Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Children and God's Covenant

“And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 17:7)
This covenant with Abraham (made and renewed in Genesis in chapters 12:1-3, 15:1-21, 17:1-14, and 22:15-18) is the same covenant made with us today. It is administered differently now after Christ, with different ceremonies and sacraments, and greater revelation and spiritual power, but the promises are the same, and the rest of Scripture expands upon their significance, namely: renewed fellowship with God, abundant offspring to be covenant heirs, inheritance of land, and worldwide blessing to the nations. The condition is the same, then and now: faith in Christ. These promises are fulfilled in Christ, who is the offspring of Abraham, who inherited the whole earth, and brings worldwide blessing to the nations. And so all those who believe in Christ can share in this covenant - not just the Jews. As Galatians 3:29 says, “if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” In Christ, the church receives the promises of renewed fellowship with God, abundant children as covenant heirs, inheritance of the world, bringing worldwide blessing to the nations through Christ.

In Genesis 17:7 we see God’s promise to take your children into His covenant (“to be God to you and to your offspring after you”). We find this promise repeated in the New Testament:

- Acts 2:38–39, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

- Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Paul then taught the household, the jailer believed, and he and his household was baptized and rejoiced together. The ESV correctly notes that the Greek text of verse 34 only says that the jailer believed. Doubtless the other adults in the household articulated faith as well, but the passage emphasizes that the jailer's faith brought salvation to the household as a unit. They were all included, just as with Abraham's household.

So, children are viewed in the New Testament the way they were in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the children of believers were treated as God’s people, recipients of God’s mighty acts of redemption like the Exodus, receiving circumcision, which Romans 4:11 describes as the old covenant sign of justification by faith; they were called to remain in the ways of the covenant, holding fast to God, to not treacherously break covenant. So in the New Testament era, the children of believers ought to be treated as God’s people, members of the church which was purchased by Christ’s blood, receiving baptism, the sign and seal of redemption, called to remain steadfast in faith and repentance, to not fall away into apostasy.

It is like the church is a train that is bound for glory. When you board the train, you normally bring your household (though Scripture recognizes situations where this does not happen). When children are born to you, they are born on the train. They must be told to remain on the train - some children, even some adult converts, foolishly jump off the train to their death or precariously dangle over the edge for a time - but their starting position is not neutral, nor are they put off the train to give them their own chance to board the train. They are born on the train. Baptism is simply recognizing that fact, giving them their train ticket.

So the children of the covenant ought to be baptized, included in the church, and treated like as a members of the covenant - not strangers or aliens. 1 Corinthians 7:14, for example, calls the children of a believing parent not “unclean,” but “holy,” or “holy ones,” a term usually translated as “saints.” Since they are covenantally holy, regarded as clean, they should be given the sign of cleansing and inclusion - baptism. When God brings your children into the visible church, He makes them Christians in name, to be regarded as Christians in fact unless they fail to embrace God’s grace and break covenant with their God. Like everyone else in the church, they ought to be encouraged to believe in Christ, to make use of the means of grace, to repent of their sins, and to walk in greater faithfulness with their God.

The baptism of my daughter (right to left): myself, my children, wife, siblings, parents, and wife's parents
This covenant promise also comes in connection with the covenant duty of parental discipleship. As God said of Abraham in the next chapter, "For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him” (Gen. 18:19). God fulfills His promise to be our children’s God through means - namely, faithful Christian parenting.

God’s covenant obligates parents to raise up their children with Christian education and discipline (see also Deut. 6:7, Eph. 6:4). The Bible teaches that Christian parents must raise their children with 1. instruction (Deut. 6:7), 2. authority/discipline (Gen. 19:18, Prov. 29:15, 17), 3. persuasion (as exemplified throughout the book of Proverbs), and 4. example (Prov. 23:26). You must engage the head (to know), hands (to do), heart (to love), eyes (to envision).

Genesis 18:19 also teaches that children must keep the way of the Lord. Children have great privileges and position - God has made His covenant of friendship with them, including them among His redeemed people - but these benefits will only continue if they continue in the faith of their parents, trusting in Christ and following Him as His disciples. This covenant sealed in their baptism gives blessings to those who keep the covenant in faith and repentance, but it brings God’s curse and wrath upon those who turn aside from their covenant obligations and do not grab hold of Jesus Christ.

So covenant discipleship and covenant keeping is key to the fulfillment of the covenant promises. One of these promises is blessing upon parental discipleship. But this in turn serves another Abrahamic promise, which is that God will bring worldwide blessing through Christ and His church. God promised godly offspring to His people so that they would be a blessing to the world. Christians do not bear and raise children just to have children, but to grow and spread the kingdom of God. Children are for dominion, weapons in the spread of the kingdom (Ps. 127). Raise up children within the covenant in order to grow the church, to fill the earth with Christ’s image, so that they may further the domain of Christ over all creation.

This post is adapted from my latest sermon, "Children," which is available online at this link

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