Covenant = Relationship + Rules

by Sarah

Lately God has been revealing to me a lack of commitment and discipleship among students in churches, and God has confronted me to help challenge these teens find a deeper relationship with Christ. It is a rare thing to desire that deep relationship with Christ, even rarer to pursue it. Yet it is the most fulfilling thing in the world. So many people have no idea how to find a deeper relationship with God. Do they even know God?

I suppose we begin with an introduction: I want you to meet Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God. He is God – part of the Trinity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. He left His position and all of the wonderful things of heaven to come to earth and become human. He lived among humans, walked this earth, and lived a human life facing problems we all do. But He was still fully God. He had a purpose here on earth: to draw people to God the Father. Jesus decided to do whatever it took for us to be in right covenant with God.

In the olden days, God was seen as distant, all-powerful, and judgmental. God had given His laws to His people so that they could live holy and pleasing lives for Him. The problem was that the people couldn’t keep all of the laws all of the time (it’s impossible), and they tried to do it on their own. It didn’t work out. Some gave up, saying that it’s hopeless. Others worked their entire lives, trying to be better rule-followers than everyone else – even to the point of creating rules around the rules so they wouldn’t come close to breaking them.

Jesus came to show them a better way. Jesus began to teach them about His Father and make Him known to them in a more approachable way. The law was given so that people would realize it is impossible to keep. People can’t save themselves. To those who were discouraged and gave up on trying to keep every law, Jesus taught that what was required of them was to come to Him, all who are weary and burdened, and He would give them rest. They take His yoke upon them, and learn from Him, for He is gentle and humble in heart, and they would find rest for their souls, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:38-30) To those who work to keep every single little rule to avoid the wrath of God, Jesus taught that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He was the one and only way to the Father.(John 14:6) What is required of people is surrender.

Jesus became our ultimate example of surrender. He surrendered His place in heaven entitled Him by Sonship to come and live, preach, and teach among people. He showed His disciples what it meant to be a great leader by laying aside His position as leader and washing their feet like a servant. Jesus then surrendered His life to take the punishment due to us for all of the times we broke God’s law-sin. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteous of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The concept that most shapes my understanding of who God is and why He did what He did throughout the whole Bible is the covenant. (My favorite Sunday School lesson to teach is probably the one on the covenant, and that’s not just because my name is involved. But we’ll get to that.) All throughout the first 5 books of the Bible, God is making covenants with His people. We don’t have a whole lot of covenant-making today, but one we do have is the marriage covenant. The husband and wife stand before God and a bunch of people and promises to each other. You’ll probably hear promises like this: I promise …”to love and to cherish you…from this day forward…forsaking all others as long as we both shall live…until death do us part.” They will live together and take care of each other. All that they have belongs to the other one. They give each other rings to wear as symbols of their infinite love for each other, having no beginning or end. They become a new family with one name. Usually they serve some sort of food afterward and take turns shoving cake in each others’ mouths.

The Old Testament covenants had similar elements. When God came to a man named Abram and began to make promises to make his family into a great nation, God shows how serious He was by telling Abram to go prepare meat for the covenant meal. God sends a symbol of Himself to pass between the pieces of meat in a figure 8 – the symbol for infinity. God makes many promises to Abram to take care of Abram, Abram’s family, and his descendants who were yet to be born. God later changes Abram’s name to AbraHam and his wife Sarai’s name to SaraH (make sure you pronounce that “H.”) God literally put part of His name – the sound of breath – into their names. The God of Abraham forever changed their lives.

A covenant is a binding agreement between two parties. It involves two things: a relationship and an agreed-upon set of rules. The rules define what each person in the covenant relationship is to do and what happens if one of them breaks the agreement. This makes the relationship work out – and even thrive. Relationships are two-way streets, after all. God had certain things that He had to do, and so did Abraham. The covenant extended to Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, and as we discover in Romans 11, any who accept salvation in Jesus. The Bible is about God seeking out His people and fulfilling the covenant with them. Again, God has certain parts that He must uphold, but so do His people. If they don’t uphold their end of the agreed-upon set of rules, then the relationship gets broken. This happens over and over in the Old Testament: God’s people break their agreement and wander away from God, He pleads with them to come back, they get into a mess in sin, they cry out to Him to save them, and He restores the covenant with them. This cycle composes much of the Old Testament.

Then Jesus comes in to establish a new covenant. In order for the covenant to be restored, amends had to be made. Something had to be sacrificed – given up – in order for at-one-ment to take place. Life had to be given, because the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22) Under the old covenant, people would bring the best of the animals to offer as sacrifices for their sins. But under the new covenant, Jesus is our sacrifice once and for all. All we have to do is this: ask! Instead of getting what we deserve, we are given life.

Jesus loves us enough to enter into covenant with us. Mere humans. People who rarely get it right. People ruled by stubbornness, selfishness, and pride. People who do evil, who walk in darkness. You. Me. Jesus wants to enter a covenant with us because His love for us is so strong. He can’t bear the thought of us being separated from God. He decided to do whatever it took for us to be in right covenant with God. So He came to us, being made like us, took our sins upon Him, died the death we deserve, conquered sin and death, rose again to life, and now sits at the right hand of God making all sorts of crazy requests for us beyond what we can understand.

This is Jesus: the picture of crazy, extravagant love. And this is what He wants: to live in covenant with you. He wants to start the relationship now. He will take care of the law – He already did. The law brought death; Jesus brought life. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4) Life is not about following a set of rules to ensure you go to heaven one day: it’s about pursuing and deepening a relationship with God not because you want to out of your love for Him. Are you ready for life to be lived to its fullest in Jesus Christ?


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