RPM, Volume 16, Number 3, January 12 to January 18, 2014

Covenant Theology
Distinctive Features
The Absolute Dependence of the Creature

Sermon Number Three

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


Currently, in this sermon series, I am identifying the distinctive features of Covenant Theology. In my last sermon, I stated that the definitive features of the Bible are reflected in Covenant Theology. As I've said before, Covenant Theology takes the teaching of the Bible and puts it in systematic form. Therefore, if we identify those truths that are most pervasive in Scripture, we will find those same matters prominently exhibited in any system of theology that claims to be Biblical. This is the claim made by Covenant Theology. At the same time, if our method of studying and applying the teaching of Scripture does not stress and same facts and truths that Scripture, itself, stresses, then something would be wrong with our approach.

There are three distinctive features or teachings of Covenant Theology that undergird the entire system. These same three features or teachings are highlighted in God's revelation. They are: The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator, The Absolute Dependence of the Creature, and The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator. When we think about these categories, it is obvious that everything the Bible has to say can be placed under one of these headings.

Now, let's take a minute or two and review the first of these three doctrinal categories, The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator.

When we declare that God is sovereign, we mean that His power is superior to every other form or expression of power; we mean that God is completely free of external influences so that He does what He chooses, as He chooses, when He chooses. Moreover, as our sovereign God, He is accountable to no one, but all creation is accountable to Him; and sovereignty means that the will of God is the single determining factor for all that transpires.

I pointed out that this doctrine is grounded in the first sentence in the Bible: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Gen. 1:1) If God is the Creator of all things; then all things belong to Him and all things are subject to His desires regarding their disposal. The very first verse of the Bible, therefore, is a proclamation of the absolute sovereignty and independence of our Creator. Naturally, we would agree that the Bible's teaching on the sovereignty of the Creator demands certain conclusions. I explained a few of the most significant implications. First, this world in which we live can be rightly studied and understood only in relation to its Creator. Fallen man cannot understand his world apart from this doctrine of the Creator's sovereignty. Second, if a sovereign and independent God speaks to us, we must assume that He says is without error and without fault in fact or command. The doctrine of God's sovereignty leads to no other conclusion. Third, if God is sovereign, this means that His will is always done. As already implied, it is not possible to have a sovereign and independent Creator whose will is not the determining factor for the course of history.

We are now ready to move to the second distinctive feature or teaching of the Bible and Covenant Theology, which is The Absolute Dependence of the Creature.

2. The Absolute Dependence of the Creature

As we have seen, the Bible declares that God sustains His creation and controls its disposition. Man's knowledge and abilities must exist within the context of this truth; that is, man's knowledge and abilities cannot exceed those of the Creator and must, in fact, be granted by the Creator. Before considering what the Bible has to say about man's dependence upon God, I want to take the time to remind us of man's inherent dignity. We do not want to conclude that man is merely a glorified animal. To the contrary, man is unique among all of God' creatures and unique in all of God's creation. Man alone bears the image of his Creator (cf. Gen. 1:26; more about this below).

The classic passage in which man's particular nobility is explained is Psa. 8. The Psalm begins by extolling the name of the Lord. Against the backdrop of the Creator's magnificence, the writer considers man (vv. 3 ff.). The point being made by the writer is that this glorious and lofty God has bestowed upon man such incredible dignity. He is moved by the thought that God would give such wonderful characteristics and authority to man. Indeed, as the writer says, "What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?" Who is man compared to the Creator; who is man that such a God would bother with him?

Not only has the Creator taken note of lowly man, the writer goes on to say, but He has committed to man favor and responsibility unparalleled among God's creatures. Man has been made "a little lower than God" and has been crowned with "glory and majesty." (v. 5) Man has been assigned to rule over the works of God's hands; all things?beasts of the earth, birds of the sky and fish of the sea?the writer says, have been put in subjection to him (vv. 6 ff.). Under God, man is the lord of the earth; he has both the right and responsibility to subdue and manage God's creation for his own good and for God's glory. And, in the last verse, the Psalmist repeats his refrain: "O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth!" (v. 9)

I want you to notice that this Psalm provides the context in which man, as a creation of God, should be studied. This Psalm teaches the proper balance we should maintain in our thinking between man, as a creature, and man as a creature given dominion over the works of God's hands. This Psalm, therefore, elevates man, but only to the degree determined by man's Creator. As long as we keep the truths of Psa. 8 in mind, we will have a reliable perspective on man in relation to God and this world.

Having been reminded of man's special standing in God's creation, we can now consider what the Bible has to say about man's dependence upon God. I will approach this subject from two perspectives. First, man before the fall in the Garden of Eden; and second, man after the fall. We will see that, from the beginning, man, as a creature, was totally dependent upon God, his Creator. And the fall only intensified man's dependence upon his Creator.

Let's consider the record of man's creation:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you..." (Gen. 1:26-29)

Three primary facts can be gleaned from these verses. First, man had a beginning. God, as Creator, brought man into existence. Man is a creature fashioned by an all-wise, all-powerful Creator. Therefore, man is forever related to God as creature to Creator, or as an inferior to a Superior. That relationship cannot be altered; there are no circumstances in which man's status in relation to God could change. Man will always be a creature and God will always be the Creator. This leads to the indisputable conclusion that man is dependent upon God for his existence; he lives at the pleasure of the Creator.

Second, man alone bears the image of God. A lot of questions have been asked about this teaching in the Bible. What does it mean to say that man is created in God's image? Basically, this means that man shares certain characteristics with God or man reflects in his being certain characteristics found in God. Man's manifestation of these characteristic will be finite, while God's manifestation of these qualities will be infinite.

Further, when we say that man is made in God image, we mean that he is a spiritual, rational, moral and immortal being. Man as created had knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. He had all the knowledge God wished him to have, his heart was pure and had not been corrupted through disobedience, and man, therefore, was without sin, morally speaking.

These facts separate man from the rest of God's creation; he is the most noble and the most intelligent. However, these facts also mean that man is dependent upon his Creator for an understanding of who he is. If God gives man knowledge, then God determines the content of that knowledge; therefore, man as created knows nothing more than what his Creator has given to him.

Man is not an independent creature; he is a creature whose very purpose is wrapped up in the fact that he bears the image of his Creator. Man cannot, therefore, separate himself from God; he cannot study himself apart from God because every part of him is related to the Creator. And, I would add, everything that man comes to know is derived from his Creator; man discovers nothing new, he learns nothing new, in the sense of finding something in this creation that is unknown to God. Man simply comes to a greater understanding of what God has made; man is forever or a journey of discovering as he explores God's work.

Man had a beginning, man was created in the image of God, and third, the Creator defined man's relationship with the rest of creation. Man was assigned dominion over God's creation; he was told to multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. God made man and God made man for a purpose. Therefore, man is dependent upon his Creator for knowledge of that purpose. Man cannot know the reason for his existence apart from the Creator; he cannot find satisfaction in his pursuits apart from the Creator. This is so because man was made to fulfill a particular task and that task can rightly be fulfilled only when man lives in harmony with the One who made him and defined his role. Apart from the Creator's instructions, then, man is bound to wander aimlessly seeking, but never finding, true fulfillment for his soul. This underscores the uselessness of trying to analyze man in isolation from his Creator. Conclusions drawn in such an environment will be in error. This has implications, of course, for various fields of study.

This account of man's creation shows us the extent to which we are dependent upon God. As man came from the hand of God, as he existed in his state of innocence in the Garden of Eden, man was dependent upon God by nature. God made him that way. To reject this relationship is to choose ignorance over knowledge. This is exactly what happened, however, when Adam disobeyed God. The time came when Adam attempted to function outside of this Creator-creature relationship and the result, as we know, was a universal disruption of the harmony between God and His creation. Adam tried to be something he could not be—an interpreter of this world without regard for the Maker of this world.

What are we to expect about man's dependence upon God after the fall? Does it make sense to believe that fallen man is less dependent upon his Creator? The added elements of estrangement and the propensity for evil in the heart of man only make this dependence more certain. If man could not understand his nature or know his purpose apart from God before sin entered the picture and ruined man's communion with his Creator, it's logical to assume that now, in his corrupted state, man is even more dependent upon God. This is, in fact, what God's Word teaches; man's fall only intensified his dependence upon God.

Adam's rebellion in the Garden left the human race in a state of death, spiritually speaking. Before his fall, Adam knew who he was, how he came to exist, and what purpose had been assigned to him. But the fall completely distorted the Creator-creature relationship. Now, fallen man cannot and will not pursue the task assigned to him by God. Fallen man, who once lived in complete harmony with his Creator and with the rest of creation, is now restless, rebellious, and lost. Fallen man cannot and will not choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. His corrupted nature is now bent toward evil. Any deviation from the will of God is sin; any attempt to function apart from God's declarations, commandments, and counsel is doomed. Adam tried to live, even momentarily, "on his own." He made a decision that was contrary to what God had commanded. Adam chose a path, which God had forbidden.

We have to admit that this a depressing sketch of fallen man, but this is what the Bible teaches. For example, Paul told the Ephesians that prior to their conversion, they were "Dead in [their] trespasses and sins..." (Eph. 2:1) This is nothing more than a simple statement of man's condition once he chose to disobey God. He died, just as God warned. In Rom. 3:10 ff., Paul describes the disposition of fallen man: he is not righteous, he does not understand, he does not seek for God, and his throat is like an open grave, the apostle says. That passage destroys every notion that man may have good in him or man was wounded by the fall, but not killed.

How many times have you heard someone say "Just follow your heart," or "Let your heart guide you," or "If you truly believe something in your heart, it has to be right"? This is a common piece of advice given by man to man. In his fallen state, he assumes that his judgment is trustworthy. This is one of the effects of man's corruption; rather than turn to God for direction, man the sinner relies on self. Consider, however, the teaching of the prophet Jeremiah. He said that man's heart is desperately wicked and cannot be known (Jer. 17:9). God's Word flatly contradicts man's opinion of himself and his powers of analysis.

Add to this the fact that the Scripture says that there is a way that seems right to fallen man, but the end of that way is death (Pro. 14:12). Fallen man, who once had perfect communion with his Creator, a communion in which his nature and purpose were clearly defined, is now alienated from his Creator; fallen man is now guided by a heart contaminated with sin. He cannot know his nature or his purpose. His eyes have been shut and his ears have been stopped. Without guidance from without, man is condemned to a lifetime of error and the misery that follows. I repeat, therefore, if man could not know his nature or his purpose apart from God before the fall, what are we to say about man is his sinful state? We must say that fallen man is not only still dependent upon his Creator for understanding, he is equally dependent upon his Creator for rescue from the horrible state in which he now exists. Adam's effort to make an independent judgment resulted in the complete ruination of his nature. This is known as the doctrine of total depravity. Every faculty of fallen man is corrupted. There is no part of man that remains untouched by sin.

Sin has intensified man's dependence upon God; at the same time, however, sin also has made man resistant to the idea of his dependence upon his Creator. Man's fall was a catastrophic development. As that passage from Rom. 3 declared, fallen man wants nothing to do with God even though he desperately needs God. This is the irony of Adam's action. He assumed he could operate freely and that assumption ended up binding him more than ever! Sin has perverted the Creator-creature distinction and has driven a wedge between God and man; this breach is one that man cannot repair. Fallen man cannot deliver himself from his depravity; this means that man has no hope whatsoever of returning to that pristine state in which he was free from sin and enjoyed a wonderful and peaceful relationship with his Maker.

In himself and by his own labors, man cannot improve his lot. Left on his own, man would simply be born, live out his days, die, and face the judgment of an offended God. Notice that I said, "left on his own." Incredibly, the Creator against whom the transgression was committed, was willing to rescue His special creature, man. In a stunning expression of mercy, God ordained a way by which fallen man can be reconciled to his Creator. God has appointed a way by which condemned man can yet be redeemed. This is the message of the Bible and it is the most astounding truth we will ever hear.

God, who was spurned, God who is hated, God whose blessings are abused or ignored by fallen man, has provided for our salvation. This provision is bound up in the Son of God who took upon Himself a body of flesh and then surrendered His life in place of ours. There are numerous places where the Bible asserts these facts, but I want to call your attention to something Jesus said regarding our condition and the possibility of restoration: Jesus said "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him..." (John 6:44) Jesus is the only source of reconciliation, Jesus is the only means of escaping condemnation, Jesus is the only One who can offer what we must have to pay for our transgressions—yet He declares that we cannot come to Him, we cannot benefit from Him, we cannot apply what He alone provides unless God draws us to Him.

Please let this truth "sink in." Think about its implications. Fallen man has no hope unless the Creator supernaturally draws him back into fellowship. Fallen man is destined to remain in his lost state unless his Creator remakes his heart and gives him life in place of death. This means that salvation is completely in the hands of God; it means that salvation is His to give or withhold; it means that salvation is not "found," it is bestowed; it means that God chooses all those who will find themselves in the company of the redeemed on that last great day.

In systematic theology, this doctrine is known as "limited" or "particular" atonement. This phrase repeats what the Bible teaches. The atonement achieved by Jesus Christ is not floating around in the air for anyone to grab. The atonement was specific in its intent. God determined who would be reconciled and then sent His Son to pay for the sins of those who He would later draw to Jesus. If God must first draw the sinner, then it follows that God must determine who He will draw. If, as the Bible teaches, salvation has nothing to do with our good works or our worth, then this means that God chooses and calls to salvation according to His good pleasure only.

In Covenant Theology, God is exalted and man is recognized for what he is, a depraved creature in need of the Creator's help. In Covenant Theology, man is not made equal with God, man is not given credit for his salvation; on the contrary, man hears just what Jesus said: "No man comes to salvation unless the Father draws him." Any method of interpreting and applying the Bible that does not emphasize these exact facts is a faulty method.

What I've just said leads, of course, to my third and final point in this particular sermon. That third point, which I will present next time, Lord willing, will be: The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator." If we accept what we have learned from the Bible thus far, then we must agree that fallen man is hopelessly lost and, if he is to escape eternal death, God must provide the way. This is what He did in sending a Mediator into the world.


Having already had much to say concerning the practical application of this doctrine of man's dependence on his Creator, I have only a few words of application to add. I want to return briefly to Psa. 8. As I stated, this Psalm presents a balanced view of man, the creature, and man, the creature uniquely made in God's image and given dominion over the works of God's hands. Man is, of course, part of God's creation and, yet, man is a unique part of God's creation. What should not be missed, however, is that in both cases, whether man is considered as a mere creature or as a creature designated by God as lord of the earth, man is still a creature. The honor bestowed upon man by his Maker does not so elevate man that he ceases to be a creature; he does not cease to be a creature and he does not cease to be bound by the implications of the Creator-creature distinction.

This is a fact that, if remembered and allowed to influence our thinking as it should, will do two things for us. Number one, it will ensure that we maintain a reverent attitude toward God. Increasingly in evangelical circles, believers are demonstrating less and less true reverence for God and the things of God. That is evidenced by the silly sermon titles we hear and the ridiculous games that are played to get people to attend the so-called "worship service."

We must remember that there is no legitimate way to view God or relate to Him except as our sovereign Creator. As long as we view God as our Creator and as long as we are aware of the implications of that relationship, we will not have a problem with dishonoring God by thinking of Him and referring to Him in less than respectful terms. As long as we understand that we owe our existence to God and that we must learn from Him about our purposes and duties, we are unlikely to violate the Creator-creature relationship.

As I just indicated, however, there is a problem with this very thing in modern Christianity. Our level of knowledge concerning our faith has steadily declined; the expectations that we have of ourselves and other Christians also have declined. Consequently, our view of God has declined. This is a cycle that can only end in the bankruptcy of the Church.

Psalm 8 declares to us that there is a sovereign Creator who made man and assigned to man a particular place in creation. There is no way for man to know this truth and not maintain a proper distinction in his mind between himself and his Maker. We need to hear the Creator-creature distinction emphasized more in contemporary pulpits. God must be exalted and man must be presented in that context, which is what the Bible does. This truth is the foundation for our whole existence; it is fundamental to our ability to understand who we are and what we are supposed to be doing.

I said that remembering and thinking according to the Creator-creature distinction would do two things for us. Here is the second benefit. Remembering that man is a creature will keep us from being distracted in the pursuit of our duties before God. Once again we can say that modern times have seen a decline in our understanding of our duties. There is unbelievable confusion in the world today over the issue of how human beings are supposed to function and relate to one another. This confusion can be seen in the home, first and foremost, where believers don't understand their roles, don't serve God together according to their station, and often live in a general atmosphere of conflict.

We must be reminded that, as creatures, we have both general and specific duties assigned to us. In general, we have the duties that are common to all human beings as those who bear God's image. In particular, we have the duties that accompany our individual stations in life?as husbands, wives, parents, children, young adults and so forth.

The duties given to us come from the One who made us. As long as we view those responsibilities in such a light, their fulfillment will be our first concern and we will pursue our callings with gladness because we know we are pleasing God. When we forget that the instructions regarding how we are to function as husbands and wives, parents and children, have come from God, the Creator, then we are bound to go astray; when we look outside the Scripture for our primary instructions, we step away from the protection and comfort of the Creator-creature relationship.

All of this talk is not merely academic; it is extremely personal. I say that because we are talking about man's escape from God's wrath; we are talking about your escape from God's wrath. If you are born-again, it is because it pleased God to draw you to His Son, Jesus Christ. You had nothing and did nothing to gain that favor from God. Salvation is a gift and it is bestowed upon those chosen by God. This great truth should fill you will profound humility and an overwhelming sense of thankfulness.

God did not have to save you. He could have left you in your sin and would have been perfectly just to do so. But if He delivered you from condemnation and set you on a course for heaven, then you owe him everything you are and everything you accomplish in this life. This is where a productive, God-honoring life begins. When we know where we were when God saved us, then the concept of mercy will be so very thrilling to us. We will live out our days enjoying this mercy and speaking of it and wanting to see others touched by it.

If you believe that you chose God or that you "found" Jesus, then you have yourself to thank. You can be grateful that God made salvation possible, but it really was your initiative that resulted in your redemption. This is how many evangelicals think. This is the view being preached in countless numbers of churches right now. This view robs God of his glory and elevates man far beyond what is proper. It creates a completely warped perspective on everything in life. And most important of all: this is not what the Bible teaches. It is a view that man likes, because he always wants to think more highly of himself than he should, but it is not what we find in Scripture.

The fact that God draws us to Christ should be of tremendous comfort if you desire to be saved. This fact means that God didn't leave salvation up to you. Had He done that, you could never be saved because you are dead in your sin and unable to approach God. But thanks be to God, He has determined to save us Himself and that gift is offered to you right now. By believing to be true what God's Word says about your spiritual condition and God's willingness to save you, you can join the family of the redeemed. They are the ones who have had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ. They are the ones who now live in freedom—freedom from fear and from condemnation. They are the ones who now live with that wonderful expectation of eternity with God.

Prayer & Communion hymn


The Scripture urges us to be glad in the Lord, and to rejoice as we consider what God has done for us—all in mercy, all without merit on our part, and all without cost to us. Redemption is an amazing concept. To think that the sovereign God would come to us in our miserable state in order to deliver us and provide for us a home with Him forever is almost too glorious to imagine. His act of kindness changed our very destinies!

Here we have a ritual, which we observe each Lord's Day, by which we honor God and Jesus Christ. We honor them by portraying, in sacramental symbolism, the sacrifice of our Savior and the acceptance of His work on our behalf by God. The bread and wine speak of the Lord's body and blood, surrendered and shed for our sakes; the face that we are here and able to participate in this meal means that God has accepted the atonement given by His Son.

Our transgressions have been paid for and in the present, we enjoy a peaceful and loving relationship with God; and one day, as Jesus promised, we will make that last step in our journey and there we will remain, in the presence of God the Almighty, forever. Amen!

Mark 14:18 As they were reclining at the table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me-- one who is eating with Me." 19 They began to be grieved and to say to Him one by one, "Surely not I?"20 And He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who dips with Me in the bowl. 21 For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born." 22 While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body." 23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." 26 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Subscribe to RPM
RPM subscribers receive an email notification each time a new issue is published. Notifications include the title, author, and description of each article in the issue, as well as links directly to the articles. Like RPM itself, subscriptions are free. Click here to subscribe.