A fireman shows up in your bedroom, wakes you from your sleep and says “We’re here to save you from the fire!” You look up and see the smoke and flames, the ceiling is about to collapse in. Who at that point says “Thank you for alerting me…I think I’ve got it covered now and heads off to the bathroom for a cup of water?”How patient are you when someone helps you? Do you just let them get on with it? Are you impatient to say “Okay I get it, I’ll take over from here?”
When it comes to faith do you find yourself thinking “What’s my part? Where do I come in?” I know that Jesus has stepped in to save me and die for me. But at some point, surely it’s my responsibility to do my part in looking after my faith
A quick tour of the Covenant
This talk came as part of a mini –series on the covenants that we have been running in our Sunday morning services. In those sermons we have learn that a covenant is an an agreement between two parties. In the Bible it is an agreement between God and his people. We see that God makes promises. In Genesis 9 (the covenant with Noah) there’s a promise to all creation that there will be order, summer and winter, springtime and harvest with no return to the chaos and destruction of the flood.
We see God make a Covenant with Abraham (Gen 12, Gen 15, Gen 17). The big promise is of a land to call home, a people who will belong to God (many descendents) and the blessing of God’s presence, provision and protection.
Then we get to Exodus 6:1-8 and God re-affirms this covenant with Moses. He will keep the promise to Abraham by bringing the people of Israel into the land of Canaan and giving it to them as an inheritance. This means that he will have to rescue them, redeem them, buy them back out of slavery.
By the way, I think redemption and rescue here is not just about being saved from the oppression of Egypt. Ezekiel 20:4-10 tells us that the Israelites had entered into the sin of the Egyptians and worshipped their idols. Israelites need saving from judgement too. In Exodus 12, God sends judgement on Egypt. The first born sons are killed because Pharaoh has attacked Israel, God’s first born. The Israelites have to kill and eat a lamb and smear its blood on the doorposts. The lamb is a sacrifice, a substitute taking their place, the blood covers or protects them and they are saved. They are forgiven.
God promises to be Israel’s God and make them his people. He reveals his name to them. This is really about showing what his name means. Yahweh is the mighty God, the Lord who keeps his covenant and delivers his people.
Part of God’s making the people his people includes leading them through the Red Sea and intot he desert where he gives them commandments to obey. These commandments are not about how they can be saved, they are not about earning God’s love. Rather, keeping them is a response to God’s grace. They are really boundary markers, they show God’s people how to live in and to enjoy the covenant.
So the Exodus covenant is:
- A renewal of the covenant with Abraham –remembered and acted on to- be their God to make them His people to give them a land
- A specific act to rescue, redeem, save
- With boundary markers –to be kept
What is the right response to God’s covenant?
Now, we have a better covenant, the new covenant in Jesus. He has acted to deliver us, to redeem us. He has promised us a home with him. We are now his people, his treasured possession. What should be our response to this?
To desire to know God fully
God’s redemption of the Israelites enabled them to know him by name. They got a deeper insight into his character and his deeds. They were called to respond in whole hearted love for Him (Deuteronomy 6:5). Our response to God should be overwhelming love and gratitude.
Note though that this gratitude is not about “paying God. Back.” Rather it’s a bout a sense of joy, delight and dependence on God knowing that I cannot pay it back but living differently because there is no way I want to go back to what he rescued me from. Think about the person (or country) trying to repay the massive debt they owe. After years of careful prudence and austerity they look at the balance sheet and discover that they haven’t even made a small inroad into the mountain of debt. They are barely keeping pace with the interest repayments.
We can never repay God for what he has done. An attitude of gratitude does not cut it. In fact, the wonder of this goes deeper. I can’t repay God because he has not stopped giving to me and he won’t stop. Even when I think God cannot show any more grace I will discover that he gives again and again on into eternity. John Piper calls this “future grace.” It would be like trying to refill a fountain flowing out from a mountain spring. It’s pointless because the spring doesn’t need refilling. It doesn’t run dry. Jesus talked to a women at a well about streams of living water that never run out. This is the grace that we enjoy in God.
To seek to obey him in all my life
And yet there is a call to obedience. So how does that work? Many people made the mistake of thinking that they were keeping God’s Law because it was over to them, earning God’s love, repaying him, gaining the right to eternal life. We can make the same mistake. But is the alternative to just live as we please. The apostle Paul would say “by no means” (Romans 6:1).
So why should we obey?
Recently we’ve talked a lot about the problem of guilt. Sometimes we end up trying to do good, serve in the church, tithe, make sacrificial decisions out of a sense of guilt. This is part of the earning and payback mind-set. So is there a way of obeying God that isn’t about repaying or atoning for guilt? And what about those of us who don’t particularly struggle with deep seated, hidden guilt but maybe sometimes wonder “Why do I do this?” “Is it worth it” or even, I’m tired and tempted to give up. What’s our motivation?
Well, three things.
First at a basic level, in the practical teaching of the bible, we find those boundaries, not barriers to exclude people but boundaries that help us know where it is safe and to be at the centre of God’s will so we can enjoy him.
Secondly, obedience comes with identity. That’s the point of Romans 6. We have a new life and identity in Christ. We should live out the reality of this.
Thirdly, obedience is about trust –it is rooted in faith …. It is a way of saying that I trust God to keep his promises. That’s why in Hebrews’ 11 we have the repeated refrain. “by faith ….” Trust led to action. God’s people show that they trust God to protect them and provide for them, to be with them. Trust shows that I look forward in hope to what Christ has in store for me when he returns.
Trust is about enjoying the journey. So for some of us it’s not that I need to repent or get this big burden of guilt lifted off me but it’s a reminder again about why I keep God’s law, go to church, give to charity, care for my kids, speak up for justice. The answer is that it’s about our everyday life showing we have this trust, we have this hope.
To keep on depending on his grace
I love communion with the invitation to “Do this in remembrance of me.” It’s a call back to grace. Christians never get beyond the Gospel.
What part do I play?
- There is a “keeping” –it’s about faith/trust. (NB Paul says even faith itself is a gift Ephesians 2:8-10) – Christians are called to follow/obey/grow. Are you following, obeying, growing, and trusting?
- But, never see it as God saves you, gives you a second chance and sends you on the way. It’s grace all the way. I am constantly, completely dependent on Him. I can’t save myself, I can’t pay him back and yet he calls me to follow him and serve him. Even my service is a gift from him.