This is the second of three blogs on the importance of Christians setting apart a time in their schedule - every single day - to have “personal devotions” (or what some call a “quiet time”) by seeking God in prayer and by reading His Word. Last time we focused on how God saved us for one main reason: fellowship with His Son (1 Cor. 1:9). Our focus in this blog is on how this fellowship with God is at the heart of God’s covenant with His people Before we talk about how fellowship with the Lord is central in His covenant with His people, we need to ask: “what does the Bible mean by ‘covenant’?” A simpler definition is that a covenant is a very special promise that God makes with His people.
A fuller definition is that a covenant is God’s solemn oath to His people, that He first initiates, in which He promises to be their God, and that they will be His people – for the sake of a communion bond, which is an intimate fellowship relationship with Him.
In fact, this is what the story of the Bible is primarily about: God’s covenant with His people in everlasting fellowship! Fellowship with God promised in the Covenant of Works Did you know that such never-ending fellowship with God in the fullness of joy was His original goal for humanity at creation, in what is called the covenant of works? The first three chapters of Scripture depict Eden as a garden sanctuary, where God walked about in fellowship with our first parents in this temple paradise (Gen. 3:8), as He would later in the tabernacle with Israel (Lev. 26:12), and in the Church through Christ (Rev. 2:1). Moreover, Adam is depicted as a priest in Genesis 2:15 who was put in the garden temple “in order to serve it and to guard it” – the same words used for the priestly Levites whose temple service was to guard it from any unclean intruder (Num. 3:8-10). Although Adam and Eve fellowshipped with God in Eden before their fall into sin, they would only enjoy never-ending, all-satisfying intimacy with God (i.e., “eternal life”) based upon their perfect obedience to Him. This fellowship would have been permanent and everlasting if our first parents fully obeyed God by overcoming the Serpent and his temptations at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Never-ending life in joyful fellowship with God was represented and symbolized by the tree of life in Genesis 3:22. But because Adam and Eve disobeyed God and broke the covenant of works, they suffered the penalty and curse of the covenant by being exiled from the garden sanctuary, disqualified from fellowship with God, thus severed and alienated in their relationship with Him, which is the ultimate death. Fellowship with God realized in the Covenant of Grace But God, in His infinite kindness and mercy for sinners, made another covenant – not based upon works – but based upon grace, which is God’s undeserved kindness and unmerited favor. This covenant of grace was first planned in eternity past between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit in the covenant of redemption, which would be worked out progressively over time in the covenant of grace (John 17:2; Eph. 1:3) The covenant of grace is first seen in Scripture when God promised that the offspring of the woman would come to crush the head of the Serpent, thus destroying Satan’s works of severing fellowship with God because of sin, death, and condemnation (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:8). Although all nations of mankind are scattered and alienated from God due to their sin (Gen. 11), this offspring of the woman would be the offspring of Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) who blesses all nations by bringing them back to God (John 11:52; Eph. 2:13). He is the offspring of David who will reign as King (2 Sam. 7:13-14) and rescue His people from the kingdom of Satan and transfer them into the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13). This is none other than “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Essentially, in the covenant of grace, by His perfect law-keeping life, His sin-atoning and wrath-appeasing death, and His death-destroying resurrection, Jesus destroyed the works of the Serpent. By crushing the head of Satan, Jesus did what Adam failed to do in order to merit eternal life on behalf of all who are united to Him by faith (Rom. 5:15-17, 21). And what is eternal life? It is to know Him in intimate fellowship (John 17:3)!
YHWH, which is God’s covenant name in Hebrew, is connected with His promise “to be with” His people (Ex. 3:12-15).
YHWH’s “steadfast love” (hesed) – often mentioned back to back with His faithfulness – is His covenantal love and faithful commitment to His people to keep His promises in the covenant of grace. Essentially, it is His commitment to rescue us from everything that stands in the way of everlasting fellowship with Him! Fellowship with God has always been at the heart of the covenant. For this reason, His relationship with His people uses the language of an intimate relationship between a husband and a wife in marriage, since the latter is actually meant to be a picture of God’s love for His people When God gave His promise of salvation in the covenant of grace in Genesis 3:15, He said there would be two kinds of humans - the offspring (or children) of Satan, such as Cain who murdered Abel and Cain’s offspring through Genesis 4:24 - and the offspring of the woman, mentioned from Genesis 4:25 through the end of chapter 5. These are His covenant people, such as Enoch and Noah who both walked with God in fellowship (Gen. 5:24; 6:9). God began saving His people who believed His promise of salvation, and Genesis 4:26 says that “At that time, people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” In Genesis 12:8, Abram built an altar to the LORD showing that he was offering up sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God, and it says he “called upon the name of the LORD”! Abram calls upon the name of the LORD in Genesis 13:4, which sets the pattern for the lifestyle of God’s covenant people in later parts of Scripture (see Gen. 26:25). Throughout the rest of the Bible, “calling on the name of the LORD” will be a key phrase for God’s people indicating their fellowship with Him, in worshipful thanksgiving and dependence on the LORD (1 Chron. 16:4, 8; Joel 2:32; Rom. 10:13). From the beginning of time, God has always desired to fellowship with His people, which was the purpose of the tabernacle and temple - where God dwelt with His people for fellowship with them. In the book of Leviticus, God’s people were commanded to bring to Him different kinds of animals for sacrifices, that were offered up by a priest at the tabernacle and temple. Because He is holy, and His people are sinful, they could only fellowship with Him through a sin-atoning sacrifice that symbolized His wrath against their sin was satisfied. Therefore, God prescribed sin offerings and guilt offerings for them in which the spotless, unblemished animal was punished in their place as a picture of an innocent substitute bearing their sin, so that they might be forgiven and accepted by God (Lev. 4-5). But there were also grain offerings which the worshiper brought as an expression of thanksgiving to God (Lev. 2), and peace (or fellowship) offerings - in which the animal was cooked on the altar, so that the worshiper was able to eat it in God’s presence, thereby enjoying a fellowship meal with the living God (Lev. 3, 7:15-18)! Christ the Mediator of the New Covenant Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ’s once for all sacrifice on the Cross has fulfilled all of these sacrifices (Heb. 9:12, 26; 10:12). He suffered the curse for our covenant breaking by being exiled in our place on the Cross, so that we might be brought near to fellowship with God forever (Gal. 3:13). As our High Priest, He is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15), who causes all of God’s covenant promises to become ours through our union with Him (Gal. 3:16). There is no need for a temple building, because God now dwells with us through Christ, who is Immanuel - God with us! But now, Jesus gives Himself to us in communion and fellowship, blessing us to (spiritually) feast on His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:54-58). We feast on Christ by taking in His Word daily, and most importantly on the Lord’s Day when He is present with His people in a special way through the preaching of the Word, and by giving Himself to us in the Lord’s Supper. These truths should give us great encouragement to seek Him daily in our devotion time for intimate communion and fellowship, as we call upon the name of the LORD!
"Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." (Ps. 90:14)
In closing, we can tell that fellowship with Christ is central to the Covenant of Grace, because it is the climax and grand finale of the Bible story. Namely, the same One who became flesh and tabernacled among us in His first coming (John 1:14), will return again to tabernacle with us in never-ending fellowship. Listen to the covenant formula, of us being God’s people, and Him being with us as our God, in Revelation 21:4:
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is with man. He will tabernacle with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
In part 3 of this series, we will look at practical ways for doing devotions, and their importance for our relationship with the people of God. Listen to Timothy Brindle's song "The Temple" on fellowshiping with God through Christ in the Covenant of Grace.