Spiritual Tenacity

The word “tenacity” comes into English “from Latin tenacitas ‘an act of holding fast,’ from tenax (genitive tenacis) ‘holding fast, gripping, clingy; firm, steadfast'” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It’s not a word that’s used in any of the Bible translations I frequently read (WEB, NET, TLV, KJV), but the same concept is expressed with terms such as “hold fast” or the related idea of endurance.

When we hold fast to something on a physical level, it’s either because we love it so much (e.g. hugging your child tight) or because we need something to keep us from falling or getting pulled away (e.g. clinging to a rope when climbing a cliff or holding onto a tree branch to keep from being swept away in a flash flood). Something similar is happening on a spiritual level.

When we’re living in covenant with God and have a relationship with Him, He wants a close and loving relationship with us. He also expects an exclusive relationship, but there are other things pulling at our time and attention that could draw us away from Him if we don’t hold on tight. Putting something before Him, making covenant relationships with conflicting things, or holding tight to something other than God would mean that we’re being unfaithful to Him (Ex. 34:12-14). In contrast, holding fast to God involves having a faithful, love-filled relationship with Him.

Image of a woman reading a Bible. Overlaid with text from 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15, NET version: “God chose you from the beginning for salvation through
 sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. He called you to this salvation through our gospel, so that you may possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions that we taught you, whether by speech or by letter.”
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

What are you Holding Onto?

In the Old Testament, Joshua warned ancient Israel about the importance of staying faithful to God. With God’s guidance, Joshua led them into the promised land, fought and conquered the land under God’s leadership, and saw the people settled in their promised inheritance. The surrounding nations weren’t completely gone, though, and neither were the influences from Israel’s past. So when Joshua was old, he called Israel together to give them instructions and warnings.

Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that you not turn away from it to the right hand or to the left; that you not come among these nations, these that remain among you; neither make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause to swear by them, neither serve them, nor bow down yourselves to them; but hold fast to Yahweh your God, as you have done to this day. …

“But if you do at all go back, and hold fast to the remnant of these nations, even these who remain among you, and make marriages with them, and go in to them, and they to you; know for a certainty that Yahweh your God will no longer drive these nations from out of your sight; but they shall be a snare and a trap to you, a scourge in your sides, and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which Yahweh your God has given you.”

Joshua 23:6-8, 12-13, WEB (emphasis added)

Here, Joshua presents the people with two options. They can “hold fast to Yahweh your God” or they could “hold fast” to the ungodly nations around them. Similarly, we see other people in the Bible holding fast to either good or bad things. A psalmist tells the Lord, “I hold fast to your rules” (Ps. 119:31, NET). Yahweh promises good things to those who “hold fast to my covenant” and keep the Sabbath (Is. 56:1-7, WEB). God praised Job to Satan as an example of “a pure and upright man,” saying, “he still holds firmly to his integrity” (Job 2:3, NET).

In contrast, there are others who “hold fast to their deception” (Jer. 8:5, NET). Proverbs says, “The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare him. The cords of his sin hold him firmly” (Prov. 5:22, WEB). Jesus chided people who rejected God’s law to “hold fast to human tradition” (Mark 7:1-8, NET). Clearly, we need to be careful what we’re clinging to. Are we holding on to God, or to things that are trying to tug us away from Him? Trying to do both isn’t going to work. “No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, KJV). We need to make sure the one we “hold to” is God.

Image of two hands holding each other, one older and one a small child. Overlaid with text from Psalm 119:31, 117, WEB version: “I cling to your statutes, Yahweh.
    Don’t let me be disappointed. ... Hold me up, and I will be safe,
    and will have respect for your statutes continually.”
Image by RitaE from Pixabay

Holding on to Hope

There are strict warnings about who or what we choose to hold onto in this life. We can’t have divided loyalties when we come to God. He’ll work with us through our doubts, but He expects us to choose Him when it comes down to it. The admonition to us today is still the same as the one Joshua gave Israel: “hold fast to Yahweh your God.”

God also told people in the Old Testament to hold onto His covenant, including the Sabbaths (which are a sign of being in covenant with God). That continues today. For example, Paul told the Corinthian church to “hold firm the traditions” and “hold firmly the word which I preached to you” in an epistle contextualized by his discussion of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (1 Cor. 11:2; 15:2, WEB). Paul also gave similar instructions in three other letters (2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:18-19; Tit. 1:8-9). We need to carefully hold on to the truth God gives us and obey his instructions. And when we do that, we’re holding on to some amazing things.

Christ is faithful as a Son over his house. We are his house, if we hold fast our confidence and the glorying of our hope firm to the end. … we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:6-7, 13 WEB (emphasis added)

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. …

And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy.

Hebrews 4:14; 10:23 NET (emphasis added)

 God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, sure and steadfast

Hebrews 6:17-19, NET (emphasis added)

Look how positive this wording is. We’re to “hold fast” to our confidence in Christ and the glory of hope, the confession of our faith and hope, and the hope of joy set before us in the future. Holding onto God, His word, righteousness, and goodness also means holding onto hope and joy. It makes me think back to part of our Isaiah study from earlier this year about the joy found in keeping covenant with God (see “Isaiah Study: Joy in the Sabbath Covenant With God“). In a close relationship with God, obedience flows naturally from love and honoring God brings joy while strengthening hope.

Image of two men's hands gripping ropes on a ship. Overlaid with text from 1 Tim. 1:18-19, NET version: “I put this charge before you, Timothy my child, in 
keeping with the prophecies once spoken about you, in order that with such encouragement you may fight the good fight. To do this you must hold firmly to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck in regard to the faith.”
Image by Gusli2 from Pixabay

“Hold on to What You Have”

We can sum up the Bible’s “hold fast” instructions with this verse: “hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22, NET). Our spiritual walk requires tenacity–a conviction to hold tight to God and the goodness associated with Him while rejecting the things which would want to pull us away or present alternative things to cling to.

Something that helps us greatly in our quest to hold fast to good is that Jesus holds fast to us. He says that He and the Father hold Their people in Their hands (John 10:27-29). He also holds the keys to death, the spirits of God, the angels of the churches, and the keys to David’s kingdom–wonderous things we can only begin to understand (Rev. 1:16-18; 2:1; 3:1, 7). It’s in the letters to the churches in Revelation that Jesus describes Himself as holding these things, and it’s also here that He counsels us to keep holding on.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have so that no one can take away your crown. …  The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 3:11, 13, NET

The “crown” here “refers to a wreath … worn as a symbol of honor, victory, or as a badge of high office” (NET footnote on Rev. 3:11). It’s not so much a symbol of ruling as it is of victory. Think of the laurel crowns in ancient Rome and Greece that still influence our language today; we use the word “laurels” for “a tangible symbol signifying approval or distinction” (Vocabulary.com).

We’re part of a spiritual war. We’ve joined up on God’s side–the one guaranteed victory in the end. Until the time when we receive our crowns of victory, we’re called to be soldiers in a war that mostly takes place on a spiritual plane but also bleeds into the physical realm. I have a book about this called Like An Anchor Study Guide: The Armor of God coming out early next year, but for now I’ll direct you to my series of blog posts on Spiritual Warfare if you want to read more about this.

You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luke 21:17-19, NET

Jesus Christ and God the Father are the ones who make victory possible. We get to play a role, too. It’s our job to hang on to them and endure. That’s how we win. Spiritual tenacity is a vital component to living a victorious, godly life.


Featured image by S. Hermann / F. Richter from Pixabay

Humility To Keep Covenant With God

Have you ever noticed there are things God cannot do? For example, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18, NET). When we talk about serving a God who can do anything, what we really mean is that He has the power to accomplish anything He promises and to work things out which seem impossible to us.

The fact that there are some things God simply can’t do is reassuring when we look at what those things are. It isn’t just that God chooses not to lie–He can’t do it. Deception simply isn’t in His character. That means we can trust Him completely. When He makes a promise He’s going to keep it. He might adjust His plans in response to something we do (the way He delayed Nineveh’s destruction when the people repented) but He will never go back on His promises. One of the promises that He’ll never break involves the covenant relationships He establishes with people.

No Chance of God Forgetting

I’ve been writing about covenants again recently. I hadn’t planned to stay on this topic, but one verse read in a sermon last Sabbath caught my ear and got me digging deeper again. To get some context, this verse comes from Deuteronomy when Moses spoke to Israel before they entered the promised land. He recapped their journey so far, reminded them of times they’d disobeyed God, recalled military encounters, and spoke of Joshua taking over after his death. Then, he says, “Now, Israel, pay attention to the statutes and ordinances I am about to teach you, so that you might live and go on to enter and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you” (Deut. 4:1, NET). Now, he starts to remind them of the covenant promise they made.

Again, however, pay very careful attention, lest you forget the things you have seen and disregard them for the rest of your life; instead teach them to your children and grandchildren. … You approached and stood at the foot of the mountain, a mountain ablaze to the sky above it and yet dark with a thick cloud. Then the Lord spoke to you from the middle of the fire … he revealed to you the covenant he has commanded you to keep, the Ten Commandments, writing them on two stone tablets.

Deuteronomy 4:9, 11-13, NET

Moses will recap this covenant as the book goes on, but first He talks about what will happen if Israel forsakes this covenant. If they break their relationship with God “and do other evil things before the Lord your God that enrage him, I invoke heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that you will surely and swiftly be removed … you will surely be annihilated” (Deut. 4:25-26, NET). That’s a serious consequence, but it’s also not God’s final say in the matter.

In your distress when all these things happen to you in future days, if you return to the Lord your God and obey him (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them.

Deuteronomy 4:30-31, NET

Notice the wording here: God “cannot forget the covenant.” Many translations say “will not” here, but the NET translators understand the Hebrew’s “imperfect verbal form to have an added nuance of capability here.” Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon say this Hebrew word lo means “no” or “not” in a way that’s an “absolute prohibition.” In other words, there’s no chance–not in a billion years or under any circumstances–that God could possibly forget His covenant.

Image of a woman holding a baby with text from Isaiah 49:14-16, NET version: “Zion said, ‘The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her baby who nurses at her breast? Can she withhold compassion from the child she has borne? Even if mothers were to forget, I could never forget you! Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms"
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

What About Us?

That covers one side of the covenant. God’s not going to back out, break His promises, forget He’s in a relationship with us, or decide we’re not worth it. But we’re in this covenant, too. What about us?

You people of this generation,
listen to the Lord’s message:
“Have I been like a wilderness to you, Israel?
Have I been like a dark and dangerous land to you?
Why then do you say, ‘We are free to wander.
We will not come to you anymore?’
Does a young woman forget to put on her jewels?
Does a bride forget to put on her bridal attire?
But my people have forgotten me
for more days than can even be counted.”

Jeremiah 2:31-32, NET

God knows we’re not perfect. We are capable of breaking covenants, going back on our word, forgetting Him, or letting our relationships slip down on our priority list. Forgetting God is an insane thing to do–like a bride forgetting to put on her wedding dress and not even noticing. But people still forget Him over and over. That’s why, in His mercy, God built in a way for us to come back into covenant with Him.

Let’s read Moses’s words one more time: “if you return to the Lord your God and obey him (for he is a merciful God), he will not let you down or destroy you, for he cannot forget the covenant with your ancestors that he confirmed by oath to them” (Deut. 4:31, NET). Remember that, through Jesus, we inherit the covenants God made with Israel’s ancestors. This promise includes us today, and we can come back to covenant with Him if/when we stray by following the same steps: return and obey. When we do that, He covers up our covenant breaking with His abundant love, faithfulness, and grace. He’s incapable of abandoning His covenant, and He makes it so that we can be counted faithful too.

Keeping Covenant With God

Image of a man sitting on a beach at sunset with the blog's title text and the words "When we realize our ability to keep covenant with God is a result of His mercy, it results in humility coupled with a sense of security. His faithfulness enables our 
faithfulness."
Image by Aaron Kitzo from Lightstock

Did you notice the sharp contrast between us and God here? He’s incapable of breaking covenant; humans have never been 100% faithful to Him. He’s committed to never walking away from us; people walk away from Him all the time. He’s holy and perfect; we’re fleshy and flawed.

A proper understanding of this contrast leads to an attitude we need in order to return to God and obey Him. We need humility. When we realize that our ability to keep covenant with God is a result of His mercy, there’s no room for feeling puffed up about ourselves. It’s His faithfulness that enables our faithfulness. When we have an understanding of how much we owe to Him and how highly He values us, it results in humility coupled with a sense of security.

For the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity,
whose name is Holy, says:
“I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit,
to revive the spirit of the humble,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Isaiah 57:15, WEB

While we do have obligations as participants in this covenant, we don’t have to be afraid that God will cut us off if we make a mistake. We just need to humbly recognize that we can’t do this on our own and accept the same thing God told Paul: “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9, NET). We’re all weak compared to God, and when we acknowledge that weakness it opens up opportunities for Him to work in us powerfully.

God highly values His covenant with us. He promises to live with us when we’re humble and trust Him. He doesn’t hold our weakness against us. Rather, He loves us so much that He died to take away the death penalty humans earned for covenant-breaking and welcomes us into His family with open arms. We can trust Him. We can love Him without fear. And we can keep covenant with Him even though we’re flawed knowing that, with Jesus, “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10, NET).

Featured image by WhoisliketheLord Studio from Lightstock

Continuing to Grow and Change for Jesus our Passover

We’re getting closer and closer to Passover. Based on Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians, these months leading up to Passover (Pesach) and the Day of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot) are a time of self-examination for New Covenant Christians. We spend time in prayer and study, asking God to share what He sees in us and help us grow and change to become more like Him. We take time to try and figure out what things in us still don’t look like God, repent of them, and seek His aid in changing our lives to align more and more with His ways.

A couple weeks ago, I kept ending up in Ephesians 5 as I read my daily devotional and worked through a month-long scripture writing study on deception (you can find similar scripture writing plans by clicking here). There’s a lot to think about in this chapter. It comes near the end of a fairly long letter where Paul writes to believers about the blessings and spiritual inheritance that we have through Christ, and says he gives thanks for the faith and love they’re already showing (Eph. 1). Paul reminds them of their transgressions/offenses and sins which God and Christ saved them from when He took those who were once outside God’s family and made them wholly part of His people (Eph. 2). As the letter goes on, Paul implores his readers to value the great and wonderful mysteries God grants us, not to lose heart when some of us suffer, and to fully commit to our relationship with Jesus Christ (Eph. 3). Based on all this, Paul calls his readers to unity with their fellow believers and insists they live holy, spiritual lives (Eph. 4).

Throughout the letter, Paul makes some brutal statements about our spiritual condition before we entered a relationship with God. “You were dead in your offenses and sins” and “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:1, 3, NET). In our lives before meeting Jesus, we were “corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires” (4:22). Paul even says, “you were at one time darkness” (5:8). This sinful state is where we all started out, desperately in need of Jesus to save us. We want to move on from that as quickly as possible and embrace all the good things God tells us about our new identities in Him. And while it is good and right to fully embrace who we are in God, we also need to remember how bad things were without Him. If we don’t keep that perspective, then it’ll be easy to slip back into worldly things because we don’t think of them as being “that bad.”

Image of a man studying the Bible, with text from Ephesians 4:22-24, NET version: “You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with 
deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.”
Image by Matt Vasquez from Lightstock

Slipping Back is Idolatry

Humans have a tendency for self-justification. Even when we’re beating ourselves up about something, we might also be making excuses for ourselves. Or maybe we read through the Bible and see our conduct in some of the things God says not to do, then tell ourselves that it’s not really all that bad. We make mistakes, but we’re human. No big deal.

It is true that God can remove our sins and He has abundant mercy for our mistakes. But it’s not because they’re “no big deal.” Sin results in death, and the reason God can forgive us so freely is because Jesus died in our place. That’s a really big deal. We need to understand the magnitude of what Jesus did for us, and the level of offense we cause if we turn back to wicked ways and brush it off as something that doesn’t really matter. In his one-year Worship the King devotional, Chris Tiegreen sums it up like this:

“we were idolaters. False worshipers. People who gave glory and honor to things that were not worthy, while neglecting the glory and honor that should go to the One who is. That hurts.

“It’s a brutal assessment, but we have to own up to it. We don’t like to think of our flirtation with impurity or materialism as idol worship, but it is.”

Chris Tiegreen, Worship the King, p. 51

Going back to Ephesians, Paul says that flirting with things like “sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed … vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting” is “not fitting for the saints” and “out of character” for those saying they want to imitate Jesus’s way of life (Eph. 5:1-4, NET). If we tell ourselves that things God calls sins are okay for us, then it turns into idolatry. We’re putting our desires for sinful things higher than our desire for God and saying our ideas of morality are more accurate than His.

Image of a man studying the Bible, with text from Ephesians 5:1-2, 5, NET version: “Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a
 sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. ... you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Image by Anggie from Lightstock

Moving Into the Light

Emphasizing our need to change and grow as we follow Jesus Christ does not downplay God’s mercy or grace in any way. Grace is something we can’t do anything to earn, but once we accept God’s grace we enter a covenant with Him and agree to live in a spiritual way. He expects certain things of people who promise to follow Him, including that we won’t run off after things which have nothing to do with godliness.

For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God’s wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be sharers with them, for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live like children of light—for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth—trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Eph. 5:5-10, NET

God’s connection with Light is something we’ve explored in other Bible study posts. We’re supposed to shine with Jesus’s light in our lives, to be like lamps burning with bright fire as we imitate the Light of our Messiah. There’s a sharp divide in the world that’s been there since the fall of mankind. On the one hand, there is darkness and death. On the other, there is light and life. Jesus calling us out of darkness gives us the option to choose light. It’s an incredible gift. And unless we don’t really value that gift of Light, we’ll be doing our best to “live like children of light.”

Living With Wisdom

Therefore consider carefully how you live—not as unwise but as wise, taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord’s will is. And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Ephesians 5:15-21, NET

Because of everything Paul talked about before–particularly the way our dark pasts contrast with the light we’re supposed to live in now–he urges us to “consider carefully how you live.” We ought to do this careful consideration throughout the year, but Passover is a particularly fitting time for a check-in. How wise are we in how we live our lives? Are we letting God fill us with His spirit, then letting that pour out through our lips as praise, worship, and thanks? Do we demonstrate our reverence for Christ by submitting to each other in love?

I doubt we can fully answer “yes” to all these questions (I know I can’t), and this isn’t even a full list of everything we’re supposed to do as we imitate Christ. But remember that as long as you’re on the path toward perfection, God treats you as if you’re already perfect. When we trust Him and do our best to follow His example of holiness, He’ll keep filling us with His spirit and light. We’ll be able to stay on track following Him instead of slipping back into idolatry. He’ll empower us to grow and change, becoming more and more like Him each year.

Featured image by Corey David Robinson from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Immanuel” by Joshua Aaron

Revisiting the Deep Things of God’s Covenants

I wrote a bunch of posts about covenants in spring of 2016. Those posts, especially “Inheriting Covenants,” make up a Bible study that I still think about on a weekly basis. I’ve considered revisiting my covenants study several times over the past five years. During Sukkot this year–a time filled with scripture-rich messages and Bible discussions–I felt the time was right for another study.

Covenants are the framework that God uses for His relationship with human beings, which means they’re a vital part of Christianity. If we want to be in a relationship with God, then we’d better make sure we understand the terms of that relationship. God loves everyone, but He isn’t in a loving, friendship-relationship with everyone; only with those who keep covenant with Him. The better we understand Biblical covenants, the better we understand how God relates to us and to all of humanity.

Covenants 101

As I wrote about five years ago in “Covenants 101: An Introduction to Relationship with God,” Hebraic understanding of covenants in the Old Testament forms the basis for covenants between God and man. We need to start in the Old Testament for this study because Jesus Christ’s covenanting work (and the way New Testament writers talk about that) grows out of the earlier covenants. The central covenant in the Old Testament–the one New Testament writers call “the Old Covenant”–is the one made at Sinai, but it’s not the only significant covenant in the Old Testament.

Noah

Though some describe God’s relationship with Adam and Eve as a covenant, the first time the Hebrew word bĕriyth is used is in relation to Noah (Gen. 6:18; 9:8-17). In this covenant, God establishes a promise not to flood the whole earth again. He describes this to Noah as “the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations.” The sign, or token, of this covenant is a rainbow. Like other covenants, this one involved an established relationship, specific words and promises, and a sign to seal the covenant and remind both parties of its existence.

Abraham

In Genesis 15, the Lord Yahweh initiates a covenant with Abraham that forms the basis of the future religious covenants with His people. The key promises for this covenant were land inheritance and heirs. The covenant also establishes a relationship, which is maintained when both parties stay faithful to their covenant agreements. In this covenant, as in all others God makes with His people, He is unfailingly faithful. He sets the terms, binds Himself to them, and then invites people into a covenant relationship with Him based on those terms.

When a Bible translation says, “the Lord made a covenant,” a more literal version of the Hebrew phrase would be “Yahweh cut a covenant.” Covenants often involved blood sacrifices to show the seriousness of the covenant agreement. We see that here in Genesis 15, with God binding Himself to the covenant by walking between the blood sacrifices. Later in Genesis 17, when Abraham learns more about his role in the covenant, he binds himself to it with the sign God gave him of male circumcision.

Israel

In many ways, the Sinai or Mosaic covenant grows from the Abrahamic covenant. The children of Israel, those promised descendants of Abraham, just recently delivered from slavery in Egypt, arrive at Mount Sinai to find God giving them a covenant. This covenant involved blood (sprinkled on the people as they bound themselves to the covenant), promises from God to the people and from the people to God, and agreement from both parties. The words of this covenant agreement are briefly covered in Exodus 19 through 24, then expounded on through the remainder of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

In addition to blood and male circumcision, salt was also a sign of the Sinai covenant (Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19). This connects the Sinai covenant with friendship (we’ll talk most about that in a moment). In addition, Israel is described as being in a marriage covenant with God because they agreed to bind themselves to Him; this analogy is also used to describe the New Covenant (Jer. 31:32; 2 Cor. 11:2).

David

God’s covenant with King David also plays a key role in Biblical history. Oddly, there’s no mention of a sign for this covenant in 2 Samuel 7. It is, however, described as “a covenant of salt” in 2 Chronicles 13:5. We need to go outside the Bible to get more information on this type of covenant. Salt and covenant are traditionally linked, likely because of salt’s preservative qualities and because sharing salt at meals is a sign of established friendship (“What is a ‘covenant of salt’?”). The promises of the Davidic covenant focus on God providing loving kindness, relationship, and kingship for David and his descendants.

Covenants, Messiah, and Inheritance

Another important aspect of the Abraham, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants is the promise of the Messiah. Paul tells us the Abrahamic covenant pointed directly to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:15-18). Jesus’s words, “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me,” reveal the Mosaic covenant points to Him as well (Deut. 18:15-16; Luke 24:44). Jesus is also a fulfillment of God’s promises that David’s descendants would be established as rulers forever (2 Sam. 7:16; Jer. 33:14-22; Acts 2:25-36). Jesus’s role in these covenants is key to understanding what covenants mean and how they change between the Old Covenants and the New Covenant.

Defining “Covenant”

The words translated “covenant” in the Bible come from the Hebrew bĕriyth (H1285) and the Greek diatheke (G1242). These words have slightly different meanings that echo our slightly different relationships to covenants with God before and after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Bĕriyth is a binding agreement between two parties. As we saw in the examples discussed above, these covenants established a relationship defined by the covenant words and sealed with signs such as blood and salt. Diatheke is a little different. It can be translated “testament” (as in, “last will and testament”) and reflects the unilateral will of one person. Despite those differences, both words are translated “covenant” and the Biblical writers clearly connect their discussions of diatheke to the relationships God describes in the Old Testament as bĕriyth.

In The Complete WordStudy Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates proposes a definition of covenant that covers both the unilateral enactment of diatheke and the established relationship of bĕriythHe writes that a covenant “is a divine order or agreement which is established without any human cooperation and springing from the choice of God Himself whose will and determination account for both its origin and its character” (entry G1242, section IV). As we look at Old and New Testament covenants, we always see God as the initiator. He makes promises that people did not ask for nor expect and which cannot be nullified by their descendants. Yet even though covenants are unilateral in some senses, they are also mutual because people can chose for themselves whether or not to keep the terms of the covenant. Covenants are initiated by God, but responding is our choice.

Jesus’s Covenant Inheritance

Covenants that God makes with people aren’t just for one individual, but most of the Old Testament covenants were limited to certain groups. The covenant made with Noah is for all living things on earth. Abraham’s and David’s covenants were made with that individual man and his descendants; no one else could join. The Sinai covenant was for all the children of Israel, their descendants, and anyone outside that group who wanted to follow Yahweh. Someone joining the covenant from the outside was rare, though prophesy pointed to a time when all nations would enter covenant with God (Is. 56:6-7).

Jesus came to this earth as a physical descendant of Abraham, an Israelite heir of the covenants with God, and a man in the lineage of David. Not only was He the promised Messiah pointed to by the covenants, but He was also born into the physical position of an heir to the covenants. As such, He inherited the covenants made with Abraham, the children of Israel, and David. The writer of Hebrews goes so far as to say that God appointed Jesus “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2, NET). That position as heir to all the covenants put Him in a unique position for sharing those covenants with us.

Our Inheritance Through Jesus

Every human who tried to keep covenant with God failed to do so perfectly. We are fallible, and even though God is merciful and loving we deserved to inherit the curses contained in the covenanting words. The only one who perfectly kept God’s covenant was Jesus Christ, and so He’s the only one who truly deserved to inherit all the promises. Once He inherited, He died and “willed” those promises to us (Heb. 9:15-28). This washed our sins away and made it possible for all people–not just the descendants of certain individuals–to walk in covenant with God.

In the New Testament, Paul writes to Gentile believers that they were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” until the time of their conversion. They were not previously heirs to the covenants, “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). In another letter, Paul extends this analogy to say, “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Jesus makes us part of the family and shares the inheritance with us.

If you’re in covenant with Christ, then you are counted an heir of all the covenanting promises made before. We’ll even inherit alongside those original heirs, who haven’t yet fully received the promises; they’re awaiting the resurrection when all the faithful will rise together and inherit the promises as members of God’s family (Heb. 11:8-13, 39-40).

Getting Into Covenant

How do we get into covenant with God? It seems like a serious thing, perhaps something that requires special steps. Really, though, understanding the importance of covenants doesn’t change much about our understanding for how someone enters a relationship with God. The same things needed to join yourself in relationship with God and become part of His church are what’s needed to enter this covenant with Him. At its most basic, this means we need to repent, believe in Jesus, and be baptized (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38). Once that happens, God makes us part of His New Covenant people.

God offers salvation freely, but that salvation is also offered on His terms. He initiates the covenant and establishes its parameters, then gives us the opportunity to join that covenant. Paul’s letters reveal that all believers in Jesus become part of this covenant. In a letter to one of the churches, Paul talks about how God “made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:6). He also says that those who’ve been justified by Jesus’s sacrifice, follow Him faithfully, and love God are “heirs of God and also joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17; Titus 3:5-7; James 2:5). As followers of Jesus, we inherit covenant responsibilities and promises as part of joining a New Covenant with God.

To be clear, keeping covenants is not the same idea as us trying to “earn salvation” by keeping the law. Under the New Covenant, the law is written within the hearts of everyone who chooses to follow God. That’s what the phrase “not under the law” that Paul uses means—the law becomes internal, transforming our hearts so we have no desire to break it, rather than functioning as external rules. Salvation is a gift, and once we receive it we begin a process of change. Receiving grace means that we agree to live in a certain way as we walk in covenant with God. Even under grace we should still follow God’s way of life, refusing to jeopardize our inheritance for the momentary gratification of fleshy desires (Gal 5.19-21; Heb. 12:14-17).

Learning about covenants help us understand the implications of our belief in God the Father and Jesus the Messiah. It gives us a deeper understanding of the type of commitment we make to God as believers. It helps us fully appreciate and participate in the relationship that God offers us. And if you’re like me, it fills you with awe at the realization that God longs for a stable, faithful relationship with His people so much that He keeps making covenants with us over and over again, constantly inviting us closer to Him and opening up salvation to more and more people each time He makes a new covenant.

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Guarding What God Has Put in Your Heart

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard messages on the importance of guarding our hearts. God wants relationships with people who are pure in heart and who are whole-heartedly devoted to Him. In order to be like that, we need to be careful what we let into our hearts. Guarding our hearts, we’re often told, is about not letting bad things in.

Though that aspect of guarding our hearts is of vital importance, there’s also another side to this. To quote a daily devotional I’ve been reading, “We are to keep things in –things like the Spirit of Jesus, the humility and gentleness, the servanthood and sacrifice, the worship and thankfulness” (Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, p.23). We need to be careful that we’re not so focused on keeping bad things out that we forget to keep the good things in.

Keep Truth In Your Heart

When Samuel was sent to anoint David, Yahweh told him, “God does not view things the way people do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NET). What’s in our hearts is what matters most to God. We don’t want to let in things that would corrupt our hearts, but we’re also not evaluated based on what we’ve kept out. God looks at what we keep in.

My child, pay attention to my words;
listen attentively to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your sight,
guard them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and healing to one’s entire body.
Guard your heart with all vigilance,
for from it are the sources of life.

Proverbs 4:20-23, NET

This is the one Bible passage that clearly instructs us to guard our hearts. It starts out by telling us to put wise words inside us and then “keep them in the center of your heart” (v. 21, WEB). It’s about guarding the good things in our hearts because what’s inside us determines what comes out of our lives, for good or evil.

He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23, NET

If what’s inside our hearts is bad, the fruit our lives produce will be bad also, no matter how much we polish up the outside. We can, however, with God’s help, replace the bad things with good things. Change has to happen in our hearts as we internalize the words of God, and then we need to guard those good things that He gives us.

Attach Your Hearts to Good Things

Putting His law inside people’s hearts is one of the central aspects of God’s new covenant. When He prophesied the new covenant, He said, “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jer. 31:33, NET). That’s what’s happening as part of the covenant Jesus instituted with His sacrifice (Heb. 8:7-13; 10:14-18). In order to have good things come from our lives we need to have good things in our hearts, and that comes from entering this covenant with God. We also need to diligently guard what God is teaching and giving us.

“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21, NET

Part of guarding our hearts involves being careful about what “treasure” we attach ourselves to. If the things that we care about most and pour our energy into are worldly, that’s where our hearts will be. But if we put our efforts, time, and affection into good and godly things, then that is what our hearts and souls will treasure.

Entrust God With Your Heart

There is one other verse that uses the phrase “guard your hearts.” This time, though, it’s not an instruction for us. It’s something God does for us when we trust Him with our hearts and minds.

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7, NET

We talked about this type of peace at length just a couple weeks ago in a post called “Finding Peace On Earth Today.” The peace that God offers is a sort of peace that’s not dependent on external circumstances. Rather, it is a product of a heart that is committed to fully trusting God. True, lasting, godly peace comes when we trust God to take care of the things that threaten to take away our peace. When we pray in every situation, God shares His peace with us and it works to guard our hearts.

The task of guarding our hearts–keeping good things in and stopping bad things from taking over–is a life-long process. It’s something that God expects us to be actively involved in, and it’s something that He’s committed to helping us with.

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Finding Peace On Earth Today

Today’s world is not a peaceful place. Wars, rumors of wars, rioting, brutality, oppression, and unrest plague the whole earth. Fears fill our minds, confusing and contradictory information comes at us from every side, and there’s always a new reason in the news for anger, anxiety, or grief. If we ever needed proof that there’s no peace on earth, this past year supplied it.

In the midst of all this, the Bible describes peace as something God gives to His people and which He expects us to have. Finding peace while here on this earth may seem an impossible task, but God specializes in doing the impossible (Luke 1:37; 18:27). The peace God offers is not dependent on external circumstances. It comes from what He is doing inside us and it’s a special type of peace that is only available through God.

Putting Peace in our Minds

The peace God offers us cannot be destroyed by what’s going on in the world. Also, thankfully, it is a type of peace that we can have even during times of trouble and strife–the sort of times when we most need peace.

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7, NET

Paul doesn’t tell us that God will take away any reason we might have for anxiety. Rather, he says not to worry about any of the situations that could cause anxiety. Instead, we take those situations to God in prayer and with thanksgiving. We can do this with confidence in the promise that God’s peace–a peace so incredible we can’t understand it, yet which we still get to participate in–will guard our hearts and minds. God doesn’t just take away anxiety and give us peace, though, without any action on our part. We have a role to play as well. In addition to praying for God’s peace, Paul also tells us to replace our anxious thoughts with something else.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9, NET

We have the power to change how we think and even how we feel. We are not at the mercy of our outside circumstances or even our own emotions. That’s true of all human beings. Everyone of us can change and improve the way we think and process emotion. And when we have God’s spirit, we have additional aid in finding real peace. God created us and He knows how to balance and heal our minds, hearts, and souls.

Pursuing Righteousness and Peace

I recently heard a sermon where the speaker talked about the deep connection between righteousness and peace. He started by quoting Psalm 85:10, “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (WEB). It’s part of the verse I used as the title of my post about INFJ Christians, but I hadn’t realized how often these two concepts are linked. It seems you can’t have the type of peace God offers without also seeking to imitate His righteousness.

I am Yahweh your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way that you should go. Oh that you had listened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:17-18,. WEB

Righteousness and peace must be pursued together (2 Tim. 2:22). The type of peace God offers is only found in relationship with Him, and we can’t have a close relationship with God if we insist on living unrighteous lives. We need to follow His steps, heed His words, and embrace both His righteousness and His peace.

For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people. So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another.

Romans 14:17-19, NET

Bearing the Fruit of Peace

Many (perhaps most) of us saw 2020 as a year of severe trails. One of the ways the Bible talks about trials is as discipline–a tool God uses to disciple us into being like Him. Interestingly, this process is not only connected to learning to be righteous as God is righteous. It’s also connected to peace.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

Hebrews 12:11, NET

Times of trial are often when peace seems most elusive, but when we go through our trials with God at our side they can actually lead to peace. Several Bible verses tell us to have joy in trials (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4), and I think recognizing how much we can learn from them is one key to having that sort of joyful perspective. Challenges help to refine us, and eventually produce good fruits in our lives.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

James 3:17-18, NET
Finding Peace On Earth Today | LikeAnAnchor.com

We spent a couple of months earlier this year talking about all these attributes of Godly wisdom, including peace. In that post, we talked about Proverbs and how that book shows us that peace is something which happens when you live with wisdom. It’s one of the fruits that comes from aligning with God’s righteousness.

There is a way to have peace inside us even while living in a world where there is no peace. None of us knows what the year 2021 holds in store. It could be better than 2020, it could be more of the same, or it could even be worse. The outside circumstances cannot take away our peace, though, when that peace is grounded in our relationship with God.

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