Covenant: God, Abraham and Baptism

It is fascinating how some theologians seem to think that God became discouraged from pledging Himself so totally to humanity, that now in the New Covenant He is more reluctant to bind Himself to people unless they somehow first “prove” themselves.  They maintain that a person must first meet certain requirements, for instance, have a profession of faith, or possess a certain body of knowledge, or have a life that first reflects his/her commitment, and so forth.  Definitely a baby – or perhaps for that matter, a slave? – cannot meet such requirements.  Subtly, the attention has turned from Jehovah and is now focused on humans.

Yet the evidence of the Bible is in the opposite direction.  The Old Testament encompassed only a narrow segment of the world’s population, but the New Testament tells us that Jesus died for the whole world, and that not just for potential believers.  That self-giving even to death that we see in Jehovah’s lop-sided Covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 seems to have expanded, not constricted.  Jesus would suffer and die even for those who to their dying day will reject and even curse Him.  This does not seem out of character with the One Who willingly put Himself into Covenant with what He knew would become an obstinate and rebellious house of Israel in the Old Testament future.

That Covenant with Abraham is very important here in the New Covenant.  Jehovah had committed Himself to death far in advance before Abraham’s reciprocal involvement – and that was by about fourteen years.  Then when Circumcision does enter the picture, placing the eight-day-old infant into this Covenant that God desires only adds more dimension to this pronounced demonstration of the grace and mercy of God.  When the child attains his Bar-Mitzvah at about the age of twelve or thirteen, could there be a continuing echo of that very grace with Abraham still operating?

With the eight-day-old baby, it was by grace, not of works.  That’s even what St Paul says about the New Covenant in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Some questions need to be asked of this passage: does grace create faith, or does faith create grace?  Or are they parallel spheres but really unrelated to each other?  If grace is not the initiator of the process, then we arrive at faith without really needing God’s help.  If we need God’s help, then we would not have faith unless God had grace toward us first.  Faith would then be a product of the grace.  If grace comes first then it would be in total harmony with the Circumcision of the eight-day-old infant – there is no real difference since faith would ultimately be the product of God’s act of Love in Covenant.

If we can arrive at faith without God’s help, then there is an area of human existence that is not dependent on God – we can do it ourselves.  That certainly seems to have an echo of what got humanity into trouble in the first place in Genesis 3.  And it would appear to be in conflict with what St Paul just wrote: “not of yourselves.”  Even the good works, he says, were prepared beforehand by God.
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Therefore it is totally within the character of God’s Covenant that the New Covenant would follow the same process of specifically including a baby through Baptism.  Again, the emphasis is not on the human, but on God – Who desires, no, demands, that He be bound to this baby.  No different than to the Circumcised baby, the New Covenant baby has the security of a relationship in which God would die if He were to ever break Covenant again.  Even if the child wanders away, like the father of the prodigal son, God’s door is always open, His welcome mat is always on the stoop, His Light is always in the window.  But when the child comes to the Father, then the relationship is, well, indescribable and eternal, or as St Paul puts just prior to the above passage:

(He) … made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

Again, this is not the story of the human, but rather it is the story of Jehovah, His Covenant and His Glory – “the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

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