This month we continue to explore the biblical duty of nations to corporately confess the kingship of Jesus Christ. By corporate confession, I mean that nations have a moral duty to conform their organic, constitutional law in submission to Christâ€™s sovereign and kingly rule. The heart of the matter is this: Does the Bible teach such a duty? Let us explore the evidence.
Abraham, the Father of Nations
Godâ€™s covenant with Abraham and his family is an interesting place to begin when thinking about the conversion of nations. Godâ€™s grace toward Abraham is both individual (Abraham himself was justified by faith alone) and corporate (redemptive grace was found within his tents). In Genesis 12:1-3, we read that Abram (later Abraham) was called out of his homeland, but he was not called out alone. The call to Abram includes Abramâ€™s father (11:31), his wife Sarah (12:5, 10-17), his nephew Lot (12:5, 14:1-16) and the slaves that were included in his wandering household.
In Genesis 17, God defined the borders of His covenant mercy when He commanded, â€œEvery male among you shall be circumcisedâ€ (v. 10). This is not to say that God excluded females, but that Abrahamâ€™s whole tribe (those associated with his tents by blood or by bondage) was within the scope of the covenant. Circumcision was the sign and seal of covenant membership. Of course, as we continuously need to make clear in relationship to infant baptism, inclusion in the covenant does not automatically imply eternal election. Rather, it represents a covenantal presumption that children are heirs and that Abrahamâ€™s children are partakers of his spiritual heritage.
If circumcision was the means by which God marked His people as His unique possession, it is important to consider the basis on which God established the parameters of the covenant community. The church is a community of faith both in the Old and New Testaments. Should we assume the individual profession of faith of each of these circumcised members? Genesis 17:12 excludes any presumption of personal holiness by declaring, â€œHe who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised.â€ The inclusion of these little ones makes clear that membership in Godâ€™s gracious covenant does not presuppose individual saving faith or personal holiness. Rather, the inclusion in the covenant is based on the federal holiness of Godâ€™s friend, Abraham.
To speak about federal holiness is to speak of a covenant holiness based on representation. Americans boast of our federal system of representation. Thus, when Congress passes a law to raise the federal income tax rate, this is done in the name and by the authority of the people. There is a real union between citizen and legislature (just refuse to pay your taxes and you will find out how real).
In the divine economy of covenants, God deals with mankind on the basis of a federal principle of representation. Before the Fall, the covenant of works was made with Adam, not only for himself, but also as the federal representative of all mankind. As the old saying goes, â€œin Adamâ€™s fall we sinned all.â€
Just as the Fall was federal (we sinned in our covenant head), so also our salvation is federal (we are saved in our covenant head). The eternal covenant of redemption, the foundation of our saving hope, is an inter-Trinitarian pact made between the Father and the Son (acting as federal head, representing all of Godâ€™s elect). Thus, Jesus Christ is the new Adam for His elect Church. In Romans 5:18-19, Paul expounds the relationship between the two Adams: â€œTherefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one manâ€™s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one manâ€™s obedience the many will be made righteous.â€
By His active obedience (living a sinless life) and passive obedience (suffering the cursed cross), Jesus Christ has accomplished salvation as the federal representative of His people. What belongs to Him by right belongs to His Church by grace.
While the eternal covenant of redemption was made in eternity between God the Father and God the Son on behalf of His elect, the historical covenant of grace was made in history between God and elect sinners. God does not make His covenant of grace with shadowy abstractions but with real men, sons of the fallen race of Adam. Under the old covenant, God made His covenant of peace with Abraham. Like Adam before him, Abraham stood before God as the federal representative of his offspring. To Abraham, God declares in Genesis 17:7-8: â€œAnd 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. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.â€
Unlike His dealings with Adam, God does not deal with Abraham on the basis of his personal merit. Rather, God makes His covenant of grace with Abraham as Abraham stands within the saving reality of the greater federal headship of Jesus Christ. Abrahamâ€™s offspring are not blessed by their fatherâ€™s personal holiness, but the covenant holiness promised in Jesus Christ.
As Abraham is the federal head of a large extended family/clan, so the blessings of his covenant headship belong to all those under his authority. In Genesis 17: 12-13, God commands: â€œEvery male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with money, shall surely be circumcised.â€
With circumcision as the sign and seal of covenant entrance, God has established Abrahamâ€™s nation as the physical boundaries of His visible Church. Abraham must raise his children according to the covenant, and he must catechize his slaves within the covenant. However, their relationship to the promise is ultimately founded on their relationship to their head. In Abraham the promises are established. Through Abraham the promises will be confirmed in His blessed offspring Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). Thus, God had chosen Abraham and his offspring/servants to be the vehicle by which His gracious promises would be made incarnate in the world.
Abram and the Nations
God promised Abraham, the father of Israel, that he would be â€œthe father of a multitude of nations (ethnos)â€ (Gen. 17:5). Indeed, Abraham became the father of Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who fathered the 12 patriarchs of Israel. These patriarchs were essentially clan chieftains. Their tribes were united, first as a loose confederation (the period of the Judges), then as a limited constitutional monarchy (under King David), and finally as an empire (under King Solomon). After Solomon, the empire receded as the kingdom was divided in two. Thus began the long demise of Davidic authority leading to Israelâ€™s captivity and political domination by successive world-dominating empires.
Along the way, Israel stood against the nations of the world as the peculiar possession of the Lord God. Yet, the nations of the world were the children of Adam and Noah and therefore not devoid of hope. Abraham was promised paternity not only over a nation but over a multitude of nations (Gen. 17:14). The prophets spoke of a coming age when:
The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say, â€œCome, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that we may walk in his paths.â€ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3).
By divine promise, Abraham looked forward to a day when a multitude of families, clans, nations, and empires would call him â€œdaddy,â€ inheriting his faith and serving his God. Jesus Christ, having finished His work of accomplishing salvation for His people, commissioned His apostles to preach the good news, not only to Abrahamâ€™s children according to the flesh, but to all nations of the earth (Matt. 28:18-19).
For two millennia, Christâ€™s gospel has been going forth and bringing spiritual and cultural transformation to the peoples, families, and nations of the earth. Families have been blessed and kings have rejoiced to humble themselves before the gracious reign of the King of kings.
God once challenged Abraham to count the stars of the sky and behold the profound multiplication of his children (Gen. 15:5-6). Happy are the children, both physical and spiritual, that share the faith of blessed father Abraham. Blessed is Abraham who boasts paternity among the Italians, the French, the Germans, the Dutch, the Scots, the English, the Nigerians, the Koreans, and every other people that has taken hold of the promises of the gospel offered in Jesus Christ.
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