Life is about choices: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 3

In the first covenant that God made with man Adam was free to do as he pleased, which he did and mankind has regretted his choice ever since. What we can learn from Adam’s story is that ultimately our eternal future depends upon our belief in the Lord’s faithfulness, and our commitment to entering and keeping our covenant with the Lord.

In the parable of the “Parable of the Bags of Gold” (Matthew 25:14-29) the Master said to the servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”[1] Notice that the Master did not commend the servants, who returned with a profit, for what they believed; he commended him for what they did. They obviously believed because they chose to act on what they believed. The third servant had the same information as the other two, about the master, yet he decided to believe and act differently. Was that because of what was in that servant’s heart? That third servant had no trust in his master even though he believed his master. Did the servant see the master as being the same as him? (“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.”[2])

In that same chapter of Mathew Jesus told the parable of the “The Sheep and the Goats” that described the final judgment. In that parable Jesus said, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[3] Jesus said to the righteous, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”  In that parable the righteous are those who chose to love their neighbors as themselves.  In other words the people who were faithful to what the Lord said are the ones who were righteous.

All through scripture we see people making choices. Adam and Eve chose to disobey the Lord. Noah, by choice, walked with God. Following Israel’s choices is like taking a wild roller coaster ride, one moment they would choose to follow God and soon after they were sacrificing their children to false gods. King Saul chose to follow God and then chose not to. Solomon chose to follow the Lord with his whole heart and then chose to follow him somewhat. David, on the other hand, followed God and all but one of the Apostles chose to follow Jesus to the end.

One way to view those stories is that they are stories of those who would choose to be in and stay in covenant with the Lord, those who would choose to not be in covenant with Him, or those who would enter and then leave His covenant with them.

There may not be any place in scripture that shows that we must make our own choices better than Joshua 23-24 does. Israel had journeyed from Egypt, wandered in the desert, conquered nations and was able to rest for a moment. Their leader, Joshua, gathered them to hear him speak and after he reminded them of the great things the Lord did for them, that they saw Him do, he reminded them that they must make a choice. “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” [4]

The Lord doesn’t force us to follow Him and He didn’t force Israel to serve Him. Adam and Eve had to make a choice to obey Him as did Noah, Abraham and many others. The Lord made covenants with them all. Every time we see the Lord making a promise or giving a command, in Scripture, we are seeing a form of a covenant.  The Lord promises His faithfulness to mankind in the Bible through covenants and it is through covenants that He expresses his expectation that man be faithful to Him.


[1] Matthew 25:23 (NASB)

[2] Psalm 18:25-26 (NIV)

[3] Matthew 25:46

[4] Joshua 24:1

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Relationship: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 1

But the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers,
and is faithful to their descendants,
to those who keep his covenant,
who are careful to obey his commands.

When I was first saved the preacher who baptized me also gave me a Bible and told me to read the New Testament and then the Old Testament. I was able to read through most of the New Testament in just a short while, and as you might imagine I was profoundly affected. As I read I realized that my sins were forgiven and that I was truly born again and though Jesus had done His part I must, with His help, do my part. I was struggling with the sin that was still in my life and that the old man was not going down without a fight. My struggle with that old man wasn’t easy and to be very honest for years I lost more battles than I won. Yet, because the Lord loves me so much, He patiently waited on me to grow strong and to depend on His help. I knew there were things I had to do in my life, but in my early walk I didn’t understand how much my Father in Heaven wanted me to succeed or how far He would go to make sure I did. I thought His love for me depended on what I was accomplishing, however his love for me depended on nothing I’d done, He loved me even before I turned and cried out to Him. But, in those early days I believed the Lord demanded perfect righteousness when in fact he demands an all-consuming commitment to become righteous.

I am now beginning to see that our definition of righteousness is not God’s definition of righteousness. Scripture describes Noah as, “a righteous man,blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Job was “was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Zacharias and Elizabeth “were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Even so, Paul wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” How is it possible that those people were blameless and righteous, yet they were also sinners who fell short? Was it only because they believed? Certainly that was part of it we know they all had faith, but in each of those stories we also see they were committed to walking with God and keeping His commandments. Abraham was declared righteous because of his faith yet he was justified by what he did. Faith and following the Lord go hand in hand. Those I mentioned weren’t sinless and none were perfect, however they were all committed and faithful. When I was first saved, I entered into a covenant with my Creator. Those men and women who the Bible says are blameless were also in a covenant, and it was their covenant as well as their God that they chose to be faithful to.

In the infancy of my Christianity, and even now, I listened to and read the works many different preachers who spoke from a wide variety of viewpoints. I’ve read or heard views from Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Reformed, Wesleyan, Nazarene and many others. One teacher will say that we only need faith to be saved. Often those same teachers will say that if we only have faith Jesus will do the rest. They make it seem as if all our lusts, pride, and selfishness will just miraculously disappear and we’ll never backslide if we believe in just the right way. Others teach the need for both belief and holiness, and it seems that a failure in faith or a failure in striving for holiness could endanger our salvation. The first teacher says you can’t earn anything by doing the things that please the Lord and the second says you can’t be saved without working to please the Lord. Both teachers have their proof verses and long explanations, and quite honestly any person who is able to look at both views with an open mind will find both teachers to be quite convincing. But, I’ve found a couple of problems with both views.

First, I see extreme legalism in both views. The first preacher uses the Word to show what you do not need to do and he finds “legal” reasons why we have no need to do them. The second finds many reasons why we must do this or that and they can show you his “legal” reasons as easily as the first. Most people won’t agree that the first preacher is legalistic, we’ve been trained by him to think only those who tell us what we must do are legalists. But legalism is legalism whether you are looking for loopholes to not do something or commands that say you must do something.

The second thing I find wrong is that both views deny that they want you earn anything, but they both do. One view wants you to earn salvation by believing while the other wants you to earn it by believing and working. That will confuse some of you because it difficult to see how we can earn something just by believing while it’s easy to see how we can work and earn something. Both philosophies teach that if you do something you will get or earn salvation, we either believe and earn salvation or believe and work and earn salvation. Both views often ignore that no person who does not faithfully love God will be saved.

In the end both teachings can, and have, produced many converts who fail to love God and who don’t serve Him out of love only. A sermon by that great Alliance Missionary preacher Paris Reidhead, that speaks about Christian Humanism, illustrates what I’m saying.

“Now in order to understand the implications of that in the twentieth century, we must go back 150 years, to a conflict that attacked Christianity. Just after the great revivals in America with Finney, the Spirit of God having been marvelously outpoured onto certain portions of our country, there came an open attack on our faith in Europe under the higher critics. Darwin had postulated his theory of evolution, certain philosophers had adapted it to their philosophies, and theologians had applied it to the Scripture. About 1850 you could mark the opening of a frontal attack upon the Word of God. Satan had always been insidiously attacking it. But now it was open season on the Book, open season on the Church, and Voltaire in France could declare that he would live to see the Bible become a relic, placed only in museums; that it would be utterly destroyed by the arguments that he was so forcefully presenting against it.

Well, what was the effect of this? The philosophy of the day became humanism. And you could define humanism this way, humanism is a philosophical statement that declares the end of all being is the happiness of man. The reason for existence is man’s happiness. Now according to humanism, salvation is simply a matter of getting all the happiness you can out of life. If you’re influenced by someone like Nietzche who says that the only true satisfaction in life is power and that the power is its own justification, and that after all the world is a jungle. And it is therefore up to the man to be happy, to become powerful, and become powerful by any means he can use. For it is only in this position of ascendancy or as we saw in the worship of Molech that one can be happy. This would produce in due course a Hitler who would take the philosophy of Nietzche as his working operating principle and guide and would say of his people that they were destined to rule the world. Therefore any means that they could to achieve this was then salvation.”

The problem doesn’t come from the conflict between faith and “works”, the problem comes from why we do what we do. A “me”- centric Christianity is not Christianity at all, as Mr. Reidhead pointed out it is humanism. This is not the relationship with the Lord that Jesus and the New Testament teachers ever taught us to have. Coming to Christ to be saved is where every Christian starts in their relationship with Jesus, but the relationship can’t stay there. If we believe or work only for our own benefit, to be saved, we’ve missed the point.

The Lord does love us and, again, we have done nothing to deserve that love. But look again at what the Psalmist said. “…the Lord continually shows loyal love to his faithful followers… to those who keep his covenant.” Though he loves us all He only continues to extend His love to those who choose to make the effort to obey Him and to follow Him. This principle is found all through scripture, it’s an eternal principle. We can see that principle in the second commandment which says, “…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Moving forward to the New Testament we find that Jesus didn’t change that principle, in fact he confirmed it’s eternal nature. “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

When we think of our side of our relationship with our Creator the first thing that should come to our mind is obedience and faithfulness to Him. That might seem shocking because the first thing you might think should come to mind is faith. However, if you believe you are in a relationship with the Lord, then you must already believe that He exists, and you must already have faith that His death and resurrection was for the atonement of sin. Christians understand that we have all sinned and that there is a penalty for our sin. We know salvation is only because of Jesus’ blood that was shed on the cross and we know only Jesus can grant forgiveness of sin. Jesus paid the debt for our sin, but our debts are only paid if we believe in whom He is and what He did. We must have faith to be saved. Faith is how the relationship begins, how we begin our covenant with Him, after that we must think about how we stay in relationship with Him.

  1. Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
  2. Genesis 6:9 NASB
  3. Job 1:1 NASB
  4. Luke 1:6 NASB
  5. Romans 3:23 NASB
  6. Paris Reidhead, “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”
  7. Psalm 103:17-18 New English Translation (NET)
  8. Exodus 20:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
  9. John 15:10 (NASB)

A Covenant Forgotten: Preface

While sitting in class at Johnson University one evening our professor, Dr. Carlus Gupton, thoughtfully mused that that Habakkuk 2:4 might be translated more accurately if it read “the just shall live by his faithfulness” rather than “the just shall live by his faith.” He explained how the Hebrew text was sown together and made a very convincing argument. Some modern translations and Hebrew scholars, I later found, even agreed with him. I haven’t been able to shake the idea from my mind since and it nagged at me for quite some time as I pondered if it could be true and what it would mean if it were. I had to ask myself just what affect would it have on Paul’s uses of that same verse and that in turn affected my beliefs?

As I studied I discovered a book titled “Saved By Faithfulness: How The Covenant Shapes Our Understanding of Salvation” by Rev. Mark Skillin. That book changed my thinking as much as Dr. Gupton’s statement in class did. In fact what Rev. Skillin wrote both added to and validated Dr. Gupton’s idea and brought more clarity to the scriptures for me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been so influenced and borrowed so heavily from “Saved By Faithfulness” that it would be impossible for me to cite every idea that came from that book. Let me just make the blanket statement that future post’s in this blog are built on that book, and this work may not exist without that book.

I’ve  often hear that we are “saved by faith alone” and have found no way to reconcile that with much of what Jesus taught. Jesus did say we must have faith, but he also spoke of us bearing our cross, loving and forgiving others, and obeying Him.  Also, in the Book of Acts Peter said, “I now truly understand that God does not show favoritism in dealing with people, but in every nation the person who fears him and does what is right is welcomed before him.”  (Acts 10:34-35 NET) From that it’s easy to understand that Peter meant we must believe in the Lord, walk humbly before Him and do what is right.

The Apostle James wrote, “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (James 2:14-17)

John the Apostle quoted a similar statement from Jesus, “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (1 John 3:23-24)

Faith, it seems, is not the only condition of the New Covenant.

Thank you Mr. Skillin and Dr. Gupton for the profound affect you’ve had on me. Only scripture and CS Lewis have had more affect (not bad company to be in).

More to come on “The Forgotten Covenant.”

Be in Covenant with the Lord, be relevant.