As Christians, we often talk about the importance of a relationship with God. We might describe this relationship as that of child and parent, or two friends, or bride and groom (all comparisons used in the Bible). Those descriptions are aspects of the main type of relationship God wants to have with us. He calls our relationship a covenant.
BibleProject has an excellent short video summing up covenants in the Old Testament and how Jesus brings them into the New Testament church. It’s a great introduction or reminder of what’s going on with covenants in the Bible. If you’d like to read about covenants here on my blog, I had a couple posts on covenants back in 2016, which I revisited and summarized last year in “Revisiting the Deep Things of God’s Covenants.”
As the main way that God establishes relationship with people, covenants are a vital part of our Christian faith. However, they’re not discussed nearly as often as you might expect given that central importance. Covenants come up fairly often at my church, but from what I’ve heard that doesn’t seem to be the case more broadly speaking (I’d be very curious to hear how much your churches talk about covenants if you’d like to leave a comment!). Given that vital role covenants play, I felt that this would be a good time to revisit them, particularly as we draw closer to the fall holy days.
Inheriting Covenants with Jesus
The aspect of covenants that I find most fascinating (and which BibleProject also touches on in their video) is that Jesus makes it possible for the promises of the first covenants to pass down to us today. The covenants God made with Noah, Abraham, the people of Israel, and King David included promises and (for all except Noah’s covenant) conditions for their descendants. Covenants typically involve agreement from both parties to follow the terms of the covenant. For example, in the Mosaic covenant, God promised Israel would receive abundant blessings for obedience and He would be their faithful God if they would be His faithful people. He also promised curses for disobedience, though He assured them He would never break the covenant even if they did.
The Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants all contained a promise that the Messiah would come and set things right. We now know this Messiah (the anointed one of God; Hebrew mashiach and Greek christos) is Jesus Christ. As a human descendent of Abraham, Israel, and David, He inherited all these covenants (Heb. 1:2). Since He was sinless, Jesus is the only human being who kept up our side of the covenant bargain and fully deserved to inherit the covenant promises. Jesus is also God, and He fulfilled God’s covenant promises as well by providing Himself as the substitute to pay our death penalty for breaking covenant.
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood. … Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.Hebrews 9:15-18, 22, NET
Let’s linger on this idea for a moment longer. Jesus is the heir of all the covenant promises. He’s also God, who made the covenants in the first place. The covenants belong to Him and–following His Father’s plan from the beginning–He died and willed the covenants to us (Gal. 3:29). Thanks to Him, “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17, NET). That’s amazing. It’s a simple, straightforward statement and yet I can barely wrap my head around it. The covenants, the inheritance, the grace associated with God brining us into a relationship with Him–it’s incredible.
Inheriting the Nature of God
When we’re heirs of God alongside Christ and participants in the covenant God makes with His people today, we inherit many wonderful promises. One of the greatest of those promises is that we’ll be part of God’s family as children. We’re all “heirs of the grace of life” and, “since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (1 Pet. 3:7; Tit. 3:7). As heirs, we’re going “inherit” His nature and share in real, eternal life.
See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.1 John 3:1-3, NET
There isn’t a scripture that explicitly says we’ll inherit the nature of God, but putting all the ones we’ve been looking at in this post together that seems like a good way to sum-up what’s going on here. We are “heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him” (Jam. 2:5, NET). God has been planning this for a long time, and He accomplished making us His children “by predestining us to adoption as his legal heirs through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5, NET).
As His children, when we receive our full inheritance “we will be like him” and “see him just as he is” (1 John. 3:3, NET). This is one of the most amazing truths contained in the Bible. God’s plan revolves around wanting to expand His family. There’s already a Father and a Son, and they want a much bigger family. That we’ll literally be in God’s family is one of the more audacious claims that’s a core part of Christian doctrine, and yet Jesus pointed out “those people to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’ (and the scripture cannot be broken)” (John 10:31-36, NET). I like how C.S. Lewis talks about this at the end of “The Weight of Glory.”
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory”
How would it change the way you live if you really remembered all the time that every human being (including you) could be part of God’s family? Pride isn’t really an option if you realize you’re not the only one to whom God offers this gift and that no one really deserves it. Our covenant inheritance recontextualizes our lives. We’re part of God’s family, citizens of His kingdom, and in a covenant relationship with the Father and Son.
Part of Something Bigger
In the introduction, I mentioned that the study of covenants is particularly fitting as we approach the fall holy days. This season includes Yom Teruah (Day of Trumpets, also called Rosh Hoshanna), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles) and Shemini Atzeret (the eighth-day or Last Great Day following Sukkot). In Exodus 31:16, God calls the Sabbath “a perpetual covenant” and in Leviticus 23 God calls His holy days and sabbaths sacred. All of God’s holy times–including the ones coming up very soon this fall–are signs of being in covenant with God (Ex. 31:13).
“I gave them my statutes, and showed them my ordinances, which if a man does, he will live in them. Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies them. …
“I am Yahweh your God. Walk in my statutes, keep my ordinances, and do them. Make my Sabbaths holy. They shall be a sign between me and you, that you may know that I am Yahweh your God.”Ezekiel 20:11-12, 19-20, WEB
If you read the context for these verses, you’ll see that God was hurt and angry when His people rejected His Sabbaths along with His covenants (Ezk. 20:8-26). Keeping these sabbaths is a key part of what we do when we’re in covenant with God. That’s one of the interesting things about a covenant; when you’re part of one, there are things you’re supposed to do. It’s less of a “do this or else” sort of thing and more of a “in this family, here’s how we act and here are the things we do together.”
For this reason we also, from the day we heard about you, have not ceased praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may live worthily of the Lord and please him in all respects—bearing fruit in every good deed, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for the display of all patience and steadfastness, joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:9-14, NET
As people who have a covenant relationship with God, we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. He’s called us into His kingdom and His family as “sons and daughters” (2 Cor. 6:16-18). And much like if you’re part of a big, close-knit family where everyone goes over to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving every year, God wants us at His table for His feast days now and in the future (Is. 66:22-23; Luke 13:29).
My family has been keeping God’s Sabbath’s and holy days my whole life. It’s pretty much the same thing year after year, and yet I’m amazed at how much more meaningful these days keep getting. These rhythms of worship provide a spiritual structure for the year and regular reminders to keep deepening our relationship with God. You might be nodding along right now as you read, or you might not have any experience with keeping these days. Whatever your religious background, I encourage you to think deeply about the relationship God has called you into and what He asks of those who are in covenant with Him. Covenants are how God describes His relationship with us. Since they’re so important to Him, understanding them better and participating in them fully should be important to us as well.
Featured image by Pearl from Lightstock
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