In our family, we know a thing or two about covenants.
Our babies didn’t come to us through birth, you know, they came through paperwork and courtrooms and unconditional covenants.
Deep, abiding promises that say things like: No matter what you’ll always be loved. No matter what you’ll always have a place in this family. No matter what you’ll always belong. It’s unconditional because it doesn’t matter where they go or what they do—the covenant won’t change because it doesn’t depend on them. It’s not based in who they are, or what choices they make. This covenant is based solely and completely on who we are as their parents.
But this isn’t the only covenant in our family. There is another covenant we’ve made with our children and it’s a bilateral covenant—which means it has two parts and what they do does change what happens.
This bilateral covenant is a covenant of rights and privileges versus consequences and it hinges on obedience.
It’s actually much like the covenants of our world. Did you know you enter into covenants all the time in life? To drive on the road, you enter in a bilateral covenant that is hinged on obedience to rules and regulations. A lack of compliance equals a lack of rights and privileges.
To live in a town, or a state, or a country, there are requirements and consequences for failing to meet them. This can lead to loss of land, possessions, and eventually your freedom.
So, if our goal is to raise our children to adulthood, we have to teach them the reality of bilateral covenants and it starts right in our home where Dad says, “Help with dishes if you want to eat off dishes.” Or Mom says, “Take care of your clothes if you want to keep them.” Or lights must be turned off when you’re not using them if you want the privilege of electricity, toys must be picked up when you’re finished if you want them tomorrow, bedroom doors must be shut gently if you desire to keep them, respect must be used if you’re going to speak, and if you want freedom you have to control yourself.
It was just last week that our family sat around a campfire with stars twinkling above us as we began talking with our children about the covenants in the Bible. About the bilateral covenants that God made with mankind and the unconditional covenants He made.
The Mosaic Law, for example, was a bilateral covenant. If the Israelites chose obedience, they would be blessed. If they chose disobedience, they would be cursed. Obedience led them to life, disobedience to death. And the Father-God cried out, right there in Deuteronomy, Oh, that you would choose LIFE; that you and your children might live!
It’s kind of like the day I told my daughter to wear socks and boots to church and carry her dress shoes. It was frigid outside, the snow damp and heavy and cold.
I told her to wear them because I wanted long life for her poor toes.
But she didn’t. She tromped through a snowbank in bare feet stuffed in sandals and sat in the car with her feet turning purple.
She was forced to taste the full-force of the bilateral covenants. Disobedience leads to a lack of comfort (at the very least), and she was nestled right down into it as she shivered in the car.
Jesus tells us that the Law is still in place. He didn’t come to abolish it, He says. In fact, until the end of time not one jot or tittle will disappear. That particular bilateral covenant is still in effect today.
Except something is drastically different. Something that is based in the unconditional covenant of God to Adam and Noah and Abraham and all those who call on the name of the Lord. The unconditional covenant that irrevocably makes us family.
Jesus changed everything.
His death, His blood, His life—it changed everything.
When we accept Him, we are accepted into the family. The unconditional covenant is ours and a fulfilled bilateral covenant is available to us. He told us He fulfilled the Law and He meant it.
It’s a bit like that day when my daughter was sitting in the car with her feet turning purple by her own disobedience. She wasn’t alone anymore, she had family. I saw her feet, saw the broken covenant, saw the consequences of disobedience. It wasn’t long before my daughter was saying, humbly and desperately, “Mama, my feet are SO cold.”
And see, her mama hadn’t broken the covenant. I was wearing socks and boots and carrying my dress shoes.
So I pulled my feet out of my boots and stripped off my socks and soon my daughter’s almost-purple feet were warm and covered.
Of course, my feet were cold.
But that didn’t matter.
Because this is what Mamas do.
This is what family does.
When we break the bilateral covenant, He has fulfilled it.
It costs something (remember my cold feet?) but it’s free because you’re family.
The truth is that I would take off my socks and boots for my daughter every single day if I had to. I wouldn’t let her feet get frostbit if I had the means to stop it, no matter how disobedient she was. But, at the same time, much like Paul warned us in Romans, I warn my children to not go to the car every day during the winter without their socks and boots! “Don’t tell yourselves, ‘Eh, Mom will have some for me.’ and revel in your disobedience!” I explain. There is simply no need for that! They know how to keep their feet warm now and they know if they disobey, it costs.
But dear ones? If you find yourself in the car, with cold feet because of disobedience, all is not lost either.
Remember? Jesus changes everything.
There’s a balance to training our children right. They have to learn about bilateral covenants. They have to understand that when covenants are broken, there is loss. They have to taste the coldness of wrong choices and the emptiness of disobedience.
But we also want to show them how family changes everything.
How Jesus changed everything for us.
How Grace takes the socks and boots off Jesus’ feet and places them on ours.