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A covenant defines an unconditional, enduring and loving relationship in which each party is fully committed to the other’s success and well-being within the covenant terms. Each covenant, such as those in the Bible, includes a statement of terms that defines the covenant’s purpose, identifies what’s included and defines each party’s role and responsibilities. God’s new covenant with Christians includes such terms.
The book of Hebrews explains how God made it possible for us to enter covenant with him. “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, NIV). Jesus is the mediator or reconciler, one who resolves any 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 the new covenant is eternal, 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 (Heb. 13:21).
“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, blameless and 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. When we call God our Father, the Holy Spirit confirms we legally 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. When we do, the Holy Spirit begins molding us into God’s image, teaches us, guides us, provides what we need to do God’s work, and produces the results for us.
God fulfilled all of his covenant responsibilities and completed its purpose, which is to 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.
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 has come near” (Matt. 4:17). The word translated “repent” is a compound Greek word; the first part refers to transformation and the second part refers to our minds or what we 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 – changing 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.
Acts records the apostle Paul as saying, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20-21). Notice the sequence: repent, turn to God, and prove they’ve repented by what they do. As Jesus said elsewhere, you can recognize a tree by its fruit (Luke 6:44). We can tell whether someone effectively repented by evaluating what they do. If there isn’t significant change in their life, then they really didn’t repent, even if they think they did. Changed behavior is a direct result of repentance, not repentance itself.
Repentance is one of our most important covenant responsibilities. Now let’s consider another.
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 is whether we use that faith to believe he exists and rewards us for seeking him. James states our faith is dead, useless or ineffective unless we act on it (James 2:17, 26). So the key is using our faith, not just having it.
Another of our main 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…. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:14-15, 17).
The word translated “friend” usually refers to someone in a dear, warm or loving relationship; much more than a casual acquaintance. Sometimes 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.” Also, if Jesus in John 15:14 referred to his disciples merely as dear, warm or even loving friends, his statement suggests a very strange relationship: “You are my 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 covenant duty. 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 all our responsibilities.
God’s covenant with Christians includes terms that are binding on all parties. Our most important responsibilities include repenting, using our faith, and being obedient.