The Law and Covenant Membership

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Throughout my life I have been confronted with various arguments about the law of God. What laws should Christians keep? Are we supposed to keep the entire Mosaic law or only parts of it? What about the Sabbath? If Jesus kept the Sabbath should we keep it too? And now that Christ has risen, are we no longer under “Old Testament Law” but under the “Law of Christ?” What exactly is the “Law of Christ?”  

Recently I have gone through a bit of a paradigm shift within my own theology. I have always debated and discussed the law of God and what sanctification for believers looks like. But I am beginning to think that this is the wrong approach for believers. Words like “Torah” or “Law” bring a certain concept into our minds. We think of rules, restrictions, and punishment. We think of consequences that come from being bad or going against a ruling figure. But is this what is actually going on in the life of a Christian?  

This shift in understanding must begin by reframing our thinking in terms of law. God did not simply give us a law code, a list of things we can and can’t do. If we think of the law in these narrow parameters, we totally miss a much bigger concept that is happening in Scripture. God gave His people a covenant. Certainly there are stipulations to the covenant that include laws or rules that can be broken, but the focus (based on discussions that have gone on within believing communities about what laws we should or shouldn’t keep) has missed the real issue at hand: covenant membership. 

What is a Covenant 

At the core of the Scriptures are covenants God has made with His people. There are two basic kinds of covenantsconditional and unconditional covenants. An unconditional covenant would be like the Noahic Covenant, in which God promises all of mankind that He will never flood the entire earth again. This covenant does not require anything of us as mankind, God made a promise and gave a sign of the covenant whether we are obedient or not. Similarly, in the Abrahamic covenant God promises Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  

Additionally, the Abrahamic covenant comes with a promise of land. This promise is given to Abraham unconditionally. The land belongs to the descendants of Abraham, however, each generation must keep their end of the covenant or they are exiled from that land. One of the things that many people overlook is the fact that the Abrahamic covenant is directly linked to the Mosaic covenant (a conditional covenant). This is why Paul states: 

“This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.” (Galatians 3:17–18 ESV)

Many of the covenants within the Scriptures are attached to each other and cannot be separated. Another example of this would be that the Abrahamic Covenant is directly related to the Davidic Covenant as the blessing that is promised through Abraham’s seed is, in fact, the King promised from David’s line.  

Covenant People

The question should not be, “Do I have to keep this law or that law?” The question should be, “Am I a covenant member?” If you‘re a believer, the answer is “yes!”  

Our covenant is unconditional as justification is a gift from God and does not depend on us, but it comes with rules and expectations, blessings and repercussions, and the benefits of being citizens of the Kingdom. This is not a worksbased salvation, but should be viewed as part of covenant membership that has already been granted to us:

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 ESV)

When I think of myself as a citizen of the United States my first thought is not of all the laws that the U.S. has set up for its citizens or how restrictive they can be. I think of the freedom I have in my ability to worship God, to own landstart a business, and raise a family. Traffic limitsproperty laws or business license regulations are not the first things that come to mind, but they do come with my citizenship. 

We are covenant people. We are in a very special relationship with the King of the universe. If we want to know what laws apply to us all we need to do is understand the covenant(s) we are in with God. The Scriptures have been given to us so we can look at them and read the covenant God has made with us.  

So Much Confusion

We should find joy in the covenant relationship we have with God, just as a bride and a groom find joy in their relationship. I have never thought of my marriage as a list of rules my wife has made for me. I have only ever thought of the wonderful relationship we have and how much I love her, want her to be happy, and strive to make her happy on a daily basis. If we are the covenant people of God we only need to look at the covenant God has made with us and live accordingly.  

The fact is that we as believers in Jesus Christ are part of the New Covenant. Something I will discuss in a coming post. But I want to leave you with several questions.  

  1. Do you as a Christian believe you are part of the Abrahamic Covenant?  
  2. Do you as a Christian believe you are part of the New Covenant?  
  3. The terms of a covenant are always made clear by the two parties involved. Where in the Scriptures are the terms of the New Covenant given? 
  4. Jeremiah tells us in Jer. 31:31ff that God will make a “new” covenant with Israel. What is “New” about this covenant?

I am convinced that if we begin to think of ourselves not only as “Christians” but as “Covenant Members” and begin to answer the questions above by searching the Scriptures, the answer to the questions of, “what laws should I as a Christian keep?” will become clear.

 


Photo by Scott Graham

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