Our lives are structured by and based on agreements. Agreements are basic to virtually everything that happens in our lives every day. Marriage begins with an agreement. Our jobs are based on an agreement. If we own property, we made an agreement. Utility services, driver's licenses, credit cards, bank loans, social security, even the rights of citizenship are based on an agreement.

When we intentionally or neglectfully reject the commitment of our agreements, marriages divorce, jobs are lost, utility services are cut off, driver's licenses are revoked, bank loans are recalled, social security benefits are canceled, and we can lose the rights of citizenship.

When honorable people make honorable agreements, life and relationships are blessed. When agreements are ignored, violated, or abused, life and relationships become increasingly miserable.

  1. Few if any of us would make a serious commitment without an agreement.
    1. Why?
      1. Commitment without agreement leads to pain and suffering.
      2. Commitment without agreement requires no mutual investment of self.
      3. In a commitment without an agreement, a person can walk out, walk away, and disappear without conscience.
      4. In a commitment without an agreement, a person has nothing to lose if he or she just walks off.
    2. For an honest person of integrity, the act of making an agreement is the act of taking ownership of responsibility in commitment.
      1. It is the declaration, "I depend on you, and you can depend on me."
      2. It is the declaration, "I trust you, and you can trust me."
      3. In any successful relationship, that declaration has to be mutual.

  2. God always commits to people who agree to commit to Him.
    1. The basic nature of God's agreement with us is distinctly different from an agreement that one human establishes with another human.
      1. In a human-human agreement, each human can provide benefits to the other human in the commitment. If I make an agreement with you:
        1. I can contribute to your personal well being.
        2. I can reward you.
        3. I can increase your comfort.
        4. I can increase your personal security.
        5. I can meet some of your needs.
        6. I can provide you blessings.
        7. I can do something that specifically makes your life or your existence better because we mutually enter an agreement.
      2. But when I enter an agreement with God, it is impossible for me to create a benefit for God.
        1. In no way does God need me or depend on me.
        2. I cannot improve God's well being--if I never existed, it would not affect God's well being.
        3. I cannot reward God; everything I am or have, even my life, is God's gift.
        4. I cannot increase God's comfort--God's comfort does not depend on me.
        5. I cannot increase God's security--I have no effect on God's security.
        6. I cannot meet God's needs--God has no needs for me to address.
        7. I cannot provide God a blessing--I am dependent on God for blessings.
        8. There is absolutely nothing that I can do to benefit God's existence.
      3. Therefore, any agreement that a human makes with God is unique; it is distinctly different to any agreement a human makes with another human.
    2. The agreement that God makes with a human is called a covenant.
      1. Covenant was the common form of agreement in the ages of the Old Testament and in the New Testament world.
      2. Everett Ferguson, in his book, The Church of Christ (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1996, pp. 2-18) provides some basic insights into covenant agreements.
      3. One proper definition of covenant is a relationship based on promises or a sworn oath.
        1. A covenant between two persons is known as a parity covenant.
          1. Since the relationship is established between two humans, it is established between equals--both are equally human.
          2. A covenant between a person or a people and God is never a parity relationship; it is not a relationship that exists between equals.
            1. In every consideration, God is the superior.
            2. As the inferior, a human never initiates a relationship with God.
            3. A human can accept relationship with God only because God extends the opportunity for relationship.
        2. In relationship with God, people never propose or impose the conditions of the relationship.
          1. Humans never tell God, "You can have a relationship with us if You agree to these conditions."
          2. Humans accept or reject God's offer of relationship, but God determines the conditions of relationship.
    3. In the Old Testament, there were occasions when God made charter covenants with individuals.
      1. In a charter covenant, God binds Himself to an unconditional promise in a relationship with humans.
        1. When God promised Noah that He would never again destroy the world with a flood, that was a charter covenant (Genesis 9:8-17).
        2. When God promised Abraham that a blessing that would benefit all mankind would come through his descendants, that was a charter covenant (Genesis 12:1-3).
        3. When God promised David that one of his descendants would always sit on Israel's throne, that was a charter covenant (2 Samuel 11:10-17).
      2. But God's covenant with the nation of Israel was a conditional covenant.
        1. God stated plainly that Israel's relationship with Him was conditional before He gave them the ten commandments (Exodus 19:3-6).
        2. God would enter a relationship with the nation of Israel that accepted them as:
          1. A people who belonged exclusively to Him.
          2. A kingdom of priests.
          3. A holy nation.
        3. If:
          1. They obeyed His voice.
          2. They kept His covenant, and maintained relationship with Him.

  3. Essential question: how did Israel say yes to God? How did they accept the offer of relationship? How did they commit to a relationship with God?
    1. God offered relationship; Israel had to accept relationship; it had to have a point of beginning.
      1. What did they do to accept God's offer of relationship?
      2. How did Israelites, the direct descendants of Abraham, say to God, "Yes; we accept your offer of relationship; we enter and honor relationship with you on your terms and conditions?
      3. They said yes by circumcising every male child born into the family.
    2. God Himself established this condition of relationship with Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14.
      1. God said to Abraham, "You and all your descendants in every generation shall keep my covenant."
      2. "This is my covenant: every male will be circumcised."
      3. "Eight days after birth, every male of every Israelite family and every male of your servants will be circumcised."
      4. "This is my everlasting covenant with Israel."
      5. "Any Israelite who is not circumcised will an outcast to the Israelite people because he has rejected the basic condition of relationship with God."
    3. Was circumcising every male in every Israelite family that important? Yes.
      1. Over five hundred years later, as God delivered hundreds of thousands of Israelites from Egyptian slavery, God told them that they were to observe the Passover every year as a perpetual memorial to God's deliverance (Exodus 12).
        1. If a non-Israelite ate the Passover memorial, before he ate, every male in his household had to be circumcised (Exodus 12:48).
        2. If the an Israelite male had not been circumcised, he could not eat the Passover memorial (Exodus 12:48).
      2. Forty years after the people of Israel left Egypt, the children who left Egypt and the children who were born in the wilderness crossed the Jordan River into Canaan (Joshua 5:2-9).
        1. All but two of the adults who left Egypt died in the wilderness.
        2. In that forty years, no one was circumcised.
        3. The first thing that was done was the circumcision of every Israelite male on a single day.
        4. Immediately after that, God declared, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you" (Joshua 5:9).
    4. Israelite circumcision was not a mindless religious ritual; circumcision said, "Yes," to God in agreeing to accept the responsibilities of relationship with God.
      1. Circumcision did not just involve the body as an Israelite yielded to a mysterious requirement of God.
      2. Listen to these instructions to Israel in Deuteronomy 10:12-16:
        Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the Lord's commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      3. What does God require of you?
        1. To reverence Jehovah as your God.
        2. To walk in His ways.
        3. To love Him.
        4. To serve Him with all your being.
        5. To keep His commandments.
        6. To circumcise your heart and refuse to be a stubborn, rebellious, arrogant people.

  4. "David, that is mildly interesting, but why should that interest me?"
    1. Listen to Colossians 2:9-12, written by Paul to the Christians at Colossae.
      For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)

In specific ways, your baptism was a circumcision. Baptism is a spiritual, unisex form of circumcision.

Is it possible, that with all that we taught and emphasized about baptism, that we missed the basic point of baptism? Is it possible that we missed the point that no knowledgeable Israelite would have missed? Is it possible that we missed the point that was emphasized to non-Jewish converts?

What point? Your baptism said, "Yes," to a relationship with God. In baptism, you accepted relationship to God and you made an agreement with God. Baptism was not just something your body did. It is also something your heart did.

Do you understand that you made an agreement with God when you were baptized? Do you know at baptism that you made an agreement to maintain relationship with God for the rest of your life?

[Song of reflection.]

We have a serious problem. We are a people who break agreements and throw away commitments. We abuse our marriages. We abuse our jobs. We abuse our credit. We abuse our driver's license. We abuse our government. We abuse our rights.

And we don't understand that we agreed to maintain relationship with God when we were baptized into Christ. Can a people who abuse human relationships learn how to maintain their relationship with God?

Know who Jesus is. Believe that God was working in Him. Accept the blood of Christ. Say "yes" to God. Be baptized into the One who died for you. Be willing to commit to an agreement with God.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 11 October 1998
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