“Contracts were made to be broken.”
I can still hear my dad saying those words. He usually said them when he was looking to get out of an agreement with someone or some entity. Sadly, my father only reflected what is true of all of us to some degree: We have an inherent issue with contract-keeping. We break laws, and we break contracts. From taking office pens to breaking the speed limit, there’s something about a “wet paint” sign that lures us to touch it.
The sin nature and its author, the tempter, are right there to toy with any and every law. That’s what he did to Eve as she stared at the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in Eden. He caused her to reinterpret God’s very clear instruction and then sin through disobedience. Have you been tempted to reinterpret a very clear command of Scripture? Have you tried to reason it away or sidestep its obvious boundary?
Laws reveal what should be “in a perfect world.” They set standards, define boundaries, and reveal the essence of the person who wrote them. But laws are weak in that they can only inform people from the outside. Laws may successfully reign in behavior, but they cannot necessarily change hearts.
So, contracts were made to be broken. Why? Because all laws start with a decision someone else made on our behalf. When someone else decides for us, we will be tempted to work around their decision, find the loophole in their wording, or sidestep their requirements. That’s what the sin nature does. No matter how good the law, how pure or beneficial, if we can’t align with it, we’ll break it.
“Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good” (Romans 7:13–16).
But not so with covenants. Covenants are kept. Period.
Enter Jesus. He is the Great I Am of covenants.
It’s interesting to me that we speak of covenant-keeping. By their very nature and definition, covenants are kept. Perhaps we’ve confused the whole idea of covenants with contracts and seen those two concepts as interchangeable. They are not. Laws must be enforced, but covenants are a force unto themselves. To say covenant-keeping would be like saying sky-bluing or snow-whitening when the sky is already blue, and snow is already white. Glue, by its definition, is already an adhesive so you don’t have to define it by saying glue-gluing.
Covenants are established ad infinitum as a matter of devotion-based choice. Once established, they are established in perpetuity. In Genesis, when God speaks of His covenant, He uses words and phrases like, “I will establish my covenant,” “this is the sign of the covenant,” “I will remember my covenant,” “this is my covenant,” and “an everlasting covenant.” Our God is a God who establishes everlasting, devotion-based, decisive covenants that simply cannot be broken.
So how do you and I become people who live like Jesus, establishing covenants through devotion-based choice with others that do not break? In order to answer that question, we need to look at the sufficiency of the Great I Am, not the insufficiency of ourselves.
A glove is an inanimate object. It is limp and lifeless. However, stick your hand in it and it follows every nuance of your movement. When it comes to covenants, we are mere gloves until the hand of God — through the presence of His Holy Spirit — guides and directs our movements. The Holy Spirit living and dwelling inside us is a living law that breathes covenant through our lives. Are you beginning to see the far-reaching implications of this for the church? Imagine what your church and mine would look like if we truly understood, lived and established covenants with one another, seeing the very life of the Holy Spirit who authors covenants at work in all we do and say!
So let’s paint a few word pictures of things we do in church and look at them through the lens of the law and the lens of covenant.
Songs of Praise in Worship
• Law: “I can’t seem to get past the older style of our music. I stand up with everyone, but my heart isn’t in it.”
• Covenant: “Every chance I get I sing a song of praise to God. I can’t believe this great gift of His Spirit, of new life, of salvation, of joy! The song doesn’t matter because my heart is so full!”
The Lord’s Supper – Communion
• Law: “The second Sunday of every month is Communion. The new pastor should know that. Seriously, why can’t they get with the program?”
• Covenant: “Jesus chose to give me life by ending His own! There are no words for how humbled I am by His love every time I drink that cup and eat that bread. He is the Bread of Life!”
• Law: “I don’t understand why I have to be a member to do certain things in the church. Besides, I’m not sure I agree with everything going on here, so unless I can change it first, I’m not joining.”
• Covenant: “I love these people and want them to know that I’m all in with them just like Jesus is all in with me. How can we be ‘all in all’ if we’re not all in? I’m in!”
We Need A Change of Heart
Notice that I did not say we need a change of perspective. Perspectives are based in the mind, but devotion and covenant are based in the heart. When it comes to establishing covenants with one another, we need a change of heart so that we abandon our transactional, contractual way of living with one another in the church.
First, see Jesus as the Great I Am of covenants. He established a covenant with you in His blood. He decided; you didn’t. He devoted Himself to you when you could not. He ended His life so yours could be saved.
Second, see yourself as an extension of His covenant. I reflect Jesus who establishes covenants with people, so I will also establish covenants with others. I will devote my life to others as a matter of loving choice, not a coercion or force. I will die to certain things in my life to make room for ensuring others find the life of Jesus.
Third, realize that we can’t do this on our own. Unless we are filled with the Holy Spirit, establishing covenants will be an exercise in futility.
Finally, let’s all examine our lives and see where we’ve been engaged in the church in law-keeping, contract-breaking ways. It’s time to rid ourselves of all contract-based churchgoing and exchange it for establishing covenants.
Beyond contracts, there is power in being a covenant people! Let it be so, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Brett Heintzman recently became the publisher of Light + Life through his new role as the communications director of the Free Methodist Church – USA. He continues to serve as the associate director of the National Prayer Ministry. He is the author of “The Crossroads: Asking for the Ancient Paths” and “Jericho: Your Journey to Deliverance and Freedom” (both available at freemethodistbooks.com).0