Called to Covenant
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.
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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 ~