Tomorrow (April 6), my husband and I will celebrate our 37th anniversary. In some ways, it seems like a long time. I don’t remember what it was like not to be married! When we stood in front of our family and friends and spoke vows of commitment to each other, we could only imagine what marriage was based on what we had observed in others. Now, having experienced a lifetime together, we know the kinds of challenges one faces in a covenant relationship.
As I read through Acts 11-14 this morning, I was reminded that God gave us marriage as an illustration of the kind of covenant relationship He has with us (Ephesians 5:22-33). Stephen has been martyred, pushing the gospel to spread outside the borders of Jerusalem. God has shown the apostles the message is for everyone, and the word is now being preached to both Jews and Gentiles, with many coming to faith. As we read Acts, we learn a lot about how God saves – how He enters into a covenant relationship with those who believe.
The Holy Spirit is always present, always speaking, opening the minds and hearts of those listening to the gospel. Salvation is a work that God initiates, as we see in Acts 13:48. When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. The apostles recognized God’s hand in salvation when Peter shared that the Holy Spirit had indeed fallen on Cornelius’ family. When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). God invites us into the relationship, like a marriage proposal – a declaration of His love for us and an offer of a new life together in Him.
While we can never come to faith unless God first speaks, God gives us free will as to how we respond. We must believe; we must accept His proposal. We turn to Him (believe) and turn away from our old lives (repent).
Acts 11:21 – And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.
Acts 14:14-15 – But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” (See also Acts 3:26; 15:19; 26:18-20; Galatians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:9)
Like marriage, the day we say “yes” to God (our spiritual wedding day) is just the beginning of the covenant relationship. The days and years to follow will reveal whether we are truly committed to Jesus. The New Testament is full of admonitions to continue in the faith, even through tribulations, trials, hardships, suffering, and challenges that will inevitably come.
Speaking to the new believers in Antioch, Barnabas began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord (Acts 11:23). He and Paul were urging them to continue in the grace of God (Acts 13:43). As they traveled throughout the cities on that first missionary journey, they were strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). (See also John 8:31; Romans 11:22; Colossians 1:23; Luke 8:15; 1 Corinthians 15:2; Hebrews 3:6; 10:23; Revelation 2:13,25)
Todd and I have to decide every day to remain faithful to one another. We make a conscious decision to prioritize our covenant over every other relationship, and “stick with one another” even in difficult times. As Christ-followers, we also make that decision every day. Will we continue with Jesus, even if it’s hard? Will we guard our hearts against distractions that could pull us away from the covenant we made with God on the day He saved us?
I believe in eternal security; I don’t think our perseverance in faith “earns” salvation, but simply proves our faith genuine. Those who fall away give evidence that they never truly committed to the Savior (1 John 2:19). In the world’s terms, they weren’t willing to enter into a covenant with Jesus; they just wanted to “live with Him” as long as it was convenient and pleasant but remain free to walk away in the hard times.
Sometimes earthly marriages end, and there are biblical grounds for when that may happen. I’m so grateful that God will never break His covenant with us, and that He strengthens our hearts to remain faithful to Him, to the end.