Covenantal Spirituality

I was nineteen years old the first time I preached in a Sunday service. I remember it being a cold morning at that small Presbyterian church in the outskirts of Londrina, Brazil. The wooden pews were occupied by congregants who that day sat closer together than usual hoping for a respite against the cold. My message that morning was titled “The Consequences of Election and Covenant for the People of God.”

For someone’s first sermon, you can say my topic was well beyond my grasp. Nevertheless, when the senior pastor told me I could speak on any subject, I immediately resorted to what I considered most fundamental to my faith. Though daunting, I gladly welcomed the task.

Spirituality and relationship with God have always been key focuses of my journey. Because of that, covenant has been a constant prism in my view of life as a Christian man. Throughout my walk I have attempted to develop a cross-centered and covenant minded spirituality and mission since that first “Sunday sermon” over fifteen years ago. It is in that quest that I also launched Carrying the Cross in 2007. My philosophical approach here is to also promote covenant-centered spirituality and mission based on Matthew 16:24. Christ calls us into covenant and we put off other ambitions for His name’s sake.

Covenant is one of the overarching narratives in the Bible. Throughout Scripture, we find that divine covenant is both individual and collective. God establishes a pact with individuals (e.g. Noah, Abraham, David) but also with God’s people (e.g. Israel and the Church). It is by using covenant that God reveals God’s-self within a relational framework of trust, freedom and reciprocity. In Scripture, we also find that covenant also served to organize God’s community. The Exodus covenant established the inner-workings of Israel. Covenant not only guided human/divine interaction, but it also become a model for interpersonal relationships.

Covenant is definitely a central theme in the Bible and can shed considerable light upon biblical understandings of God’s actions and of the moral life. It provides a unifying theme in the midst of the multiplicity of the Bible. As its main characteristic, we find that Scriptural covenant is always divinely initiated, which in turn empowers a response from mankind. Covenant is therefore a reflection of God’s power and grace.

We usually think of covenant as a set of terms. But it is God’s grace and trustworthiness rather than human moral rightness that lays the foundation of the covenant. Grace is the power of God that nurtures us to be a faithful covenantal partner with him. By participating in the covenant, our life ultimately becomes the graced (or grace-filled) life. Covenant is therefore an incubator of grace and gratefulness that leads to an increasingly sanctified human existence. 

This response is not only spiritual, but also moral. By being rooted into grace through covenant, human beings are progressively transformed into God’s image seeking to do God’s will in gratitude. Our lives gradually patterns after God’s character (imitatio Dei) fulfilling God’s creational intention for us (imago Dei). Therefore, covenant acts as a framework for a Christian life.

This relationality puts us into a dialogical process with the other, which extends vertically to God, horizontally to fellow human beings and internally with self. With God, covenanting evokes worship and holiness, assertion of self and abandonment of self. With neighbor, covenanting requires joy and sorrow, truth in love, upbuilding in the midst of freedom. With the self, covenanting requires the readiness to receive scattering and the freedom for gathering a self that is unlike the old one, a process we often term conversion or regeneration.

God’s covenant creates a spirituality where human agency and moral decisions are empowered by joy and gratitude. This model expresses the sociability of human existence as well as the unique worth of each individual. Covenant shows that individuals are never interchangeable units, as they would seem to be within a individualistic and contractual approach to relationships.

In Scripture we find God who is sovereign, powerful and gracious initiates that covenant. God does not negotiate terms with humanity, but uses covenantal norms as guidelines of grace where trust, freedom and life can prosper. Covenant communicates that God and humans are social beings, who belong to each other and are indebted with their lives and resources. This reciprocity and mutuality are demonstrated through grace and gratefulness, nurturing equality and inherent human worth. 

Overall, covenant provides a framework where divine action and human response are intertwined to each other. By adhering to divine norms, Christian spirituality is not simply about obeying a contractual agreement at its simplest terms. Rather, it’s the ultimate participation in God’s overarching story of redemption and renewal. Covenant is rooted in worship. In the end, covenant sets the guidelines of grace and gratitude, which in turn animate the imitation of God’s character in his people, ultimately leading to the outworking of God’s glorious purpose in the world.

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