Southside’s theme this year is “Covenants: God’s Merciful Treaties with His Creation.” The significance of a covenant is seen in that fellowship with God exists through a covenant relationship. So often we hear people ask if someone “has a personal relationship with Jesus.” This does not reflect a clear understanding of the Bible concept of covenant relationships.
In order to understand and appreciate the significance of a covenant, we first need to know what constitutes fellowship with God. Otherwise, our fellowship as brethren is moot. By definition, fellowship is “joint-participation.” It is a “sharing.” The activity in which we share “joint-participation” can be right or it can be wrong.
The relationship determines whether the actions that are jointly taken constitute having fellowship with God. Only the relationship that is “in Christ” makes it possible for the fellowship to be with God. The actions do not establish the fellowship; it is the relationship of being “in Christ.” “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to his promise” (Galatians 3.29).
Fellowship with God can only be entered by one means; that is, as the gospel message directs. That is why there is a message and why that message is called “God’s power to save” (Romans 1.16). In the gospel message, we find God’s call to his creation. We see this from the epistle of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2.14: “It was for this he called you through our gospel, that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Many of the hymns we sing bear this out: “Send the Light,” “Ring the Message Out,” etc. When we answer that call (i.e., the “obedience of faith” (Romans 1.15; 16.26)), we enter into fellowship with God and are then “In Christ.” As such, we are the “elect” of God and members of the one body, the church (1 Peter 1.2; Romans 12.5; 1 Corinthians 12.12,27).
Fellowship with God is only possible if there is a relationship with him. The relationship determines whether thee actions that are jointly taken constitute having fellowship with God. The important thing to remember is this: How does one enter into a relationship with God? This is where a covenant is a factor.
Another term that helps us to understand the Bible concept of a covenant is “law.” “Covenant” and “law” are used interchangeably. We find in regard to both that they can be broken. When such is done, sin is said to have been committed. Notice that sin is “transgression of the law” (1 John 3.4 - “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.”).
The Law of Moses was a covenant (Exodus 19.5; Deuteronomy 5.2-3; Malachi 4.4). When the children of Israel turned to idolatry, Joshua said that they had transgressed the covenant (Joshua 23.16). The Law of Moses forbade this (Exodus 20.4-5). When sin is committed, it is said to be both transgression of law and of the covenant.
Man has always been under law to God. Both Job and Hosea made reference to this. When Job was asserting his integrity, he said, “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom” (Job 31.33). While this word “Adam” is translated “mankind” in some versions, the point is the same: Man, upon his disobedience, acts as Adam did and tries to hide his transgressions from God (Genesis 3.10). Hosea wrote of the sins of Israel and Judah as follows: “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; there they have dealt treacherously against me” (Hosea 6.7). He added in 8.1b, “…because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law.”
Those texts help us to understand some characteristics of a covenant. It can be transgressed or broken. In order for this to be possible, the covenant must contain statutes, ordinances, and commandments that are to be observed. These are thee terms of the covenant. This is exactly what we find in regard to God’s covenants with his creation.
God told Moses to teach Israel “ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do” (Exodus 18.20). Keeping the covenant was the same as obeying God. “So he declared to you his covenant which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and he wrote them on two tablets of stone” (Deuteronomy 4.13).
The Bible reveals that God always offered man a relationship by means of a covenant. In doing so, God laid out the terms and man accepted those terms. We see this from Exodus 19.5-8: “‘Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to mea kingdom of priests and wholly nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.’ So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’ And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.” This offer of a covenant to the Israelites was in keeping with God’s oath to Abraham (Genesis 15.18; 18.19; 21.2). God had made a covenant with Abraham (Acts 7.8 with Genesis 17.10-27). Moses reminded the nation of Israel of this in Deuteronomy 5.2,27-30.
As the Creator, God alone has the right to set the conditions of a covenant. This year, if it be God’s will, we will have other articles and many sermons on various aspects of God’s merciful treaties with his creation.