It is important to our quest for authentic Christianity for us to understand that, throughout history, whenever God has entered into a relationship with people, He has always based that relationship on a covenant. The reason for this is two-fold: first, so that the holiness of God is protected; and, second, so that people can be constantly reassured of their relationship with God.
God’s holiness is protected by covenant because every covenant comes with terms. When we talk about the terms of a covenant we mean, “provisions that determine the nature and scope of an agreement” (Term, 2013). Another word for terms is the word, “conditions,” meaning: “a premise upon which the fulfillment of an agreement depends,” or “something essential to the appearance or occurrence of something else” (Condition, 2013).
Because God is altogether holy and righteous—“God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5, NASB)—He cannot, will not, indiscriminately enter into a relationship with sinful beings. This is why the Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death [spiritual separation from God]” (Romans 6:23, NASB). However, God, in His great wisdom, has set forth certain terms—conditions—in every covenant that He has ever made with humanity in order to ensure that His holiness will not be violated while, at the same time, allowing Him to express His love and enter into a loving relationship with His people.
Under the terms of the new covenant in Christ, God has made provision for the protection of His holiness, and the satisfaction of His justice, through the death of His own Son—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God’s grace, extended to us through the sacrifice of Christ, is God’s side of the covenant. Our side is to “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7). When we, by faith, reach out and lay hold of the sacrifice of Christ and make it our own, we join those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14, NASB). Paul says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27, NASB). Because “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB), and because “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, NASB), God’s holiness is protected and we can “draw near [to God] with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22, NASB).
Furthermore, God employs His covenant to constantly reassure His people concerning their relationship with Him because a covenant is predicated on certain promises. To better understand how this works, we need to consider a very important aspect of Bible history—God’s working through covenant.
The Abrahamic Covenant
Thousands of years ago, God asked Abraham to walk by faith by leaving his homeland and journeying to a distant land that God would show him. It was to be a sojourn of thousands of miles and would take many years. He would have to leave the comforts and security of his homeland, say good-bye to family and friends, and become a nomad, a pilgrim, a wanderer on the earth. In essence, God was asking him to risk everything he held dear in this world in search of something greater—a promise from God. And if he was willing to trust God and make such a sacrifice, then God would deliver on some grand promises that He made to Abraham. God said:
Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.”
(Genesis 12:1-3 & 15:18, NASB)
We see here that God promised to make a great nation of Abraham and his descendants. God also promised to give to Abraham and his descendants the new land to which He was leading him. And then, of special note, God promised that, through Abraham, “all the families of the earth would be blessed”–-a promise that includes us. God then sealed His promises with a covenant to reassure Abraham that His promises were true. One night, the Lord held a very mysterious, and somewhat frightening, covenant inauguration ceremony for Abraham. We read:
So He [God] said to him, ‘Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror and great darkness fell upon him… It came about when the sun had set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.’
(Genesis 15:9-17, NASB)
But God didn’t stop with just the inauguration ceremony and leave it at that. Rather he went on to institute a formal reminder, or token, of the covenant that He had made with Abraham; a token that neither Abraham nor his descendants would ever be able to easily forget. The Bible says:
God said further to Abraham, ‘Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you.’
(Genesis 17:9-11, NASB)
Today, the New Testament reminds us of the importance of these historical events and their meaning of us. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us:
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
(Hebrews 6:17-18, NASB)
This verse is telling us that the covenant God made with Abraham was not just for Abraham’s sake, but for ours as well. The “two unchangeable things” referenced in this verse are God’s promises and God’s oath. The verse teaches us that it is impossible for God to lie when He makes a promise to His children. Furthermore, when God takes an oath—as He did with Abraham and all those who, by faith, share in God’s promises to Abraham—He will always fulfill that oath by delivering on His promises.
So, when we are going through hardships, trials, and tribulations; when we’re feeling lonely and maybe even unlovable because we’ve stumbled, fallen, or become entangled in some sin; when we are feeling down and out and we’re tempted to doubt because we know that we simply don’t measure up to God’s expectations, we can always look back upon God’s beautiful promises to us and be reassured of His continued love. The Apostle John comforts us with these words:
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.
(I John 3:18-20, NASB)
The Mosaic Covenant
Many years later, after they had become a great nation, God entered into another covenant with the descendants of Abraham when He sent His prophet, Moses, to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the land that He had promised to give to them. This covenant was inaugurated at Mt. Sinai and it, too, was predicated on promises that God made to His people, Israel, if they would remain faithful to Him. We read:
Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
(Exodus 19:3-6, NASB)
As with His covenant with Abraham, God called Moses and all the children of Israel to participate together with Him in a beautiful and wondrous inauguration ceremony. The Bible says:
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, ‘All the words which the Lord has spoken we will do!’ Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. Then he arose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the sons of Israel, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and the other half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’ Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank.
(Exodus 24:3-11, NASB)
Again, as with Abraham, God did not stop with just the inauguration ceremony. In order to continually remind the children of Israel of their covenant relationship with God, He gave them certain tokens. The Bible goes on to say:
Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.’
(Exodus 24:12, NASB)
The Ten Commandments, miraculously engraved on tablets of stone by the very “finger” of God, and later placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, alongside Aaron’s rod and a jar of manna, served as a perpetual reminder of God’s covenant relationship with the nation of Israel.
The New Covenant in Christ
And now, dear child, God has entered into a covenant with you. That’s right; just as Abraham and his descendants—the nation of Israel—were able to enter into a covenant relationship with God, wherein they enjoyed His promises and blessings, you also get to enjoy a covenant relationship with God through what we now know as, “the new covenant in Christ.” The Bible says:
For this reason He [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
(Hebrews 9:15, NASB)
It is important for you to know that the covenant given through Moses and the new covenant in Christ are both rooted in that ancient covenant that God first made with Abraham. The covenant given through Moses related to God’s promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation. It was meant to govern the nation of Israel through the Law of Moses and to keep them faithful to God. The new covenant in Christ relates to God’s promise to Abraham that, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB). It is meant to govern the hearts and minds of God’s children in the present Christian dispensation and to keep us faithful to God.
However, it is also important to know that these two covenants—the old covenant given through Moses and the new covenant given in Christ—are distinctly different from one another. Three times—once back in the Old Testament through the prophet Jeremiah, and twice in the New Testament book of Hebrews—we are reminded that the new covenant is not like the old covenant. The Bible says:
Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.
(Hebrews 8:8-12, NASB)
Sadly, many people today are confused when it comes to understanding the distinctions between the old covenant given through Moses and the new covenant in Christ. Many people don’t seem to understand the purpose of the old covenant and its accompanying Law of Moses and how different the new covenant in Christ really is. You see, the old covenant manifested itself among God’s people in very physical ways; remember, it was meant to govern a physical, earthly nation. But the new covenant manifests itself among God’s people in spiritual ways because it is meant to govern a nation that is entirely spiritual. When people try to impose old covenant ways of thinking and acting upon the new covenant kingdom of God, negative, and sometimes tragic, consequences result. This is why Jesus said:
No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.
(Luke 5:36-38, NASB)
Jesus wasn’t talking about mending clothes and making wine. He was talking about the changes that were coming as a result of His ministry and mission upon the earth. He was talking about covenant and the distinctions between the old and the new. As new covenant children of God, we must become new covenant thinkers. We must understand the difference between the physical manifestations of the old covenant, as illustrated in the Law of Moses—which were only meant to be “a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things” (Hebrews 10:1, NASB)—and the spiritual realities of “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2, NASB) which identifies and governs God’s children today.
For example, every covenant child from Abraham through Moses, and right on up until the time of Christ, understood that fleshly circumcision was the sign of the covenant that God had made with them—as stated in Genesis 17. Some people, therefore, have insisted that Christians, because we are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, must also continue the practice—that every male in the family of God must be circumcised as a sign of God’s covenant. However, what they have failed to comprehend is that the physical manifestation of the old covenant—seen in circumcision—has become a spiritual manifestation in the new covenant; and that the symbolic act of baptism has replaced circumcision. That’s right, your baptism into Christ, male or female, symbolizes your spiritual circumcision—a circumcision of the heart. The Bible says:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
(Romans 2:28-19, NASB)
… and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
(Colossians 2:11-12, NASB)
Just as He did with Abraham and the nation of Israel, God has invited you to a covenant inauguration ceremony—your baptism. Some wonderful theologians have likened baptism to a wedding ceremony; and I wholeheartedly agree with that analogy. I also like to think of our baptism in terms of our formal adoption proceedings—the official inauguration of our adoption into the family of God. The Apostle Paul said, “In love, He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5, NASB).
Although acted out in this present world, baptism is a spiritual experience. It is a physical symbol of a spiritual reality. When you went down into that watery grave of baptism to be “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5, NASB), something else occurred as well; you were circumcised—distinguished as a child of the new covenant in Christ. And not only did you become a Christian, you became a descendent of Abraham—not by flesh and blood, but by faith. The Bible says, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29, NASB). In this way, God is fulfilling His promise to Abraham that, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3, NASB).
Furthermore, as with both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, this new covenant in Christ is not without its tokens to help us remember and celebrate the promises of God’s love and the terms by which we have entered into relationship with Him. As with all aspects of the new covenant in Christ, the tokens are spiritual; although, for our sakes, God has ordained that some be symbolically acted out here in this earthly realm.
As a token of His love, and of His promise that we now belong to Him, we have been given “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, NASB) who has taken up residence in our mortal bodies. The scriptures say:
…having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge [arrabon] of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
(Ephesians 1:13-14, NASB)
The Greek term, “arrabon,” means: “a deposit which guarantees, down payment, pledge” (ἀρραβών, 2013). “The word was also used sometimes in connection with an engagement ring” (Biblical, 2009). When you were baptized into Christ, God pledged His eternal love to you by presenting you with the gift of His own Spirit. This precious gift signifies that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own” (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NASB).
Just as spiritual, but played out on a more tangible level, God has instituted the beautiful tokens of the Lord’s supper—holy communion—to perpetually remind us of His promises and to help us continually remember and proclaim the terms of the new covenant. Like baptism, the Lord’s supper is a physical symbol of a spiritual reality. The Apostle Paul says:
… the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.
(I Corinthians 11:23-26, NASB)
I hope, beloved, that my sharing these truths with you has helped you see just how beautiful and precious you are in the sight of God. Look at great lengths to which God has gone—all the beautiful promises and incredible provisions He has made—just to make you His own and to keep you mindful of His love. It is no accident that you now call yourself a “Christian.” He delights in you, He favors you, He celebrates you, He has deliberately and purposefully chosen you. He has reached out to you and made you His child by covenant.
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I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me, for I have redeemed you.
~ Isaiah 44:22 ~
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