A covenant is essentially an agreement. The biblical term is often used to describe agreements that God made with various people. God would offer wonderful promises and ask the people to agree to obey certain rules.
Though He asked the people to obey, God’s promises always far outweighed anything the people involved could ever earn through that obedience. God’s promises were not payments for human work, but were given through God’s love.
God’s love also motivated the minimum conditions God set. God’s laws are for our benefit. To obey God’s laws and love the God who has our best interests at heart brings automatic benefits! So it only makes sense that God would want us to obey and be loyal to Him before receiving His unmerited gifts.
Examples of covenants
God made a covenant with Noah, promising to never again destroy the earth by a flood (Genesis 9:11 ). He made a covenant with Abraham, promising to bless his descendants physically and to bless all mankind spiritually through Jesus Christ (Genesis 12:1-3 ; 22:16-18 ; Galatians 3:8, 16 ).
One of the main covenants of the Bible is the one God made with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. God promised to bless the nation, and the people agreed to obey God’s good and beneficial laws (Exodus 24:3 ).
But the story of the Old Testament is that the people did not obey. God lamented: “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 ).
The book of Hebrews explains that the “fault” with the Old Covenant was not with the agreement but “with them” (Hebrews 8:8 ).
The New Covenant
Jesus Christ came to make possible a New Covenant that would solve that problem. By His loving sacrifice to pay the penalty for man’s sins, He made it possible for human sins to be forgiven after repentance. This opened the way for God to offer His Holy Spirit, which begins the process of creating a new heart in us that allows God’s good and beneficial laws to be internalized and obeyed with a loyal love not possible for people without God’s Holy Spirit (Hebrews 10:16-17 ).
The New Covenant provides not just the better promises of eternal life, but the spiritual help that is absolutely necessary in order to fulfill our part of the agreement. It is ludicrous to believe we could ever earn forgiveness or eternal life! But still God desires and requires our loyal obedience for our own good. He only wants to give eternal life to those who will choose the way of peace and joy for eternity—not those who choose the way of selfishness, rebellion and unhappiness.
The Bible has much more about God’s gracious agreements—His covenants—with humanity. Read more in this section on the “Covenants,” and choose God’s way of life and hope, based on His truth.