! If God did not, none of the elect would believe, for we like the rest are born dead in sins and are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). Thus, Reformed Theology affirms the universal offer of the gospel: all are sincerely invited to believe for salvation. But because of man’s deadness in sin, only the elect – whose faith is birthed in them by the Holy Spirit – ever do believe in Christ and so are saved by Him.
Along with that faith, all of the “other saving graces” are “worked into” believers. Faith alone is the sole instrument of justification because faith alone unites us to Christ. But faith alone is not the only saving grace. There are other saving graces, or we could say, graces that are necessary for salvation, and these graces will surely be given to those who believe. So for example we know that we must have good works in order to be saved (James 2). Now these works do not and cannot serve as any part of our justification which is always and only by faith alone, but they must be present in the life of every believer as the sure and certain effects of saving faith. Likewise every saved person must have some real love for God and for his fellow man for it is impossible that a person who truly believes in Christ will not have these graces also in his heart. Thus, the Catechism here calls Christian obedience both the evidence of the truth of our faith and gratitude, and the way of our salvation. In other words if your faith is real the evidence of that faith will be present. And if you are truly trusting in Christ for salvation you will be walking in the way of that salvation, which way is obedience. You must and will be doing these things because the same God who gives you faith is giving you all saving graces. Praise the God who so fully saves us by grace alone!