“When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’”- Genesis 17:1-2
Continuing our look at the major concepts that we must grasp in order to understand the Old Testament prophets, we will now consider covenant conditionality. Historically, the prophets have been called “covenant prosecutors” because, as God’s spokesmen, they served as prosecuting attorneys in relation to Israel’s keeping of the covenant. They reminded the old covenant community of its covenant obligations and brought charges against Israel when it did not live up to the covenant’s conditions.
Perhaps more than any other biblical genre, the prophetic books remind us that we do not worship Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. Instead, we have a dynamic relationship with the Lord. Our actions, as foreordained by God’s eternal decree, truly affect history. We are not robots who have been programmed to act and left to run on autopilot. We are thinking and feeling creatures shaped in time by the Almighty’s powerful and sovereign Word (Isa. 55:10–11). In turn, the Lord responds to our prayers and actions. Of course, everything is working out according to God’s ultimate design—He “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11). The Lord is the first cause who determines all that happens. In eternity past, He ordained our actions and His response. Yet we do not know the specifics of this plan, the fullness of His eternal decree. God holds us accountable only to act according to His revelation (Deut. 29:29).
This revelation includes covenant conditionality. All God’s covenants have conditions we must fulfill to receive covenant blessings—even the Abrahamic covenant, which is often considered to be wholly unconditional. Yes, there are unconditional aspects of this covenant. When the Lord swore by Himself to give Abraham land and seed, He committed Himself to ensuring that His promise would be fulfilled (Gen. 15; Heb. 6:13–20). He guaranteed that Abraham’s line would bless the world. However, His oath did not ensure that every physical descendant of Abraham would participate in this blessing. As Genesis 17:1–2 explains, individual members of Abraham’s line had to meet certain conditions to be true members of God’s family of blessing. Each child of Abraham had to “walk before [Him] and be blameless.” Each had to live coram Deo—before the face of God—trusting Him in faith, obeying Him, and repenting when they sinned. Today, we must meet the same conditions of faith and repentance to experience new covenant blessings.
Though we must meet certain covenant conditions, salvation is ultimately all of grace because God elects only some to salvation, giving them the ability to trust Him, which is not ours by nature as Adam’s fallen children. Nevertheless, the elect of God prove their election when they repent and trust in Christ for salvation. If we don’t have faith and repentance, we cannot presume that we are elect, and if we are elect, we will have faith and repentance (Acts 13:48).
Passages for Further Study