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October 08, 2007

“COVENANT PROMISES”

by Professor Robert J. Barth

God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)

Does God keep his word? Can we trust God to do what He says? Our immediate response may be, “Of course!” but do we act that way?  Do we know, believe, and act upon the promises of God? That is part of living a life of faith.

A person of faith is one who knows the promises of God, believes them, and acts upon them, even when circumstances or our five senses would influence us to think otherwise. Remember, “the just shall LIVE by faith” (Romans 1:17) and “We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7). That means we put God and our relationship with Him through faith in Jesus as the highest priority. It means that we make decisions based upon God’s Word rather than our feelings, and that we “believe that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Hebrew 11:6).

You may be asking, “Are you saying that I can and should live my life according to God’s Word, and that I can trust Him to provide for and even bless me if I do?”  The answer is definitely “Yes!” But there is one precondition, or in terms of contract law, a condition precedent that must be satisfied before God is obligated to perform what He promises. The condition is that we must be in covenant relationship with Him.

What does it mean to be in covenant relationship with God? It means that we have repented of our sin and entered into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus as Savior. It means that we have willingly and whole-heartedly surrendered our will to the will and purposes of God. Out of gratitude for the gift of eternal life, we submit ourselves as servants of Jesus. A covenant is different than a contract. A contract focuses upon the exchange of goods or services. A covenant focuses upon relationship. It involves a commitment to another and service for the benefit of another. Marriage is the best human example of a covenant relationship.

Marriage is a voluntary covenant relationship, but once it is entered into, marriage involves certain responsibilities, privileges, and blessings. Marriage is a covenant because it involves the whole being, especially the attitude of one’s heart. It is rooted in a commitment to love, honor, and serve your spouse. It means putting your spouse’s interest above your own.

It requires faith to have a successful marriage: faith in your spouse, faith in God for grace to fulfill your responsibilities, and faith to know that blessings follow fulfilling those responsibilities. None of the blessings of marriage are earned, deserved, or demanded. They are the “fruit” or the natural outcome of a surrendered life (dying to self) and of loving and serving your spouse as God intended.

I must also point out that no one earns the liberty to be married. The liberty to marry is a gift of God, an unalienable right. (Because it is a gift from God for which we have a corresponding stewardship responsibility to God, it is an unalienable right among men.)

Let’s go back to talking about a covenant relationship with God. It also is something you do not earn. If you consider the Old Testament covenants God made with man, whether it is the Adamic covenant of the promise of a Savior to crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15), the covenant with Abraham to make him the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4), or the Old Covenant of the law through Moses (read Exodus 19 and 24), God was the one who initiated the covenant and the recipients of the covenant did nothing to earn or deserve the invitation to be in covenant with God. Also, each covenant was entered into by faith alone and after entering into the covenant, the recipients lived by faith according to the terms of the covenant to receive the blessings. The Israelites were delivered or “saved” out of bondage before they entered into the covenant with God. 

Likewise none of us did anything to deserve or earn the opportunity to enter into the New Covenant of “grace and truth” (John 1:17) through faith in Jesus to save us from eternal damnation. It was God who “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) to be the “propitiation [blood covering] for our sins” (I John 4:10) so that each of us would have the possibility of entering into covenant with God (I John 2:2).  If we are in covenant with God through faith in Jesus, “truly our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3) and we will do what He has asked us to do. It is by grace through faith in Jesus that we are forgiven of our sins. It is by grace through faith in Jesus that we enter into a new life led by the Holy Spirit rather than by the flesh. It is by grace through faith in Jesus that we love others as He has loved us, which sums up all of His commands to us, as well as the law and the prophets. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). (See also Matthew 22:37-40 and Matthew 7:12.)

Each of us is “saved” and born of the Holy Spirit by grace through faith when we “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). This is the greatest promise of the New Covenant, but there are many more as we “work out” or live out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).   

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The writer of the book of Hebrews confirmed that this promise of the New Covenant has been fulfilled through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. (See Hebrews 8:9-11; 10:16-17.) “Now where remission of these [sins and iniquities] is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). Jesus made the complete and final sacrifice for our sins. We can do nothing more to atone for our sins.

The conclusion is this: one who repents of sin and believes in Jesus as Savior is not under the law of works, but is under the “law of faith” (Romans 3:27). One who is in the faith will “do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20) and will do works of faith (James 2:14-26). These works of faith are evidence of a saving faith; they are not works of the law in an attempt to earn justification and salvation.

A true believer in Jesus as Savior and Lord is deemed righteous under the law because Jesus fulfilled the law. Believing Gentiles are grafted into the spiritual nation of Israel (Romans 11:13-24) and are the beneficiaries of the covenant promises of God. 

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (I Peter 2:9)

The Old Covenant foreshadowed the New Covenant and both covenants are covenants of faith. God initiated both covenants and both covenants include promised blessings. The difference is that the Old Covenant looked forward to the Redeemer, but the New Covenant involves a relationship with the Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, the Holy One of God. The New Covenant is a fulfillment of the Old and through the New Covenant our sins are forgiven, our heart is changed, and our eternal salvation is secured.

There is much here to consider. During this week I hope you will look up and meditate upon these and other scriptures, and “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). In the weeks to come we will consider the covenant promises in the context of who we are in Christ and what we have in Christ as we continue to study the commands of Christ.

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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.

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