Last night the Pastors led us in a very interesting and engaged meeting about making a covenant. A couple of my friends asked the most important (but often unspoken) questions right out loud. There were many other good questions, too, but I woke up thinking about one, in particular. While I was praying this morning I gravitated toward a couple of answers for it from the Bible. So I thought I try to boil down a big subject in this post.
Here is the question: “Why should I make a covenant? I am doing good things, I am involved. Aren’t I already doing the covenant?”
It is definitely true that one can keep the spirit of the covenant without the “sign” of it. That is Paul’s whole argument in several of his letters. Circumcision of males was the main distinction that visibly made one a Jew and, by heritage, part of a special relationship (a covenant) with God. In Romans he says:
[Abraham] received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. (Romans 4:11)
In Galatians he makes the point again, twice!
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. (Galatians 6:13)
If an argument for making a covenant with other Jesus followers was about fulfilling an obligation or keeping a law, I think Paul would be against it.
We are into the new covenant
This doesn’t mean that God is any less a covenant-making God. Not only is God fulfilling the covenant with Abraham in Jesus, the Lord is making a new covenant with everyone who will eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation. Paul reminds the non-Jews to whom he is writing:
Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11-13)
He obviously thinks this new covenant God is making has the same visible signs as in the past, only moreso – deeper and universal.
The reason we make a covenant with one another is not about law, it is about incarnation. Christ in us and Christ in all of us reveals the glory of God.
As Paul teaches:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Can Jesus be practically incarnate if we do not have a visible body in which the Spirit lives? Paul spends much of his letters telling us how to form that body based on this new covenant.
Individualism is devolutionary
In this era the philosophical movement that began in the 60’s in the United States has about convinced everyone that everything meaningful or spiritual is happening in an individual. If we connect too much to someone else, we might not be true to ourselves, which is all we have (or so it is taught). The military teaches this new outlook the best, I think. Here’s the Army from a couple of years ago.
Here’s the Air Force. I saw this commercial so many times at the theater during the holidays I can about recite it.
The good point the video makes is that you can’t have an effective force without effective individuals. In Paul’s universe that translates into: there is one body but the same Spirit who is working in everyone. The bad point that I think is more relevant is that “It’s all about what is happening in me.”
Without the work of the Spirit in each of us making us one, there is no body of Christ. No amount of formalized covenant-making will make us live in love. But we need a form: our own bodies and the Body of Christ, to make that love relevant and transformational. God became empty of the prerogatives of God to become one of us and calls us to a similar love by that example. Jesus entered into our sin and suffered for his bloody love; then he left the communion symbol as the center of an ongoing community based on that same kind of love. It has formed the church ever since.
I want to be part of that church and I want people to know it, not just because I am individually an army of one but because they see me as part of the people who once were not a people but now are the people of God. I want others in the body to know I mean it and I want to know from others that they really mean it, not just because they looked inside and found some faith, but because they also looked outside and joined the team, they said it, they wore our connectedness like an honor.
I did a little word search and saw that I have said quite a bit about this subject. Here you go:
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