Final installement of our covenant renewal blog post series! Thanks to Dr Dow for allowing us to re-posts these great sermons. Enjoy!
When should I renew my covenant with God?
Read: 2 Chronicles 34:29-33
What has come to be known as ‘the oyster’ is a huge hydro-electric wave energy device. It is located off the coast of Orkney and, harnessing the power of waves, drives an onshore turbine. Electricity from the Oyster is now being fed into the National Grid. The Scottish Government are hailing it as being a triumph of Renewable energy. It’s using the energy of the waves to power homes and industry. Tonight, I want to re-introduce you to a forgotten source of power in the Christian life. Former generations have been deriving energy from it for centuries. It is a devotional practice known as ‘renewing our covenant with God’. Through this devotional practice, our forefathers in the faith gained strength and energy to keep going and keep growing in their Christian faith – and we can too.
This is the third week we have been looking at the whole topic of renewing our covenant with God and I want, for the benefit of us all, to recap where we have got to. First, we defined what renewing our covenant was. Looking through Joshua 24 and the renewal of the covenant at Shechem, we discovered that to renew our covenant with God is to recommit ourselves to being His people – as individuals to recommit ourselves to Him, to be His now and forever; and it is to abandon and forsake everything we know to be wrong in our lives – all the idols we worship and the secret sins we cherish. To renew our covenant with God is to take Him seriously. Secondly, we explored the reasons why we renew our covenant with God. We saw that the fundamental reason is found in our changeability – in our going forward, or going back, in our Christian faith. As we either progress or regress, we are confronted by 3 foundational questions: first, a question of God’s Glory, where we both reflect upon the Glory of His Character and the Glory of His Love; secondly, a question of God’s Holiness, where we are confronted by the dazzling purity of God, and God as He is in Christ, and we are forced to our knees as sinfully ugly before His spotless beauty; lastly, a question of God’s Presence, where we long for more of His Spirit’s presence in our lives as Christians.
And so on to our question tonight – when should we renew our covenant with God? When should we recommit ourselves to being His and His alone; and when should we abandon and forsake our sinful idols? In many ways, the answer to this question is found in the reasons why we renew our covenant. We might say that we renew our covenant with God when we glimpse a new view of God’s glory, God’s holiness or God’s presence. But there is more to it than that, for sometimes, just like other devotional practices like prayer and Bible reading, we must force ourselves to renew our covenant with God. As I see it, there are two broad areas which define for us the frequency with which we renew our covenant with God: first, regular (or ordinary) renewal when on a regular basis we recommit ourselves to Christ; secondly, opportune or extraordinary renewal, when in reaction to some change in life circumstance or personal growth, we renew our commitment to Him.
[A] Regular Renewal
When I talk about regular, or ordinary, renewal, I’m talking about how, on regular, pre-determined occasions, we renew our covenant with God. You might think this to be over-formal and rather cold, but it doesn’t have to be. There are basically two major ways in which we can divide the year and therefore regularly devote ourselves to renewing our commitment to Jesus Christ: first, it can be calendar driven and secondly, it can be church driven.
1. Calendar Driven – to talk about our covenant renewal being driven by the calendar is simply to refer to the way in which at certain times of the year, we give thought to renewing our covenant with God. Again, you might think that this is somehow contrived, but think about it this way: we plan to take our wives out for a meal – we decide on a date and then we make preparations. That’s not a cold nor contrived way to express your love to your wife – in fact, what you are doing is to consciously plan to spend time with her as opposed to someone else – to deliberately plan to express your love to her in this way. There are two ways in which we might use our calendars to renew our covenant with God: first, at a new year or a birthday; and secondly, monthly or weekly.
a. New Year / Birthday – the Jews have a festival called, ‘the Head of the Year’ or ‘Rosh Hashannah’. It doesn’t take place on our 1stJanuary, but it seems quite a good name for what happens on our 1stJanuary. It really is the head of the year. And as such, it is the perfect time to renew our covenant with God to seek His forgiveness for what has gone before, and to pledge ourselves, in Gospel faith and in the Spirit’s strength, to Him in the year that lies ahead. After all, if our thoughts are not God-ward at New Year, where are they? It is the head of the year, and where better to have our head than in the clean air of the presence of Christ. Likewise, birthdays are occasions when having one year added to our age, we get a chance to reflect upon our growing older. It’s a good opportunity to review how committed we are to God, and to renew our covenant with Him. Yes, it’s a time of celebration – perhaps also a time to forget – but it’s a day we can use to draw nearer to God. We don’t want to be slavishly tied to these occasions, but they do present us with definite opportunities to get closer to God.
b. Monthly / Weekly – my first encounter with this devotional practice known as ‘renewing our covenant with God’ came as I read the diary of the Free Church Father, Thomas Chalmers. As a newly converted Christian, it was his practice to take the first Monday morning of the month as an opportunity to recommit himself to following Christ. He talks much of his thoughts of the cross and the glory of the love of Christ during his devotions – but especially on that first Monday morning of the month when he renews his covenant with God. You might think that ministers don’t need to recommit themselves to God and get rid of their idols – but the minister can often suffer from a more prevalent idolatry than anyone else in his congregation. But then, just as we have a New Year’s Day – the head of the year – so we have a Sunday – the head of the week. Renewing our covenant with God takes time and so, perhaps if you have an extremely busy home life, once a week to renew your covenant with God is asking a bit much – and God understands. And yet, this is one of the reasons He has given us the Christian Sabbath – to rest from our daily work and to spend the day in worshipful rest instead.
And so, with both of these calendar driven renewals, we are talking about planning for covenant renewal – not a cold, formal thing – but a planned expression of love and commitment.
2. Church Driven – perhaps, more than a mere calendar, we find our covenant renewal driven more by the Church in which we worship. As I see it, included within this church-driven renewal of our covenant with God, lie two different occasions: first, the Christian calendar and secondly, the Sacraments.
a. Christian Calendar – when I am talking about the Christian calendar, I’m referring principally to the festivals we know as Christmas and Easter. It may be that you don’t celebrate them – after all, I can’t hand on heart tell you that they are Biblical. But even if you don’t, surely you can use the events they point to, to renew your covenant with God. Think of the Christmas story – of the incarnation of the Son of God – God in human form, suffering from the very beginning the humiliation of the stable and the swaddling clothes. Think of the Easter story – again, not the green hill far away, but the stinking dust of Golgotha where criminals were tortured to death on wooden crosses and where the glory of Heaven became nothing. Use these times to reflect on the Gospel of God in Christ, that He emptied Himself and became a servant; He went to the Cross and bore our sins and guilt; He died our death and rose victorious – and He did it all for me. Use them as goads to prompt you to renew your covenant with Christ.
b. Sacraments – four times a year, in this congregation, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We eat bread and we drink wine. We meditate on the fact that these are symbols of His body and blood, given for us. We share fellowship and enjoy the unity of Christ’s body. We look forward to when we will drink the fruit of the vine with Him in His Father’s Kingdom. We see, touch and taste the drama of Christ’s passion. Surely, amongst all the others, Communion seasons present the perfect opportunity to renew our covenants with God – to, by His Spirit, lay aside all idols and cherished sins, and to follow Christ and Him alone! Again, every time a child is baptised in this congregation, does it not cause us to remember how our parents made vows on our behalf on the occasion of our baptism? Does it not cause us to want to honour our parents by renewing our commitment to their commitment on our behalf by renewing our covenant with God? The sacraments, particularly the Lord’s Supper, are the perfect opportunity for covenant renewal.
These are the regular ordinary occasions on which we may renew our covenant with God. Cold they aren’t – formal they aren’t – but planned they are. But I hope we can all see that rather than take away the spontaneity of the expression of love in the renewal; regular renewal provides the perfect foundation God to strengthen us in our faith in Jesus Christ.
[B] Opportune Renewal
When I talk about opportune or extraordinary renewal, I’m referring to a more spontaneous, opportunistic renewal of our commitments to Christ. In 2 Chronicles 34, good King Josiah had rediscovered what is called, ‘the Book of the Covenant’ – probably a reference to what Nehemiah calls, ‘the Book of the Law’, or the first five books of the Old Testament – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They’ve rediscovered the Bible! And now the surprise of finding the book has prompted a renewal of covenant. It’s an opportunity to recommit themselves again to God. The change comes – the book is found – and they take the opportunity provided to renew their covenant with God.
There are four areas in which we get an opportunity to renew our covenant with God – to be His and His alone and to put aside every thing we know to be wrong: first, providence driven renewal; secondly, behaviour driven renewal; thirdly, bible driven renewal and lastly, desire driven renewal.
1. Providence Driven – the ultimate reason, as we discovered last week, why we renew our covenants with God is that we have changed – we have either grown in our faith or we have gone back. But attached to that reason is not only a change in us, but a change in our lives – a change not just to the way we are on the inside, but the way we are on the outside too. God’s design for our lives – our providence – often provides opportunities for us to recommit ourselves to Christ and His Cross. This occurs both in life circumstances and in life change:
a. Life Circumstances – how a moment can change a life! A moment is the difference between not knowing and knowing why you have a pain in your side; a moment is the difference between having a job and being unemployed; a moment is the difference between having a girlfriend and being single. These moments, for good or for ill, provide us with opportunities to renew our covenant with God. And so, we aim to recommit ourselves to God in the bad times, and in the good.
The Bad Times – it can be so easy when we are in the depths of loneliness, rejection, despondency, depression, grief and worry to turn away from God – to blame Him and to hate Him for the way our lives are going. ‘Where is your God now’, others may say to us – ‘where is my God now’, we may say to ourselves. It’s hard in the bad times to keep a grip of God. The good news of the Gospel is that its not so much how hard we grip God, but how completely He grips us which is the measure of our salvation. In Christ, He has given us all things. And so, rather than turn away from God, let’s use the bad times to kiss the hand which has smitten us – to renew our covenant with God even as we fight to keep our composure.
The Good Times – if its hard to keep going in the bad times, its even harder to keep going in the good times! In the bad times, often we have only God to turn to; but in the good times, its so easy to become self-sufficient, proud, self-dependent, arrogant and self-trusting – in short, to forget all about how much we need God. The sun is smiling, we feel good and everything’s going great – we don’t need God! But now is the very time that we need Him the most – we need Him to show us how naked and blind we are without Him. And so, in the good times, although perhaps we don’t feel like it, it’s an opportune time to renew our covenant with God and give Him thanks for all He has done for us. After all, as the Psalmist says, “our times are in His hands”.
b. Life Change – we can go for many years in the same direction in life, and then a moment changes everything. Our lives change – either intentionally or unintentionally. We can decide that we want to pursue a new career; or we can have that decision thrust upon us by compulsory redundancy; a new baby is born in the family – either planned or a wee surprise; we my have planned to retire, or the decision may have been forced upon us. There are so many different ways in which our lives can change, but in each of them – new career, new family, new home, retirement, whatever – there is the opportunity to begin this new phase of life with a renewal of our commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to make sure that we start as we mean to continue – and so we determine that by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the knowledge of God’s forgiveness of our sin, we shall be committed to God and Him alone in this new path of life.
God’s providence is a tapestry which we often can’t understand – but in each coloured thread and pattern, there’s the opportunity to get to know Him better.
2. Behaviour Driven – our behaviour and character both define who we are and express who we are on the inside. Even if nobody else knows what we are getting up to in private and away from prying eyes, God knows. And our behaviour, for good or for ill, presents us with an opportunity to renew our covenant with God. Supposing we have been living a relatively righteous life – we have been walking uprightly, worshipping regularly and ticking the boxes of Christian piety – this is the very time we need to renew our covenant with God lest we give into pride and self-congratulation – lest we become Pharisees and forget that it is by grace we have been saved and it is by grace we stand. Supposing we have been living a dissolute and unrighteous life – we’ve been skating on thin ice and tending too much towards the world, its patterns of thought and its accepted standards – it’s about time we, given a new vision of the glory, holiness and presence of God – came to our senses and returned to God again. If you recognise yourself in this description, and to some extent we all do, we need to renew our covenant with God that, by the power of His Holy Spirit, and by the grace of Jesus Christ, we will get rid of our idols and abominations and we will walk after Him and Him alone. Our behaviour, for good or for ill, presents us with the opportunity to renew our covenant with God. Let’s remember that next time we give into worldliness.
3. Bible Driven – the Bible we own is the most precious thing we have. A retired couple from Dorset had a very pleasant shock recently. For years, they had been using what they thought was a worthless vase as an umbrella stand. However, an antique’s expert recently visiting their home stumbled upon the umbrella stand. He took a photograph of the vase and went away and did some research only to discover that in fact, the vase is a lost, ancient Chinese Vase and worth £500,000. What the couple thought of as worthless, is really priceless. I wonder what the people before King Josiah had been using their Bible for? Perhaps an ornament, perhaps holding up a shelf in the temple; just gathering dust in a corner. But then, when it was rediscovered, its true value was priceless. The Bible is priceless chiefly because it testifies and witnesses to Christ – in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Christ we have salvation – in Him there is an incomprehensible depth of excellencies such that there is ever room for new discoveries in Him. And perhaps just recently, as you have been reading and studying the Bible, you’ve been struck again by how amazing God is – the glory of His character and His love; the radiance of His holiness; the beauty of His presence – through reading this priceless book, you have come to know Him in a new and living way. Now then is the time when you should renew your covenant with God. The Bible has driven you to recommit yourself to living your life as an explorer of the incomprehensible depth of excellencies which there are in Christ.
4. Desire Driven – one of the most common answers given to the question, “why did you do that” is, “because I felt like it”. Usually, the thing we’ve done is wrong and we’re being asked to justify why we did it. But sometimes, and this is one occasion, ‘because I felt like it’ can be a great reason for doing something positive. Why did the loving husband buy his wife flowers this week? Because it was his duty or because he felt like it? And even though we aren’t giving much time to this point in our sermon, ultimately, it is the strongest reason to renew our covenant with God – because we feel like it! Nobody is forcing us to; its something we really want to do. We want to know Christ better and turn away from every way we know to be false and so we bow the knee before Him again and recommit ourselves to Him – to be His and to be His alone. Our greatest joy is found in God’s greatest glory – and so to glorify Him by renewing our covenant with Jesus Christ is the path to true joy. And so you ask ‘why do you renew your covenant with God’, and the Christian who knows that real joy is to be found only in knowing and glorifying Christ says, ‘because I feel like it.’
As we close, let’s go back to the beginning and talk about energy – not wave energy, but spiritual power. We have a choice at the end of the service tonight. We can go home and forget about what we have heard; or we can go home, open our Bibles, get down on our knees and renew our commitment to King Jesus – like Josiah, we can renew our covenant to get rid of all our idols and to walk after the Lord, to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all our heart and soul and to perform the words of the covenant as recorded in the Bible. In short, we can renew our commitment to living by faith in the grace of the crucified and risen Christ. The choice is clear – the idols or God; the fantasy or the reality; the weakness or the strength. Which way will you go? AMEN