What is meant by “Covenant People”?

On Sunday we’ll be looking at Matthew 15:21-28, a passage the ESV captions as “The Faith of a Canaanite Woman”. It’s easy on one level and incredibly difficult on another.

Why it’s easy: faith alone is the instrument of salvation

Why it’s hard: Jesus doesn’t treat her in the way we expect Jesus to treat her (yeah, I’m throwing you under the bus with me by assuming what you think)

The hard part can be helped by using/understanding the term “Covenant People”. Let’s briefly explore this concept as a preparation for Sunday’s Sermon. We’re restricting the idea of covenant here to Israel and the Church, even though as God’s creatures in God’s world all mankind owes God worship and obedience, which are the characteristic covenant traits. In a sense, that introduces the concept really well, though, because worship and obedience mark a person as a covenant keeper which means he is a covenant person.

Covenant People means:

* a group of people bound to God by his covenant

* his covenant includes who God says it does

~ this is why children of believers are baptized in the Reformed tradition

* it is essentially corporate–a group of people, which is made up of individuals

~ an individualistic religion would say you can believe without joining the people

or being incorporated into the life of the group. That’s not so with God’s

people and individual.

~ OT examples of faith often include the individual being identified with the

corporate people. For instance: Ruth doesn’t just join Naomi in her

struggle, she joins herself to Naomi’s people and God (Ruth 1:16). And when

the Syrian general Naaman returns to Syria after being cleansed of his

leprosy, he takes Israel dirt with him as a demonstration that even though he

must return to Syria, in his heart he is bound to Israel and her God (2 Kings


~ NT examples of faith always include a person joining him or herself to the Church

* those within the covenant aren’t always converted, but all of the Covenant People

are a whole lot closer to conversion (i.e. true faith) than the world outside of the

Covenant People

~ historically we see this is true–there are always people leaving the Church and

leaving the faith, but most everybody who believes has had a background of

faithful Christians influencing them. Those who are converted from a life of

unbelief are typically converted due to the efforts of the Covenant People

(the Church) in proclaiming the gospel.

~ biblically we see that God reserves many benefits for his Covenant People that

the world doesn’t receive. Romans 9:4-5 “They are Israelites, and to them

belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the

worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their

race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed

forever. Amen.” All of those benefits belonged to all of physical Israel, none

of them belonged to the world at large–though they were never kept from

receiving them either. All the outsider has to do is demonstrate he is a

covenant person through faith, worship, and obedience to God, all which

mean a joining of the corporate people of God.

~ Romans 9:6-8 goes on to speak about Israelites who didn’t believe: “But it is

not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended

from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because

they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This

means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God,

but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” The Covenant

People enjoy some blessings of God, but being in the covenant doesn’t

guarantee salvation–true faith is required, which is something the sign

(OT=circumcision, NT=baptism) points to.

The Covenant People doesn’t mean:

* automatic salvation based on your parents’ blood or faith

~ the Reformed Tradition practices covenant baptism. Reformed churches

baptize children based on God saying they are covenant people and are

entitled to all the blessings of the covenant–who are we to withhold the

blessings God has given? It is a matter of submission to God’s Word.

* those people outside the Covenant can’t come in (sorry for the double negative–for

clarity’s sake, let me restate: People outside the covenant can enter in, like the

Canaanite woman in Matthew 15)

~ think of the covenant boundary as “squishy” not solid.

~ think of the truly regenerate, those true believers as being in a solid, never

yielding boundary

~ the “squishy” boundary allows for movement in and out–some Christians

leave the faith, and some non-Christians come into the Church; but the

solid boundary of faith is never broken. (1 John 2:19 They went out from us,

but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have

continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they

all are not of us.)

An Illustration that might help:

As I was walking the dogs this morning I thought of the difference between the covenant boundary and salvation boundary in a political way. The Covenant boundary is similar to the United States’ borders–we allow immigrants in provided they adhere to our laws, and they can even become citizens if they meet certain conditions. It’s “squishy” or maybe porous is a better word. There’s a certain amount of movement in and out, it’s not totally free, but it’s not closed either.

Salvation’s boundary, I thought, is more like Iron Curtain pre-1989. You’re only getting in or out if the Kremlin says you are. I’d rather not compare God to the USSR like this, but I think it makes the point clear. Jesus’ true believers will always believe and no one, not even Satan can pluck them from his hand.

How does this relate to the Canaanite Woman:

  1. She’s not a Covenant Person–born outside Israel she doesn’t have a right to the blessings of God (Matthew 15:26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”)
  2. Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not to Canaan. This assumes that Israel does have a right to the covenant blessings, but final salvation must still be received by faith (Deuteronomy 10:16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.)
  3. This woman demonstrates true faith and is finally saved as all who possess faith are, but she doesn’t become a faithful person to herself, she becomes one attached to the Covenant People.

How it applies to us:

  1. We’re covenant people if we’re in the Church, we’re duty bound to worship God and keep his commandments.  If we fail to do that, then we’re failing to be one of God’s people and it is incumbent on the Church to seek to reclaim the errant believer.
  2. God keeps the covenant perfectly, but we do not.  This is both frightening and comforting.  There are curses associated with breaking the covenant—some for disciplining the errant believer and some for those who never really believed.  That’s frightening.  But when God initiated this covenant, he took the responsibility for keeping all the laws perfectly upon himself and he took responsibility for paying for our mistakes on himself too (Gen. 15).  That’s comforting, and it’s only available in Jesus, our Covenant Head and Mediator!  Thanks be to God.