What Is Covenant?

Dr. Craig von BuseckBy Dr. Craig von Buseck10 Minutes

CVB: Let’s start with a definition of covenant. What is a covenant and where do you find that in scripture?

Dr. Mark Johnson: The word covenant is used throughout Scripture. There are some people that view covenant as a form of contract. The place I’m drawing my definition of that word is from Clay Trumble that I was made aware of in a Bible study on covenant by Kay Arthur. She referenced this book extensively and so I bought the book. In reading his definition of covenant, suddenly everything snapped into place. All the various things that we’re called to do as believers we do because of the nature of the relationship. That wasn’t something I had seen before.

I came to find that there are four key characteristics of a covenant:

One is an exchange of identities between two parties that leads to a different and new life. In the case of God, He did become man. He did become a full human being. So that would qualify as an exchange of identity and is frankly a new nature of being for Him as well. So we have a new life that it’s created.

Two is a bond of shared nature and identity between the parties. In a marriage, you have a one-flesh relationship that is a family. The ‘one’ in the words ‘one flesh marriage’ is a covenant similar to the ‘new covenant with God.’ It’s the same form of relationship. In fact, God uses marriage to illustrate the relationship with Him and vice versa in the Scriptures. So, the bond of nature, that identity that we have in a ‘one-flesh’ bond is the same as the term, ‘God is one.’ This is also basically modeling marriage after the Trinity.

In John 17, Jesus prays, “May they be one as we are one.” May we as believers be one with Jesus and may believers be one with each other. We are one as the Trinity is one. What we are looking at is a relationship that God created and conveyed to humanity in both the new covenant and in a marriage where we model the Trinity. We have that bond of nature and identity in the Trinity. Each individual in the Trinity is fully God, but they’re also joined by common nature and identity as God.

Blood covenants are a third identity changing covenant. David called his blood covenant with Jonathan “the covenant of the Lord.” In Scripture, there are historically significant responsibilities, obligations, and duties, all of which are logical consequences of the new nature and the joining of the nature identity that we have. In other words, when God calls on us to obey Him, everything that he’s telling us to do is about building a relationship with Him and with others.

It’s about loving God, which is His first and greatest command – loving Him and loving other people. So He’s trying to build in us the capacity to love. Covenant is the vehicle by which He does that.

Then the fourth element of covenant is the position this relationship holds in our lives. This becomes the pre-eminent central feature of our lives. In a Christian marriage there will be relationship with God, which then supersedes the marriage. This relationship takes front and center and everything else is intended to integrate around that.

CVB: How do we apply this understanding of covenant in our walk with the Lord? Where does the rubber meet the road beyond the theory of it?

Mark: I have become a new creature. One of the reasons I wanted to write this book is because the concept of the new creature is not very well defined. It’s kind of glossed over it. Who is that new creature? What does that mean?

From a practical standpoint, I may be called to do something by God that did not make sense to me. It felt like that thing ran cross grain to my nature. I was looking at the square peg of obedience, and I was trying to ram it into a round hole of me. However, that perception of myself was something that had grown in my entire pre-Christian life. Now, it’s explicit when you get into the New Covenant, the old me dies. A new life comes into being and the old life is gone. So, I am now standing up for the interest of a being that no longer exists.

Further, what I thought I knew about life was often a package of deception about who I am as a being, and also how to live my best life. This is sold to me by the enemies of God for my destruction. We all have a lot of those seeds that have been incorporated into our viewpoints and our guidance system through our culture. So I decided to see if my best interest really was what I thought it was, or was my true best interest what God was telling me to do?

In beginning to be obedient in those areas where I felt that resistance, what I found was that this is what I wanted to do all along. I just didn’t realize it. Over time it became evident to me that obedience to God is not, again, a forced obedience against our nature. What God’s doing is inviting us to authentically live out the ‘new being’ we have become.

The problem is we don’t perceive that ‘new being’ we have become very clearly. Finding out who you are is quite the journey in life and we all only get there partially. Now we’ve got a situation where in the spiritual realm we’ve been transported into an entirely new being, but that thing is largely in the form of potential to be developed. So what God wants to do is grow up that new being into maturity.

Now I’ve got a choice. I can either continue trying to be the being that I used to be, in the way I used to be it, or I can realize that God has made something altogether new. He is inviting me to live that out by obedience to Him and by learning to love.

But I’ve got two problems. One is my guidance system is not transformed. As we come into the New Covenant, we drag that with us. That’s why God says, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In the book, I go into some detail about the process of shifting our guidance systems – that is based on a bunch of deception from the enemy that we believe to be true – to actual truth, which is based on God’s Word. God is very kind to give us truth that we can use to fill in that guidance system.

When we look at this closely by the decisions that we make, even our emotions are largely formed by decisions we’ve made about what’s true and what’s not. So God is inviting us to go back and rewire our guidance system by being “transformed by the renewing of our mind.” (Romans 12:2)

But that’s something we have to do. Many people sit back and wait for God to change them so they’ll stop doing one thing or another. They think God’s supposed to make them not want to do it before they stop. This is as opposed to us very proactively going about revising our own guidance system and our own character so that we develop convictions that are godly. God’s Spirit clearly has a huge role in all of this, but we also have to decide to do it. If we resist, it doesn’t happen. Or if we neglect this, it doesn’t happen.

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