Drawn from Covenant and Kingdom, by Mike Breen, and available at 3dm, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Experiencing God, by Henry Blackaby.
Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that we are saved by grace through faith. II Corinthians 5:20 teaches that we are new creations in Christ – the old has gone, the new has come. Jesus taught his disciples to begin their prayers with the words, “Our Father”. John 1:12 tells us that all who received Christ, even those who believed in his name are given the right to be children of God. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven for our sins, given the promise of eternal life, and brought into God’s family. We become brothers and sisters. We gain a new identity.
The key word for Covenant is “relationship”. We are brought into a Covenant relationship with God. When Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, he told his disciples, “This cup is the new covenant which is sealed in my blood for the forgiveness of sins…” (I Corinthians 11:25). The idea of Covenant may be unfamiliar to many people apart from the marriage covenant. Covenants are agreements that take two separated things and make them one. When a man and woman enter into marriage, the two become one. In the ancient world, when two tribal leaders entered into a covenant, they agreed to act as one under certain circumstances (i.e. in times of scarcity or warfare). When a greater king entered into a covenant with a lesser ruler or a defeated enemy, the lesser would commit to do certain things, like pay tribute, in exchange for peace and the privilege of keeping their land.
In Genesis 15, in the story of Abram God brings an ordinary human being into a covenant relationships with himself. The details of this story offer insight into our Covenant with God through Jesus Christ. 1) God brings it about – not Abram. 2) Abram “believed God.” He took God at his word. Note that it doesn’t say Abram believed in God. Abram accepted what God had done for him and believed what God said about him and his future. He received a new identity. Later, he’d even be given a new name. Likewise, we must accept what Christ says about us and who we are. 3) The blessing of God’s covenant with Abram extended to others. He was blessed to be a blessing. Blessing others is our obedient response to Christ. It flows from our new identity in Christ.
Understanding who we are in Christ is important for our witness. It is significant to note that when obedience does not flow from our sense of identity in Christ, we tend to miss the point and dishonor the name of Jesus Christ. (The Bible is full of examples, i.e. Luke 9:51-55, Luke 10:38-42). There is much criticism about the behavior of Christians in history (i.e. the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.) Many of those times came when Christians decided they needed to stand up for God. We would be wiser to remember that God does not need us to fight his battles. Rather, we need God! If we allow Him to direct us, we will be far more effective in our service to the world. The first step is to allow obedience to flow from the Covenant Identity that God gives us. Much is at stake here in terms of our witness for Jesus Christ.
We see these three elements in Covenant.
1) We come to know and relate to God as Father. As children don’t choose their parents, we don’t choose God. God chooses us. The power of the Covenant to endure is based on God’s love, grace, strength, and power. Nothing can undo it. (Romans 8:28-39) The only task related to knowing God as Father is simply to express our love and devotion to God in practices like prayer and worship.
2) Identity – We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Being baptized into the name of the Father gives us a new family name, and a new identity. (Ephesians 1:3-5). We are adopted into God’s family (a royal family), filled with God’s Spirit, and given all associated family privileges: salvation, forgiveness through Christ, the promise of eternal life, membership in the Church (the Body of Christ), spiritual gifts, and privileged access to the Father. These are the greatest possible gifts and are to be gratefully received. And our identity in Christ is greater than all others. Often, over time, God leads us to make other sources of identity subject to him. Sometimes this is painful. We gain a sense of identity, overtly and subtly, from career, abilities, heritage, marital status, accomplishments, family legacy, race, gender, sexuality, social groups, economic position, nationality, etc. Releasing our sense of identity from these things can be very difficult. But all of that really is nothing in comparison to the new identity we find in Christ. (See Phillipians 3:1-12). The tasks related to our identity are to cultivate a relationship with God and hear what God is saying by the Holy Spirit, especially as God speaks through prayer, scripture, circumstances, and our sisters and brothers in Christ.
3) Obedience – Our response to new and wonderful identity God gives us is obedience. Obedience needs to flow from our sense of identity. For example, we forgive others because God has forgiven us. We demonstrate love (even if we don’t feel it) to our friends and even to our enemies because God loved us when we were unlovable. The task associated with Obedience is to respond to what God is revealing to us and take action accordingly—for this brings glory to the Father.
1) How hard is it to accept what God has done for us?
2) Can you think of helpful analogies for the Covenant relationships? (For example, education or adoption.)
3) How do the following passages in the gospels help you understand the idea of being in a covenant relationships with God? (See John 1:12, John 3:1-17, Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 15:11-31)
4) Apart from Christ, where do you gain your sense of identity? Why is it so hard to allow our identity to Christ to trump all other sources of identity? What does finding our primary identity in Christ mean for the other sources of identity, work and family, for instance?
5) Is it tempting to jump to obedient action rather than to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
6) Is God saying anything? What will you do about it?