It’s a Relationship not a Religion: A Covenant Forgotten – Part 2

“The Lord will repay each man for his righteousness and his faithfulness…”[1]

The thought of obedience to God turns many Christians off. They don’t want to think of the Lord as a taskmaster who will punish us eternally if we are even the least bit disobedient or don’t conquer every sin in our life. The thought of keeping a covenant, to some, may seem like a menial relationship where our only purpose in life is to please an angry old guy who imposes impossible to follow rules on us. What we need to see though is that obeying God has eternal benefits and incredible benefits here in this life as well.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits…[2]

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”[3] Today we might call that verse a purpose statement, the atonement of sin and our eternal life was the purpose of God walking among us and dying for us. Jesus died and rose again so that we might, “ obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away….[4] But those eternal benefits are not the only benefits, there are other benefits that we see through scripture. Being obedient to our covenant with our Creator also means we are the sons and daughters of Him. [5]  If we allow it, obedience and faith will change our character and will transform us into being who are more like Christ. [6] If we are in His will we will live life with more zeal, delight and a higher sense of fulfillment and He will give of peace of mind.[7]

There are more eternal and temporal benefits than even these, but there is a certain danger when we start focusing on the benefits of being in covenant with the Lord. We must be careful not to serve Him only for the benefits. Our covenant with God is not like our relationship with an employer where we work for a wage, if we only have faith or only seek to be holy just to get eternal life, we’ve missed the point of Jesus’ death just as badly as the Pharisees did. Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[8] Eternal life is a gift and it can’t be earned. We are saved by faith by, but faith without right choices and earnest effort is useless. More importantly we miss the true reason for our obedience, God’s glory. Our obedience causes us to change and become more like Christ. That change and our increasing love for others will bring recognition of the Lord and glory to the Lord. Our obedience says more about Him than any words we can speak. As we live lives that show His love for humanity, the world will begin to see the Lord’s true character in us.

We can see this principle in scripture, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”[9] Notice that Jesus didn’t just say do good works so God will be glorified he said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works…” That statement suggests that there is much more going on than just being good or doing good. The motivation behind our good life and good works matters and can be seen by others. If we just live good lives and do things to earn something or to bring attention to ourselves, others will see our self-centeredness and not our good works. However if our motive is to serve others because we love them and God, then the attention is on the Lord’s work in our lives and He becomes the focus.

Because our culture and the world have trained us to seek attention to ourselves, this isn’t easy for any of us. Our competitive culture makes us want to be out front and in the limelight. We are taught from an early age to do well for a reward and that we need to bring our accomplishment to the attention of the people who can reward us.

The idea that man’s highest purpose is to glorify God isn’t a new one, the Puritans, Reformers and many before them taught that idea and we see it throughout scripture.[10] With that idea in mind we see that being faithful to the Lord and our covenant with Him has less to do with salvation and more to do with our becoming like Christ and bringing glory to His name. It’s our faithfulness and obedience to His word that transforms us and that brings Him glory.[11],[12] 

Notice that I did say, “being obedient to him has less to do with earning salvation” and that I did not say it has nothing to do with salvation. We need to keep in mind that Jesus did stress that faithfulness and obedience are as important as faith. The Lord has always expected men to have faith in Him, and He has also expected men to be faithful to Him. Not only are we are to trust Him we are to loyally follow and obey Him as well. Jesus did not teach that we are saved by faith alone as we can see in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  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.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’[13]

The sheep were chosen because of their actions not only by what they believed. We know Abraham was considered righteous because he believed and justified by what he did. In this parable the righteous are those who did the Lord’s will and took right action, in a sense they too were justified by what they did. Jesus also said, “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved”[14], in other words we must not only believe we must be stand in the face of persecution. Jesus is speaking about Covenant faithfulness. The essence of Covenant faithfulness is believing in the Lord, believing what He said and then doing His will.

“ 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.[15]

The Lord is a promise keeper; both to those who continue to trust and remain faithful to him and to those who do not. Only Caleb and Joshua, from the first generation of Israelites who left Egypt, were allowed into the Promised Land. (“…showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”[16]) The promise was lost to the others because of their unbelief and disobedience. (“…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…”18) Later generations of Israelites lost kingdoms and were exiled from Israel for their unfaithfulness and disobedience. God’s covenant with Israel and his promises to Israel were dependent upon their faithfulness and faithfulness always included obedience.

How do we apply what we learn from the Old Testament to our Christian walk? Do we just decide to believe one day and from that day forward all our sin is forgiven no matter what our level of commitment to the Lord is? Can we live half-heartedly for the Lord, say our prayers at night and still be able to say He is Lord? I don’t believe that’s possible. If Jesus is Lord He must be Lord of our every thought, word and action, we can’t really think Jesus is our Lord if we only follow Him on Sundays, holidays, when we have troubles or when our religious friends are over to visit. Seeing our covenant with Jesus covenant through the Old Testament examples given to us in scripture might help us to have a more accurate idea of what our relationship with Jesus should look like. We often look at Christianity through those things that come from outside scripture, forgetting that Christianity is the metamorphosis of Judaism. It’s built on the foundation that Abraham, Moses and the prophets laid. If we can keep this in mind we may find something in scripture we’ve never seen before.

None of our heroes from scripture were perfect, except of course Jesus. Each had their faults and some, like David, were guilty of terrible crimes.  Abraham, Noah, Job, and others were imperfect, yet they were all called blameless or righteous. We can see in their stories that it was their belief in God, their determination to follow Him and their level of commitment that set them apart. In the letter to the Hebrews we learn that, that same level of commitment is needed in our New Covenant with the Lord. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation …[17] As children of the Lord’s we must also learn obedience and our salvation depends not only on our beliefs but on our on our obedience as well. Obedience doesn’t earn our salvation, our faithfulness does. Faith plus our effort to be as Jesus wishes for us to be is how we are saved.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.

He will not always strive with us,

Nor will He keep His anger forever.

 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Just as a father has compassion on his children,

So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

For He Himself knows our frame;

He is mindful that we are but dust.”[18]

I want to be very careful about something here; there is a level of commitment and faithfulness to the Lord that we can’t achieve in a moment or by ourselves.  The Apostles were not the people Jesus wanted to be the moment they decided to follow Him. Jesus molded them into the kind of people He needed them to be and He showed quite a bit of patience with them as they learned and developed, and there is no doubt that Grace was continually extended to them. As Peter wrote, to we who believe, the Lord, “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance…” [19]

We are much the same. We won’t be perfect Christians just because we believe, we must be willing to allow God’s Spirit to help us grow and we must be open to seeing ourselves as the Lord sees us. The Lord will patiently forgive us as we grow, but at the same time He will expect a great amount of effort on our part. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me”[20] and there’s nothing in that sentence that says Jesus will do our work for us or that following Him will be easy.  On the other hand He also said “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you”[21] so we can rest assured that we won’t be expected to become faithful servants with no help.

Possibly the salvation of Israel from slavery in Egypt can help to illustrate what I’m saying. Israel had to believe the Lord before they would have the courage to leave Israel. In fact they had to trust Him just to survive the Passover and the Plague of the Firstborn and they also had to be obedient. So we can see that they believed and we can see that the Lord made it possible to leave Egypt. We also believe and He makes it possible for us to be born again. The Lord delivered Israel from Egypt, took the through the Red Sea, however He did not supernaturally transport them to the Promised Land. He did make it possible for them to have a new life, but their new life was dependent upon their trust in Him and their faithfulness to Him. He made it possible to leave Egypt, but they had to choose to leave, and they had to put forth the effort to leave. Once we are born again we must make the effort to be faithful to Him and to become what He wants us to become, He will be there with us as we struggle and just as He did with Israel he will give us decisive victories. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that even in the victories the Lord gave Israel, they had to have faith and put forth effort. Nothing was easy for Israel and the Lord has never promised an easy walk for His followers. Through thick and thin Israel was to remain faithful to God and His covenant with them, and that is true for the Christian as well.

Ask yourself this, “Does the Lord want me to believe in Him or does He want me to believe Him?” Of course the answer is that He wants us to believe He exists, but He also wants us to believe what He has said. It’s never been enough to just believe that He exists and James, in his letter he made that clear when he wrote “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:18-19)  James also wrote, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.” (James 2:8) Quite simply James is saying it’s not enough to just believe there is one God; we must also faithfully obey Him. An old hymn sums up what James was saying, and it also tells us what makes up covenant faithfulness, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”[22]


[1] 1 Samuel 26:23

[2] Psalm 103:2 (NASB)

[3] John 3:16 (NASB)

[4] 1 Peter 1:4 (NASB)

[5] 1 John 3:1 “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.” (NASB)

[6] Galatians 5:21-23  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (NASB)

[7] John 10:10-11 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (NIV) Matthew 11:28 ” “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

[8] Romans 6:23 (NASB)

[9] Matthew 5:16

[10] 1 Peter 4:11 (NASB) “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

[11] “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NASB)

[12] “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all…” 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 (NASB)

[13] Matthew 25:31-40

[14]  Matthew 10:22

[15] Psalm 103:17-18

[16] Exodus 20:5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

[17] Hebrews 5:8-9

[18] Psalm 103:8-14 (NASB)

[19] 2 Peter 3:9

[20] Matthew 16:24

[21] John 14:26

[22] “Trust and Obey” Text: John H. Sammis and Daniel B. Towner

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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.