Relational Faith: A Book Review and Theological Reflection

I was so happy to receive a comment from Brent Schmidt on my blog post about his book Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis (2015) offering me the opportunity to read his new book Relational Faith: The Transformation and Restoration of Pistis as Knowledge, Trust, Confidence, and Covenantal Faithfulness (2023). I really enjoyed the book on grace, and I was eager to read this follow-up work on faith.

You could read Relational Faith on its own, but it builds on Relational Grace and is best read as a continuation of that study. The basic argument of this new book is, “A universal doctrinal apostasy regarding faith occurred, necessitating a restoration of relational, covenantal faith” (p. 233). Much like Schmidt explained with charis/grace, the original meaning of pistis is vastly different from most mainstream Christian ideas of faith. Studying the context for how these Greek words were used when the New Testament was written helps us understand how grace and faith work today. God’s character is unchanging and the way He relates to us–including what He expects of those in relationship with Him–also didn’t change just because theologians over the years came up with different interpretations and ideas.

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this here before, but if I could have constructed a perfect-for-me class to take as part of my Masters in Rhetoric and Writing program, it would have focused on the Apostle Paul’s use of classical and Jewish rhetorical strategies. Schmidt holds a PhD in classics, and reading this book I felt like I was getting much of what I’d want from that hypothetical class. Schmidt opens the introduction with the words, “Context is key if we are to understand the essential Christian doctrine of faith as taught by the Apostle Paul” (p. 1). Amen, sir. Also, pistis is the same word used for “persuasion” in Aristotle’s rhetoric, and Schmidt spends a good deal of time on classical rhetoricians’ use of the word.

In short, this book could have been written for me even though Schmidt and I have some significantly different theological views/backgrounds (a bit more on that at the end). Overall, I found this an excellent scholarly work situating pistis firmly in its ancient context for both Jewish and Gentile Christians in the first-century. It also contains a detailed history of the changes in doctrinal understandings of faith over the years, with comparisons between different interpretations of faith from a variety of theologians. I didn’t find this book quite as engaging as Relational Grace, but it was well worth reading.

Image of two people with hands lifted in worship overlaid with text from Hebrews 11:1, WEB version:  “Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.”
Image by Temi Coker from Lightstock

Contextualizing Pistis

One of Schmidt’s basic premises is that we can better understand how Biblical writers use a Greek word by looking at how Classical writers earlier and around the same time used that word. This may seem an odd idea to us who live in a world where it’s considered normal and proper to separate religion from things like philosophy and science. There wasn’t such a separation in ancient times, though (Schmidt, p. 3). And while Biblical writers did give some words new/deeper Christian spiritual meanings, extrabiblical writings provide invaluable clues for understanding how people used these words at the time Paul and others were writing.

Schmidt’s etymological history of pistis and related words reveals that they can mean “faithfulness, steadfastness, and trustworthiness because of the underlying expressions of loyalty between parties in covenant relationships” (p. 11). He also places the word’s use in the context of classical Greek writers and Roman writers using the equivalent Latin word fides. He even looked into how pagan conceptions of the Pistis and Fides as goddesses influenced contemporary uses of the word. It’s a thorough scholarly investigation.

Additionally, Schmidt writes, “in the first century, pistis implied active loyalty, trust, hope, knowledge, and persuasion in the patron-client relationship or within the new covenant brought about through Christ’s Atonement” (p. 11). Faith in this sense is an active thing that’s connected with reciprocal relationships. When we’re in covenant with God, He is faithful to us and we must be faithful to Him. This is a concept that would have been very familiar to both Greek and Jewish audiences (Schmidt, p. 12-16). Also, Greek and Roman audiences were very familiar with the patron-client relationships that had pistis at the center. Whatever their religious background, first-century audiences would have thought of faith in a reciprocal relational context.

Jewish audiences in particular knew that faithfulness was key to covenants with God. In Hebrew, the basic root word for faith is aman (H539 in Strong’s). At the core, it means “firmness or certainty” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 116). Related words in this family include amen (verily, truly), emun (faithfulness, trusting), emuna (firmness, fidelity), and emet (truth). Schmidt points out that, like the Greek pistis, these Hebrew concepts were “knowledge-based, relational, and covenantal” (p. 37). And when Jewish writers wrote in Greek, they translated aman words into Greek as pistis (Schmidt 38). For example, when Paul quotes Habackuck 2:4, “the righteous will live by his faith (emunah),” he says, “the righteous shall live by faith (pistis)” (Rom. 1:17, WEB).

Image of a woman studying the Bible, overlaid with text from Deuteronomy 7:9, NET version:  “So realize that the Lord your God is the true God, the faithful God who keeps covenant faithfully with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations”
Image by MarrCreative from Lightstock

Tracking Changes in Descriptions of Faith

Neoplatonists and Augustine

Have I talked on this blog before about the Neoplatonists? I don’t think I have, but they keep coming up in books I read that trace how Christianity changed after the first century. This school of thought (along with other trends, including anti-Jewish sentiments) heavily influenced shifts such as the change from keeping the Sabbath on Saturday to gathering on Sunday and adding the idea of an immortal soul (whereas in the Bible, God ” alone possesses immortality” until He grants it to people in His family [1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 3:1-3]). And apparently, it’s also connected to the change from thinking of faith as intimately connected to covenant to an expression of belief in accepted Christian doctrines.

  • Side note: if you’re interested in exploring this idea more, I recommend Plato’s Shadow: The Hellenizing of Christianity by Gary Petty. It’s a good introduction/overview of the topic. (Please note this is an affiliate link, which means I’ll receive a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.)

While tracing the ways Christian conceptions of faith changed after the first century, Schmidt writes, “Neoplatonist faith (pistis) embraced the intelligible and pure through contemplation and also embraced emotional assurances that the soul was immortal by identifying with an abstract divine” (p. 116). Here’s where we start getting the idea of faith as something abstract, mystical, or requiring only passive acknowledgement. This is happening during the late Classical period (starting around 200 AD), and heavily influences Christianity of the Middle Ages. In contrast, “Ancient readers understood that faith obligated them to demonstrate their faithfulness actively” (p. 130).

The major shifts in conceptions of faith solidified around the 5th century. Schmidt comes down hard on Augustine for that, and rightly so I think based on other examinations I’ve read of Augustine’s work and the readings I’ve done of excerpts from his own texts (we covered him in my classical rhetoric class). Augustine introduced doctrinal concepts such as original sin and predestination, and defined faith as something God gave those He determined would be His people. Though an influential theologian, Augustine contradicted long-established Christian teachings in some of his doctrines, including the way he spoke about faith as something passively received from God, an emotion, and/or acknowledgment of a belief system (Schmidt, Chapter 9). In short, “Augustine’s model of faith fit very poorly with any Hellenistic notions of pistis because first-century pistis was ‘neither a body of beliefs nor a function of the heart or mind, but a relationship which creates community” (Schmidt, p. 167, quoting scholar Teresa Morgan).

I find it very interesting that the shift to seeing faith as a mystical thing granted to you by God, which helps you accept mysteries unknowable, coincides with the shift in popularly accepted Christian doctrine toward describing God’s nature as a Trinity (the Council of Nicae and the Council of Constantinople both happened in the 4th century). If you’re going to describe God as an unknowable three-in-one deity rather than as a family where the Father and Son make covenants with and know people individually, then it’s hard to define faith as a patron-client relationship that believers have with the Father modeled after the relationship the Father has with the Son. (For more on why I don’t think “trinity” is the best way to describe the nature of God, see my post “What Does It Mean For Each of Us That God Is A Family?“)

Medieval to Modern Theologians

Schmidt spends the next few chapters tracing Catholic and then Protestant teachings about faith through the Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment, and early Modern periods. William Tyndale stands out as a theologian working to balance the ideas of “salvation by faith alone” and the clear Biblical instructions for faith to result in good works (Schmidt, pp. 185-88). Heinrich Bullinger, John Locke, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are also highlighted as rare examples of theologians hearkening back to the active, covenantal context of pistis. Overall, though, the meaning of faith shifted away from ancient conceptions of pistis as faithfulness in covenant and focused more on passive, mystical experiences. Debates at this time often centered on how/if good works were linked with faith and whether or not there was any human free will involved.

There still isn’t a clear consensus in modern Christianity about how to define faith. There are, however, influential theological movements hearkening back toward an ancient understanding of pistis. In Chapter 13, Schmidt explores one of the reasons why I wasn’t all that surprised by what I read in this book about covenants and faith. C.S. Lewis (my favorite Christian writer) taught that faith necessarily involves action. The modern theological movement known as The New Perspective on Paul (including authors I’ve read and enjoyed like N. T. Wright and others I’m familiar with including E.P. Sanders and James Dunn) teach that Paul must be read through a first-century Jewish lens. They also point out that mistakes in reading Paul’s writings and over-reliance on Medieval theologians have led to distorted ideas of faith.

A Few Last Thoughts

Image of the Relational Faith book cover overlaid with the blog post's title text.
Features cover image for Relational Faith

As someone who’s been part of a 7th-day Sabbath-keeping Church of God group her whole life and who also has a Messianic Jewish background, the core arguments of Relational Faith weren’t surprising to me. Similarly, when I first came across the New Perspective on Paul, it didn’t seem revolutionary to read Paul as a Jewish writer who sees covenants as central to Christianity. That’s simply how I think of Christianity.

I will admit, though, that reading Relational Faith challenged me to think more deeply about how I talk about faith. For example, I will use the phrase “my faith” to mean “the doctrines I believe in and the experience of feeling sure that God exists.” A first-century Christian, though, saw faith more as something you do than something you have. If they talked about “my faith,” they’d likely mean “my faithfulness to the covenant God makes with me, as well as the obedient actions associated with honoring that covenant.” Reading this book made me want to be more intentional and careful about how I conceptualize and speak of my relationship with God to ensure it aligns with His word.

Even with confusion about what faith really means and ongoing theological debates, I would argue that the original meaning of faith has not been entirely lost even in “mainstream” Christianity. Yes, there are plenty of songs and teachings that reduce faith to some internal sensation or belief, but there’s also Josh Wilson singing, “Faith is Not a Feeling,” pointing out that faith is often synonymous with obedience, and Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology connecting faith with covenants that bridge Old and New Testaments. There isn’t a simple “this group is all wrong, while this group is all right” answer.

Finally, as I mentioned in the beginning, Schmidt and I have some different theological views. I try to practice the first-century version of Christianity I read about in the New Testament as closely as possible (if you want to label me, “Messianic” or “Sabbath-keeper” works pretty well). Schmidt is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Most of the focus of his book is on areas where he overlaps with other Christians (i.e. interpreting the New Testament in light of the writers’ use of classical Greek language), but the last two chapters are devoted to the concept of “faith” in the Book of Mormon and other Latter Day Saints’ writings. While I find this aspect of his beliefs rather puzzling, please read this more as an observation than a criticism–those chapters didn’t interest me much, but readers are free to do with them as they will.

Relational Faith was published on March 21, 2023. It is available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook or paperback book (please note this is an affiliate link, which means I’ll receive a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase).

Featured image by Claudine Chaussé

Relational Investment In The New Covenant

It’s amazing how much you notice the reciprocal nature of God’s relationships with people once you start looking for it. I noticed this when I first read Brent Schmidt’s book Relational Grace, and I’m noticing it even more now that I’m reading his follow-up book, Relational Faith. In both these books, Schmidt explains the context for the Greek words charis (grace) and pistis (faith) are relational and reciprocal; they were connected to patron-client relationships, where a more powerful patron creates a covenant relationship with a client who owes them ongoing loyalty in response to their faithfulness and gracious gifts.

Schmidt writes, “in the first century, pistis implied active loyalty, trust, hope, knowledge, and persuasion in the patron-client relationship or within the new covenant brought about through Christ’s Atonement” (Relational Faith, p. 11). Similarly, everyone knew “receiving charis implied entering into reciprocal covenantal relationships” (Relational Grace, p. 63).

So, I’ve been thinking about faith as active trust and the centrality of reciprocal relationship as we went into the Passover this past week. I also took my Tree of Life translation as the Bible I’d be following along with during the Passover service. And I noticed some interesting things. For one, this Messianic translation uses “trust” instead of the more typical “belief” when translating John 14:1. Second (and this is what we’ll focus on today), the words of the New Covenant in John 13-17 have a lot of reciprocal language.

The Importance of Doing Loyal Things

For purposes of this discussion, I’m using “reciprocal” in the sense of “reciprocity.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as “mutual dependence, action, or influence” and ” a mutual exchange of privileges” (Reciprocity). This dictionary also points out that “Reciprocal and mutual share a good deal of meaning; the former may be defined as ‘shared, felt, or shown by both sides,’ and the latter as ‘shared in common'” (Reciprocal). So when we look at this idea in the Bible, we’re looking at places where God says, “Because I do ___, you respond like ___” or where His followers say something like, “It is right for us to do ___, because the Lord has graciously done ___.”

At Jesus’s last Passover on earth with His disciples, He instituted New Covenant symbols and traditions, including the foot washing. During the evening meal, Jesus got up and washed His disciples feet. Then, He told them to reciprocate by doing the same thing for other people.

 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example—you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:14-17, NET

The proper response to Jesus serving you is to go out and serve others. Then, when you understand and do the things He teaches, you’ll receive blessings. In sharp contrast stands Judas, who responded to His Master’s selfless service with betrayal. You might remember I’ve also been reading The Heliand, a Saxon retelling of the gospel account in the style of epic poetry like Beowulf. In this version, the disciples are cast as warrior-companions who owe fealty to their thane, the great king Jesus the Healer. Though we feel Judas’s betrayal deeply in modern translations, I think the Saxons might have understood even more deeply what it meant to a first-century Jewish, Greek, and Roman audience to break faith with someone who you’d bound yourself to in a covenant that should have been faithful and reciprocal.

Image of Bibles on a table overlaid with text from John 14:21, 23,  NET version:  “One who has my commandments and keeps them, that person is one who loves me. One who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will reveal myself to him. ... If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.”
Image by Inbetween from Lightstock

More Reciprocal Instructions

In my church we often refer to the passage of scripture in John 13-17 as the words of the New Covenant. I encourage you to read through that section of scripture and look at how many times the “if you do this, I will do this” or “because I do this, you should do this” pattern repeats. I’ll just quote one of those passages here:

“You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honored by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.

 “Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; remain in my love. If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.  My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

John 15:3-14, NET

If we live in Jesus, He and His Father will live in us. Because they live in us, we’ll bear much fruit. When we bear fruit, it honors God. And so on. The New Covenant is a reciprocal relationship. Like any healthy relationship, there’s trust and reliance on each other to do things that build up the relationship. And as the far more powerful party in the covenant, God gives far more than we do. In John 13-17, Jesus promises to send the gift of the Holy Spirit. He assures those who are loyal to Him that His Father will hear and respond to their prayers. And the main thing He asks from us in return is love, loyalty and obedience. Over and over we read, “if you love me, keep my commandments,” including the one to love each other (John 13:34-35; 14:15, 21, 23; 15:17).

It’s really amazing to think about. God wants to have a real relationship with us. And not one that’s easily ended when someone decides it’s hard or not what they expected or they don’t “feel like it” anymore. He’s invested in us for the longest-term possible–eternity. He wants us to grow and thrive in this relationship, learning to be like Him since we’re becoming part of His family.

A Real, Mutually Invested Relationship

Image of two people holding hands with the blog's title text and the words  "God wants a real, lasting covenant relationship with us where the trust and investment go both ways."
Image by Jantanee from Lightstock

Now this is eternal life—that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.

John 17:3, NET

Our eternal potential hinges on a meaningful, real, covenantal relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Messiah. We can learn more about the type of relationship they want to have with us by looking at the relationship they share.

Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them. I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one.

John 17:10-11, NET

We belong to God, and He gives us to Jesus, and Jesus leaves us safe with God, and they work together so we can be one as they are one. There’s a beautiful, seamless unity in their relationship and they want to welcome us into that oneness as well (John 17). It’s such an astonishing proposition that the apostle John was still marveling at it decades later.

See how glorious a love the Father has given us, that we should be called God’s children—and so we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Loved ones, now we are God’s children; and it has not yet been revealed what we will be. But we do know that when it’s revealed, we shall be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

1 John 3:1-3, TLV

There are expectations connected to this covenant relationship, but they’re expectations that naturally flow from the type of connection we share with God our Father and Jesus our adopted elder brother and betrothed Husband. For example, I expect that my parents will continue loving me as their daughter; they expect I won’t do things to dishonor them or purposefully disgrace the family. My fiancé and I each expect the other to remain faithful to and invest in our relationship now and after we’re married. It’s very similar in our relationship with God–the trust and investment go both ways.

We know God the Father and Jesus Christ are invested in their relationships with people. They’ve “got skin in the game”–they made us in their own image, poured their time and energy into us, and Jesus even died for us. He talked about that at Passover, too: “No one has greater love than this—that one lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14, NET). John brings this up again in his epistles as well, saying, “We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians” (1 John 3:16, NET). There’s even a reciprocal aspect to Jesus’s sacrifice; we can’t pay Him back for such a gift, but there is a proper response we’re supposed to have when we recognize the love that motivated His sacrifice.

Featured image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock

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” (

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 
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.


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.


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.


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).


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.

Featured image by Alyssa Marie from Lightstock