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Finding Freedom in the Covenant
July 7, 2004
Dear Friend of Mary Craig Ministries,
Her name is Annabel. She doesn’t know her name. Born in the wild, this little black kitten with long silky hair, a bushy tail, and yellow eyes, wandered into our front yard. She’s apparently on a journey, but she’s bony and starved and mostly scared. Actually, she’s out looking for home.
Our lives conjoined just one day. She was spotted out the window. We took food out and water. I sat down on the front step and waited.
Annabel sauntered over carefully in her little cat way. She took the risk and began eating, looking from side to side, ready to scoot. So far so good. Then she drank half the bowl of water, probably because it’s in the 90’s here in FL and no rain for days.
As Annabel ate, I noticed her small face and longing eyes. I sat very still, and she came over to check me out. She didn’t bite, a great grace, or scratch. She let me pet her and even climbed onto my lap. Then she rested awhile. I didn’t move.
The thing is, I wanted to get Annabel so I could take her to the vet and give her a "kitty spa day." Then came my great mistake. I picked her up to carry her into the house, and she spooked when the door squeaked a little. That was it. She bolted a few feet; that respectable distance just out of reach computed exactly in little cat brains. From her point of safety, she sat staring at me. Did I betray her? Could she trust me after all? Had I moved in too fast?
All I know is that in spite of my goodwill donations of cat food on the stoop, no Annabel, at least not yet. She doesn’t know someone loves her and wants her to have a good home, a good life. She doesn’t know she can be a kitty free of fleas, worms, and ear mites. And she especially doesn’t know that the whole thing has sparked a lot of thought about freedom—freedom from and freedom to.
Annabel could live life free of fear and be free to play and sleep and do cat things in style. And Annabel could come to know that God actually put her name into my mind—the first day "Anna" and the next day "Annabel." The third day (and no cat showing up again) I was led to look up the name in the dictionaries in our library. "Anna" means grace and is a derivative of Hannah from the Bible. "Bel" has two meanings. The Hebrew means "devouring" but the Latin means "pretty" or "beauty." God showed me the intent of His heart. He wanted to apprehend by means of His grace this little bony kitten from the devourer and cause her to be "the beauty of grace." It’s the same for us.
In Christianity Land we call Him the Hound of Heaven. When He’s got our scent and desires to "get us," sometimes we bolt. The gospel sounds strange, though appealing, and the messengers come in all shapes and sizes. They speak a different language, and we’re not sure if we can really trust this Jesus Christ. Worst is when the messengers goof and spoof the very ones God wants to touch with His grace. But if we are apprehended, then we find that we are loved. We are taken to the Doctor, cleaned up, fixed up and repaired, made beautiful (though it might seem like a dirty trick at first, like kitten vet visits), and brought to live in a new home with a wonderful Father and family who love us.
The love of Christ constrains. Jesus puts boundaries around us for our good. We call them the walls of salvation. They are strongholds of God, protections. Our God is a covenant-keeping God, and we are to find freedom in the covenant of grace. God reaches out to us in grace. He rescues us and repairs us and puts us into a new place, a place of peace and safety, a place of protection and provision, a place of power and compassion. So how do we find this freedom?
First, I think we need to understand that a covenant is like a contract made between parties with certain promises set forth in anticipation of specified conditions being fulfilled. With God, the covenants are unilateral, meaning that He sets forth the terms and conditions of the covenant and they’re not negotiable. Basically, there are two kinds of covenants between God and humanity—a covenant of works, founded upon what one must do for salvation or a covenant of grace, founded upon what God will do for salvation.
God had Adam in a covenant of works. It was a "do this and you will live" kind of thing. Adam basically blew it, and that plunged humanity into what we call the estate of sin and misery. You know it well, I’m sure. By the time of Sinai, God set forth the law of the covenant to a redeemed people and there was provision for atonement, but it was still "do this and you will live" and the provision of atonement through the blood of bulls and goats and such did not remove sin or change hearts internally. God really wanted humanity to see that all peoples are sinners and cannot save themselves, not by religions of their own making or by works of righteousness or by outward rules. Paul says the Law is a Schoolmaster to drive us to Christ, because if you ever try to keep the whole law, you will get frustrated and never live up to the standard of perfect, personal, perpetual obedience. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know this.
But God also established the covenant of grace, and it was made from eternity and cannot be nullified by anything done in time (Galatians 3.16, 17; Ephesians 1, 2). This covenant of grace was established when God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit set forth its conditions and economics and cannot be broken by man (Hebrews 7.22; 13.20; John 17.2, 3). Christ fulfilled all righteousness, so it’s rather like, "Do this, Messiah of God’s people, and Your people will live forever." (Psalm 2.8; 110.3; Isaiah 53.10-12) Even with the sting of sin, the covenant of grace provides consideration (Psalm 89.19-37; Jeremiah 31.31-34; 32.37-41). This is a sure covenant of pure, free, immutable grace (2 Samuel 23.5; Romans 8.28-29; 2 Timothy 1.9, 10).
Pastor Jim and I just officiated in a wedding ceremony over the weekend. It made me think about the two wives of Abraham, Hagar and Sarah. Paul says in Galatians that Hagar represents the covenant revealed at Sinai. She’s a handmaid and slave. Sarah represents the covenant of grace. Sarai was Abram’s original wife and had a prior claim to the inheritance and promises God made in His covenant with Abraham. Sarai and Abram grew impatient while waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises and had Hagar birth Ishmael to kind of move things along. But then Sarah urged Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael on the basis of this prior claim. The point is that the Law is only a handmaid to grace, nothing more.
Long before sin, long before people became sinners, long before anyone needed atonement and a way back to the Father, there was grace, this covenant of grace. Christ stood as our Surety. Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Long before the curse of the Law, God had made the provision of blessing in the covenant of grace. (Rev. 13.8; 17.8; 1 Peter 1.18-21; Ephesians 1.3-6; 2 Thess. 2.13, 14; 2 Timothy 1.9)
The Law serves Christ. Its purpose is to point people to Christ by identifying sin and exposing sin. If you try to put it in the place of grace, then you must cast it out! Grace and works cannot live together. Only Jesus Christ saves. It is only by grace that one is justified, sanctified, preserved, given favor with God, and inherits heavenly glory. It is by grace alone.
Hagar is in Arabia, outside the land of promise. She’s in bondage and so are her children. She’s always a slave. Sarah was never a slave, but always free. The sons of promise are free. When the gospel of grace is revealed to a heart and mind, trust in works has to go. The foundation for how one finds life has changed.
Grace is of the Spirit and the children of grace are spiritual. Grace says Christ does it all. We are saved by His doing and can boast of nothing. Those under the Law and Works boast of what they are doing to obtain favor from God and salvation. It’s one or the other, God or man. And God decided that salvation would be His way only—by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Abram and Hagar, the slave woman Abram took as his wife (Gen. 16.3), represent the old covenant and marriage between God and Israel in which God married a slave woman named Israel. The children of that relationship could only bring forth fleshly Ishmaelites, children of Hagar just as Abram begat Ishmael through Hagar. (Galatians 4.22-26) Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the child of promise, and so it goes on today. Abram issued commands and required no double witness, no explanation. Hagar merely obeyed. She had no voice. She was a slave, nothing more. Hagar was Sarai’s property and Abram’s wife.
With Sarah, however, it was different. Sarah had property rights, a voice, assisted in making decisions. Abraham begat Isaac through Sarah. God was in it (h). Slavery consists in being subject to the will of another. Sarah was a free woman and never a slave.
The covenant of grace a/k/a the new covenant is based upon love, the love of God. God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5.8) In an Abraham-Sarah marriage, the marriage typifying the new covenant relationship of God and His people, the parties come into agreement in love. The relationship with God in the new covenant frees us from bondage. We have a voice. We are loved. You can find that freedom today as you spend some time in Galatians and pray and ask the Father for the revelation of the covenant of grace and its freedom and the Abraham-Sarah marriage relationship. I pray you do.
The message of the month will come to you later in August due to our mission trip to Zambia and Zimbabwe. Thank you for your prayers and continued financial support. We at MCM just stand and watch in awe at the power of grace giving. We are so thankful for you, the generous followers of Christ, and for the grace of God.
By His grace,
P.S. Annabel returned after much prayer. She is now relaxed and full and growing in an atmosphere of grace and love. Today, she even thought to take the risk of being playful.
Remember to visit www.craighouse.org or www.marycraig.org for the latest events, updates, articles, and map to Craighouse®. In the area? Worship with us at Craighouse®, located in the Pompano Plaza at 114 E. McNab Road, Pompano Beach, FL 33060.
Nevertheless what does the Scripture say?
Cast out the bondwoman and her son:
for the son of the bondwoman
Shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
So then, brethren,
we are not children of the bondwoman,
But of the free.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith
Christ has made us free
and be not entangled again
With the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 4.30-5.1)
Copyright © 2004 Mary Craig Ministries, Inc.
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