God’s Covenant (1)
…at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.Ephesians 2.12
A fundamental mistake
In seeking to live a Christian worldview, nothing could be more important than basing everything in life on a clear understanding of the Bible, the Word of God.
But to understand the Bible we must read and study the Bible. All of it. Over and over again.
Many Christians find reading the entire Bible a challenge. Many parts of the Bible are clear, interesting, and immediately beneficial. Other parts, not so much. Many Christians – including, in my experience, many pastors – have yet to establish the discipline of reading regularly through the Bible, trying to gain from all the counsel of God everything they need to know, enjoy, and serve the Lord in this life, and to prepare for the life to come. And this helps to explain why the Christian worldview remains undeveloped and largely unused among the followers of Christ today.
Most Christians, I suspect, “hunt and peck” their way through Scripture. They follow a devotional guide of some sort, or just their own whims, or they let their reading of the Bible be determined by whatever subject is current in their Bible study group, or whatever their pastor is preaching.
But it is a fundamental mistake in our approach to the Bible not to treat it like a single book, with a single story line, that must be understood in its parts and as a whole if we are to gain the full benefit God intends. Unless we read and study the Bible in line with the intentions of Him Who inspired it, we’re going to miss some very important teachings.
The way to correct this problem is to make sure you have a good, overall grasp of the main idea of the Bible. Then you will be able to see how all the parts fit together, and you can learn how to let those parts which are clear shed light on those which are less clear, so that, increasingly, the whole picture of Christ and the redemption God has accomplished in Him emerges and engulfs you in all its glory.
The story of the Bible
Essentially, the Bible tells the story of God bringing glory to Himself by creating a people to know, love, and serve Him, according to His promises and commands. This is a story of grace and abundant life, even though, along the way in its telling, it also deals with sin and darkness and many things being not the way they’re supposed to be, as Neil Plantiga puts it (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).
If the Bible were to be given a subtitle, I’d offer as an excellent candidate, “God’s Covenant of Promise.” Because this is what the Bible is all about. The Bible tells the story of God graciously binding Himself to a people of His own choosing, in order that through them, and the blessings He lavishes upon them, the knowledge of His glory might cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2.14).
In the Bible God enters a bond of peace with His covenant people, a bond that operates on three levels. By His gracious provision of redemption through Jesus Christ, God brings rebellious sinners to peace with Himself, cancelling their sins and giving them eternal life. He instills His peace and rest into their souls, taking away the fear of death and empowering them for an altogether new life. And then He enables all who know His peace to bring the peace of His rule into every aspect of their lives – all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities. This is God’s covenant, and this is the story of the Bible.
The structure of the Bible
But not only is God’s covenant the story of the Bible; it also provides the Bible’s structure. Paul mentions that many different covenants relate to the one overarching promise of God – the promise of redemption, forgiveness, life, and glory through our Lord Jesus Christ: the promise of peace. One covenant of promise overarches the entirety of Scripture. But that structure unfolds in several stages, as God enters His covenant at different periods of time, in different ways, to advance His covenant toward its consummation in Jesus Christ.
God’s covenant begins in His grace. He gives human beings life in the world, life in all its blessings and bounty, then graciously improves on that by giving eternal life and peace to those who believe His promises. God’s promises are precious and very great, and they all come to fulfillment in the one promise of eternal life through trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins (2 Pet. 1.4; 2 Cor. 1.20).
All Scripture fits within and contributes to the unfolding covenant story and structure which holds the entire body of God’s written revelation together. So if we want to understand God, His will and plan, and how we can make the most of our participation in that will and plan, we need to understand His covenant, both as the story of God’s grace and the structure within which that story unfolds.
And this is what we’ll do in this series on God’s covenant of promise.
1. How would you explain God’s covenant? How does your understanding of God’s covenant influence your reading of Scripture
2. Why is it important to read and study the Bible in its entirety?
3. God’s covenant of promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In what ways?
Next steps – Conversation: What is a covenant? How does a covenant work? How much of our lives are involved in God’s covenant, and what are the implications of that for what it means to be His covenant people? Talk with a Christian friend leader about these questions.
T. M. Moore
You can learn more about God’s covenant and why it’s so important by ordering T. M.’s book, I Will Be Your God, from our online store (click here). For a deeper study of God’s covenant, order the workbook, God’s Covenant, from our online store (click here).
To learn how God’s covenant defines the shape of Scripture, and guides our approach to understanding and using the Bible, enroll in the course, Introduction to Biblical Theology. It’s free and online, and you can study at your own pace or with friends. To learn more and to register, click here. This week’s study is Part 1 of a series on The Word of God, and is available as a free download by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.