Dear young people, how many names can you think of that the Bible uses to describe a Christian? Child of God. Prophet, priest, and king. A servant. A lively stone. A soldier. A runner. A pilgrim and stranger. Citizen of the kingdom of heaven. These biblical metaphors help us understand and appreciate our multi-faceted and wonderful calling and identity as Christians. But perhaps the most beautiful description of a Christian that captures the heart of our entire Christian life and walk is that we are a covenant people.
Taken into the Covenant
To understand and appreciate the beauty of our identity as covenant people, we must first understand what the covenant is. The covenant is essentially God’s relationship of perfect divine fellowship within the Trinity. The three Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoy blessed covenant fellowship one with another from all eternity. When we say we are God’s covenant people, we are saying that God takes us into that trinitarian fellowship so that we enjoy the blessed communion with the three Persons of the Godhead. Pause… and wonder! God says, “I give you the privilege of entering the circle of divine fellowship. Welcome to THE family!” Amazing! Unbelievable! How is that possible? How can sinful man come anywhere near, let alone have fellowship with, the thrice holy God without being instantaneously consumed by His holiness? Why would the perfect God, exalted in the highest heavens, Almighty Creator of the heaven and earth, take into His closest fellowship imperfect, sinful creatures of the dust who deserve only to be cast away from His presence into everlasting punishment? The only answer we can give on this side of heaven is: sovereign, unconditional, eternal love. Read Ezekiel 16. That God should take us into His covenant is of sheer grace. When we consider how abominable we are as sinners, and that God yet takes us into His fellowship, we can only bow our faces in confusion and shame (Ezek. 16:63). And instead of boasting about our goodness or complaining that we deserve better, we shut our mouths lest they spew forth more sinful pride and foolishness.
Such unfathomable love and amazing grace that enable the sinner to dwell with the Most High is not at the expense of His holiness and justice. We can draw near to Him, enjoy intimate fellowship with Him – because of Jesus Christ, Who bore the punishment for all our sins to the uttermost. As far as satisfaction for the sins of His elect people is concerned, it is fully accomplished at the cross. God did not wink at our sin. He punished every single one of them as they deserve. He meted out the punishment fully. He did not hold back the least bit, but unleashed His full, just fury against our sins – but all on Jesus Christ, our Substitute. It is in Christ that God establishes His covenant with us – Christ is the ground, the Surety, and the Head of the covenant . As covenant people, we are joined to Christ as members of the body to the Head. Hence the covenant is unbreakable. The relationship is firm and sure. For God will not break His covenant with us any more than He would with Christ.
Are we covenant people? Then God has taken us into His very own covenantal life, through Jesus Christ, to enjoy blessed fellowship with Him. Wonder of wonders!
Life in the Covenant
Having been taken into the covenant, we now live in the covenant. There is the individual aspect of this life as each child of God walks with the Lord. But there is also the corporate aspect of this life, which is life in the covenant family and covenant community or local church. For the purpose of this article, we will focus only on the corporate aspect. So what does this ‘family’ or ‘community’ life look like in God’s covenant?
Let’s begin with the covenant family. Because God is King and at the centre of the covenant family, the character and focus of the family is spiritual. The Word of God is the authority and rule that governs and directs all things in the home. The husband provides loving leadership, while the wife shows caring submission. The husband labours hard in the office and returns home in the evening to dwell with his wife. The wife labours diligently at home to build a warm, loving, and peaceful abode for her husband and children (if the Lord gives children). Parents raise their children in the fear of Jehovah with wisdom and patience, while the children obey their parents and honour them. Worship is a top priority for the family. Going to church on the Lord’s Day is the family’s chief delight, while family devotions are enjoyable times of fellowshipping with one another around the Word. Within the family, there is mutual love, trust, and respect between husband and wife and parents and children, and among the children. They delight in one another’s company and friendship, and share their life together. They weep together and rejoice together. They carry one another’s burdens. They build one another up in the faith. The bond that binds them together in such close, intimate fellowship is the covenant bond that God establishes with the believing parents and their children.
But of course, life in the covenant family is not perfect. Indeed, it is far from perfect. After all, the covenant family is composed entirely of sinners. Each family knows too well how imperfect they are. No doubt there are conflicts and disagreements. Tempers flare. Unkind words are said. Husband and wife give each other the cold shoulder. The children are no angels, and quite often bring distress and heartaches to the parents by their sinful behaviour. There can even be unfaithfulness on the part of spouses. Alas! The ugliness of sin! But the spiritual mark of a godly covenant family is not the absence of sin and conflict, but the presence of repentance, forgiveness, mercy, and love when dealing with sin and conflicts. The family takes heed to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:12-14). Yes, the covenant family is a sinful family. But in the covenant family, grace triumphs over sin, and love covers the multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).
One more aspect of the covenant family – its extended family. When the children grow up and establish their own covenant families, some of us become covenant grandparents. God has blessed CERC with more of such members in recent years, as our second generation marries and brings forth covenant seed. Grandparents play an important role within the larger family context, not in directing or interfering with the family life of their married children, but by being godly examples and in providing wise, godly counsel to them, and by being always ready to lend a helping hand in times of need. It takes much wisdom and self-control on the part of grandparents to relate to their married children and grandchildren so that the husband and father can be and is encouraged to exercise his headship effectively. Married children too need grace to continue to honour their parents, include them in the fellowship of the family as part of the extended covenant family, and teach their children to honour their grandparents.
What about covenant life in the church? The principles that govern and guide the covenant life in the family are the same ones that govern and guide the covenant life in the church, which is the family of God. Hence, life in the church resembles life in the covenant family in many respects. The two are not identical, of course, but both are characterised by fellowship among covenant members, love and care for one another, serving one another, repentance and forgiveness, faithful performance of various roles and callings, and submission to God-ordained authority, except in a different context.
One outstanding characteristic of the covenant community life is that it is corporate, not individualistic. There are many members, with great diversity of personalities and gifts, yet one body. The identity of this community is not a mish-mash of individual personalities who share a common interest or happen to participate in a common activity, but a unified, corporate identity of organic oneness. The church is an organism with the life of Jesus Christ flowing through it and animating it. Each covenant member is a building block of a magnificent spiritual house, fitly joined to one another, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone; not loose stones and pebbles gathered in a jar. Hence, the concern and focus of a covenant member is not himself or herself, but his fellow members: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). Each covenant member desires to employ his gifts, readily and cheerfully, for the advantage and salvation of other members (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 55). Because each member is a sinner saved by grace alone, self-promotion and self-glory have no place in the community, but rather this: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). My sincere desire is that Christ and my fellow brother and sister must increase, while I must decrease. This corporate aspect of the life of the covenant community is especially expressed when the covenant members gather on the Lord’s Day for worship. Throughout the entire worship service, from the call to worship to the benediction, every activity is a corporate activity. Conscious of this fact, and appreciating the beauty of their corporate identity as the body of Jesus Christ, covenant members desire to be present in church on the Lord’s Day so that they can take up their place in the body and worship God together with the rest of the body. Would not the beauty of the body be marred if there was a missing ear or finger or leg?
Covenant life in the church of Jesus Christ is ‘bodily’ life. “But now are they many members, yet but one body” (1 Cor. 12:20). It is knowing that God has made me a member of this body to serve the body, not myself. It is living with the consciousness that I am part of a larger reality and purpose that is far more important than me and my individual identity, needs, and desires.
Perfection of the Covenant
Life in the covenant is a blessed life. Although on this earth it is tainted with much sin and often lined with pain, still it is the blessed life. For it is a foretaste of the perfect communion and fellowship we shall enjoy with the Triune God in heaven one day. There, we shall talk with Jehovah and walk with Him – without sin to spoil the communion! Right now, we have only a small beginning of the new obedience, and our experience of covenant life is marred by frequent and great struggles against sin from within and without. But though we are unfaithful, God remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). His covenant stands sure. He will bring it to its perfection according to His unchangeable counsel. At the appointed time, Jesus Christ shall return and usher in the new heaven and new earth, when “the tabernacle of God (shall be) with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). The Church will be presented to Christ at the end of history as a pure, holy, and spotless Bride, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish (Eph. 5:26-27, Rev. 21:2). She will dwell with Christ in the most intimate and perfect fellowship forever. You and I, living members of the church, shall then experience the most delightful fellowship with our covenant God in Jesus Christ, which “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church – do you not long for that day?
Written by: Eld Lee Kong Wee | Issue 51