Summary: God’s covenant with Christians includes terms that are binding on all parties.
Each covenant, including those in the Bible, includes a statement of terms that defines the covenant’s purpose, identifies what’s included and defines the role and responsibilities of each party. God’s new covenant with Christians includes such terms.
The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament states, “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Heb 9:15) Jesus is the mediator or reconciler, one who resolves the issues that separate the covenant parties. Our sin separated us from God under the terms of the first covenant — that is, under the Law of Moses — so Jesus died as a ransom for us that we might be reconciled to God.
Hebrews states this is an eternal covenant, which means God will never violate or cancel it. (Heb 13:20) We’re incapable of doing God’s will and pleasing him by our own efforts, but through this covenant he equips us with everything we need to do so.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Col 1:21-22) According to this passage, God’s goal is to bring us into his presence, fully dedicated to him, completely blameless and totally beyond reproach. Jesus made all that possible by dying in our place, as payment for our sin.
When we accept God’s offer of covenant relationship and Jesus’ reconciling work, the Holy Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ ….” (Rom 8:16-17) The word translated “testifies” in this passage means to confirm or testify in support of another’s claim. Basically, when we call God our Father, the Holy Spirit serves as a legal witness to confirm we are God’s children, his legal heirs.
From these and other passages, we see that the Father sent the Son to die in our behalf to pay the penalty for our sin. The Son’s role was to reconcile us to God by fulfilling the covenant terms in our behalf, because we cannot. Since Jesus met all the requirements for all people for all time, the covenant itself is irrevocable and eternal. The only issue is whether each of us individually accepts it. The Holy Spirit serves as a legal witness that we have entered covenant, molds us into God’s image, teaches and guides us, and enables us to do God’s work by providing what we need and actually producing the results for us.
God fulfilled all of his covenant responsibilities and completed its purpose, which is to totally reconcile us to himself. We enter that covenant through faith in his redemptive work, not based on our abilities or qualifications. Having entered covenant with God, however, we assume specific responsibilities; not to enter covenant or please him, but as a result of being in covenant with him.
What are our covenant responsibilities? We could list everything the New Testament (“new covenant”) says we should do, but let’s examine three basic ones.
Early in his ministry, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) The word translated “repent” is a compound Greek word; the first part refers to transformation and the second part refers to your mind or what you think. So to repent literally is to change the way we think. It involves deliberately changing our attitude, perspective, priorities and standards; reprogramming our minds to conform them to what the Bible says. This is our primary responsibility in the new covenant: to change the way we think. Because what we think determines what we do, focusing on behavior while ignoring the way we think is a major problem. We need to change our thinking, then behavioral change will be automatic.
The Book of Acts records the Apostle Paul as saying, “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20-21) Notice the sequence: repent, turn to God, prove they’ve repented by what they do. As Jesus said, you can recognize a tree by its fruit. (Lk 6:44) You can tell whether I’ve effectively repented by evaluating what I do. If there isn’t significant change in my life, then I really didn’t repent, even if I think I did. Changed behavior is a direct result of repentance, not repentance itself.
Repentance is one of our primary covenant responsibilities. Now let’s consider another.
The Book of Hebrews states that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6) Faith is a key to entering covenant with God, yet he even gave us faith as a gift. (Eph 2:8) The real issue then is whether we use that faith to believe he exists and rewards us for seeking him. The Book of James states our faith is dead, useless or ineffective unless we act on it. (Jas 2:17, 26) So the key is using our faith, not just possessing it.
Another of our primary covenant responsibilities is obedience. Jesus told his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (Jn 15:14-17)
The word translated “friend” generally refers to someone in a dear, warm or loving relationship; much more than a casual acquaintance. In some cases, the word takes on greater significance, such as in James 2:23: “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” Likewise, if Jesus in John 15:14 referred to his disciples merely as dear, warm or loving friends, his statement suggests a very strange relationship: “You are my close friends if you do what I command.” Instead, they became covenant friends, as Abraham did. This interpretation is reinforced by Jesus’ statement that he told them everything he learned from the Father, who will give them anything they ask in Jesus’ name or behalf.
So obedience is a natural consequence of our covenant relationship with God. We don’t qualify for such a relationship by obeying him, but we gladly obey him because he chose to make covenant with us.
The terms of our covenant with God give us specific responsibilities, including repenting, using our faith and being obedient. May we become so impressed with the power and beauty of our covenant with God that we gladly fulfill our responsibilities.