Thursday, December 10, 2015

“The Covenant”

Fourth Quarter 2015 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"The Covenant"
For the week of December 12, 2015
I approach this topic with incredible humility, as I recognize that the topic is a very serious one, one which involves the entirety of Scripture, and one which has a great deal of confusion in the minds and writings of many people. I agree completely with the first premise stated in the lesson, that there is only one basic covenant, the Everlasting Covenant, the covenant of grace.  God has restated, and deepened His revelation of His covenant throughout human history, in order to meet the needs of His people in different times and settings.
The Covenant is in its essence a promise, a promise of the salvation from every aspect of the sin problem that God will bring to fallen humanity, and has brought in the Second Adam, or Christ, a gift to be received by true living faith.  The Old Covenant was initiated by the people at Mt. Sinai, established on their promise to obey God's Commandments.  While God wants us in our minds, as Daniel did in Daniel 1, to choose not to defile themselves, that decision of the will was based on believing God's promises to empower and enable Him to do God's will, not a human promise to attempt obedience. In Jeremiah 11, we see what I would consider to be the "New Covenant" response, which is to say to God's expressed will, "So let it be", or "Amen."  Man cannot keep their promises to obey God, and to try is to lead to slavery to spiritual discouragement, and thus to failures.  We are to believe God's promises to us, and to "work out" what He has first accomplished and "worked within."  We do not "work FOR" our salvation; we "work OUT" what God has already accomplished, promised, and then gives to us to receive in a true Biblical faith relationship, a faith which works by love. 
God makes a promise to us in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hebrews, etc. to give us a new heart, a new spirit, to cause us to walk in His statues, to write His laws in our heart, after we have seen, appreciated, and responded to the truth that Jesus has tasted death for every man, that He has legally justified the human race through His substitutionary, representative sacrifice and perfect life, so that we respond in love to that unspeakable gift with a faith in all His promises to us.  God wants to dwell in our hearts, rather to merely dwell amongst us.  He wants to have us unite our hearts with His, and to "It is not I, but Christ, who dwells in me."  The faith that works by love in "righteousness by faith" is a heart appreciation of God's covenant promise to the individual believer today, and always.  To make promises to God reveals a spiritual pride, idolatry, and arrogance that prevents the experience and righteousness that God so desires us to have.  He wants us fully surrendered to, and dependent upon His righteousness, His miracle, His recreation, His spiritual work that we cannot do for ourselves, and to so trust Him with our lives that we are at peace, even as we experience the sanctifying work of the Spirit, which sometimes cuts across our pride and self reliance.
Steps to Christ, p. 47.  "...the knowledge of our broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens our confidence in our own sincerity and causes us to feel that God cannot accept us."  This engenders us to bondage.  We are to listen to God's voice, and cherish His promise to us, resulting in us having an abundant experience of grace and knowing that we are a special treasure to God. 
God's covenant with Abraham was fundamental to the entire course of human history.  This is why Paul refers to it in Romans 4, appealing to the Jewish reader to understand the correct understanding of believing God's promise to do as he has promised, instead of working for the reward.  This was built on the Covenant with Noah, and unconditional covenant of love to never again destroy the earth, sealed with the visible sign of the rainbow.  God gives a message of love to the world as to what He wants to do, and will do, to help, protect, or deliver us from the results of sin.  Some quote James 2 to state that Abraham was justified by His works.  The point of the passage and the entirety of scripture is that a true Biblical faith, involving both an intellectual understanding and heartfelt appreciation for the cost and love revealed at Calvary always produces good works and obedience, for love is the fulfilling of the law.  Galatians 5:6 defines it as a faith WHICH WORKS by love. 
Hebrews 4:2 is clear on the source of the failure at Mt. Sinai.  Paul is also clear on this point in Galatians 4.  The OT people had the same Gospel preached to them that we have, but they did not mix it by faith.  They approached the call of God with a flesh response to produce through human effort that which only God can do as a miracle of His grace.  We are called to receive by faith and surrender the divine power which both forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  I John 1:9.  Hebrews 10:19-22 tells us that through faith, we can enter the Most Holy Place with boldness to receive the benefits of Christ's entire Gospel work which deals with every aspect of the sin problem. 

Some claim that the OT is righteousness by works, and the NT is righteousness by faith.  That is false.  I John 3:7 points out that the true experience of righteousness by faith is not only being forgiven and covered by the Robe of Christ's righteousness, but also produces a life of actual "doing righteousness", for it is the miracle of Christ living out His life in us.  The OT people were not saved by works.  They were to mix the gospel with faith, they were to understand the lesson of Passover, the sacrificial system, the righteousness of faith of Abraham. 

1Ch 16:15 Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations;
1Ch 16:16 Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac;
1Ch 16:17 And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,

This passage shows us that all the covenants are the same, a reflection and development of the Everlasting Covenant.  The covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the "same" as the Everlasting Covenant with Israel.  Unfortunately, as can be seen in some of the passages discussing the "Old" Covenant, the Bible calls it "old" because it was a flesh response on the part of Israel, not a covenant of works given by God.  Thus, the discussions on the law are negative when in the context of justification by keeping the law, which is an impossibility and an insult to God
Gal 3:11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
The "New Covenant" experience could be experienced in the "Old" testament.  That is why Jeremiah 31, as well as Ezekiel 36, called to the OT people to experience the heart conversion promised by the miracle of God's grace.  We see this expressed in Psalm 40:8.
Psa 40:8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
The New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ.  It is an experience called the Everlasting Covenant which was always God's method and will for the sin problem.  In essence, there is an pre and post cross phase to the Everlasting Covenant.  They looked forward to it in faith, we look back to it in faith.  There is only one way, and always has been one way of salvation, that of righteousness by faith, a true living faith that works by love.
~Pastor Tom Cusack