The Invitational Covenant: what it means for our ministering.
The evolution of God’s Plan of the Ages for the salvation of mankind comes into its final stages through the New Covenant in Christ: the Old Covenant of Law grows into the comprehensive, expansive New Covenant of Grace, and the demand for obedience to the letter and all of the Law (which is impossible for man: the purpose of that covenant), morphs into the redemption-transformational stage of new life in Christ, by means of Christ’s atoning death and the rebirth of the human spirit by the infusion of God’s own Spirit: “born again”.
The Old Covenant was more fear-based: obey and live; disobey and die. The New Covenant is worded by the very Son of God, the incarnation of God, one with the Father (the words Jesus speaks are the words of the Father – John 12:49), and now it is an INVITATION to experience the very Life-giving, regenerational Presence of God – His own Spirit uniting with the blood-washed human spirit – and so being able to actually obey God and live in His will.
Jesus came sharing the Good News as an INVITE, not a command with an “or else” consequences; not that the consequences had changed at all! What changed was the means to be able to obey God and avoid the ill consequences of a state of being without God, without His Spirit residing within. So when Jesus came of age to begin His ministry, He called certain disciples, common men – fishermen, zealots (activists!), a tax collector, a doctor: sinners – to “follow Me”. It was an invitation, not a command. He said, “Come and see” (John 1:39).
And in a more expansive, comprehensive invitation He said to “whosoever will”, whenever, wherever: “Come unto Me all you who are weary and weighed down, and I will give you rest”. Jesus always readily acknowledged the reality of hell and what leads there, as well as the narrow path to eternal life in God’s presence; but this Covenant of Grace was different than that of the Law – again, not that the Law was rendered meaningless and not applicable: rather it was now given its true meaning and purpose in the larger context of God’s full nature – His TRUTH and GRACE. His justice AND mercy. The atoning death of Jesus is the pivotal event that ushers in God’s fuller Covenant that doesn’t negate the first covenant, but rather gives it the context of how it can be fulfilled only through oneness with Christ – His Spirit and the person’s spirit becoming one in spiritual union (as Jesus prayed in John 17). JESUS and being one with Him is the purpose of the New Covenant and the fulfillment of the Old. The Old is absorbed in the New; they are not in conflict, but the Old leads to the New and the New is entered into by responding to an invitation – not just for Israel, but …everyone.
Jesus’ blood sacrifice for our sins, His redemptive act in His crucifixion in which He takes our punishment for our sins upon Himself and becomes our sin for us on that Tree (cross), as Paul states it, enables Jesus to extend this remarkable invitation to mankind, to individual human beings, even before He makes the provision for it by dying on the cross and raising from the dead! So He tells His disciples, that the Spirit is now WITH them, but after He dies and raises the Spirit will be IN them: and they will be, as Paul states repeatedly in his epistles, on the A.D. side of the cross, “in Christ”. And it is “in Christ” that a human being, born again and indwelt by His Holy Spirit and yielding to the Spirit’s enabling power, can walk in righteousness, know and do the will of God as He works in us to do.
The significance of this should be apparent in our ministering! We are the agents, the ambassadors, the vessels of His continuing invitation to “Come unto Me…”, the Christ now living and ministering through us to “lost sinners”. That same grace and love of Christ people were blessed to experience during Jesus’ incarnate life on earth, is now to continue to be present and expressed through us! We are His outstretched arms welcoming those weary and worn sinners looking for grace, looking for a way to endure and handle this life and find any sense to it and meaning and joy. Christ through us, our hearts and minds yielded to Him, guided by the indwelling Spirit and our minds saturated with His wisdom by prolonged meditation in His truths and principles in the Scriptures (through our own study as well as sitting under godly, sound teachers of God’s truths and principles), continues to present Himself as the way, the truth and the life, in the character of compassion, mercy, tolerance, patience, loving kindness – the “fruit of the Spirit”. So it is NOT us trying to emulate these qualities by self-effort and grit: it is by yielding to His Spirit within, allowing Him to refine us, to point out and root out “old man” lingering traits (“put off”), while replacing them with (“put on”) Christ-like character qualities that He can increasingly minister through us so those we minister to “see” and experience Christ in us. WE in Christ are that continuing invitation to “Come & see”!
The REST that Jesus promised would be experienced if one would respond to His invitation to “Come unto Me…”, is what we continue to offer through Him. People should experience a sense of REST – release from their feeling weary and weighed down – as they encounter the living Christ through us: by word and our actions they hear and understand the HOW of salvation, how to “come to Christ” while they experience the amazing grace and love of Christ through the manner in which we share Christ. It’s not just theological persuasion, but they sense the living Christ through us. So Paul urged Christians to “Speak the TRUTH in LOVE”. He elaborated on the importance of this in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not [a]love [for others growing out of God’slove for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction]. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy [and speak a new message from God to the people], and understand all mysteries, and [possess] all knowledge; and if I have all [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love [reaching out to others], I am nothing. 3 If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [b]to be burned, but do not have love, it does me no good at all.” [Amp Bible]. Our ministering is to be characterized by truth and doctrinal accuracy, but not alone. It is not enough: it is not invitational nor presents Christ’s invitation, for it is the love and grace of Christ that invites. We are sent to invite sinners to the Wedding Feast, to the way to New Life, and the means to acquiring heaven.
Invitation should characterize all our ministering, even to those who are Children of God. Jesus was the Great Shepherd and calls us to tend His flocks as “shepherds”. We’re not cattlemen who drive cattle; we’re shepherds who lead sheep. We aren’t to rule God’s People as authoritarians and “lord it over them”, like worldly rulers tend to do; instead we are to speak the truth in love, to invite believers into a deeper walk with Christ, a fuller surrender, an ever increasing oneness and life transforming communion with Him, coming alongside to guide and coach and exemplify this “abundant”, abiding life. As one of my past mentors put it to me, we are to IMPART the LIFE of Christ, not just teach and inform. We are to continually invite those we’re called to minister to into the fullness of the Christ-life by our own demonstration and preaching, teaching and counseling out of our experience of the same!
Truth is, you just cannot browbeat sinners into the Kingdom, or believers into a more yielded experience of Christ. Our words and example must communicate and create a “Come and see” environment of exploring this New Life in Christ. Such an invitational mindset of ministering encourages a choosing to on the their part: and it relieves us of falling into a mindset of fixing sinners or Christians, which is not our calling nor our part. Only God can save a sinner, and only God can sanctify a believer. Our part is to LEAD: to be that human means of His drawing people to Christ and into Christ – even as we rest in Him and allow Him to lead us in leading others to that same rest in Him.
Truth is, when we go beyond our part and try to help God fix Christians in our ministering, that’s when we have left His rest and move towards burnout in ministry, because we are now engaging our own means, our own thoughts, our own ways of how we think we can help people, Christians. That’s when we are more doing FOR Christ, than truly IN Christ. And the results won’t be good.
I’ve gleaned much from Henry Blackaby, in his writings as a seasoned, experienced minister, church planter, preacher-teacher: one biblical principle he frequently emphasizes in regards to leadership in ministry is the understanding of joining God in what God is doing, instead of “doing FOR God”: for the latter does not produce the will and results of God. Our part is to “walk” so close to the Lord so that we can “see” what the Lord is doing, where and what He is working at, and at His invitation (there it is again!) JOIN HIM in His work, in that part which He wants to use us to do. Our goal is NOT to do great things FOR God! Ours is to discern and join God in the great things He is doing. That’s a big difference and the outcomes are greatly different. As someone put it: “When you do things your way, you get what you can do; when you do things God’s way, you get what God can do”. Which do we really want!?
Good followers make good leaders. So Paul spoke of himself as a leader, “Follow me even as I follow the Lord” (1 Cor 11:1).
Heavenly Father, who invites people – whosoever will – to come all who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat, and through Jesus invited anyone to come and drink living water freely – fill us with the character of Christ in all our ministering that those who hear us and witness our actions will sense your continuing invitation to New Life through us. If anything within us hinders this from flowing through us clearly – any evidence of pride, or self-centeredness, bitterness, or harshness – help us address and root these out of our hearts, that Your welcoming invitation, your compassionate grace, would not be tainted or hindered in any way. May people around us sense Your graciousness as You draw them to the Jesus-in-us, enabled by Your Spirit to speak the truth in love, Christ’s kind of love, that unconditionally accepts, respects, values and genuinely cares for the souls of every person – even those who might not like us because we are Yours. All to the glory of Christ, to know Him and make Him known!
Written by Rev Rodger Niemeier, NACM Executive Elder 01/01/2022