Are Children Included in the Covenant of God’s Saving Grace?


In Genesis 17, God makes a covenant with Abraham that He would be Abraham’s God, and the God of Abraham’s descendants, and they would be His chosen people. “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” Genesis 17:7. God then stipulates that every male who is eight days old must be circumcised, and that circumcision would be the sign of the covenant.


Our God is a generational God. We see this in the 10 Commandments, in the promises of God regarding the curses and blessings for those who break and keep the law, respectively. We see this also in the promises made to Abraham. Children were a part of the Church, the covenant family of God. There is also evidence in the New Testament that children were included as members of the Church. Peter echoes the Old Testament when he calls all the people to repentance and baptism and then says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call,” (Acts 2:39). While children are not explicitly mentioned as being present, the baptisms of whole households are also evidence that God did not distinguish between the young and old in this covenant sign.


Circumcision was the Old Testament sign of membership in the covenant. But what did that sign signify? 1 Corinthians 7:14 reads, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy.” We see that an unbelieving marriage partner is sanctified by the believing partner and that the children are not unclean but holy. Children of a believing husband and wife then, would also be holy. 


The holiness of children in God’s church is external and covenantal. Paul is not saying that all children of believers have internal personal holiness. Rather, he is asserting that they are set apart from the world around them and are included in the covenant community. They have a physical and external relationship to the Church and covenant from birth. God has extended His promises to parents as well as children, and those promises must be received personally with believing hearts. The truth and power of God’s promises cannot be experienced so long as children are unregenerate, unbelieving, and unrepentant.


An illustration from Joel Beeke’s book, “Parenting by God’s Promises: How to Raise Children in the Covenant of Grace” is helpful.  


“Picture two circles, one inside the other. The inner circle is solid and represents salvation, the inner essence of the covenant. The outer circle drawn with a dotted line represents the covenant in an external way, as a visible community in the world. Our children are born into the outer circle but move into the inner circle only when they are born again. The outer circle is dotted because some do fall away. But the inner circle is solid because the truly saved persevere with Christ to the end. This accounts for the fact that some biblical texts describe the covenant as breakable (Ezek. 17:15-16; Zech. 11:10), and other passages present it as unbreakable (Ps. 89:34; Jer.33:20-21).”


The external covenant is the visible church, and includes those that do consciously  profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the children of one or both believing parents (natural or adopted). The Old Testament sign of church membership was circumcision. The New Testament sign of membership to the church is baptism. In the New Testament era, those that are not born into the covenant community enter into the covenant community when they profess their faith in Christ and are baptized into Christ’s church. This sign points to the fact that to be saved one needs to be washed in the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. This blessing is received through true faith in the Lord Jesus. This is true of infants, as well as of adults.

See also:

Further Study:

Joel R Beeke - Parenting by God's Promises

RC Sproul - Essential Truths of the Christian Faith


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