Summary: The new covenant God makes with Christians doesn’t include a curse on those who remain in covenant, but those who experience the covenant and then reject it clearly come under a curse.
In previous articles we saw that a covenant is an enduring, supportive relationship in which the partners are fully dedicated to the other’s well-being. Blessings and benefits are vital parts of any covenant relationship. Most covenants also include statements of penalties or curses for violating the terms, because humans are inherently self-centered and will either deliberately or unintentionally do something harmful to their covenant partner.
Curses in God’s Covenant with Christians?
Many Christians seem to think there are no real consequences for disobeying God because he loves and forgives us. Scripture says no one can remove a believer from God’s hand. (Jn 10:28) It also says Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us and there’s no condemnation for those who are in him. (Gal 3:13; Rom 8:1) Based on these verses, many think repeating a sinner’s prayer is sufficient to receive all of God’s grace and blessings without any other obligations.
We need to consider those scriptures more carefully. First, it’s true no one can remove me from God’s protection or cancel my salvation, but can I choose to walk away? Second, Christ redeemed me from the curse of the law, meaning I won’t be condemned to eternity in hell when I sin because Jesus died in my behalf, but does that mean there are no consequences when I sin? Third, I’m not under condemnation because God set me free from the law of sin and death, so I’m no longer a slave to sin, but what if I choose to continue sinning?
Most covenants we find in the Old Testament include curses, meaning that a partner who violates any of the covenant terms will be penalized, lose privileges or even be expelled from the covenant; that is, those are conditional covenants. The only unconditional covenant God made in the Old Testament is the one he made with Abraham.
The new covenant God made with Christians is unconditional because God the Father made it with Jesus the man and the Son of God, and neither the Father nor the Son will ever violate it. It’s based on God’s unconditional love and his desire for everyone everywhere to enter into that relationship. Obviously, not everyone will enter the covenant and those who do not will remain condemned for their sin.
So what about those of us who enter the covenant and become Christians? We’re said to be “born again,” “children/sons of God” and “in Christ Jesus.” (Jn 3:3; Jn 1:12; Ro 8:1) We soon find out, however, there are responsibilities associated with those phrases, because each covenant partner has specific responsibilities. For example, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.” (1 Jn 3:10)
What does it mean to “do what is right”? Basically, it means to stop living like the world, put on Jesus’ nature, and stop thinking about how to indulge your sinful appetites. (1 Pet 4:3; Ro 13:14) And the only way to do that is to remain in covenant with God, commit yourself to pleasing him and rely on him to help you change. You do this because you’re in covenant, which means your primary motivation is to please your covenant partner, God.
Continuing to Sin
The reality is that we will fail; we will sin. Jesus took the curse of our sin upon himself, so there is no curse for our failure while we’re in covenant. Instead, God provides an appropriate response for us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:8–9) So, when we sin, we can confess our sin to God, acknowledge it’s displeasing to him and ask him to forgive us.
Because God is faithful and just, he forgives our sin when we confess it, which means he doesn’t punish us. Jesus received all the punishment for our sins and God forgave us, so it would be unjust for him also to punish us for our sin. (1 Co 15:3; Col 2:13) Only rarely, however, does God prevent us from experiencing the natural consequences of our sin. One of the spiritual laws he created to govern our universe is the law of sowing and reaping; also called reciprocity or cause and effect. For example, if I step off a high ledge, I will fall. Likewise, if I commit a sin, I will experience the natural consequence of that sin unless God in his grace supernaturally intervenes.
Then there’s the issue of habitual or persistent sin. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 Jn 3:6) Other Bible translations word this differently, but the key is the grammatical tense of the word translated “sinning” or “sin”; it means the person actively is sinning and there’s no evidence he’ll stop in the future.
This is not the same as addictive behavior in which a person is incapable of stopping the practice even if he chooses to do so. True addictive behavior requires spiritual intervention by others. Instead, this describes the deliberate, habitual practice of sin; a willful, self-centered disregard for pleasing the other covenant partner. Such a person has neither seen God nor known him, which means they’re not in covenant with him. James 5:19-20 is very similar: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” This refers to a “brother” or Christian who has wandered from the truth and it describes him as a sinner. If a Christian refuses correction from spiritual leadership, he should be treated as a sinner. (Mt 18:17) So, whether the person actually was a Christian or not, an unrepentant, voluntary lifestyle of sin places a person outside of God’s covenant.
Now consider the following from Hebrews 10:26-31.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “the Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The Book of Hebrews was written to believers, so the “we” in verse 26 refers to Christians. It states that believers who deliberately keep on sinning are no longer covered by Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins; that is, they must pay the price for their own sins, which is separation from God. In fact, verse 29 describes them as deserving much more severe punishment because they treated the blood of the covenant as unholy, among other things; this is a specific reference to their covenant with God. Notice verse 30 states the Lord will judge his people; that is, believers. Verse 27 states that God’s enemies will experience judgment and raging fire, which the context shows includes believers who reject their covenant with God. Yes, God is loving and forgiving, but ultimately he honors people’s free will and will not force them to stay in covenant with him.
Believers can turn away from God, which involves breaking relationship with him and therefore rejecting covenant with him. As we’ve already seen, a brother who wanders from the truth or rejects correction from spiritual leadership is considered a sinner.
The Bible states that believers who once again become entangled in the world’s corruption are worse off than if they had remained a sinner and never known the Lord Jesus. (2 Pet 2:20-21) It’s essential that we remain alert to our own spiritual condition and that of other Christians, because it’s better to have never been in covenant with God than to accept his covenant then reject it!
Why would God treat someone so severely for entering covenant with him then rejecting it? This is the only covenant God uses to restore man to right relationship with him. It’s through this covenant God seals each believer with the Holy Spirit and releases his power to transform the believer to be like him and ultimately reign with him in his kingdom. This covenant reflects God’s unlimited love for us and his intent to include us in everything he does.
Those who experienced all this and choose to return to their old way have committed a far worse sin than unbelievers ever could. They’ve experienced God firsthand and rejected him! It’s only right that their eternal judgment be more severe, because we’re accountable for what we know. (Lk 12:42-48; Jn 15:22)
The new covenant God makes with Christians doesn’t include a curse on those who remain in covenant. However, those who experience the covenant and then reject it clearly come under a curse.
If our goal is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, our mistakes and poor choices will produce natural consequences, but we’ll remain in covenant with him.