Climb Free: The Covenant Love of God in the New Testament

Climb Free post – a deeper look at truths that can change our view of our God, ourselves, and the way in which we can live effectively in this world. (This is part 4 in a series, a continuation of the exploration of our God’s “hesed” love, His covenant love for us.)

Just what is the definitive icon or symbol that is distinctly and unmistakably Christian?  Is it the cross?  The crucifix? In 1970, Francis Schaeffer an essay that he intended to be part of a larger project, yet it was published on its own.  “The Mark of a Christian” turned out to be a classic book (booklet, actually) that is still in print nearly 50 years later.  In it, Schaeffer stated the following.  “Through the centuries men have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks on the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, even had special haircuts. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this, if one feels it is his calling. But there is a much better sign — a mark that has not been thought up just as a matter of expediency for use on some special occasion or in some specific era. It is a universal mark that is to last through all the ages of the church till Jesus comes back. What is this mark?”

“At the close of his ministry, Jesus looks forward to his death on the cross, the open tomb and the ascension. Knowing that he is about to leave, Jesus prepares his disciples for what is to come. It is here that he makes clear what will be the distinguishing mark of the Christian: “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:33-35)

Schaeffer makes a point too important for us to ignore.  The first and best identifier of Christianity, the mark of a Christian, is love. For far too long, far too many Christians have thought that if we display a cross or build a nice building, or perhaps have catchy songs or a great preacher, the world will notice us and be interested.  That has never worked well, nor will it ever.  We who follow the living God are the only living representations of His working in the world.  If we do not bear the mark as Jesus directed, what hope is there that the world will ever know Him?

The reason we exist is that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest.  As we have been relating in previous “Climb Free” posts, the root term used for the love of our God more than any other in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word, “hesed.”  In many English translations, the term is rendered steadfast love, lovingkindness, or love and mercy. This term requires a sentence to adequately translate it for us. This “hesed” love is the always gracious, always kind, always merciful, always pursuing, unfailing and relentless love of our God.  This is our God’s covenant love, not based upon anything we have done or can do to earn it or qualify for it.  It flows from our God to us out of His commitment with Himself to love us in this way.  Brennen Manning: “If you took the love of all the best mothers and fathers who ever lived (think about that for a moment) — all the goodness, kindness, patience, fidelity, wisdom, tenderness, strength and love — and united all those virtues in one person, that person would only be a faint shadow of the love and mercy in the heart of God for you and me.”

This “hesed” love is the clearest understanding love of our God for us, and it is the basis of His work in and among us.  This understanding of His love for us carries over into the New Testament as well.  1 Corinthians 13 is for many a go-to passage for a description of divine love. The apostle Paul, a Hebrew scholar, draws on this idea of “hesed” love as his model in this famous chapter.  Look at the common themes between what we know of the “hesed” love and the description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails….”

  • God’s covenant love is always kind – love is kind
  • God’s covenant love is always merciful – is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
  • God’s covenant love is always gracious – love is patient, and is not jealous, does not boast or act unbecomingly, does not seek its own
  • God’s covenant love is relentless, unfailing, steadfast – love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; love never fails.

This great love of our God for us, the “template” for the love described in 1 Corinthians 13, is the love to which Paul refers in Ephesians 2:1-7. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  The great covenant love of our God not only overcomes our stubbornness, our rebellion, trespasses and sins; it overwhelms them with mercy, grace, kindness and relentless pursuit.   He lavishes this steadfast love even on His enemies, on those who reject Him, on those dead in their transgressions.

In the next “Climb Free” post, we will explore our response to this great, steadfast lovingkindness of our God for us.

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