Saturday, October 25, 2008

Are There Two Covenants?

This posting continues the discussion of covenant. JCA

Most Christians would readily agree that we are under the covenant of grace. We are the true children of Abraham. The covenant made with Israel at Sinai failed because of human weakness. Some would say the covenant made with Adam failed as well. The problem here is that a covenant is not stated. Here we see God relating directly to our first parents. No promises are made for obedience, nor curses pronounced for disobedience. We see something more in the nature of a consequence—like a parent warning a child not to touch a hot stove. The parent does not inflict the burn on the child. The burn is self-inflicted for failure to heed the warning.

Many Christians believe that the covenant of law given to Moses was an interlude in God’s dealing with humanity. It was just an experiment to show that we can’t do it on our own. It shows our failure. It was, as Paul said “the schoolmaster” to bring us to accept God’s grace.

I think there is a serious problem with viewing God’s dealings with humanity in terms of law. Really, in a time when “everyone did what was right in his/her own eyes,” God’s law comes as a gift. God, it seems, has always had servants and friends. In the gospel, Jesus tells us that he doesn’t call us servants but friends. Abraham was called “the friend of God.” The Bible says that God talked to Moses “face to face as a man talks with his friend.” Adam and Eve were friends of God and regularly walked with God in the garden. I propose that God’s will, God’s desire, has always been friendship. This is true before the fall (Adam and Eve), after the fall and before the law (Abraham), after the law was given (Moses), and with the coming of Christ.

Sad to say, many of us still choose trembling servanthood instead of the obedience of friendship and love. We are stuck in a legalistic mode of thinking that sees God as “out to get us” if we don’t do our part, instead of as a kind Father warning us of consequences (“The wages of sin is death.”). We either see God as the suzerain, laying down the law, promising blessings or curses based on our response, or try to make parity “back scratching” deals with God.

But, the true nature of our covenant, as it was with Abraham, Noah, David, and through Abraham to all humankind, is that of the royal grant. Here we are talking about a covenant based totally on God’s free grace. It cannot be earned, and is freely given.

Jeremiah spoke of this as the new covenant, written not on tables of stone but on the human heart. The book of Hebrews affirms that this is the covenant that God wants to make with each of us. It is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham.

At the Last Supper, Jesus also spoke of new covenant. In Mark’s account of the Supper, Jesus gives his disciples the cup and tells them that it contains the blood of the “new covenant.” In the sacrificial system and Mosaic Law described in the Old Testament, we are reminded that the “life is in the blood.” What is Jesus saying? The basis of the new covenant, the royal grant, is the blood of God made man, the very life of God. “Greater love has no one than this,” says the Master, “Than he lay down his life for his friends.” The covenant God offers is God’s call to all offering friendship. Relationship, friendship, that is the basis of the covenant.

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