There is a figure in greek mythology named Prometheus, who is punished by the gods and chained to a rock, where an eagle came and subjected him to the torment of eating his liver away, only to have it grow back again and be eaten again the next day.
Too often this has become a picture of how we view God and how we live our lives… God as somehow distant and harsh and unconcerned with the suffering we face in our lives that we cannot escape from.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth for a believer and disciple of the Christ.
As we discussed in Part 1, through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, transforming you from within.
God the Father’s SAME surpassingly great power that He exerted to resurrect the Christ from the dead is now implanted in you, and in me, in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit in ALL His fullness.
Yet many of us who wear the label “Christian” seemingly give no evidence of this amazing fact. We live “lives of quiet desperation” and have come to settle for so much less than what we have been made to be.
WHY IS THIS?
The problem lies in a misunderstanding of what was accomplished when you first believed, and what is at work within you now: the fundamental nature of your relationship with the Lord. You have now entered, and are under the unconditional terms of, a covenant relationship between you and the Lord.
What is a “Covenant”?
First, a covenant relationship has 2 sides. In a covenant, each party in the covenant agrees or commits to certain things, unconditionally. Under the new covenant, there are things that the Lord alone can and will do… and there are things that you alone as a believer, and then a follower of the Christ, must do. Initial belief or receiving Christ is itself an example of covenant: He alone could have paid the once-for-all sacrifice to break the power of sin and death over you and reconcile you to God the Father, but it will have no effect upon you until you agree by faith. The initial steps of the new covenant illustrate the covenant principle of two sides.
Second, a covenant relationship is not a contract. Under a contract, if one of the parties or signatories to the contract violates their side of the agreement, then the contract is broken and both parties are released from their obligations. By contrast, under a covenant, if one party violates their side of the covenant, the other party is NOT released from their commitments. Commitments under covenant are unconditional, and not dependent on the actions of any other party.
Marriage was designed as a covenant, but unfortunately these days we often treat it as a contract instead.
The new covenant illustrates this unconditional and two-sided nature. God has promised never to leave or forsake you, no matter what. Yet you can choose to leave and forsake him for a time. Hopefully you will not do so, but your actions will never cause Him to change his mind or his covenant commitment.
Third, a covenant relationship requires active participation. Under covenant, both parties commit to active and on-going participation and fulfilment of their roles until the covenant is completed. For instance, using the analogy of marriage, husband and wife partner together to put their commitments into full effect for the duration of the marriage, growing closer together. The marriage would not grow or be healthy if one or both spouses checked out or took a passive stance in regard to the relationship.
The new covenant is like that. Through the Christ, God has effected our freedom from sin and accomplished our reconciliation to Himself, should we choose to receive Him. But that is only the beginning… To those who believe, He gives the indwelling Holy Spirit to partner with you to put the truth of the gospel into full effect in every area of your life, with your committed active partnership. God has not checked out and left you on your own; nor can you check out of the process and expect Him to transform you with you as a passive participant. The new covenant relationship, like marriage, is not an armchair sport.
Fourth, covenant requires sacrifice and exertion. If you have been taught that life as a believer and follower of the Christ is going to be easy and comfortable, you have been sold a false product. Any covenant, in part because of its unconditional nature, is filled with challenge and hard work, to put into effect the covenant’s commitments. Under the new covenant, as a believer, the initial declaration of faith is the easy part. The subsequent implementation of the new covenant into every aspect of your life, for the entire remaining time of this temporal existence, is far more difficult. It requires sacrifice, surrender, strength and steadiness on your part…in covenant partnership with the Holy Spirit, the fullness of Him that indwells you to work out your salvation to its completion. You do not do this alone.
Fifth, covenant demands your very life. Under covenant, you are bound to another in unconditional terms until the covenant is completed, and you cannot be part way in. Just as God the Father did not spare His own Son, and just as He has given the Holy Spirit in all His fullness to you, your covenant response is your very life, in all areas at all times, to do His will and to bring Him glory. Your life is no longer your own.
Sixth, the payoff of covenant is huge. This is true of any covenant, and particularly true of the new covenant. Also, while the covenant participants walk out the covenant to its completion, there are benefits along the way. The best way to describe the nature of the new covenant is “already, in process, not yet” … Through the completed work of the cross, and one’s faith in Him and this completed work, the new covenant is already established in the believer; the Holy Spirit indwells the believer as a deposit and active covenant partner, working with the believer each day to extend the completed work into every area of the believer’s life in process; and awaiting the full completion of the covenant, not yet here, upon His return for His covenant people.
At the point of your faith in the completed work of the Christ on the cross, God has declared you to have righteous standing before Him, in Christ. In other words, He has extended His righteous garments over you. This declaration is as in a court of law: all charges have been dismissed and your guilt and sentence of death removed. In legal terms only, you have been declared to have righteous standing before Him. The Holy Spirit is given as a guarantee of this declaration, and as an agent of change within you.
From the point of faith onward, the Holy Spirit works with you in active partnership to put the new covenant into full effect within you, putting to death the things that don’t belong in your life any longer, and cultivating and growing moral righteousness – the full implementation of the gospel – into every area of your life, and also equipping you to effectively share the new covenant good news with everyone. You cannot put the old nature to death on your own, and the Holy Spirit cannot work in you without your full active participation and consent.
Commit to the fullness of the new covenant today… be prepared for hard work, but in partnership with the Holy Spirit, be prepared for victory as well. Press through to become the righteousness of God in all His fullness as a completed work and an effective disciple!
In Part 3, we will look at the litmus test of which nature – the old or the new – is being cultivated in your life and mine.