Most people in our church don’t know much about covenants. As the lead pastor, I guess that’s ultimately my fault. They appreciate the ceremony of some of them. (Who doesn’t like a good wedding?) But for the most part, when you start explaining covenants and the Law, eyes glaze over, and people start thinking about what might be happening on Instagram.
Why? Because people don’t understand their purpose. Writing this article has rekindled a desire in me to help our people see the great importance and benefit of modern-era covenants — not as stuffy obligation but as relational opportunity.
Greater minds than mine have explained the nuance of biblical covenants and the Law of God. Truth be told, I’m not a theologian. Sure, I’ve studied theology. I get it. But I’m not the expert. (Pssst, don’t tell the bishops. I want to keep my job!) It’s true that I’m more of an activator than an academic, so I’ll stick with what I’m good at: relationship.
As the Bible Project (thebibleproject.com) aptly posits, God created this world — and humankind — for the purpose of relationship. He is motivated by love. That same love and desire for relationship needed a means for regular folks like you and me to relate to an all-powerful, all-mighty God. Thus, covenants and the Law were means by which we could relate to God.
But then there was Jesus.
Jesus Himself said He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. That makes sense, if you think about the Law and covenants as means to relationship. Jesus was the ultimate means to relationship with the Father. In fact, He is the only way to relationship with the Father. In that sense, He fulfilled what the Law was trying to do: provide a means by which fallen people could attain to the full measure of the stature of Jesus. Now we see that covenant lived out in the community, His church (Ephesians 4).
Do They Still Matter?
The purpose of life is relationship. Following that logic, relationship requires life. And life, fullness of life, means we have to confront the reality of where and how we live. We are constantly bombarded by temptations, distractions, defeats, hurt and myriad other ploys of the enemy to keep us from life and relationship. Jesus desires that we would have life. John 1:4 tells us that Jesus was “life.” In John 10:10 Jesus tells us that He came so we would have life.
Covenants still matter because they are a means by which we can live a life that cultivates relationship in the midst of a world that is rooting for death.
The purpose of modern-era (post-Resurrection) covenants is not to uphold a law we are no longer bound by, but to get life together.
Get Life … Together
OK, I’ll be honest, that heading is actually the catch phrase for 2019 for our church. But I really thought it appropriate for this article.
Jesus established the church. Part of the function of the church is covenantal relationship. We make a covenant within the body of Christ to live life together: to pray, to give, to take Communion, to baptize, to officiate weddings, to build one another up to love and good works, to devote ourselves to the public reading of the Scripture, and so on. Why? For life … together, that facilitates relationship.
If we want our people to care about covenants, we need to remind them that covenants are much more than tradition. In the same way I need a plan and schedule for my workout to be effective, I need covenants to keep me grounded, reminded, accountable to the life I have in Christ and the fullness of relationship I have with God and His people, the church.
Honoring covenants is honoring to God because it takes seriously His high value for relationship. When you commit to your spouse, it honors God. When you commit to your church through membership in the body of Christ, it honors God. When you commit to be baptized and have Communion, it honors God. Covenants may not look like they did in the Old Testament, but they serve a similar purpose: life devoted to God that cultivates relationship.
When we make the connection between covenants and community, between the Law and life, and between ritual and relationship it helps us appreciate the pattern God has established for His people. We no longer live in obligation to practice, but in opportunity to participate.
I love covenants because I love participating in this life, in relationship, with our amazing God and His people — the church. I hope you will too!
Ben Forsberg is the lead pastor of Citizens Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the founder of WellTold.co. He previously served as the content strategist for Light + Life and as the chief executive officer of SoChurch.1