In “How to Read Your Bible: God’s Promises Made,” we looked at the two main kinds of promises in the Bible: conditional and unconditional covenants. At first glance, these covenants can seem like strange practices from the long-ago past that have no relevance for us today, but nothing could be further from the truth. Here in part two, we will explore the eight significant covenants of the Bible—and what each one means for you personally.
1. The Covenant of Works (Conditional)
God made a conditional covenant with Adam in the garden of Eden. Adam was supposed to obey all God’s commands to earn the right to eat from the tree of life and merit eternal life. Adam rebelled against God and earned instead death and condemnation for himself and all his descendants (Gen. 2:17–18; Gen. 3).
What does this covenant mean for you personally? Because all humans come from Adam and were represented by him, they are all under this same covenant and guilty of failing to keep it (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21–22). Because God is holy, you are at enmity with God based on your own imperfect works. Furthermore, because you have a sinful nature due to the corruption resulting from Adam’s fall, you commit more sins that heap more guilt upon you.
2. The Covenant of Grace (Unconditional)
We first find the unconditional covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15 where God promises that a savior will come who will crush the head of the serpent (i.e. Satan). In the covenant of grace, people are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone because of Christ’s perfect keeping of the law and his perfect and complete sacrifice once and for all for sin (Rom. 5:12–21; Heb. 7:27; 10:14).
What does this covenant mean for you personally? Because you are sinful, you can never keep God’s law perfectly and be pure in order to stand in his presence. Through faith in Christ alone, you are declared righteous in God’s sight, are forgiven of your sins, have peace with your Creator, and have been gifted all the rights and privileges as God’s child for eternity (Eph. 2:8–9; Rom. 5:1; 8:15).
3. The Noahic Covenant (Unconditional)
In the unconditional Noahic covenant, God made a promise to Noah to never again bring a flood to destroy the earth (Gen. 9:1–17). God instituted the Noahic covenant to preserve the earth so that humans would not destroy each other, in order that the savior, Jesus Christ, could come at the appointed time in God’s redemptive plan.
What does this covenant mean for you personally? Since Christ has come and done his saving work, God “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 2:9). Jesus will return one day to fully establish his kingdom (Rev. 21). If you have not received Christ as your Savior, do so right away, for now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2).
4. The Covenant of Abraham (Unconditional)
The covenant of grace is more fully revealed in the covenant of Abraham. God made an unconditional, permanent covenant with Abraham: “‘I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen. 12:3; 15:5–6). God fulfilled his promise to Abraham by sending his only begotten son Jesus to the earth as the Savior of the world to be born in the flesh from a descendant of Abraham (Matt. 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38; Gal. 3:16).
What does this covenant mean for you personally? All who receive Christ as Savior are the true heirs of Abraham and have all rights and privileges thereof. Abraham believed God would keep his promise, “and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29).
5. The Mosaic Covenant (Conditional)
Like the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic (old) covenant was part of the covenant of grace but it was temporary in nature. The Mosaic covenant was a conditional agreement between God and the people of Israel that was mediated by Moses (Exod. 19–24). The people of Israel had to fulfill God’s stipulations in this covenant to stay and prosper in the land God had given them. None of the Israelites were ever pure before God through the keeping of this covenant, because it was impossible for anyone to obey it perfectly. They were only declared righteous by faith alone, just as their father Abraham was (Gen. 15:6).
This covenant was extremely important for two reasons: 1) it showed the nation of Israel (and us) the impossibility of keeping God’s law perfectly and the need for a savior and 2) it provided a forum for Christ to come and be the perfect Son of Israel who would obey God’s law in all things and be the once-for-all sacrifice for sin.
What does this covenant mean for you personally? The Mosaic covenant shows us that, because of indwelling sin, the law is a taskmaster that humans can never appease (Rom. 3:19–20). Yet, there is no need for you to despair: Through faith in Christ, you are declared righteous before God, since Christ’s perfect obedience is counted to you and your sin is counted to Christ (Rom. 5:12–21; Heb. 7:27; 10:14).
6. The Davidic Covenant (Unconditional)
In 2 Samuel 7, God made a promise that he would raise up David’s offspring and “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (7:12–13). God promised unconditionally to put a son of David on the throne, but only the righteous son would reign for eternity. While David’s son Solomon ruled over Israel, he failed to keep God’s commands (1 Kings 9:4–9; 11:4–8). Only David’s descendant Jesus was the true and faithful Son deserving of the everlasting throne of David (Ps. 2; 16; 110).
What does this covenant mean for you personally? Unlike mere human rulers who disappoint us with their failure to rule justly, Jesus obeyed God in all things—even giving his own life out of his love for the world—and earned the right to rule in glory forever (John 3:16; 1 Kings 2:35; Rev. 11:15). You can take comfort in knowing that the resurrected Christ is the one truly righteous King who has not only secured eternal life for all believers but will also put an end to all injustice and evil one day (Rev. 21:4).
7. The New Covenant (Unconditional)
The new covenant ushered in the new creation. This covenant is new in relationship to the old (Mosaic) covenant, but both are part of the Abrahamic covenant. While Moses was the mediator of the old covenant between God and the nation of Israel, Christ is the mediator of the new covenant between God and believers through his finished work of redemption in his life, death, and resurrection. While the old covenant required national obedience, the new covenant requires faith in Christ, the perfectly obedient Son of Israel (Jer. 31:31–34; Matt. 26:28; Gal. 3:16–18).
What does this covenant mean for you personally? While the new covenant requires faith in Christ, this faith itself is a gift from God, given to all who trust in Christ as their Savior (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8–9). As a Christian, you can rejoice that you have peace with God (Rom. 5:1), eternal life (Rom. 6:23), are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16), and are being conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29).
8. The Covenant of Redemption (Conditional)
Without the covenant of redemption, the only other covenant in this list that could exist is the first one: the covenant of works. The covenant of redemption was established before creation and is the pact between the persons of the Trinity in which the Father sends the Son to do the work of redemption, the Son submits to the Father’s will, and the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of the Son’s accomplished work to believers (Ps. 40:6–8). As a reward for his obedience, the Father gifts the Son with glory and an everlasting kingdom (Ps. 110; Isa. 53; Zech. 6:12–13; John 17:1–5).
What does this covenant mean for you personally? If the persons of the Trinity didn’t make this pact—and keep it—we would all be under God’s condemnation without any hope for meeting his holy standards. God did not have to save any of us from the consequences of our sin, but he did so out of his unfathomable love (Rom. 3:23–26). Don’t depend on your own imperfect works to be right before God; instead, believe in and receive Jesus Christ as your savior today.
Digging deeper: If you would like to learn more about the eight significant covenants in the Bible, check out Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored by Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele.
I want to offer ten basic biblical truths that guide Christian responses on this question .