Have you ever promised something to another person? If so, you've made a covenant with them. Mark Finley discusses a covenant that God has made with you and me.
One unforgettable day, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stood on the White House lawn and extended their hands to each other. They’d cemented an historic peace agreement, taking a significant step toward what everyone hoped would bring an end to violence in the Middle East.
Arafat’s people and Rabin’s people have been fighting over Jerusalem and Palestine for a long time. Israelis have an historical claim to the city and the land, as do the Palestinians. And neither will surrender a literal inch of it. But on that occasion at the White House, these two men rose above temporal politics. They managed to take a stand for principle.
Arafat spoke of his great hope. “Today,” he said, “marks the beginning of the end of a chapter of pain and suffering which has lasted throughout this century. . . . [Our two peoples] . . . want to give peace a real chance.”
And Rabin said, “We who have come from a land where parents bury their children; we who have fought against you, the Palestinians—we say to you today, in a loud and clear voice: enough of bloodshed and tears.”
Enough of suffering. Enough of the hatred that’s passed from one generation to the next.
On that historic day, Arafat and Rabin made a covenant—a formal agreement between two parties. Arafat and Rabin were trying to work out an agreement that would make it possible for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace. And, at least for a few minutes, peace prevailed. There was a pause in Jerusalem’s long conflict.
Covenants In The Bible
The Bible also says a great deal about covenants. In fact, the word covenant is used more than 332 times in the New International Version1. It appears in 34 of its 66 books and it usually refers to a formal agreement between God and His people. God’s covenant especially focuses on His plan to save human beings from sin and it states what He will do for us and what He expects us to do for Him.
God sets the terms of the covenant. The Bible repeatedly says that He’s the One taking the initiative in making the covenant: “I will establish My covenant,” “I will make My covenant” and “My covenant will I establish” (Genesis 9:16; 17:2, 21, NKJV)2. God calls His covenant “the everlasting covenant” because for those who accept the terms, the results truly do last into eternity (Genesis 6:18).
At the time He established the covenant, God had in mind Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, by which He would pay the penalty for the sins of humankind. Jesus’ death was the reality toward which all the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament pointed. After His death, such sacrifices were no longer needed, because the real Sacrifice—the only one that was effectual—had been made.
What Is God’s Covenant?
Here is one of the Bible’s most succinct statements about God’s covenant with His people: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33).
Through Jesus, we are united with God and become His people in a special way. God writes His law on our minds and hearts. He writes His law in our minds so we know what He wants us to do and He writes it in our hearts so we will love to do what it says.
The apostle Paul tells us, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
The New Testament covenant of grace causes us to love obedience. It changes us on the inside so that we long to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law. Jesus’ new covenant offers us forgiveness for the past and a new life of joyful obedience in the future.
Satan’s Distortion of God’s Covenant
Satan intends to destroy God’s covenant with His people. Satan, the father of lies, wants to deceive us into breaking the covenant between us and God. He wants us to believe that God’s grace isn’t able to transform us into obedient Christians. He wants us to believe that sin is so powerful that the blood of Jesus can’t give us victory over it, that we’re doomed to failure.
On the other hand, Satan perverts the biblical teaching about grace by suggesting that it means we can continue to accommodate our sinful desires and tendencies and yet somehow be forgiven. The Bible calls Satan “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, NIV). He deceives people into thinking that obedience really doesn’t matter.
But the truth is that Jesus inspires people to reach higher. He inspires them to respond to His love for them by giving Him their obedience. The people who have come to trust God for their salvation appreciate His holy law. They cherish His Ten Commandments, which are the foundation for all moral life everywhere on the planet.
Look at this picture of God’s survivors—His end-time people: “Here is the patience of the saints [believers]; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12; emphasis added).
Standing On Principles
Speaking of the religious leaders of His day, Jesus declared, “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9). Sometimes we’re tempted to cling to the teachings of a popular religious leader or even those of an established denomination that’s been our spiritual home. When we do this, ignoring the clear instruction in the Bible, we increase the likelihood that we’ll be deceived by Satan.
Sometimes we think we’re committed to a church when we’re just committed to a familiar place, a tradition, something that feels comfortable. The more superficial our commitment to God, the more fiercely we’re likely to cling to those comfortable traditions.
Make sure you’re standing on principles—principles clearly stated in God’s Word. That will make you resilient in any time of trouble. That will keep you clinging to what is firm and immovable when everything else in this world is falling apart.
Earthly Heavenly Covenants
The short-lived covenant between Arafat and Rabin is a perfect example of the fact that human covenants are frail. Their weakness is that they are only external—words written on paper. But the real solution to human fighting isn’t words on paper. It’s God’s words inscribed on human minds and hearts. That’s why God’s covenant is so far superior to any human agreement, for as we’ve seen, God’s covenant includes a change in the way we think and feel. God writes His laws on our minds and hearts. God’s covenant changes us so that we no longer want to fight. We become willing to forgive injustices, to love our enemies and to pray for those who abuse us.
Satan will work hard to deceive us, but we don’t have to be deceived. We don’t have to be drawn into his way of responding to what we perceive as injustice. We can make a better choice—fixing our eyes on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV). We can join a better movement—a movement for grace, for faith, for God’s holy law and for obedience. We can take a better stand, one based on principle.
Are you experiencing conflict with someone in your life? Try basing your relationship with that person on God’s covenant. Don’t try to change him or her. Rather, ask God to change you. Pray for the person you’re in conflict with. I can guarantee that you’ll be pleased with the result.
1. New International Version, 2011 edition.
2. Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures in this article are from The New King James Version, copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.
Adapted, with permission, from End Time Hope: A Journey to Eternity, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2012.