Covenant Theology: It Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

Last Sunday evening I gave a quick lesson on covenant theology at our Sunday evening Bible study. Now, Ligon Duncan has said, “Reformed theology is covenant theology,”[1] so, as you might imagine, when one of our ruling elders asked me to teach on the subject, I jumped at the chance. As a follow up to that lesson, I want to give you a list of the most important things about covenant theology. I’m not giving these in any particular order. This is just what comes to mind when I ask myself, “what do I want people to know about covenant theology?”

  1. Covenant theology means there is only one way of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. From the time man fell into sin, none of us have been able to offer God the perfect, personal obedience required by the Covenant of Works. Therefore, we’ve all been under the penalty of breaking that covenant: death. Since the fall, the only way men and women could be made right with God was by faith in Jesus Christ. Sure, people in the past didn’t have as much information as we do. Adam and Even just knew that “the seed” would one day come to crush the serpent. Moses knew that God had promised a prophet like him would one day come who would speak God’s word to the people. David knew that God had promised him a Son who would sit on his throne forever. They trusted that Christ would Here’s how the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, “This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.”[2] We trust that Christ has come. All of us trust in the same promise that sin and death will be no more. All of us are members of the same Covenant of Grace.
  2. Covenant theology means there is only one people of God from Genesis to Revelation. Remember the children’s song “Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them, and so are you. So, let’s just praise the Lord.” Have you ever thought about how that song communicates a profound spiritual truth? Why can we study the life of Abraham and think that it has any relevance to us? Why do we sing David’s words in the Psalms? Why do the prophecies of men like Isaiah, Daniel, or Jeremiah matter to us? Because we are part of the same people of God. Abraham is our father spiritually because we have the same faith that Abraham did (see point 1 above).
  3. We wouldn’t know God without his covenant. The Westminster Confession says, “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.”[3] That means even before sin entered the world, the only way that we as creatures could ever know our creator was for him to come down to us, for him to initiate the relationship with us. God’s covenant, even the Covenant of Works, is the way he chose to graciously make himself known to us.
  4. God’s covenant promises are binding. If God didn’t keep his covenant promises to us, he wouldn’t be God. Here’s how the writer to the Hebrews put it in Hebrews 6:17-20. “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Our God keeps his covenant promises, and he has promised that those who trust in Christ have forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, righteousness, and eternal life. That’s our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Our God keeps his promises.


Well, that’s by no means an exhaustive list of everything to know about covenant theology. My old professors at Reformed Theological Seminary wrote a book that was 598 pages long about Covenant Theology,[4] and I bet they’d tell you they were only scratching the surface sometimes. If you want to go deep into this topic, you can go deep. But what I think is much more helpful is when we understand the basics, when we understand why this matters. Hopefully this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I may start a series on covenant theology, or I may find myself wanting to write about something else next week. Either way, in all things soli deo gloria (glory to God alone)!

[1] Ligon Duncan, “Forward,” in Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives, ed. J. Nicholas Reid Guy Prentiss Waters, and John R. Muether (Wheaton: Crossway  2020), 23. Italics mine.

[2] WCF 7.5

[3] WCF 7.1

[4] Covenant Theology: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives, ed. J. Nicholas Reid Guy Prentiss Waters, and John R. Muether (Wheaton: Crossway  2020).