Covenant Responsibilities

I was doing some work in Ezek 33 last week. The city had finally fallen and a few survivors were living in the ruins of Jerusalem. Perversely they seemed to think that, since they were Abraham’s descendants, and they were the only ones remaining in the land, then the land must belong to them. They were laying claim to the covenant blessings promised to Abraham. The problem was they were worshiping idols, eating food with the blood still in it, and defiling one another’s wives. In essence they wanted the covenant blessings without covenant responsibilities.

Now, I guess many of us aren’t bowing down to little statues or going to wife-swapping parties, but is it still possible that we want covenant blessings without covenant responsibilities. Here’s a little grid I used on Sunday with our folk to help think about what our covenant responsibilities might look like. It’s clearly not all there is to say but it may be helpful, so here it is:

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So bottom left is your own personal devotional life. Bottom right is your Christian life in the places God has called you – work, home, community etc. Top left is the internal life of the covenant community. Top right is the corporate witness to those who aren’t yet Christ-followers. Now we’ll all struggle with most of those to differing degrees. But if you said to me I’m not really interested in reading my Bible, no-one at works knows I’m a Christian, I don’t want to join your church, and I won’t be involved with outreach, I’d gently suggest that you, like those in Ezek 33, want all the covenant blessings with none of the covenant responsibilities.

We rightly react strongly against legalism, but if you swing that pendulum to far you end up at antinomianism. Some of the ‘grace in your face’ literature misses the obligation involved in a real healthy living covenant relationship. Of course grace should motivate our response, but seeing as our motives will always be, to some degree, mixed we can’t always wait for people’s hearts to be in just the right place before they do something that God says is good for them. Do I love my wife sacrificially just when I’m feeling all loved up, or all the time? And do I actually find that when I love my wife and serve her my affections are warmed as a consequence. Seems to me that contemporary evangelicalism could do with nudging the pendulum back toward the centre. Is it just me?

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