Unconditional Covenant

While the whole world was turned away from God he turned towards one man, Abraham.  He made a covenant with Abraham promising to bless him and make him a blessing to the nations.  This covenant promise was a freely-given and undeserved relationship of blessing. Abraham didn’t do anything to merit such a promise. God’s covenant relationship was an act of his free grace.  It was unconditional.

God made this unconditional covenant of promise with Abraham and his offspring, Israel.  He promised that they too would be blessed and a blessing to the nations.  But was the covenant with Israel unconditional? There were many laws that Israel must obey to enjoy blessing.  Nevertheless, the basis of this covenant with Israel was the unconditional covenant of promise with Abraham.  And Paul makes the point that the law that came 430 years after Abraham was a temporary measure that does not annul the unconditional covenant of promise.

The covenant God proved faithful to his unconditional promise by sending his Son into the world for us. The Father’s Son was the faithfulness of God towards us in saving action.  He was also our covenant faithfulness towards God for he lived before his Father as us.  And now we put our faith in his faithfulness so that in him we are the faithful ones before our Father.  Faithful, not through our own faithfulness, but only through the faithfulness of Jesus.

The covenant God also proves faithful by sending the promised Spirit into our hearts.  He does so that we may live faithfully in union with Jesus through Spirit enabled transformation.

It’s all unconditional grace!

 

Covenant Faithfulness

God entered into a covenant of love with Israel promising to be faithful to them always.  Even when the people were unfaithful the Lord went on loving them with unfailing love.  His promise was repeated over and over in all Israel’s history “I will be your God and your shall be my people” and he kept to his promise.  For the covenant promise was fulfilled by unfailing love not by legal obligations.

The story of God’s covenant with Israel shows that we humans cannot be faithful as covenant partners.  For that reason the God who is love made a new kind of covenant with us not like the one he made with Israel.  In this new covenant God keeps both parts of the relationship himself.  His own Son comes as God among us fulfilling his part to be our God according to his covenant promise.  At the same time, Jesus also fulfils our part.  He is the true man who was faithful to God on our behalf because he lived as us before his Father.  In him we are faithful to our calling as God’s covenant partners. Not faithful because of our own faithfulness to God, but only because of the faithfulness of Jesus.

God’s Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus’ faithfulness and also joins us to Jesus, the faithful one, so that we share in his faithfulness to the Father. And so, our life in the new covenant does not depend on our faithfulness but rather on the faithfulness of the covenant God through his Son for us and his Spirit in us.  This makes the new covenant “better” by far.

 

The Promise-plan

With our eyes fixed on Jesus we see God as three persons in communal giving and receiving. The three are always entirely with and for one another. Indeed, the three are so closely bound up with one another that they are said to “indwell” one another.  While Father, Son and Spirit are distinct, they do not exist in isolated individuality.  Father, Son and Spirit have always existed and forever will exist in a circle of intimate love.

 God’s purpose for his creation must, therefore, be true to who he is as essentially relational.   And so it is.  For in Christ, we see that the purpose of the Triune God is to reach out beyond his own shared life in order to enjoy relationship with those who are not God.  Furthermore, the way he achieves his purpose is also true to who he is as deeply relational.  For he works out his eternal purpose in history through covenant relationships.

A covenant is essentially a promise, a vow. God’s covenant promise with Israel is frequently expressed in the words, “I will be your God and you will be my people”.  This is God’s promise-plan to be our God in mutual love relationship.

 The  promise-plan of God makes its way to Christ.  He is the “Yes” to all the promises of God.  There is no “if” or “maybe” or “Yes, but…”  Only Jesus is in view as God’s emphatic, “YES!”  So, in union with Christ, we are now God’s people and he is our God as loving Father.  And, in the Spirit, we confidently await our future on the new earth when God himself says, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3)

 

Father’s Astonishing Decision

Before anything was made the Father decided to adopt us into his family in Christ. We only know of this eternal decision because God himself makes it actual through his Son acting for us and his Spirit acting in us. We now know that we are adopted children sharing in the Son’s relationship with his Father in the Spirit. That means justification as a legal settlement is not front and centre in our view of salvation.   What is?  Reconciliation to love relationship as sons and daughters in Christ.

We are now called to live in the freedom of the Spirit as the Father’s dearly loved children in union with Christ.  For freedom Christ has set us free and his Spirit wants to take us into freedom so that we live for our Father with joyful assurance.  But how easily we slip into legalistic conformity to religious rules continually driven by guilt and shame before a mean and menacing Judge.

Our Father decided before anything existed to include us in the circle of love with his Son and by his Spirit.  He decided that we should share in this life with freedom and joy.  And he decided to make all this actual in his Son and Spirit.  With our eyes fixed on the Father’s astonishing decision to include us in the circle of shared life and love we must now decide to live in this freedom bringing joy to our Father’s heart.

 

God’s Ways with us are Relational

Some consider God primarily as Judge whose chief concern is his law.  In order for this “legal” God to be gracious towards us he must first punish his own Son in our place.  He then demands us to meet all his legal conditions for true acceptance.  Even though I try to meet his demands I cannot really be sure he accepts me. I have to constantly self-examine. Do I have enough faith? Is it “saving” faith? Did I repent correctly? Is God o.k. with my imperfect obedience?  If I were to go this way the result would be lack assurance.

Looking through the lens of Christ, we see that God’s ways with us are primarily relational rather than merely legal. For through Jesus, we learn that God is Father and that his purpose is to bring us into family relationship. He wants us to find our true being-in-communion as sons and daughters in union with his unique Son by the Spirit.

Allowing the legal to eclipse this relational vision results in a distorted way of responding to God.  We are workers trying hard to satisfy God’s demands rather than dearly loved sons and daughters. We are driven by guilt rather than drawn by grace. We endure condemnation and rarely enjoy communion.

In Jesus’ parable of the lost son, the father wanted his son home before the prodigal turned back.  And he did not wish for his son to relate in terms of work as a mere servant.  He wanted to welcome him back into the family with a warm embrace and joyful celebration.  So our Father in Jesus longs eagerly for us all to return home and when we do there is great rejoicing in the Father’s heart and all heaven.

Lowly Judge

Jesus is God as human living among us in humility.  As the One who loves, He doesn’t want to be high and exalted far above us; he wants to live among us as one of us.  Indeed, God as human is marked by the deepest humility as he goes to the very lowest place to lift us up to the very highest place in union with himself.

The “god” that we  humans imagine is so very different.  We project a deity  that is distant from us.  One that towers above us as the unapproachable high and mighty Judge who sits in his far-off court room eager to condemn.  In contrast, the God we meet in Christ is eager to know us in love; eager to cross the infinite chasm between the Creator and the creature; eager to stoop down to us bearing condemnation in himself for us; and eager to lift us up into union with himself so that we can share in everything that he is and has.  Not the Judge high in his heavenly court room, but rather the Judge who is prepared to humble himself handing himself over to be judged for us in order to bring us into living union with himself.

Behind this vision of God stooping to enter into union with us is God as three persons in One communion of love.  If God were a solitary being then he would have had no one to love before he created.  But the Triune God has always loved within the communion of love that he is.  His desire for oneness with us flows out of his own eternal Oneness in love.

 

The One Who Loves

Through Jesus, God makes himself known to us as the One who loves. To understand this “love” we must not begin with our own ideas of what love is.  We must rather pay attention to who God is as made known in Jesus.  In him, we discover that the One who loves gives himself totally to create communion with us.  God does not will to be without us nor to leave us without him. So he acts, in love, to restore us to himself in spite of what we are like. Yes, the One who loves pours himself out without restraint for those who reject him in order to take them up into the communion of his eternal love as Father, Son and Spirit.

 However, when considering what God is like, too many allow God as Judge to predominate. Make no mistake, God is Judge. But when we see that God is love, the meaning of Judge is somewhat different.  With God as love fully in view, we see that God’s judgement is an expression of the love that he is.  The Triune One is an inexhaustible fountain of love that overflows and expresses itself in all he does.  So the One who loves must expresses his love in the justice that makes everything right in his world.  That includes pursuing restorative justice because he does not want to simply punish offenders.  He wants to restore them to fellowship within his family. So, in love, the Judge himself is judged for us so that we might live with him.

As those who are so well loved our hearts yearn to live in ever closer communion with One of such beauty.

 

The One Who loves

Through Jesus, God makes himself known to us as the One who loves. To understand this “love” we must not begin with our own ideas of what love is.  We must rather pay attention to who God is as made known in Jesus.  In him, we discover that the One who loves gives himself totally to create communion with us.  God does not will to be without us nor to leave us without him. So he acts, in love, to restore us to himself in spite of what we are like. Yes, the One who loves pours himself out without restraint for those who reject him in order to take them up into the communion of his eternal love as Father, Son and Spirit.

 However, when considering what God is like, too many allow God as Judge to predominate. Make no mistake, God is Judge. But when we see that God is love, the meaning of Judge is somewhat different.  With God as love fully in view, we see that God’s judgement is an expression of the love that he is.  The Triune One is an inexhaustible fountain of love that overflows and expresses itself in all he does.  So the One who loves must expresses his love in the justice that makes everything right in his world.  That includes pursuing restorative justice because he does not want to simply punish offenders.  He wants to restore them to fellowship within his family. So, in love, the Judge himself is judged for us so that we might live with him.

As those who are so well loved our hearts yearn to live in ever closer communion with One of such beauty.

 

Father Before Judge

God is both Father and Judge, but should we put God as Judge before God as Father?  If we do so we may see God as one who primarily seeks a legal settlement with us rather than a restored relationship. We may also gain the impression that God first needed to quench his righteous wrath before he could bring himself to love us. But this is plainly not so.  Paul tells us that it was while we were yet sinners that God demonstrated his love for us at the cross (Rom 5:8).  Christ cannot be thought of as the one who changes God making him merciful towards us.  

Of course God is Judge and he must put everything right between us “legally”. But the legal aspect must never take centre stage. Rather than putting the legal first we must consider God as the triune communion of love who wants family relationship with us. And who desires this so strongly he became one of us to lift us up into his own life.

We must continually clarify this relational vision by always looking to who God is in Christ.  In Jesus, we see God as Father who loves us even though we don’t love him in return. In him, we also see that the Father’s all-embracing purpose for humanity is relational rather than judicial.  And what God is in Christ he ever was and is in himself.  Christ’s coming among us in the likeness of sinful flesh  is the very movement and expression of God’s Fatherly love towards us.

 

God as Father; God as Judge

The good news announces that God is love and even though we reject his love he does not cease to love us.  Rather, in Christ, he has acted to reconcile us to himself.  That’s because God is love and he created us in love and for love as dearly loved children in the mutual relations of love.

But the message of good news can sound like bad news when it presents God as the Judge whose primary concern is our conformity to his law.  The judge who deals with our failure to conform by granting us right legal standing before him.

Jesus unveils God to us as loving Father who is open, relational and self-giving towards us. The Father who restores love relationships with estranged people through his dearly loved Son. This loving Father that we meet in Jesus cannot be thought of primarily as a Judge seeking a legal settlement.

And so the good news makes family images central rather than courtroom images. God as Judge does grant us right legal status through all that Jesus did for us.  Nevertheless, the Father’s primary purpose is to include us in the love relationship he has with his Son by the Spirit . Just as the Father is in love relationship with his unique Son, so we are called into love relationship with the Father as dearly loved children in union with his Son by the Spirit.