The Gospel and “Covenantal Love”

The Gospel and “Covenantal Love” August 12, 2015

The biblical concept of “covenant” should shape how we preach the gospel.

I expect some push back on this point when people read my new book One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization.  Accordingly, in the next few posts of my series, I’ll explain the relationship between the biblical covenants and the gospel.

People sometimes object, “Certainly I don’t have to explain Abraham, Moses, and David” in order to evangelize!” What could be more nonsensical? Perhaps saying that “God loves you” is not the gospel? (Yes, I said that too in my previous post).

What’s love got to do with it?

How does the gospel reveal God’s covenantal love?

In what follows, I am drawing from Scot McKnight’s recent book Kingdom Conspiracy. You can hear Scot elaborate on these ideas in a series of talks delivered at ACU (part 1; part 2).

God’s offers us covenantal love. Apart from a covenant, His love becomes mere sentiment. Covenantal love is a “rugged commitment” (Scot’s language), characterized by three features.

1. “with”

God commits to being with his people. His presence is the fundamental blessing of life. When His Spirit lead Israel and indwelled the Temple, God’s people knew that God was near. This idea is expressed in various places, such as:

Exod 33:14, “And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’

Jer 31:33, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

This sort of language is typical throughout the Old Testament when God reaffirms his commitment to his people.

2. “for”

Covenant love is for another person. It seeks someone else’s good. When God established His covenants, he expresses his promise to bless the object of His affection. Consider the multifaceted nature of his promises listed in Ezek 36:25–28,

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

3. “unto”

Finally, God’s covenantal love has a purpose. It is unto some goal. A great passage that captures this idea is Rom 8:28–30,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Because God’s reign is forever, we know that His love will endure until we are made to reflect the glory of Jesus Christ. This is a key aim of God’s covenants, . . . that his people would be holy.

For the love . . . .

Want to proclaim God’s love in your gospel presentations?

Then preach the covenants. This is the particular way that God manifests His love. His love is a particular sort of love. It defines human experience. It is concrete and historical.

When we fail to articulate how God has revealed Himself within the story of history, we present an abstract notion of God. People don’t care whether an abstract Idea loves them. They want to know that God acts in history.

If we were to compare the gospel to a human body, we might say that framework themes (like covenant) are akin to our bones. They give the body form and strength. In such a comparison, we might say God’s love is like the marrow, producing the cells in our blood needed for life.

In the next post in the series, I’ll show were the gospel is presented in terms of God’s covenants. Later, I’ll also answer the question: Why does Paul call the Abrahamic covenant “the gospel” (Gal 3:8)?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons 2.0/Flickr

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