I call this sermon “Children of the Covenant” to illustrate that we as Christians are covenant people. We, like Israel, are people who have a covenant with God (see Jer. 31:31-34 & Heb. 9:15).
Covenant. We see that word in our current law books. It is an integral part of the Uniform Commercial Code. It is one of the most important aspects of life. So what is a covenant? Is it a contract or an agreement?
Let’s talk about contracts. A contract is a binding agreement between two or more parties. It is enforceable by law. If one party fails to perform his end of the contract, he can be sued in court for damages.
There are several things necessary to make a contract. One is an offer. One person offers another person a service or goods in return for another service or goods. Of course, the other party does not have to accept the offer. An offer does not constitute a contract. In fact, an offer can be withdrawn at any time before the contract is made. There must be both the offer and acceptance before there can be a contract.
We participate in this activity almost daily. Whenever you go into the store to buy something, there is an offer and acceptance. The price of an item is the store’s offer to sell that item to you. If you agree with the price, you accept the offer and purchase the item. If you don’t like the price, you can ask the store to reduce it or you can go to another store to get a better price, or you can simply not purchase the item. It is your choice. So, when you shop, there is offer and acceptance.
There is at least one more thing necessary in addition to offer and acceptance, and that is consideration. There is no contract without consideration. Another word for consideration is compensation. There must be something to exchange hands to make a contract binding. Consideration can be an action such as a service to be performed, or it can be goods, or it can be money. Consideration is the price paid by the parties in return for the promise. Both sides must receive consideration. In a purchase for money the purchaser receives the product from the seller and that is the customer’s consideration. The seller receives money from the purchaser and that is the seller’s consideration.
In our example of shopping, let’s see where the consideration is. Let us suppose that you see a new book in a local bookstore that you want. You see that the price is a reasonable $4.98. The store has offered to sell you the book for $4.98. The book is what you want and you decide to buy the it; you have accepted the offer. You take the book to the checkout stand and pay the price plus tax. The tax is another type of contract you have with the state. But let’s stick to the purchase. The clerk gives you a receipt and puts the book in a bag, and you legally walk out of the store with the book in your hand without fear that you will be stopped for shoplifting.
Your consideration in the contract is the book, and bookstore’s consideration is the $4.98, and the state’s consideration is 35¢. By the way, your consideration for the tax you paid is the services of government. The other things required to make a binding contract are: Intent, agreement, competent parties, a lawful purpose, and a proper form when required by law.
Both parties in a legal contract must have the intent to perform the contract. If it can be proven that one party did not really mean to make a contract, in certain cases that contract may be avoided. If one party agrees to the contract but did not have intent the other party may get stuck holding the bag. An example of this is someone purchasing a car on a payment plan and then refusing to pay. The car may be repossessed, but the seller still loses something in the process. Sometimes it is a criminal issue such as a case of fraud or bunko. These are legal issues and at times must be decided by a court, especially in the case of criminal acts.
We have already discussed agreement. It is when both parties agree to the offer, to acceptance, and to consideration.
Any contract which is to be legal and binding must between competent parties. In other words, the parties must be able to understand and execute the terms of the agreement. Here are some examples of incompetent parties: A minor is not competent to make a contract. A minor is anyone who is under the age of eighteen. An eighteen year old can legally make a contract and can legally be held to a contract. Anyone who has some type of mental impairment is not competent to make a contract. This includes someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It also includes, in some cases, the mentally retarded, and it includes those who are legally insane. In other words, if one party is unable to understand what he is doing or is a minor, a contract cannot be enforced against him.
Any legal contract must have a lawful purpose in order to hold up in court. A legal contract cannot require one or both of the parties to perform an unlawful act. Notice I said a legal contract. There are many illegal contracts which cannot be legally enforced with a caveat. For example, if you bet on a horse race through a bookie, that is not a lawful purpose. But, if you loose and don’t pay, the contract might be enforced. However, it will not be enforced by the court, but a couple of big and bad guys might come visit you and enforce it. For our purposes today, we will stick to legal contracts.
A legal contract must, in most cases, have a proper form. That form can be a written contract, or it may be an oral contract. Both are legal today but a written contract is easier to prove. There have been other forms of contracts as we will see later.
To sum up, in order to have a legal contract, there must be offer, acceptance, consideration, intent, agreement, competent parties, lawful purpose, and proper form.
What then is the difference between a contract and a covenant? A covenant is a binding legal agreement. A covenant is a contract or agreement in which one party promises the other party that he or she will perform an act, such as a promise to pay in the future or to make future payments. It is a type of contract such as a mortgage agreement, or a contract between God and man. A negative covenant is one that restricts a person from the performance of an action. There are several types of covenants in the bible that we will be interested in. They are: parity, royal grant, and suzerain-vassal.
The parity covenant is basically what we have been discussing as a legal contract. It is a covenant between equals which binds them to some purpose. Participants in the parity covenant are called brothers. A biblical example is the covenant between Abram and Lot. They returned to Canaan from Egypt, and there was not enough room for the land to support both of them. Abram and Lot agreed to separate, Lot going to the plain of Jordan, near Sodom and Gomorra, and Abram going to the rest of Canaan. They agreed to mutually respect each other’s territory. A parity covenant can be a treaty between two nations or parties.
The royal grant is an unconditional covenant made by a king or sovereign to a loyal servant for exceptional service. It was usually a grant of land or of some benefit. The covenant was only binding on the king and was usually a perpetual covenant. The heirs of the servant would only receive the benefit if they continued the service to the king. Royal grants have been carried out up to the present. Even in the US there was a form of royal grant. The government granted much land to settlers in early America. There service to their country by settling wild lands was the reason for the grants. These grants were perpetual and some families today still live on the land granted their ancestors.
The suzerain-vassal covenant was a conditional covenant between a great king or sovereign and one of his subjects. The king maintained absolute sovereignty and demanded loyalty and service. If not, the king would void the covenant. The vassal pledged absolute loyalty to his suzerain, doing whatever the suzerain demanded. The vassal relied exclusively on the suzerain’s protection. An indentured servant was under this type of contract. It amounted to basic slavery to the king based on an agreement between the two parties.
There was no parity covenant between God and humans; there were only royal grants and suzerain-vassal covenants between them. Let’s talk about the major covenants of the Bible.
The first covenant God made with man was made with Noah. It is called the Noahic or Noachian covenant. When God had flooded the earth and the only living people and land animals had emerged from the ark, God promised Noah that he would never again destroy the entire earth by flood. God had found Noah to be righteous and blameless, in other words, a loyal and faithful servant. Because of Noah’s righteousness, God made this unconditional promise. This is an example of the royal grant. There were no conditions placed on Noah. Only God had to abide by the covenant. And He has. There may have been localized flooding around the world, but the entire world has never been destroyed by flood. God is perfect, and He cannot go back on this covenant. The world will one day be destroyed by fire, however (2 Pet 3:12).
God made two covenants with Abram later known as Abraham. The first was a royal grant. Because Abraham was credited with righteousness, God decided to bless him. He promised Abraham that he would become a great nation through his seed. He promised them the land of Canaan. Just how did this happen. (Read Genesis 12: 1- 4)
Eventually, God came to Abram in a vision. He told Abram not to fear. Abram wanted to know how he could father a great nation when he was old and childless. One of his servants would become his heir. God told him not to fear, that his heir would be of his own body. Abram believed God when he was told this and God credited it to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jam 2.23). He also told Abram that he would be given the land he was on. Even in that age, a contract was confirmed by a proper legal form. This covenant was no exception. Both parties would take certain animals, kill them, cut them in half, and walk together between the halves, signifying agreement.
On this occasion, God had Abram kill a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove and a pigeon. He had Abram cut the heifer, goat, and ram in half and lay them opposite each other. The dove and pigeon were opposite each other but whole. Here is the twist. At dusk, God caused Abram to fall into a deep sleep or trance and while in that trance Abram observed the proceedings but not participate. After dark, a smoking firepot or furnace, and a blazing torch appeared and passed through the arranged pieces.
On that day, God made a covenant with Abram. Notice that Abram did nothing. It was only God who passed through the pieces. The covenant was binding on God, not Abram. So that covenant, made some 4000 years ago is still binding on God. Nothing the children of Israel could do would stop the covenant. They are now back in the land. It was an unconditional promise or royal grant made by God to the Israelites. It cannot be broken. See Genesis 15:1-21.
Notice how we had all the ingredients of a contract here. We had two parties, God and Noah, God and Abram. We had an offer, we had acceptance. Noah accepted because of his faith in God, Abram accepted by his belief in God. Faith and belief are the things necessary for our new covenant (Jer 31:31; Heb 8:8; 12:24) with God through Christ. There was agreement. Both Noah and Abram agreed with God. Both parties were competent and qualified. God is of course competent. Noah and Abram were adults and not intoxicated, and not insane. We had a lawful purpose. God is holy and just and anything he does is lawful. We had proper form in both cases. The rainbow was the symbol of the covenant with Noah, and the passing through the pieces of animals was the proper form in the case of Abram.
There are three more Old Testament covenants we will discuss. God made suzerain-vassal covenants with Abraham and Moses, and another royal grant to David.
God made a covenant of circumcision with Abraham. He told Abraham that he would make him a great nation and that He, God would be Abraham’s God and the God of his descendants, if Abraham and his descendents would keep the covenant by becoming circumcised. As long as the Israelites would be circumcised (on the eighth day), He, Yahweh God would remain their God. Those who refused circumcision would be cut off from God’s people and become an alien. See Genesis 17:1-14.
When Moses and the children of Israel were camped at Mount Sinai, God came and made a conditional covenant with them. God promised to be Israel’s God, and protector and guarantor of Israel’s destiny, if they would, in turn, obey His laws. The people prepared themselves for three days, and then went up to Mount Sinai. Moses killed young bulls for fellowship offerings, and then he read the Book of the Covenant which god had dictated to them. They said they would obey. Then Moses sprinkled some of the blood of the bulls on the people. After that, Moses went up to the mountain to receive the tablets with the law on them. The condition was that the people obey the entire law. Of course they failed miserably. See Exodus 19:1-8.
God made a royal grant to David. He promised David that his descendants would always be on the throne in Israel and that the Messiah or the anointed one would come from his dynasty. There was no condition. This was promised David because he had been a faithful servant to God. See 2 Samuel 7:8-17.
So, what has this to do with the Church? It has much to do with the Church of Jesus Christ. The book of Ephesians tells us that as believers in Jesus Christ, we have become the adopted sons and daughters of God (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5 Eph 1:5; 2:11-22). Since, as Paul tells, the Jews are the adopted sons and daughters of God (Rom 8:23), we are brothers and sisters with them. Since we Christians are also sons and daughters of God, those covenants also apply to us. Yes, every covenant with the children of Israel and with the house of David also apply to us. We are heirs of the promises, just like the Jews (Rom 11:17). We do not replace them, we participate with them.
How? We have benefited from the covenant with Noah. The earth is still here.
Christians will participate in the covenant made with Abram to posses the land of Canaan. We will rule and reign with Jesus from Jerusalem in Canaan. Additionally, we will inherit the land of Canaan along with the Jews, who will become Christians in the end times (Rom 11:26). When the New Jerusalem comes down, we will live there forever.
We are heirs to the promise of circumcision. While the Jews were circumcised of the flesh, we Christians have a circumcision of the heart. So God is our God and the God of our Christian descendants. Jesus Christ gives us that circumcision of the heart. When we accept and believe on Him as Savior, he changes our wicked heart of stone into a pure heart of flesh (Eze 3:26; Rom 2:29).
We also benefit from the covenant made with Moses. He said that if the Jews would obey His laws, they would be made perfect saved (Deu 11:28; 27:26; Jer 11:3; Gal 3:10; Jam 2:10). There is only one person who was perfect—Jesus the Christ. It is through Christ’s perfection that we receive eternal life. Though we cannot perfectly obey God’s law, we receive our righteousness through Jesus (Rom 3:22; 4:16-25). God is our protector and guarantor of eternal life (2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14).
And we benefit from God’s covenant with David. Jesus Christ was descended from David on both his mother’s side, and his earthly father’s side. He is our King on David’s throne (Psalm 110; Luk 1:32). Without Him we would be lost (Eph 2:12-13).
That brings me up to the last covenant I want to discuss. There is now a new covenant. It is a covenant of blood just as the covenant made with Moses and the Israelites at Sinai. Jesus shed his blood for our sins. Jesus himself said that His blood was the blood of a new covenant, poured out for us. The new covenant is a suzerain-vassal covenant because there is a condition on our part. We must believe that Jesus died for our sins and that he was resurrected from the grave. Therefore, it is much like a will.
Jesus last will and testament was that, if we would believe on Him, his death would be our life. The new covenant makes all the old covenants become ours. There is no way a man can obey every aspect of the law, and yet, by covenant, he must if he is to be saved. That makes it sound like we have no hope. No, Jesus fulfilled the law, and his death pays our penalty for breaking the law. So through Him and His new covenant we are saved.
Remember contract or covenant requires both an offer AND acceptance in order to be valid. Our law is based on God’s law, and offer and acceptance are both necessary to have a contract with God. The offer is salvation, the acceptance is our belief, and commitment, the consideration is the blood of Jesus, and eternal life. The intent is that we should have a new covenant, the agreement is when we decide to accept God’s offer of salvation, we are competent to hear and act, and there is a prescribed form. That form is that crucifixion, our belief and our confession.
God has gone to a lot of trouble to provide us with this new covenant. All of the necessary ingredients are here for a legal and binding contract except one. That one ingredient is acceptance of the offer.
God is here, now, today offering you eternal life. You can accept that offer, or you can reject the offer. It is your choice (Deut 30:19; read the context as well). There is nothing else to do. Everything else has been done. No you must act. Accept God’s gracious offer of eternal life, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and join us in the new covenant.