Covenant Identity is Essential

(Reading time: 13 minutes) In today’s western cultures, the average person has multiple changes of clothes in their closet, but in less affluent parts of the world and times in history that was not the case. In those times, the average person typically had one outer garment, which usually was custom-made by one of the women in the household and unique in some way. As a result, the coat, robe or outer garment represented the person.

We see examples of this in the Bible. For example, the famous story of Joseph and his robe, which had an especially rich design or color. It made his brothers jealous because it was evidence he was their father’s favorite son (see Gen. 37:3-4). Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son provides another example: “But while [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him” (Luke 15:20, NIV). How could his father recognize him from a great distance? Because he could see the features of his outer garment long before he could recognize his face.

So when two people entered covenant in such a culture, they typically swapped their outer garments as a significant symbolic gesture. It represented each person giving themselves, sharing the other’s identity and no longer living only for themselves. In a sense, the two became one and from that moment each was associated with the other.

God’s Covenant with Adam & Eve

God created Adam and Eve in his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). The Bible states his form was similar to a human’s (Ezek. 1:26); or maybe it’s more correct to say our form is similar to his. It describes God as having a face (Gen. 32:30), eyes (Heb. 4:13), a mouth (1 Kings 8:15), a head and hair (Rev. 1:14), a chest (Rev. 1:13), a waist (Ezek. 1:27), hands (Ps. 19:1) and feet (Exod. 24:10). So his body and ours have similar features. The Bible describes God’s glory as a brilliant light surrounding him (Ezek. 1:27-28) and states that he crowned or surrounded humanity with glory (Psa. 8:5). So it’s reasonable to conclude that Adam and Eve had a bright, glowing appearance similar to God’s.

The Bible never states God created any other beings in his image, including angels, so creating humans in his own image is clear evidence of shared identity.

God created Adam and Eve as his peers in a sense, as much as any created beings could be peers of their Creator; not identical in form or status, but similar. He gave them – therefore, all humanity – qualities and attributes similar to his own. He also gave us a domain to rule over – all physical creation – similar to his ruling in every realm. I suggest God did this because he wanted relationship with someone who had a lot in common with him.

We don’t see a biblical reference to God’s covenant with Adam and Eve, but we see typical covenantal elements in their relationship, beginning with a shared identity.

God’s Covenant with Abraham

God told Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Gen. 17:7). There aren’t references to them sharing coats either figuratively or literally, but after establishing the covenant with Abraham, God shared identity with him by calling himself “the God of Abraham” (Exod. 3:15; Acts 3:13).

God’s Covenants with Israel

Clothing had a significant role in God’s covenants with Israel, which included appointment of priests to represent him and the people in specific covenant duties. God gave detailed descriptions in the first covenant of the garments the priests were to wear. “These are the garments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother Aaron and his sons, so they may serve me as priests. Have them use gold, and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, and fine linen” (Exod. 28:4-5; see vv. 6-43). The priesthood continued in the second covenant and there were no changes to the priests’ covenant duties or garments. These were “sacred garments” (vv. 2-3) because they represented the relationship between God and the people; also, the priests were to wear them only when performing their sacred covenant duties.

Jonathan and David’s Covenant

“Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David” (1 Sam. 18:3-4). Jonathan was the king’s son and heir to the throne, but he gave what likely was his royal robe to David the shepherd as an expression of shared covenant identity.

Shared identity includes a loss of independence, a death to self, as we clearly see in Jonathan’s dedication to David. As Jonathan realized his father, King Saul, wanted to kill David, he told David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you” (1 Sam. 20:4); clearly risking his own safety for David’s sake (see vv. 30-33). Jonathan concluded David would become king and he was willing to be second-in-command (23:17).


In marriage, the husband and wife assume a shared identity as a couple, not just two individuals. The bride and groom don’t exchange clothing – which would be weird! – but they view themselves as belonging to each other, and their family and friends associate them with each other. When people think of one of them, they often also think of the other because they have a common identity through the marriage covenant.

Death to self and independence is essential to an effective marriage. Marriage is a merger, not a partnership, so spouses hold nothing back from each other. This is the secret to real married life, real happiness, real love. Unfortunately, most marriage partners are self-centered and they behave based on how their spouse makes them feel, so their marriage may end in failure without major adjustments. Even Christian marriages won’t be successful as God defines success unless both husband and wife view themselves as a couple and live for each other rather than themselves.

God’s New Covenant with Christians

God Put on Our Identity

Shared identity also is a key element of God’s covenant with us. God sent his Son to become a human to spread the good news of his kingdom and covenant relationship (Gal. 4:4; Luke 4:43). The Son of God became the Son of man, setting aside his equality with God and “taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6-7). The words “nature” and “likeness” in this passage refer to shape, visual form or external appearance; that is, the Son of God – Jesus – took our identity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1, 14). God put on our identity through Jesus!

Why would he do this? Specifically, Jesus came into our world as a perfect, sinless human to make covenant with God as a human, to take our sins upon himself and die in our place so we might be reconciled to him in covenant relationship. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). No sinful human could ever uphold the terms of a covenant with God, so he needed a sinless human to mediate or ratify the covenant in behalf of sinful humanity. God the Father and Jesus the man initiated the covenant between themselves, so we now can enter that covenant by accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for us in faith. God put on our identity to make it possible through covenant for us to put on his. Jesus paid an extremely high price for sharing identities with us.

We Put on God’s Identity

We defined a covenant as a loving, enduring, legal relationship in which each partner focuses on the other’s well-being and success, including what they deserve, need or want. Let that sink in, because it requires a radical change in the way we think, which is the literal meaning of biblical repentance. Our default thinking is self-centered, which motivates us to be preoccupied with ourselves. Covenant relationship requires us to put that self-centered perspective to death. Not just let it die, but actively put it to death by repenting – deliberately transforming our minds, changing what and how we think.

The initial step to changing our perspective of our relationship is rejecting or “putting off” our “old self” – our previous way of thinking and behaving. We do this by “arming” or preparing ourselves with the same attitude Jesus had when he chose to suffer in our behalf (1 Pet. 4:1). We “were taught, with regard to [our] former way of life, to put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds” (Eph 4:22–23). “Putting off” or laying aside our “old self” is essential to transforming our thoughts and attitudes; that is, it’s essential to repenting. For example:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you…. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Eph. 4:31–32; 5:3–5)

Our default or old way of thinking likely would consider these requirements harsh and legalistic. In contrast, however, covenant thinking motivates us to view these as expressions of extreme gratefulness for what God has done for us and a desire to please our covenant partner. Notice that such attitudes and behavior disqualify people from “any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Such people are living for themselves, independently of God, not in covenant relationship with him. As covenant people, our focus is on what he deserves, needs or wants.

One thing he wants is for us to “clothe ourselves with” or become like Jesus by “putting on” his attitudes and attributes. Those include compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love (Col 3:12-14). This is like putting on a piece of clothing, something that’s not inherently part of us. We’re to put on that “new self, which God created to be like him in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24; also, Col. 3:10). We can’t save or transform ourselves, but we can and must repent by changing the way we think. As we do that, God makes the needed changes in us. Once we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, making him our Savior and Lord, God begins the process of conforming us to Jesus’ image, who in turn is the image of God (Rom. 8:29; Col.1:15).

We must realize, however, that God honors our free will and won’t change us without our willing participation. As we repent – change our thinking – our old attitudes and behavior become repulsive to us, and we choose to “put on” those that please God. This may seem artificial or even hypocritical at first, but God responds by cleansing us (Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). This is a continuing process called sanctification, in which we become progressively more compatible with him in nature, thought and action. We actively engage in sanctification by “putting off” attitudes and behavior incompatible with God’s, while we “put on” or “clothe” ourselves with compatible ones. This is our responsibility and isn’t something he does for us.

Jesus said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father (John 14:9). Similarly, Father wants us “conformed to the image of his Son” and to “participate in the divine nature,” and as we do our part, he transforms us with “ever-increasing glory” (Rom. 8:29; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2 Cor. 3:18). Becoming like Jesus by developing a family resemblance is a vital part of our covenant, not an option. Doing so enables us to function more effectively in Father’s kingdom because our nature and behavior become more compatible with his.

Also, people must see that we’re different and be attracted to the godly nature in us. Our spiritual, ideological and behavioral differences may be repulsive to them at first, but they still can be drawn to our transformed nature. Our differences are evidence and part of the good news of the kingdom, making our covenant identity an important part of the gospel message, which people will either accept or reject.

Kingdom Significance

The moment we accepted Jesus as our Savior, God adopted us in covenant as his children and we became identified with him (John 1:12; Rom. 8:16); we immediately received covenant identity. As our Father, God also made us heirs of his kingdom (Gal. 4:7). More than that, he made us co-heirs with Jesus according to Romans 8:17. The word translated “co-heirs” in that verse refers to people who share an inheritance, so you and I share in the same inheritance Jesus received as a resurrected human!

Our Father has been pleased to give us the kingdom (Luke 12:32) and knowledge of its secrets (Matt. 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10), which are hidden from those outside the royal family (Matt. 11:25). These secrets or mysteries are what we might consider “insider information,” the keys to the kingdom (Matt. 16:19) – details of kingdom assets and its operation, and our privileges, benefits and responsibilities.

This is why Jesus said he and Father will give us whatever we ask in his (Jesus’) name (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23). Asking in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean just tagging those words onto the end of our prayer. Acting in someone’s name is doing or saying what they would and expecting the same results as if they did it. We ask in Jesus’ name, in the same authority and privilege Jesus has. Why? Because Jesus and we are members of Father’s family and co-heirs of his kingdom.

Because God adopted us into his family, Jesus is our older brother, the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:29; Heb 2:11). We’re members of the royal family and have privileges we don’t deserve. We’re redeemed from all wickedness and the curse of the law (Titus 2:14; Gal. 3:13). God credits our faith in him as righteousness (Rom. 4:24) and considers us holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4; 5:27). We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), which means we can know his thoughts, perspective and feelings. We’re privileged to have all of this and more; not because we deserve it, but because God graciously and lavishly blesses us as his children (Eph 1:7-9). No other spiritual beings in heaven or elsewhere share this status; only humans who receive the salvation Jesus made available to us. We are indisputable evidence of God’s grace for all the world and spiritual realm to see (Eph. 2:6-7).

So, how should this affect our attitude and behavior? We should learn to conduct ourselves as children of the King, members of the royal family. We should serve him to the best of our ability and for his glory by conducting kingdom business and faithfully representing him in everything we do.

God is self-sufficient and can govern his kingdom without anyone’s help, but he wants to engage others in what he does. He even presides over an assembly in heaven and involves its members in his decisions (Psa. 82:1; 89:5). The Old Testament provides a notable example, in which he asks them for suggestions. Not because he couldn’t think of a good solution by himself, but because he honored them and wanted them involved (1 Kings 22:19-22). Likewise, he wants us actively engaged in his kingdom in this life and even more so in eternity.

What kingdom responsibilities or duties does shared covenant identity impose on us? For one, shared identity with God requires us to represent him properly in the world. Jesus said anyone who has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:9) and Father predestined us to be conformed to Jesus’ image (Rom. 8:29). This means each of us should represent aspects of Jesus’ and Father’s nature in our unique ways, based on our spiritual gifts. How can people know anything about God’s nature if we don’t become like him? If we’re angry or treat people disrespectfully, for example, why would they believe us when we say God loves them? Rather, as we become increasingly like Jesus, the more effectively we represent him in life.

As members of Father’s kingdom and co-heirs with Jesus, we rule as kings over the realms he assigns us, acting as his agents. Ideally, we should be learning to reign in life over our own domains – our family, our realm of influence and such – applying kingdom laws and principles in a godly manner (Rom. 5:17). After Jesus returns to reign on earth for 1000 years, we’ll reign with him over the nations on the current earth (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:26; 5:10; 20:6). I suggest during that time we’ll continue learning how to apply kingdom laws and principles, but then doing so over the nations, not just our personal domains. We’ll also gain fuller insight to God’s nature and kingdom, and finally understand then what’s happening in our lives now. After the millennium, when God replaces the present creation with a new heaven and new earth, we will reign with him “for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). I suggest then we’ll also judge or rule over the angels in the spiritual realm (1 Cor. 6:3). God’s plan is systematic and orderly, as is the way he matures us and conforms us to Jesus’ image (Rom. 8:29).

In addition to reigning within God’s kingdom, we’ll also serve as priests of God and Christ (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). What will we do as members of that holy, royal priesthood? We’ll offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus and declare his praises (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Priests of God also represent him to people in his kingdom, teaching them kingdom laws and principles while accurately representing his nature.

For now, as members of God’s royal family, we should be preoccupied with doing kingdom business, focusing on doing Father’s work while also handling the relative trivia of daily life. Jesus said people shouldn’t believe him unless he does his Father’s works because he only does what he sees his Father doing (John 1:37; 5:19; 10:25). He said the same thing about his teaching, that he didn’t speak on his own, but only said what Father told him to say (John 7:16; 12:49-50; 14:24). Jesus set the example for us: we’re to do the works he did and he’ll enable us to do even greater things (John 14:12).

Jesus said while he was in the world, he was the light of the world (John 9:5). Light reveals or makes things visible and, as his followers and kingdom representatives, we also have become the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). Therefore, we’re to show the reality of God’s kingdom and nature, and reveal both the good and evil that exist in the world. We’re to tell people that God reconciled them to himself through Jesus and won’t hold their sins against them if they accept Jesus’ sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:18-20). We also need to allow others to see our “light” so they can see our good deeds and glorify our Father (Matt. 5:16).

Jesus also said we’re the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). Salt improves the flavor of food and preserves it by fighting decay or spoilage. As royal family and kingdom representatives, we must oppose the forces that cause decay or spoilage in our culture and people’s lives. We also are responsible for improving people’s lives by spreading the good news of the kingdom, introducing them to Jesus, healing them, delivering them from spiritual oppression and helping those who need it. That is, making their lives “taste” better.

Jesus chose us and appointed us to bear fruit – kingdom results – as we go about our daily lives (John 15:16). We figuratively are Jesus’ body on earth, fully representing him and acting in his behalf (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:13), doing the work of Father’s kingdom as he did.

As we take on Jesus’ nature and become increasingly like him, our effectiveness in Father’s kingdom increases because our will, thoughts and actions are more compatible with his. Otherwise, our incompatibility is counterproductive because our thoughts and behavior interfere with God’s will. As we become less like the world and more like him, we become more effective in life and his kingdom.

Becoming like Jesus isn’t optional. Covenant identity is essential for covenant life and engaging in Father’s kingdom.

Find other articles about the Kingdom and the Covenant.