“And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Lev 26:12)
No idea is more fundamental to the purpose of God in history, as it is revealed in Holy Scripture, than this one: “They shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer 32:38). This truth is for us the more significant because it is men and women like we are whom God has thus chosen. Such a phrase is, therefore, not only a revelation of God’s purpose; it is also a disclosure of our own destiny. We are created and called by God to be his people, and to know him as our God. This is the chief end of man—to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Let us then consider what this means in more detail.
God’s purpose. He has chosen us to be his, to know him, to enjoy his presence, to share in doing his will, to be known as his people, his friends, his fellow-workers. He is not ashamed to be called our God.
The purpose declared and sealed: God’s covenant. This purpose of his God has solemnly expressed and pledged. We may compare human marriage. When a man wishes to take a woman to be his wife, and to give himself to he her husband, it is customary for such an intention to he solemnly declared and sealed in the marriage vow. Therein the man declares, in effect—I take thee to be my wife. I give myself to be thy husband. Similarly, when God establishes his covenant with us he says: “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.”
The demand of God’s purpose on those who would embrace and enjoy it: man’s obedience. The people of God’s choice must give themselves to be his. They must go his way; they must wholly follow the Lord. Just as the woman getting married must pledge her devotion and obedience to her husband, so God demands that his people obey his voice and do his commands. “So”, he says, “you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (see Jer 7:23; 11:4.)
Self-will: God’s purpose frustrated. Scripture then declares, and history and experience confirm, that God’s purpose has been frustrated, his intention and hope have been disappointed, through human self-will and disobedience. When we confess, as we must, that we are sinners, that we have not gone God’s way, and that we have gone our own way, we also confess that God’s purpose has been frustrated, not fulfilled in our lives.
Fulfilment made possible: God’s new covenant. It is at this point, in the face of failure and frustration, that the Scriptures tell us of God’s intention to make a new covenant. This means that the goal of God—to have men as his people—is yet to be reached through a new intervention of God in grace to redeem. This is the message of the gospel. Under this new covenant (see Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:7-12) God first makes those who have become unworthy fit again for his presence. Their sin is forgiven, and they are made clean and free from defilement, through Christ’s death for them. His shed blood is the blood of the new covenant, shed for many for the remission of their sins. God then gives to all, thus made righteous in Christ, direct access to himself in the intimacy of personal communion; so that, as his covenant promise declares, “all shall know me”. Such do not merely know about God: they know him personally; they enjoy personal fellowship with him. Finally, to ensure their continuance in the pathway of true devotion, God puts into their hearts the spirit of obedience, so that following the Lord becomes their desire and their delight. So we find that God says, “I will give them an heart to know me” (Jer 24:71).
The consequent crowning satisfaction of Christian confidence and experience. This is found in the fulfilment and in the enjoyment of this relationship to God in Christ. We know that we are his and that he is ours, and that this will be so for ever. This brings a new sense of privilege. Because we are his, we may, we can, we shall, enjoy him for ever. Nothing can separate us from the God who thus loves us. This brings also a new assurance of enrichment. Because we are his, all that he has is ours. Finally, this brings the crowning thrill of possession, the awareness that He is ours—yes, that he is mine. This indeed is the life eternal, thus to know him.
Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter hue
Something lives in every green;
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow
Flowers with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am His, and He is mine.
Postscript: a personal testimony. On the day on which the present writer was confirmed, 2 Samuel 7:24 was one of the verses in his daily reading from the Bible. Pease, turn it up, and read it. Does it not express the God-given assurance that a true Confirmation ought to bring—an assurance which should continue to be ours all our days?
This article was first published in the Australian Church Record on 17 April 1958. In this series we hear reflections on Scripture from the Rev. Alan M Stibbs.