cov-e-nant 1 : a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement : COMPACT
2 a : a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action. –Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
Understanding the salvation of God must begin with the knowledge that it is based on a covenant, not a contract. Scripture gives us that much explicitly. But what is a covenant? We know what language pundits have to say (see above), but the etymology of the word is somehow confined in the natural realm. Where God is concerned, a covenant seems to be much more than what we get from Merriam Webster. When we begin to search the Scriptures, we find the thing swaddled in otherworldly wonder and power.
I wanted to tap into the mystical essence of the covenant, to go beyond the intellectual and linguistic trappings of the word. So I asked several people what they thought a covenant is. Many people said it was an agreement. However, that, too, has been given outright. One person said, more specifically, that it is a relational agreement. Others called it a promise. One considered it a sacred, unbreakable pact. I think my favorite response was that a covenant is a bond. The word brought for me a gush of warmth.
What does a divine covenant look like? To explore this question, we should recall that God made a covenant with Abraham to give him the Promised Land and to bless the entire world through his descendants. In spite of countless failures on the part of the Israelites, God came through on both parts of His promise. The Covenant wasn’t broken because of their failures. But now what does the New Covenant mean for us? For God’s part, it means He promises to bring us back to Himself through our belief in Christ. God has given us the assurance of forgiveness, justification, redemption, deliverance, sanctification and, in the end, passage into glory because of the person and sacrifice of Jesus. For my part, it means that I must not allow anything to get on top of the truth that, once I have entered into this covenant with God, that transaction (and all its provisions) becomes the central deciding factor in my life from now on. God’s part is to do it. My part is to trust that He has done it.
But if I fail to trust, can the covenant be broken?
It is essentially impossible for sinful humanity to fully grasp the meaning of a covenant with Almighty God. We know the word means, among other things, “promise,” but where does that leave us? Promises can be broken. Our world is literally built on the detritus of broken promises, like a city paved over the crumbled pillars of former civilizations. How can we possibly see the New Covenant through the lens of corruption and finitude which is the ongoing human milieu? The answer is that we need the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit to see it. Moreover, glimpsing the truth isn’t enough. Our view of it can too easily be snatched away from us (Matt. 13:19). We must throw ourselves at the glittering hope of it with all our strength and with all our heart. If we believe in Christ and abandon ourselves to His marvelous salvation, we are then carried by the strength of the Covenant, which cannot be dissolved, for it is based on the promise of One who never fails, not out of weakness nor out of moral deficit.
But what happens if I decisively “opt out” of this covenant? What penalty could be levied for deliberately violating an agreement by which God commits to overlooking all violations? How would God proceed when, in the first place, He undertook the agreement specifically to deal with my inability to remain true? “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Does this mean that we have Eternal Security? Perhaps. But what if someone, having at one time decided to give his life up to Christ, suddenly changed course and completely shut God out, repudiated his former commitment, pushed away the conviction of the Holy Spirit, ignored all of God’s conciliatory overtures and “laid the reins against the neck of [his] lusts,” and died in that condition, would God forgive him and take him home anyway? Perhaps. But my question would be: Why on earth would any of us want to?