Dear Church Family,
On Sunday mornings at 9:15-10:15 am in the sanctuary, we have Sunday school for all ages. We are using a video series called “He Gave Us Prophets,” combined with teaching and discussion, in order to better understand, interpret, and apply the prophets of the Old Testament. If you’re interested in reviewing the video lessons that we are using for this class, you may find them online here: https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/HGP. Also, if you’re interested in reviewing the summaries that I’ve been writing in these weekly emails, you find those on the HCPCA church website here: https://www.hillcountrypca.org/pastors-blog/category/he-gave-us-prophets.
Continuing with these reviews, here is a summary of some of the things that we learned and covered in our most recent Sunday school class.
In the first part of this lesson, we learned about the two kinds of divine covenants recorded for us in Scripture: covenants with all humanity (common) and covenants with His special people (redemptive). In the second part of this lesson, we learned of how the Bible describes three different kinds of people in relationship to God’s special saving (or redemptive) covenants: people outside the visible covenant community, people within the visible covenant community, and people within the invisible covenant community.
(1) People Outside the Visible Covenant Community
In the Old Testament, those outside the visible covenant community were those who were not physically part of the nation of Israel. Thus, “Gentiles in the flesh” did not receive the covenant sign of circumcision and thus they were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, and without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12).
In the New Testament, Jesus refers to those outside of fellowship with God’s people as “the world” (John 15:15-19; John 17; see also 1 John 3:1). Those outside the visible covenant community are those who are not members of the visible Church. Thus, those who do not embrace the promises of Christ and call upon the name of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:12) and do not enter into covenant fellowship with God’s people through baptism are not part of Christ’s body, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12).
(2) People Within the Visible Covenant Community
In the Old Testament, the visible covenant community consisted of the nation of Israel, those who received the sign of circumcision, embraced the covenant promises of God, and sought to worship Him and follow His law (Genesis 17; Romans 3:1-2; 4:1 Corinthians 10:1-14). This visible covenant community also included their children, who were to also receive the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:7, 12).
In the New Testament, the visible covenant community is comprised of both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16); it includes all those who profess faith in Christ, along with their children (1 Corinthians 7:14). For those outside of this visible church, through professing faith in Christ, and upon receiving the covenant sign of baptism, they may enter into this covenant fellowship and receive the Lord’s promises – for themselves and for their children (Acts 2:38-39).
(3) People Within the Invisible Covenant Community
The first two categories of people are differentiated according to what man can see, but the Lord looks upon a person’s heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Thus, in the Old Testament, within the visible covenant community, there were those who truly believed and trusted in the Lord. Sometimes, the prophets refer to these believers within the visible covenant community of Israel at the “remnant” (e.g., Isaiah 46:3; Jeremiah 23:3; 31:7-8; Zechariah 8:12). Other times, these true believers are described as those who have a “circumcision of the heart” (e.g., Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). This idea that there were true believers amongst the nation of Israel (members of the invisible covenant community) is also taught in the New Testament; the Apostle Paul describes the true Jew as one whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit of God (Romans 2:28-29). Spiritual Israel are those who are children of promise, not merely the children of the flesh (Romans 9:6-7).
In the New Testament, we also see that within the covenant community of the visible church, there are those who truly believe and trust in the Lord Jesus. As Jesus warned, not everyone who cries out to Him, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of the heavenly Father (Matthew 7:21). And, as the Apostle John warns, there are “antichrists” among God’s people who are not true believers, showing their true nature by departing from the fellowship the church (1 John 2:18-20).
How does understanding these three different kinds of people help us? Well, for one thing, it helps to better interpret the Scriptures, to recognize that the Scriptures are written with these three kinds of people in mind. And then, we will be better able to understand and apply God’s Word.
Also, it helps us to see the importance of maintaining fellowship with God’s visible church, the physical body of God’s covenant people. For it is to His Church that the Lord has made His promises and in whom His Spirit dwells.
Ultimately, however, understanding these three different kinds of people ought to cause us to examine our own hearts, to test ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith, circumcised in the heart, and washed of our sins (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The Lord be with you!
– Pastor Peter M. Dietsch