It’s a New Year! As we seek a fresh start in 2015, new resolutions and new covenants abound. Many of us get a jump start by resolving to lose at least the weight we acquired between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Others commit to bigger goals of weight loss, physical fitness, spending more time with family or greater regularity to a devotional life. We do so knowing well that such resolutions rarely last. We will likely regress to the old ways, despite all our good intentions.
Nothing predicts behavior like past behavior.
More serious than resolutions are covenants,often made over the holidays. Young people become engaged with June weddings in mind. Puppies are adopted. Spiritual commitments are initiated with good intent but not consistently maintained. What’s with us making and breaking these resolutions and covenants? Some we keep faithfully and others we cast off like the shells of pistachio nuts.
Life is defined by covenants: formal and informal agreements in which we resolve to do or not do something. Our formal covenants are legally valid agreements. They spell out the major consequences to ensue if we break them. When we sign a mortgage, get married, swear an oath of office, enlist in the military or obtain a driver’s license, we enter into formal covenants. If we are clergy, ordination and commissioning are covenants. Our nation enters into covenants on our behalf when our leaders sign treaties or pass laws.
Our formal covenants are serious agreements with serious commitments on both sides, and they carry the full impact of the law when broken. Informal covenants take countless forms, including doctors’ appointments, coffee dates and fundraising pledges. Whether formal or informal, covenants are best honored when carefully considered in the first place and not entered into casually.
We enter into covenants when their blessings are clear and compelling. Sadly, humanity’s covenants are broken when memories grow faint, especially over time and generations. This has always been the case with God and humankind. Over millennia, the covenant God offers humanity is always a gift of His grace that requires a faithful response. This is because covenants with God require contingency. They are “if–then” agreements.
We may remember when we were small our parents saying to us, “If you love me, you will obey me.” Our response to this if–then statement was something our parents anticipated as the blessed familial covenant relationship unfolded from when we were conceived.
In the same way, we were included when God initiated a covenant relationship with humanity and continued it over thousands of years, throughout Scripture and up to the present day. Jesus expressed this clearly by saying, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).
Covenant with God can be summarized like this: God promises, “I will bless you if you obey Me. That is the essence of covenant. Jesus said, “If you remain in Me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit” (John 5:4). The Apostle Paul puts it another way by underscoring the importance of our faithfulness in response to His great gifts of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. He says we were once alienated from God due to our sin, but now Christ has reconciled our relationship to God, presenting us holy in God’s eyes, but only if we stay grounded and steadfast in the faith, not moved away from the hope we find in the gospel:
For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross… As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. But [only if] you continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News” (Colossians 1:19-23).
That little word “if” carries heavy weight. God is the maker of covenant, but covenant always calls for the contingency of faithful obedience. This has been the case since God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. If we remain faithful, there is the blessing of the covenant’s promise. If not, the blessing is invalid, no longer in effect, often with costly consequences. When Adam and Eve hid from God after disobeying Him, the Lord banished them from that original paradise.
Broken covenant marks the long history of God’s people. Their failure again and again to remain faithful occasioned the need for a new covenant, one that God would establish for all mankind through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Christ was the fulfillment of prophecy. God declared:
“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people… This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors… this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put My instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know Me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”" (Jeremiah 31: 31-34).
The remarkable history of God’s lavish love is underscored by His patience. The sad history of humankind is our failure to be faithful to the grace–filled covenants of God. Nevertheless, God has continued to reveal His mercy and patience with us. Scripture declares, “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Romans5:20). This is to say that thanks to God’s patience and grace, our sins of broken relationship with Him, our failures of faithfulness to covenant, our disobedience in response to God’s love, may be forgiven.
This is good news. In the context of God’s love, it is possible to begin again.
Along with a litany of New Year’s resolutions, you may want to reaffirm your commitment to Christ and establish or renew your covenant with Him. Do so recognizing God’s love and embracing your continued desire to serve God faithfully. Pledge your responsiveness to the Holy Spirit’s work and obedience to His leading. Seek to grow in grace through the means God makes available (Scripture, worship, prayer, fellowship, testimony, and service). Embrace Christlike integrity in every word and deed of life and live a life of Christlike love in every relationship. Share the Good News of the gospel. Keep yourself accountable to your covenant relationship with God by making trustworthy people in your life aware of your commitment and your progress. Seek the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Be open to the still, small voice of God’s calling.
Remember that the only thing that truly counts is God’s love in your heart and life expressing itself to God and others in love (Galatians 5:6). This is the life of a faithful follower of Christ, in sanctified covenant with God, enjoying the blessing of a fresh start this New Year.
By Dr. Johnathan Raymond