In covenantal terms, our relationship to our Creator is distinctive. Charters, treaties and settlements, which all are basically forms of covenant, are bilateral and negotiated — but eternal covenants are unilateral and imposed by our sovereign King. We don’t have a choice in being God’s image-bearers, nor do we have a part in dictating the conditions of the covenant.
From the Hebrew berith and the Greek diatheke, a covenant is a solemn agreement in Scripture, either negotiated or unilaterally imposed. The Reformed scholar O. Palmer Robinson has defined a biblical covenant as “a bond in blood, sovereignly administered” (The Christ of the Covenants, p. 128). A covenant is no less than a contract between two parties, yet it’s much more than that. In bringing his people into oath-bound relationship with himself, God is a generous benefactor who makes his children the beneficiaries of an earthly and eternal inheritance. All covenants are conditional to some extent, and are legally binding and specific in their benefits and their obligations on both parties. Covenant is used in Reformed theology as a categorical term to describe God’s way of dealing with his creation at large, and his chosen people in particular. In divine covenants, God sovereignly sets the relationship and its attendant stipulations with his creatures, and binds himself by his own oath to keep his promises.
God sets forth the terms of his covenants, starting with creation. Everyone who exists in God’s created world is bound to God’s rudimentary covenant. If we persist in rebellion until death against God’s lordship over us, we’ll be condemned to eternal punishment in hell as covenant breakers (Isaiah 24:5, Romans 1:18-22, Romans 2:8-9, 12, II Peter 3:7). But “the covenant of grace,” the gospel, avails heaven to those who come into agreement with God through faith in Christ as Savior and Lord (Jeremiah 32:38-40, Galatians 3:13-16, Hebrews 9:15-22, 13:20-21).
In eternal “life insurance,” the covenant of redemption originates between the persons in the Trinity — known in classic Reformed theology as the Pactum Salutis, which pact between these persons makes possible the redemptive program for God’s elect. Just as in temporal life insurance, there are several parties involved: the insurer, the insured and the beneficiary. God the Father is the insurer (Isaiah 46:10, 54:10, Ephesians 1:1-12, II Timothy 2:19); God the Son is the policyowner (Matthew 26:28, John 6:27, 37, 10:17-18); God the Holy Spirit is the executor of the Son’s estate (John 6:63, 14:26, 15:26-16:1, I Corinthians 6:11, Ephesians 1:13-18); and we, God’s children by adoption, are the beneficiaries (I Samuel 2:7-8, Romans 8:14-17, Ephesians 1:11, I John 5:7-11).
This divine nuclear counsel was beautifully expressed by the 19th-century poet and hymn-writer, Frances Ridley Havergal:
O doubting one, Eternal Three
Are pledged in faithfulness for thee.
Claim every promise sweet and sure
By covenant oath of God secure.
Every real-life analogy to the Kingdom technically breaks down at some point, including those found in Scripture. Though parallels may be identified for illustrative purposes, the modern notion of life insurance can’t perfectly conform to the biblical modality of covenant. Covenant theology — also known as Covenantalism or Federal theology — is an immense topic, and the only aspects of it to be covered here are those that can be illustrated by the modern concept of life insurance.