Covenant: (Biblical Definition, via Logos Bible Software): An agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.
I grew up in church, so I grew up hearing about how Israel was a “covenant people”, and how we, as those who believe in and follow Christ today, are also “covenant” people.
But I always found it strange. Odd, even. If God is God….big, holy, large, king over everything, “in charge”–then why would he “covenant” (verb) with us, who are nobodies? Why would he make an agreement with anyone, about anything? And, if we can’t do anything to “earn” God’s love (though, as I’ve written about many times before, I’ve often wished there was a way to do just that–Checkbox Christianity seems so much easier, than grace-bathed Christianity), then why the stipulations that come with a covenant–the blessings when we obey the laws of the covenant.
And the curses, when we do not.
I’m blogging through Dr. John Frame’s humongous book, Systematic Theology, published by P&R Publishing. This is my third installment, which will cover Chapter Four, “The Lord’s Covenants”. (I’ll add links to my first two installments, below) I’m so grateful to P&R Publishing for the opportunity to write my way through reviewing this book (you can find their website and information on how to purchase the book at this link: P&R Publishing). And, this week, I am also grateful for Dr. Frame, who graciously exchanged encouraging emails with me this week. I travel for work, and we shared a chuckle over how I’ve been lugging this book through airports lately. Thank you, Dr. Frame, for your kindness!
Back to the question at hand, this week: Covenants.
Why would our holy, righteous, and sovereign God choose to have a covenant relationship with us, his creation?
This chapter is dense with rich information on covenants, explained in ways that I hadn’t quite thought about before. And, of course this space is far too small, to do this chapter justice. In the same vein, certainly there are books aplenty that examine covenant in much more depth;….the scope of a Systematic Theology (no matter how many pages it may contain) can not cover every subject to that extent, obviously. But Dr. Frame has taken the concept of covenant and placed it in a categorical framework, if you will, that not only points to, but spirals…or funnels…or ushers us to the new covenant that we have in Jesus, our Lord (see chapter 2):
All previous revelation, all previous covenants, are fulfilled in Him. He is the prophet greater than Moses……the Priest who replaces the priests of the temple….the King greater than David. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross fulfills and replaces the animal sacrifices of the temple, for only his sacrifice took away the sins of his people. It is in Jesus’ death that his people have died to sin, and in his resurrection we, too, have been raised to newness in life. (pg 79, please see book for scripture referenced in this paragraph)
All of those pre-Christ covenants–the covenant in the Garden of Eden, the covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the covenant with Israel under Moses, the covenant with David–each of these were a type of foreshadowing (my stab at an explanation, not Frame’s) of the covenant that was to come, and that has come, and that is….the “relationship of commitment between God and his people.”
And we, as those who are believers and followers of Christ, live in that covenant of grace.
But if our salvation is based in grace and faith, then what role does obedience play? If we can’t “earn” that grace, and if our salvation is only obtained in the sacrificial act of the sacrificial death, burial and resurrection of our Lord, then what is the motivation to uphold our part of the “commitment” of a covenant with God–that of obedience to what is laid before us, in scripture?
And, what purpose would it be, to God–what benefit to Him–to be in such a relationship with us?
I think Dr. Frame sums it up best, in his description of the unconventional/conventional nature of the new covenant we have, in Chris:
The new covenant is unconditional in that its very content is God’s unconditional gift of a new heart, fulfilling all covenant conditions. But it is conditional in that those conditions are real and necessary. We are justified by faith alone, not by any effort to earn our salvation. (Rom. 3:23-24; Eph. 2:8-9). But the faith by which we are justified is a living and obedient faith (Gal. 5:6, Eph. 2:10; James 2:14-26). (pg 80-81)
Our salvation, which is the core of the covenant we are in with our God, is an unconditional gift from our God.
This gift fulfills all the stipulations of the covenant. All of them.
And the covenant is conditional, because those stipulations are very real. And necessary.
Without this gift of justification through faith-the very grace of that gift from God, we can not meet those stipulations.
We are justified by faith. That’s it. Nothing else. We can not earn our salvation, no matter how hard we try.
But our faith is not a dead, passive faith. It is an active, alive faith lived out in obedience……because we are in this covenant.
And, we love the one who has given us this covenant.
And, we are loved by the one who has entered into this covenant with us.
He loves us.
And that is why is gives us the gift of the fulfilled covenant of mercy, grace, justification and sanctification.
He is a good, good, King.
I want to leave you tonight with this verse, that has meant a tremendous amount to me over the last 7 years. There are times–as I am sure there are for you, as well–where I struggle to sense this good king’s presence. There are multiple times when I wonder, “Does He see me? Does He know how very hard this life can be sometimes? Does He remember me, the one He has adopted? The one He has saved? The one whom He has gifted with this fulfilled unconditional/conditional covenant of grace?”
I think we can find hope in these words from Exodus, that so very well sum up His covenant with the Israelites and Moses, because they ring true for us even today…even when we may not sense His presence and when the things of this world threaten to overcome us:
24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
God does hear our cries.
God does remember his covenant with his people.
God does see.
And, God knows.
And, in His sovereignty, He will act.
Other posts in this series: