The apostle Paul challenges how we often think and talk about our relationship with God. His parenthetical remark reverses our perspective.
“… now that you have come to know God
(or rather to be known by God) …” Galatians 4:9
People might claim anything about their relationship with God. What matters, however, is whether God knows us as his people! Can we know how God identifies who his people are? Such a question can lead us toward humility and exploring where a reliable answer can be found. An accurate understanding would require discovering the basis or method God uses for recognizing who belongs to him.
The Bible reveals God has used his same gracious method throughout history to create relationships with people. God has not changed.
In Genesis 15 God promised Abram land based upon a covenant made with animals. Later, God expanded his covenantal promises to include “I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:7). Abram did not earn this. God offered this relationship based upon his own love (Deuteronomy 4:37). God gave Abram and his descendants circumcision as a sign of his covenant promises to them (Genesis 17:10-14).
Hundreds of years later at Mount Sinai, God offered Israel the opportunity to become his people, even though they were neither remarkable nor deserving (Exodus 19:3-6; Deuteronomy 7:6-8; 9:5-6). Once again, God achieved this relationship by offering them a covenant. After the Israelites agreed to God’s terms and the blood of the covenant was sprinkled upon the people, God identified them as his holy nation (Exodus 24:3-8).
Forty years after Mount Sinai and before they entered the promised land of Canaan, God renewed his relationship with Israel’s next generation and their posterity (Deuteronomy 29:1-15). Because of the covenant, when God looked at Israel he saw his people.
Through an Israelite prophet God announced that in the future he would relate to his people through a new covenant. Not only did God promise “they shall be my people,” but he also added a new promise, “I will forgive their sin” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
Through Jesus’ blood, God brought this new covenant into existence (Hebrews 8:6-12; 9:12-15). Understanding his role, Jesus taught his followers to remember his death with a special meal (Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:28). Jesus’ death made possible God’s promises to forgive us and claim us as his people.
This is why God views those who belong to Jesus as being his people. God’s consistent method for identifying his people has always been through a covenant. However, some of the details have changed (Hebrews 8:8-11).
Under the earlier covenants new generations were born into being God’s people and received its sign on their 8th day, but the new covenant requires people to have faith in Christ to be God’s people (Leviticus 12:3; Genesis 17:10-14; John 1:12; Galatians 3:26).
At Mount Sinai the people were literally sprinkled with the blood of ritual sacrifice to enter into the covenant, but today Christ’s blood is described as being sprinkled on our hearts when we are baptized (Hebrews 10:22). When we enter the new covenant by trusting in Christ through baptism, we receive God’s promises (Acts 2:38-41,47; 22:16; Titus 3:4-7; Galatians 3:26-27).
With baptism we enter the new covenant. This explains why the covenantal promises are received upon trusting in Christ with baptism (Acts 2:38-41,47; 22:16; Titus 3:4-7 Galatians 3:26-27; Hebrews 9:14; 10:19,22).
Whereas circumcision was a physical sign of the old covenantal membership, now it is no longer significant (Galatians 5:6; 6:15). Today, Christ performs a spiritual surgery releasing us from sin and its consequences when we are baptized (Colossians 2:11-13).
Through Jesus, God has made it possible for all of us to belong to God and to be forgiven. None of us deserve this. Yes, we can know who God sees when he looks at us.
Next article: God’s People Then And Now: Their Purpose