sermon: Leadership and Covenants (Part Twenty-Two)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 16-Sep-17; 69 minutes
There is no doubt among those calling themselves Christians, what is commonly called the New Covenant is the best known of all the covenants appearing in the Bible. What is less known, even by many of these same people, is that the New Covenant first appears in the Old Testament as a prophecy in Jeremiah 31. It reveals God’s major content of His salvation program at a very early stage.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
The New Covenant is strongly associated with grace in the general public’s mind, but is sometimes carelessly associated only with the New Testament by some They believe that God made things easier with the New Covenant and He did to some extent. However, God and His grace are associated together within the Bible from its beginning to its end.
We will not delve into this aspect any further at this time, but there is no doubt that among the average churchgoer it is believed that the New Covenant gives them a virtually free pass into heaven, that it somehow relieves the Christian from concerns about keeping God laws. It does not, on three obvious counts. First, the Bible does not offer going to heaven as a reward of the saved. Second, the Bible does not do away with any of God’s laws. Third, the Bible clearly shows receiving the benefits of making the New Covenant is most certainly not without cost.
This is what the sermon is going to be on: making the New Covenant is not without cost. The New Covenant is most certainly though a merciful blessing to all concerned, because acceptance of it overcomes an otherwise insurmountable hurdle for those sincerely dedicated to living by faith, and glorifying God by their lives.
Perhaps above all it is clearly a merciful covenant, because God could rightly require much more of us. What God nonetheless still requires of those who make this covenant with Him, is much greater than the carnal mind tends to assume. It is not free and it does not give one a free pass to salvation.
The Bible is clear regarding the New Covenant’s basic requirements. It is an overview of the basic requirements that I am going to focus on as we proceed today.
The Bible pulls no punches regarding this subject. The payment God requires of us is much more than most carelessly think, because they have simply accepted what others say about the covenant without honestly and thoroughly examining their cost from within the Scriptures They are not cheap, they carelessly tend to accept the concept floated about that salvation, under the New Covenant as being free. They mean free for them, even though they may admit that it cost Jesus Christ His life. They may admit that from that regard it was indeed very costly, but from them God does not require much.
We are going to give you an overview of the cost. The details in the cost to each individual are experienced by them, those who actually made the covenant, and there is no book on how many angles we may be tested by God, and those tests are part of the cost.
As we go through this please do not ignore Jesus cautionary admonitions. Usually given right in the same context, His listings of His requirements are given. Please understand it is not God’s intention to stop us from making the covenant, but to ensure that we are informed before we actually make it, to the very measure of our ability to understand.
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Here is a brief statement regarding what it cost for us to receive the advantages of this covenant. The first cautionary flag appears in the first phrase of the first verse of this chapter. Paul begins by saying, “I beseech you brethren.” That word “beseech” should grab your attention. Beseech means to beg, to implore, to earnestly entreat. It does not mean to merely, casually more or less offhandedly, ask. Beseech is a term with a great deal of emotional impact within it.
The second warning flag arises with his usage on the term “therefore.” It is this term that receives the emphasis grammatically in that first sentence. Therefore usually signals a conclusion.
Considering these two terms, I want us to reflect on the urgent strength of Paul’s appeal in this verse regarding the overall value, or we might reword this to say, its value to one’s spiritual life, in the teaching contained within the entire preceding eleven chapters of the book of Romans.
Paul had just provided eleven chapters of super-important spiritual and sometimes technical explanations, called within religious circles as exposition. As chapter twelve begins, he immediately begs his readers to accept what he wrote, not with merely a ho hum, casual agreement, but with a rather strong sense of, “Don’t let this slip away” urgency, despite what you might think in regard to the cost involved.
It is here as chapter twelve begins, that he commences his summary of the practical applications of his teachings in the first eleven chapters. Spiritual applications regarding such subjects as justification by faith, sanctification, our calling, the Holy Spirit, and the glorious future God has planned for Israel. This is heavy stuff! However, the major subject as he begins this section is, sacrificing. Today’s Christian convert is simply not much familiar with the concept of sacrificing at the Jerusalem Temple altar, because he did not grow up with a culture that practiced sacrificing as it was done in Jesus’ and Paul’s day.
Therefore, today’s convert to Christianity often simply does not seriously think sacrificing through. Why? Because he is thinking of getting something rather than giving himself. Sometimes giving oneself is an afterthought. This is the way carnality is.
The one sacrificing brought a living animal to the altar, probably a young bull, sheep, or goat. It is entirely possible the animal and the offerer were very familiar with each other, almost as if they were within the same family. The offerer laid his hands on the animal’s head so as to identify himself as the one about to be placed on the altar. He then proceeded to kill the animal with his own hands, give it over to the priest, who then cut the animal in parts right in front of the guy who just offered the animal, and then placed the dead animal on the altar to be consumed by fire.
I think for most of us that would be pretty startling, especially if it was an animal that we loved, an animal that was a pet, like a lamb.
The animal represented the offerer, the fire illustrated the trials of life, and also the wages of sin, the offerer-sinner was to be consumed by. It could easily be a type of the Lake of Fire. The death of the animal was a critical part of the entire operation. The animal gave up its life as a vivid, shocking illustration of what it means to be sacrificed.
In this case the offering died. This is the payment for sin! The apostle Paul is certainly not teaching that salvation is an absolutely free gift. He is teaching that the person—the offerer—is free from having the pay the penalty for his sins with his own life, the animal was a substitute for himself. If he did not live the life of Christ to God’s approval, then he would suffer the way the animal did.
We will add to this picture by considering two other places in Romans where Paul’s exposition exposes more of the realities of the cost of making this covenant with God. I am going to these other scriptures because what Paul says there is more pointed sometimes regarding the cost than this verse.
Romans 7:7-9 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.
Paul was describing what went through his mind when the seriousness of sin was revealed to him. Here is an example of a man about to be severely instructed regarding spiritual cost and sacrifice. Losing your life is pretty costly.
There was a time in his manhood when Paul felt very secure about his relationship with God and man because he was under no serious conviction regarding his nature and sins committed by himself. Thus at that time a much weightier implication of sin was not part of his thinking, so he was unconcerned about it. He knew technically what they were but it had not reached his mind, his heart, it had not reached the proper emotional level for it have a real impact on him.
In other words, seeing himself as an evil sinner had not really registered to him. He had an academic understanding of it, but it had not gotten to him yet. Thus at that time a much weightier implication was not part of his thinking, he was unconcerned about it, but God exposed him to the understanding of a commandment in a way that hit him in the heart like a ton of bricks. His thoughts regarding himself was that he was a good spiritual worshipper of God, but when the impact of that heart-turning experience with the explanation occurred, his heart turned one hundred and eighty degrees, and he became, almost instantly, deeply shamed. He then knew that he was in reality—an evil-hearted sinner. It cost, first, his self respect, he had the props knocked out of his view of himself. Second, his life ambitions were knocked from under him as well.
He almost immediately lost the respect of the Jews as one of their leaders, and almost overnight he became an enemy to them. In one sense it cost him what he held most dear in life, and what he had worked for in life to that point. That is why he said, he, the old man, died. Paul had a problem till that point in time with coveting the honor and respect of the Jewish spiritual leadership. Though it cost him a great deal within the community, he did the right thing—he repented. Paul lost his civic standing in the community, he lost the respect of those he had admired and emulated till that point in time.
Romans 6:12-15 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
Regarding sacrificing (that is the subject in verse 12), “do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey it in its lusts.” It has every part of the human body in view, not the whole as if it is one thing, but rather any part of his body that is capable of leading and guiding him into sin. Paul was thinking of every part of one’s body through which sin can be committed: hands, mouth, eyes, stomach, ears, brain, and whatever sinful acts one permits himself to do with them throughout life from that point on.
We are beginning to see it is going to cost us a great deal to not let our body lead us into sin, or our mind to give reasons or excuses. Do we really have control of it? That is part of the cost, an awareness of where these actions are heading, and deny ourselves to do them. Are we going to lust with our eyes? Gossip and speak violently with our tongues? Lie, or destroy our body with what we eat? Steal with our hands, commit adultery? Hate with our minds?
Paul’s problem up to this point was mental. He had a technical understanding, but he did not have the feeling that goes with the technical understanding that is necessary for us grabbing control of the parts of our body. The problem was with his ego. Before he had this revealed to him, Paul felt that he deserved all the good that he was getting. He regarded himself very highly and above reproach. That is what he coveted in life, and for a while he had it.
Do we thoroughly agree with Paul that the problem is not the laws of God? The problem is sin. The law is nothing more than a warning sign that says, “Watch out! You’re getting close to the cliff!” What keeps the law from being a problem is when we stop sinning, when we control what we choose to do. It is obedience to the law that reveals for all to see that sin is evil, and it accomplishes this by means of the good fruit obedience produces.
Truth in this context is that sin consumes, it destroys all that is good. But to give up sinning also has cost associated with it. Sacrifice suggests the giving up, or the forfeiting of something or oneself for something or someone considered to be of greater value. In the Romans 6 context, and the Romans 12 context, the someone we are charged with sacrificing for is Jesus Christ, and the something is God’s way of life.
That narrows things down as to what we really have to pay attention to in regard to evil and sin. Who we are doing for, and what are we doing. We are obeying God. The “Therefore” at the beginning of Romans 12:1, brings an exciting conclusion to his previous thoughts in those eleven chapters. His previous thoughts are those contained in the previous eleven chapters exposition. Now as he writes, he is saying that everything we do, every activity in all of life, is to be an act of worship in service to our Father, and to our Savior, who is also our Creator.
Sacrificing has become our life. Do not let that escape you. Everything that is not of God is to be cast aside, sacrificed, given up, and that is costly. We are to live our life as living sacrifices! God now owns us; He has every right to command that we do things His way. He wants our lives lived all the time, every day, as a living sacrifice. That is truly hostile to our carnal mind, our nature. It fights doing so tenaciously.
We are to sacrifice our lives to Him, because it cost the life of His Son. That is to be our response to learning this, and believing it, and buying into it. We have to become a sacrifice.
The apostle is urging those of us who have had the revelation of God freely given us, to devote ourselves entirely to living it. He is not merely implying we should sacrifice our skin and bones, but to sacrifice our time, our energy, our knowledge, our experiences, our skills, attitudes, and perspective in service to God. This most assuredly is not free! It is costly, very costly.
Did you ever stop to consider how costly love is? Whatever we might think of the cost of loving another human being, how much more costly is loving God? He demands everything of us our carnal nature does not want to give it up. Becoming a living sacrifice demonstrates how costly love is.
You ought to understand how costly love is just from the example of Jesus Christ. It cost Him His life, because He loves us. Do you think that is cheap, or free? Do you do not think God wants something in return for what He is freely giving us? The good thing about it is that it is good for us to do this. God knows how costly love is because He sees it, and of course He experienced it with the loss of His Son Jesus Christ.
We learn a measure of this from family love, and especially the love between a man and a woman. We learn somewhat from other things, like a job we love, wages, adulation of other people. The cost especially hits people in the public eye, personalities such as politicians, entertainers, athletes, preachers. Sometimes these people, especially out in public, have people fawning all over them telling them how great they are. Do they miss that whenever they do not receive that? The reality is that loving God is even more costly.
Back in Romans 12:1 Paul states that being a living sacrifice is a reasonable, rational, service to God on our part. Even here, God is not demanding too high of a cost, because the giver of life can honestly take our life and give absolutely nothing in return because He owes us nothing.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
Keeping the commandments is the most obvious example of what it cost to love God.
John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
Is God asking too much of us? Is this life really reasonable? He is asking for devotion. Is He asking what is above and beyond our powers to return to Him into obedience? The Word of God testifies against us. Here is why God is on solid ground in His demands.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
You can tell why Paul is saying that God is justified in asking what He does of us. It is because He has already given us so much already on His part, so that we are enabled to do what He requires of us.
Romans 5:3-5 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
This is a truth we must rely upon in this relationship, this love relationship with God. Because God loves us, take a gander at what God gives us so that we can love Him in return. He not only mercifully forgives us, He justifies us, He grants us access to Him in prayer, He gives us hope to motivate us, He gives us trials to develop us, and in addition to those, He gives His love by means of His Holy Spirit, which He also gives us.
The biblical love is not a mere affection, but an outgoing concern, equal to or greater than self-concern. This love, which we do not have by nature, is given by God as a gift. This love will sacrifice itself for the well being of others, it will pay the cost of self interest for the well being even of enemies. Jesus died for all, and there was enough love there that that “all” contained His enemies as well. That love will choose to lay down its life, following the pattern of Jesus’ life. How many times did Isaac lay down his life so that there would be peace? He took the abuse every time that he did that, until God rescued him.
The love of God is an unearned dynamic gift from God that influences one toward oneness with God, but let me remind you, choosing to use the love of God must be done deliberately in order to be put to use. That is another sacrifice.
Let us look at a more generalized, less detailed, but every bit as demanding listing of some costs as directly give by Jesus Christ because we accept this free gift.
Luke 14:26-29 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him.”
Have you ever really considered this demand? The context here first gives us the setting, and then sets some general requirements for anyone seeking discipleship under Him. It seems to me as though those standards are very high, and thus the admonition given by Him as He closes off that brief survey is very stern.
The overall effect of this discourse is to conclude that Jesus is saying that once becoming a disciple of His, the potential is very high that He is calling us to a life of rejection by people in general if we accept His offer. Paul felt that rejection immediately from those who had been his good friends, those that he admired. That rejection is going to part and parcel of our payment for being forgiven.
Here is the cumulative affect of what Christ states here. The essence of discipleship—its heart and core, its central issue, its cost—is giving Christ first place in our life. That is the cost. Sacrificing whatever stands in the way between Him and us in order to make sure that we deliberately give Him first place.
Hatred—we have to hate father, mother, sister, brothers—would be a sin but there is a clear and honest explanation once one understands the language usage.
Matthew 10:35-39 “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me [it is part of the cost of being a living sacrifice.]. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
This is the context that He used the word “hate” in Luke 14, the hating of one’s family, and even oneself, is simply a rhetorical device used to show one desires one thing less than another. The statement by itself does not indicate feelings of animosity, it merely indicates a preference that guides personal choices.
I will show you an example in the Old Testament in Genesis 29. This is an explanation of what Jesus meant there in Luke 14.
Genesis 29:31 When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved [hated, Hebrew], He opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.
Genesis 29:30 Then Jacob also went in to Rachel, and he also loved Rachel more than Leah. And he served with Laban still another seven years [in this context it simply means loves less, not hate].
Luke 14:28-35 “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able to with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that has cannot be My disciple. Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Are we willing to give up what Jesus said is the payment for the forgiveness of our sins, and being taught and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ?
I said earlier that Jesus was very stern. I did not mean the way He said it was stern. I mean that He is making sure that He sets the standards high enough that we are impressed to seriously consider being His disciples.
He set the standards pretty high, He is admonishing us that following Him as His disciple is not something that one takes up on a trial basis, it is a serious responsibility. Christ is not attempting to scare us, or to run us off. He suggests a reasonable path to consider discipleship. That is, to sit down and seriously consider the cost any reasonable builder of anything must do. He does not want us to take the cost of discipleship rashly.
In modern terminology He is saying, “Look before you leap.” He is saying, “What I am offering you is not a bed of roses!” It cost Him His life, despite the fact that He lived perfectly. We do not live perfectly, and it is costly for us too. That is why He was warning us. So look before you leap!
The king in Jesus’ illustration was about to be attacked. What should that give us in the way of ideas? I believe that He is suggesting that we have a formidable foe, also described as a roaring lion. Regarding Jesus Christ and being a disciple, neutrality is impossible. We cannot be neutral regarding Jesus Christ. He is that important, and we owe Him every bit of love we can possibly give Him, under every circumstance in life. Everything matters, life is that important.
God is merciful and He forgives over and over again. But we cannot allow ourselves to have that slip from our minds, that life is a serious matter. That is what Ecclesiastes is about, and why that is such a serious book to go through. One of the smartest men who ever lived wrote it, and that is what he saw in life. When his life was coming to an end, he concluded that everything matters.
We should become reconciled to God and show our trust of Him by obeying Him in each and every trial of life as it comes along. And watch God supply the needs. That is what Isaac did and that is why he is a major type of Jesus Christ in the Bible. He took it and took it and took it and took it and waited for God to supply the need, he did not try to get back at those Philistines even one time. Look before you leap. But let me add this: Make sure you leap in the right direction, leap yes, but make sure you leap in the right direction at the right time.
What Christ is stating is being His disciple demands complete devotion, somewhat along the lines of being married to Him. People have somehow gotten the opinion in their minds that the New Covenant is a piece of cake, as we might say today, When I look at those standards I see nothing comparable to one falling off a slippery log in a turbulent stream. We must love Him and be committed to Him above all else in life.
As we close off the message of this sermon, I hope that you will understand that Romans 12:1-2 presents us with a far different picture of the responsibilities of Christian life than is common in this world. The reality the Bible shows is far different from the pitch of this world’s Evangelical religious salesmen attempt to persuade people with. That false message is lodged to some degree in our minds because Satan, the master salesman, made sure that it was available to us. It must be overcome, and it will be overcome, but we must participate with Jesus Christ first by being aware that the remnants of the carnal mind are still with us.
Simply explained, we are now no longer enslaved by carnality, and have been empowered with God’s help to grow in controlling ourselves.
Romans 8:3-5 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
What I am getting at here, let me make it plain and clear. What Paul is saying there is that as wn we are converted God empowers us to set our minds and follow through with doing the right things. We are already empowered to do it. This is why I said earlier in the sermon, we have to deliberately choose to love God. This is not a passing thing.
Colossians 3:1-2 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on things on the earth.
Colossians 3:9-10 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in the knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
Paul says that in such a way so that we would understand that we are already empowered to do it. To set your minds on doing it.
Here are the goals of our liberty in Jesus Christ: to control ourselves by being renewed in the image in our Creator, and this very epistle proves that our literal Creator, the One who actually did the work, was Jesus Christ, and He is the one telling us we are already empowered to do it. We have to make the choice to do it.
We are being led following the pattern of the life of Jesus Christ, so that we might be in His image. It is helpful to always remember that our salvation rested on the human sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth. First He sacrificed His glory as God, then He sacrificed His life in perfect obedience for thirty-three and a half years. He literally became a living sacrifice and then He literally sacrificed His life on the stake for our forgiveness.
We are indeed bought with an awesome price, and our life no longer belongs to ourselves. We are commanded to be living sacrifices in service to our Creator. It is interesting that service is the final word in Romans 12:1. That is why we are called—to serve Him, to serve the Father.
Our service is in reality as a priest of God performing our duties before God’s altar, and Paul calls that reasonable, as Jesus Christ our High Priest shapes us into a kingdom of priests. Sacrifices are inherently costly to the giver, but we must understand this is where a great deal of the costliness of the New Covenant lies. God is not changing us by fiat. Rather as Romans 12:2 states, we are being transformed by means of our direct and deliberate involvement in the process of being a sacrifice. Practice makes perfect. It has to be done.
We learn, we are transformed, by doing. It is this participation that the carnal mind absolutely does not want in any way, shape, or form to give. Sacrifice is a major part of the activity that produces the transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. And I will tell you flat out, it cannot be avoided; it must be done or we will not be in God’s Kingdom!
The title of these sermons I have been giving on the covenants is “Leadership and Covenants.” The leadership that God is looking for is being obedient to the covenants themselves. It points to two major reasons for our calling. The first is clear. It is our salvation, given because God loves us and thus an expression of God for all who come into contact with us of that love.
The second is directly connected. It is to express and to promote the interests of God through the conduct of our living His way of life in order that they too may have the same benefits that result from the transformation of our heart and mind into the image of Jesus Christ.