Posted by: Grover Gunn | August 31, 2007

Covenant Children and Baptism


All who are in what we call the visible church have what we call the promise of the covenant. The promise of the covenant is that we will receive the blessings of the covenant if we meet the obligations of the covenant.  The most basic obligation of the covenant is saving faith in Jesus. This means resting upon Jesus alone for salvation, which consists of both forgiveness of sins and deliverance from sin. Being in a saving relationship with Jesus through faith is inevitably going to bear certain fruit in a person’s life. This inevitable, necessary fruit is summarized as repentance and new obedience. These also are obligations of the covenant, not as something we do to be saved but as something which results from our genuinely being saved through a faith relationship with Jesus. Those who meet the obligations of the covenant (i.e., those who have a genuine faith relationship with Jesus) have not only the promise of the covenant but also the salvation promised in the covenant.

The promise of the covenant which belongs to the church is also offered to the world in what we call the free offer of the gospel. There is a similarity but a difference between the world’s receiving the free offer of the gospel and the church’s possessing the promise of the covenant. Perhaps we can describe the difference using the imagery of the olive tree in Romans 11:16-24.

In this imagery, the olive tree represents the visible church, which is the covenant community in history. In Paul’s imagery in Romans chapter eleven, the world is represented by two entities. First, the world is represented by the wild olive tree which cannot bear any good fruit. Secondly, the world is represented by the stacked pile of fruitless branches which have been broken off of the good olive tree in judgment. The promise of the covenant belongs to the branches on the good olive tree, and the promise of the covenant is offered to the world as represented by both the wild olive tree and the pile of broken off, fruitless branches.

In the free offer of the gospel, the wild olive shoots on the wild olive tree of paganism are challenged to confess Christ so that they may be grafted onto the good olive tree of new covenant Israel. Sometimes the wild olive shoots confess Christ and are grafted into the church. Often they refuse and remain on the wild olive tree. In the free offer of the gospel, the broken off fruitless branches are challenged to confess Christ so that they may be re-grafted onto the good olive tree of new covenant Israel.


Romans 11:23
23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.


Sometimes the broken off branches confess Christ and are re-grafted into the church. Often they refuse and remain on the stacked pile. That is the free offer of the gospel.

The promise of the covenant is more than offered to our covenant children. The shoots on the olive tree, which represent members of the visible church, are those who possess the promise of the covenant. Yet only the shoots who have a regenerate heart and thus truly abide in the tree in faith bear fruit. The fruit is our meeting the obligations of the covenant through our having a genuine faith relationship with Jesus. Only those shoots on the olive tree which bear this fruit have the salvation promised.

It is wonderful to know that our covenant children are little shoots on the olive tree of new covenant Israel and are not shoots on the wild olive tree of paganism and not fruitless branches in the pile of judgment. Their baptism with water is the sign and seal that they possess the promise of the covenant. They are a part of that assembly which gathers on the Lord’s Day to worship the living and true God, that assembly to which Jesus gave the promise that He would be there in their midst when gathered together in His name. They are there exposed to the means of grace, especially the Word which is able from infancy to make one wise unto salvation. There the faithful pray for them and their salvation. There they are exposed to examples of genuine faith and sheltered from the evil company which corrupts good habits. We are grateful indeed for all these blessings and benefits, and we recognize their significance.

We also want our covenant children to possess the salvation promised, the salvation which belongs to those who meet the obligations of the covenant. We pray that God will work faith in their hearts and thus give them ears to hear and eyes to see. We pray that God will enable them to abide in the Vine and thus bear that spiritual fruit which gives evidence of spiritual life. We pray that the genuine faith which first dwelt in us will also dwell in them. We pray with hope and expectation because the assembly of the faithful is where God often works in hearts and gives the gift of faith.

Paul reminds us in Romans nine that “they are not all Israel which are of Israel” and mentions specifically the sad example of Esau. For such sad occasions, the Apostle Paul gives us these words of wisdom:

Romans 3:3-4a
3 For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?
4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. … 

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Responses

  1. “Those who meet the obligations of the covenant (i.e., those who have a genuine faith relationship with Jesus) have not only the promise of the covenant but also the salvation promised in the covenant”, is a very powerful statement!
    There is not a whole lot of understanding of covenant these days, is there?
    God bless you and your ministry.
    Tim

  2. Pastor Gunn,

    The truth expressed in this article is the reason I embraced a fully covenantal teaching and left my credo-baptistic teaching.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West


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