What does it mean when someone says, “You need to have a personal relationship with Jesus?” Do they mean we should have an emotional relationship with Jesus? An intimate relationship? A relationship from the heart and not just of external observance? Or is it is just another way to say, “You need to be saved”? It’s not always clear to me. Plus, the phrase “personal relationship” is not in the Bible. Is there a better way to talk about our relationship with Jesus?
How about “You need to have a covenant relationship with Jesus”? God made a covenant with Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 17). When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, God remembered his covenant with Abraham (Ex. 2:24). When the future of Israel looked bleak, God promised that he would make a new covenant with his people (Jer. 31:31-34). And Jesus is the new covenant (Heb. 8:6-12)!
But what is a covenant? Wayne Grudem defines it as, “An unchangeable, divinely imposed legal agreement between God and man that stipulates the conditions of their relationship.” “Legal” is not the best word, because a “covenant” is not just a contract, like buying your house or ordering parts for your business. Contracts are typically limited in scope and duration. A covenant is a comprehensive, continuous commitment. That commitment creates intimacy. When God creates a covenant and says, I will be your God, he is committing himself to us. In return, he expects us to commit ourselves to him: You will be my people (Heb. 8:10). What an awesome God we serve!
Covenants have signs: ceremonies to initiate and remember the covenant. Married couples use rings as signs of the marriage covenant. Circumcision was the sign of initiating the Old Covenant. The various ceremonies, especially Passover, were ways to remember the Old Covenant. What are the New Covenant signs?
In a previous blog post, we established that Baptism and Communion are ceremonies: things that we do as a church that do not fit neatly into a two-part theology of “Believe this; now demonstrate your belief by giving yourself over to good works”. Their significance lies in the fact that they are ceremonial signs of the covenant: Baptism is the initiating sign of the covenant; Communion is sign by which we remember the covenant. Jesus is quite explicit about the connection between Communion and covenant: “[F]or this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:28)
Let’s end with a practical question: How important is it to regularly participate in Communion? To answer the question, imagine this: What happens when a man forgets his anniversary? Does not his wife wonder, “Has he not been looking forward to this day, planning for it? Has his love grown cold?” When someone neglects the signs of the covenant, we begin to wonder about their commitment to the covenant.
Do you get excited about participating in Communion? We occasionally offer it Sunday morning, but regularly offer it at Family Gathering. If you’re not in the habit of attending Family Gathering, one way that you can grow in your commitment to your covenant relationship with Jesus is by making this time a regular part of your monthly schedule. It breaks my heart that only about half the church attends Family Gathering when we offer Communion. Attending Family Gathering in the evening takes a bit of extra effort to attend, but not a great deal of strenuous effort. Participating in Communion is a God-ordained (God-commanded!) way of rejoicing, remembering and recommitting to our Lord as an assembled church. We should be eager to do that any time we have the opportunity.