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In previous articles we saw that a covenant is an enduring, supportive relationship in which each partner focuses on 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 partner.
Curses in God’s Covenant with Christians?
Many Christians seem to think it’s okay to disobey God because he loves and forgives us. Scripture says no one can remove a believer from God’s hand (John 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 allows them to receive all of God’s grace and blessings without any other obligations.
We need to consider the 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 described in the Old Testament include curses, meaning that a partner who violates any of the terms will be penalized, lose privileges or even be expelled from the covenant. 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 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 of God” and “in Christ Jesus” (John 3:3; John 1:12; Rom. 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 God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister” (1 John 3:10 NIV).
What does it mean to “do what is right”? To start with, it means to stop living like the world, put on Jesus’ nature, and stop thinking about how to indulge our sinful appetites (1 Pet. 4:3; Rom. 13:14). And the only way to do that is to remain in covenant with God, commit ourselves to pleasing him and rely on him to help us change. We do this because we’re in covenant and we want to please our covenant partner, God.
Continuing to Sin
The reality is that we will fail; we will sin. Jesus received the curse of our sin, so there’s no curse for our failure while we’re in covenant. Instead, God provides a suitable 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 John 1:9). So, when we sin, we can admit we did it, recognize it’s displeasing to God, and ask him to forgive us. He is faithful to our covenant and he rules justly.
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 Cor. 15:3; Col. 2:13). Only rarely, however, does God prevent us from experiencing the natural results 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. Similarly, if I commit a sin, I will experience the natural results 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 John 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 they’ll stop in the future.
This is different from addictive behavior in which a person is incapable of stopping the practice even if they choose to do so. True addictive behavior needs spiritual intervention to set the person free.
Instead, this describes the deliberate, habitual practice of sin; a willful, self-centered disregard for their covenant partner. As we saw in 1 John 3, a person who willfully continues to sin has neither seen God nor known him, which means they’re not in covenant with him. James 5:19-20 offers this perspective: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” This refers to a Christian who has wandered from the truth and describes them as a sinner. Also, Christians who refuse correction from spiritual leadership should be treated as sinners (Matt. 18:17). So, whether the person actually was a Christian or not, an unrepentant, voluntary lifestyle of sin places them outside of God’s covenant.
Now consider the following from Hebrews 10:26-31.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 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” 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, this passage describes them as deserving much more severe punishment. They figuratively trample on the Son of God, who died for their sin, as if he had no value. They treat the blood of the covenant that cleanses them from sin as unholy, common or relatively worthless. They insult the Holy Spirit, by rejecting the grace he provides to help them please God. That is, they willfully and even contemptuously violate their covenant with God if they “deliberately keep on sinning.”
Notice it states the Lord will judge his people; that is, believers. Yes, God is loving and forgiving, but he honors people’s free will and will not force them to stay in covenant with him. By rejecting him, they align themselves with his enemies. Notice that God’s enemies will experience judgment and raging fire, which the context shows includes believers who reject their covenant with God.
Believers can turn away from God, which involves breaking relationship with him and therefore rejecting covenant with him. As we’ve already seen, a Christian 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 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 people to right relationship with him. It’s through this covenant God seals each believer with the Holy Spirit and releases his power to transform them to be like him and eventually 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 experience all this and choose to return to their old way have committed a far worse sin than unbelievers ever could. They experienced God’s goodness firsthand and rejected him! It’s only right that their eternal judgment be more severe, because we’re accountable for what we know (Luke 12:42-48; John 15:22).
We might wonder how much a believer would have to ignore their relationship with God and live for themselves, before God decides he’s no longer in covenant with them and allows them to experience the covenant curse. Instead, we should focus on remaining true to the one who created us in his image, sent his son to die for our sin, brought us into covenant relationship with him, and made us kings and priests in his kingdom. If we focus on the one who blessed us, that’s evidence of a healthy covenant relationship and we needn’t worry about the curse.
The covenant God makes with Christians doesn’t include a curse on those who remain in covenant. If our goal is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, our mistakes and poor choices will produce negative results, but we’ll remain in covenant with him. However, those who experience the covenant and then reject it clearly come under a curse.