We’re talking about covenants today. Specifically, God’s covenant promise to us, and how it fits into the Old Testament and all the promises to Israel we find there. We’ve been working through a study of the book of Ephesians in order to better understand how we have been identified as God’s holy people. (Click to catch up on what you’ve missed) We’re allowing our Creator (the One who so carefully knit us together in our mother’s womb) to give us our labels, since He’s the only one who really has that right. We’re ready to dive into the second section of Ephesians two where we’re going to be introduced to the idea of a covenant promise, and learn to understand our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God.
The Covenant Promise of The Old Covenant
There was a time when being a citizen of Israel carried great privilege and position. They were God’s holy people. They were the ones He had chosen as His own.
Israel entered into covenant relationship with God, with circumcision being their badge of honor to show their part in the covenant. It’s what we refer to now as the Old Covenant, and in it God used the law as a standard to show how badly Israel needed Him. Throughout the thousands of years recorded for us in the Old Testament, God made promise after promise to those who were a part of that covenant relationship with God.
His covenant promise was to guide, protect, provide for, and prosper them; but more importantly, His covenant promise was to love without condition and to save for all eternity through faith in His promised Messiah those who belonged to Him.
But the Old Covenant with Israel was flawed. Through the prophet Jeremiah God told us there was a day coming when there would be a new and better covenant:
The Stone the Builders Rejected
At first glance, it does seem like this new covenant would still be for Israel and not the rest of us. But when Jesus came to earth, and His sacrificial death made the old covenant obsolete, the people of Israel by and large rejected Him.
1 Peter 2:4-10 – You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but He was chosen by God for great honor.
And you are living stones that God is building into His spiritual temple. What’s more, you are His holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,
“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.”
Yes, you who trust Him recognize the honor God has given Him. But for those who reject Him,
“The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.
“He is the stone that make people stumble,, the rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.
But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.
“Once you had no identity as people; now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”
And so, as the New Testament church was established under this new covenant, God revealed that it was available to all! The Jew first, but also the Gentile!
Romans 1:16 – For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes – the Jew first and also the Gentile.
It might be tempting at this point to glaze over Israel’s rejection and simply focus on the fact that salvation was made available to all, but I think the rejection is important, because it serves as a warning, and helps us understand our own identity under the new covenant.
As he pens the first verses of Romans 9, Paul laments his lost kinsmen who have rejected Jesus. So deep is his grief, he claims to even be willing to give up his own right standing if it could somehow save them. He remembers who they had been, and at the end of the chapter, how that position coupled to their own pride became the very thing that doomed them to reject a salvation they didn’t think they needed.
Romans 9:4 – They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s adopted children. God revealed His glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave them His law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping Him and receiving His wonderful promises.
Romans 9:30-32 – What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in Him.
Citizens of the Kingdom of God
A few chapters later, in Romans 11, we see the result of that error:
Romans 11:17 – But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree – some of the people of Israel – have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.
You see, had the people of Israel not become so caught up in their position of privilege, thinking themselves somehow able to work their way into right standing with God, perhaps they would have been more keen to recognize the One who came to offer them the salvation they so desperately needed. The Messiah was part of the covenant promise! But they missed Him. How easy it is for us, today, to get caught in the same trap!
May it serve as a warning to those of us who have grown up in a religious system. Our works, and our religion CAN NOT save us friends! It is only through faith in Christ. Even if our family has followed God for generations, it doesn’t guarantee our own position as citizens of the Kingdom. We must EACH humble ourselves before the Lord and surrender our hearts to Him. We must each repent of our sins and invite Him in. Let our place among the branches of the Tree of Life not be given to another for our lack of faith!
The Covenant Promise of The New Covenant
Before we tie this all together in order to fully understand our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God and the privileges of covenant promise that brings, lets nail down what makes the new covenant different from the old one. From the prophesy in Jeremiah we already know that under this new system God’s laws will be written on the hearts of His people rather than on tablets of stone. But there is a lot more to it than that!
Hebrews 8:6-8 – But now Jesus, our High Priest, has been given a ministry that is far superior to the old priesthood, for He is the One who mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. But when God found fault with the people He said: “The day is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant…”
Hebrews 9:13-15 – Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why He is the One who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that ALL WHO ARE CALLED can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under the first covenant.
Hebrews 10:19-23 – And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By His death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for GOD CAN BE TRUSTED TO KEEP HIS PROMISES.
As citizens under the new covenant, everything is different! We are no longer bound to a system of law and sacrifices, because the sacrifice of Jesus made those things unnecessary. Now, we have this incredible privilege to go right into the presence of God with a clear conscience, knowing we’ve been permanently and eternally purified by the sacrificial blood of Christ.
From this position, we’ve been grafted into the family tree of God and made part of the nation of Israel – no matter who we are by birth! That means all the covenant promises made to God’s people from Genesis to Revelation are now given to us! THAT’s our identity! We’re citizens of the Kingdom of God. Children of the covenant promise!
And GOD CAN BE TRUSTED TO KEEP HIS PROMISES!
If you enjoyed this post, check out the rest of the Identified Series as we work our way through the whole book of Ephesians to discover everything God has to teach us about who we are in Him.