Sacrificial covenant means an exchange, and this is the principle on which God’s new covenant is written. It is a choice between life and death, between sacrificing self or holding onto self, and determines what and how much we receive from Him.
Gather My saints together to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice. (Psalm 50:5)
I must confess, I did a double take when I read this verse – really read it, apparently, because the significance of the second part had never hit home before. We happily accept ‘surface’ truths like ‘we are no longer sinners but saints’ without delving deeper. It’s true, after all. At salvation, the saving blood and righteousness of Christ transform us from sinner to saint. It’s perfectly acceptable to define a saint as one who has been saved by the blood of Jesus or accepted salvation, or even received Jesus. But while these are all indisputably true, they deal with quick definition rather than what being a saint actually means. This is altogether different because it relates directly to sacrificial covenant – the new covenant we’re so fond of mentioning and reminding one another of. This covenant of grace is the foundation of our faith and deserves a deeper look.
The new covenant is a sacrificial covenant.
Most of the time, believers tend to look at the new covenant as if it were somehow one-sided. God loved the world so much that He gave His Son so that we could be saved. All we have to do is receive the unconditional love of God and God’s promises automatically apply. In a sense, this again is absolutely true. We can do nothing to either earn or deserve the privileges of His covenant of grace. It’s all entirely His doing and is through grace alone. Also, we can only receive it through faith, which is also a gift of grace. God makes the sacrificial covenant with us and fulfils the conditions for us. But this simplified explanation overlooks the fact that a covenant always has two parties. It is a binding agreement between two parties who share a common commitment to specific terms and benefits.
The spiritual reality, then, is that when we accept the covenant and enter into it with God, we accept that it is a sacrificial covenant. We also accept that it is reciprocal. God has His part and we have ours. It has never been and never will be a one-sided covenant where God does the giving and we do the receiving. While we can never return to the law and spurn His grace, His spiritual principles still apply to the new covenant. He reiterates this by the simple fact that it is a sacrificial covenant. It is founded on and empowered by the sacrifice of His Son. Without the sacrifice, the covenant has no basis, no legality, and benefits. That is because the covenant concerns the agreement regarding our spiritual debt that was paid in full by Jesus. To remove the sacrifice reverses the payment and voids the agreement.
God’s role in sacrificial covenant.
We all know this, but it’s worth repeating so that we can get proper perspective. In essence, knowing that mankind could never hope to meet the spiritual debt of sin and resulting punishment, agreed to pay it Himself on our behalf. He did this by sending His Son to take our place, to suffer the punishment and the weight of sin, and to pay with His blood. Then, and only then, could our debt be paid in full. God’s ‘proposal’ to us was that He would do all this on our behalf. If we then accepted the covenant, He would meet His commitments and release us. Because of who and what God is, we can receive all this in absolute faith. When He makes a sacrificial covenant and signs it in the blood of His Son, it’s unbreakable. We know beyond any doubt that God will honour it.
If we look at Old Testament covenants, they were all based on God’s spiritual principles. The one that comes to mind here is that of a life for a life – the literal extrapolation of an eye for an eye. The principle is that one pays in accordance with the sin. The wages of sin is death, so payment for our sin had to be by death – in this case, the death of Jesus. The sacrificial covenant which defines our faith, then, is the giving of Christ’s life in place of ours. To put it in terms we’re familiar with, Jesus gave His life so we could gain ours. He laid down His life so we could live and not die. Christ’s mortal life was given in exchange for our spiritual eternal life. Death and life, in the Bible, are two sides of the same coin – our point of covenant choice.
Our role in sacrificial covenant.
Remember that Jesus did not come to replace the law but to fulfil it. The principles still apply but are mitigated by the saving grace of God and the blood of the Lamb. In Deuteronomy 30, He sets before the Israelites the choice between life and death. It’s clear cut with no fuzzy grey bits to distract us. In verse 20, He explains: that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. The new covenant is the fulfilment of God’s promises to restore His people to right relationship with Him. It effectively fulfils all the conditions of the previous covenants that man could not.
This is the exact choice we face at salvation – life or death. The only difference is that God has made it possible for us to enter in without relying on ourselves. The choice hasn’t changed. Neither has the reason – that we may love God, obey Him, cling to Him, and dwell in the land. Back in verse 17, He paints a gloomy picture of what happens when His people choose to turn away and go after other gods and not obey Him. Yes, it’s Old Testament, but a covenant that is designed to fulfil the conditions of all others does not erase the principles on which it is written. Death was still the exchange for life and always will be. We still, like the original Israelites, must fulfil our side of the sacrificial covenant. That is to lay down our lives as Jesus laid down His. It’s an exchange.
What sacrificial covenant means for believers.
This is the dynamic truth behind so many statements Jesus and men like Paul made. To gain our life, we must lose it. We live in Him if we die to self. To follow Him we must sell all. Those who look back aren’t fit for the kingdom of heaven. The new covenant is one of ‘You are our God and we are Your people.’ He gives us Himself, and we give Him ourselves. He laid Himself down as a sacrifice unto death, we lay ourselves down as living sacrifices. We give our all so that we can receive the all He gave. We absolutely cannot live in the grace of His sacrificial covenant without entering in fully and joyfully to the magnitude of His power and grace inherent in the choice between life and death. What we give is returned – full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.
That is the nature of God’s sacrificial covenant. It is one of abundance, of immeasurable grace, mercy, love, and blessings. He is eternally faithful and will always rush to fulfil His part. In fact, He has already done so. But we limit ourselves when we don’t enter in with the same commitment. We receive in proportion to what we are willing to lay down. If we choose to stop at the point of salvation, we live in only a portion of what the full covenant provides. Do we really love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Or do we apportion those parts of our lives we feel we don’t want? The Bible teaches that He deserves the first, the best, and the all. That’s His right when we accept His covenant and acknowledge Him as Lord. Lord of all means all of us, too.
Sacrificial covenant excludes false expectations.
We’re always quick to remind others to ‘read the small print’ when it comes to agreements. Yet many believers lead lives of disappointed expectations because they overlook the principles on which God’s sacrificial covenant is written. He will not refuse His grace nor withdraw our salvation. He will honour every commitment when required – which is when we honour ours. If we accept the covenant and the salvation it offers, but persist in living our own lives our own way, we will never enjoy the full resurrection life the new covenant offers. God has made a covenant with us, written in blood. Those who are truly His saints make a covenant by sacrifice – giving all just as He did. How seriously do we take our covenant? Is it all, or is it simply in part so we can enjoy the blessings without real commitment?
Father God, Your love and faithfulness are beyond measure. When we see what You were willing to give for us, even while we were yet sinners, we cannot help but be humbled in repentance for our obstinacy. Help us to live as Your people, loving You with all we are, not with those parts we don’t value. Release in us the power of Your sacrificial covenant so that we can live by grace, surrendering to You as living sacrifices. Release Your resurrection life in us, Lord, so that Jesus would truly live in us to Your glory.