Our Confession of Faith says this about God’s covenant: “The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he has hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.”
God’s thoughts and ways are far above ours (Isa. 55:8-9). He is the Creator; we are creatures. So that we could have a secure and satisfying relationship with our Maker, he condescended to make a covenant with us. He has always related to man by means of covenant. In Eden before the Fall, God made a promise to Adam, gave him a command, and issued a warning. These are parts of a covenant – a bonded relationship defined by promise, duty, blessing for obedience, and cursing for disobedience.
Because of sin, covenant requires blood. Our friendly relationship with God requires blood. In the old covenant, the principle was made clear when God killed the first animals and our first parents saw blood for the first time: “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” Now, Jesus Christ has shed his precious blood to secure our free and full forgiveness, purchase every saving grace for us, restore us to fellowship with our Father, and seal for us every promise God has made to us.
Covenant is the way God relates to us. We do not relate to God by existential encounter, syllogisms, personal intuition, or inner light. We relate to him by his self-revelation in the various covenants of promise (Eph. 2:13) that set forth Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ himself is the “covenant of the people” (Isa. 42:6). God’s covenant at its core is his promise to take way our sins and restore us to live in fellowship with him (Rom. 11:27; Heb. 8:12). To relate to God by covenant means that we trust in his promise of mercy in Jesus Christ, depend upon his faithfulness, draw near to him in faith through the shed blood and mediation of Jesus Christ our righteousness, and strive to obey him because he is our Father who loves and helps his children.
Covenant is mentioned as many times in the Bible as love and truth, and yet few Christians think of the Bible as one great covenant document. Covenant is the way the Bible is organized – the progressive unfolding of God’s promise to save the world in Jesus Christ. Each of the covenants of promise reveals some aspect of the person and work of our Savior: Adam (crush Satan, salvation by blood atonement), Abraham (land, seed, future – Christ/John 8:56), Moses (prophet, priest, blood), David (priest-king), prophets (Suffering-Servant, Righteousness).
Covenant is the way we understand the person and work of Jesus Christ.
· He came into the world because God remembered his covenant (Luke 1:72).
· He was the promised seed of the Abrahamic covenant (Gal. 3:16).
· He shed the blood of the everlasting covenant and thereby established the promised everlasting righteousness (Heb. 9:24; Dan. 9:24).
· He is the personal security of every promise (2 Cor. 1:20).
· He offers each week the “blood of the new covenant” in the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:20).
Covenant is the way we live with the Lord. To walk in covenant is to walk in faith that God’s promises define our lives, not our sins and weaknesses, not what we see with our eyes, not our pain but his faithfulness, not our burdens but his promised heaven. To walk in covenant is to hear his call to Abraham: “I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be perfect.” Literally: walk before my face. Trust my power. Make me your summum bonum, your highest good, your chief delight, your shield and your helper. To walk in covenant means we depend upon the Lord, not upon men, not upon ourselves, not upon our feelings. We do not measure our prospects by how the city of man is measuring theirs; we have a different yardstick – the unfailing presence, promises, and power of our God, who has taken us unto himself to be his people, his prized possession, and his portion.
Covenant is the life we live with our children. “I will be a God to you and to your children” (Gen. 17:7-9); “the promise is unto you and to your children” (Acts 2:39). God’s covenant promises undergird, strengthen, and test us as parents, encourage and inspire us to be faithful. We teach and discipline not in a cloud of uncertainty but upon the Rock of our faithful God and Father. Not our anger and fervor, but God’s faithfulness and truth will accomplish his purposes in our children’s lives. We do not need a new fad – gentle parenting, formula parenting, boot-camp parenting, appeasement parenting. We need to parent by faith in the Word of God. In covenant with him as parents, we are under his authority as his children. We obey our Father to show our children how to honor and obey their father and mother. We do so by God’s word: his sworn word, his covenanted word, sealed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and empowered in our lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is more powerful in the weakest believer than a billion-demon army from the pit of hell. We must walk in the Spirit – not as a feeling or a fancy but as the promise of the Father, as our Lord said (Acts 1:4). Why is the Spirit “the promise?” The Holy Spirit is in many ways the fulfillment of God’s great promise that unites every epoch of revelation and all God’s people over all ages – I will walk with you, and dwell with you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. The Spirit takes what is Christ’s and shows it to us. He works the fruits of righteousness in us. He gives us faith to believe God’s promises when we are tempted to despair. He is the down-payment of heaven, the pledge that the Lord is present with us and loves us no matter what is happening to us. He is the reality of a living relationship with our living Lord. He secures us for heaven, strengthens us against the weakness of the flesh, and continues working in us faith so that we may holds fast to all God’s promises.