Covenant versus Autonomy

Ours is an age of autonomy (“self-law”). Of course, autonomy has been around since the Fall. What’s different today is that the secular West has created sophisticated rationales for it. It’s not just that man is autonomous; it’s that man should be autonomous, and any other way is unnatural and enslaving. Man hasn’t simply broken free from God’s law; he’s now trying to break free from creation itself.

Transgenderism is one such attempt to vanquish God’s created order. Man’s imagination mustn’t be subject to any constraints. Man has a right to be anything he wants to be, and if anybody gets in the way, that impediment must be legally removed. Male athletes that see themselves as transgendered must be given the right to participate in women’s sports contests. It doesn’t matter than this move disadvantages women: contra-creational rights trump women’s rights.

This autonomy has moved into the church. More churches and ministries are capitulating to so-called same-sex “marriage” and “- attraction.” This includes ministers and churches in such allegedly conservative groups as the Sothern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America. The fact that these views and acts are flatly anti-biblical seems not to matter. What’s most important is conforming to what Francis Schaeffer called “forms of the world spirit.” The driving force in Western culture today, postmodernism, unleashed radical autonomy, especially sexual autonomy. It must tower over all else in culture, even in the church.

This is an attack on the very roots of the covenant: that God is the suzerain and we are the vassals. Jesus is Lord, and we are his subjects. This isn’t a decision we make only at conversion. We must make it again every day: will we surrender our will and desires to our King, the one who bought us with his own blood? The great Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger’s successor, was correct, therefore, when he declared that

[T]he entire some of piety consists in these very brief main points of the covenant. Indeed, it is evident that nothing else was handed down to the saints of all ages, throughout the entire Scripture, other than what is included in these main points of the covenant…. Compare, if you will, the law, the prophets, and the very epistles of the apostles with these main points of the covenant, and you will discover that all of them return to this center as if to a target.

But we aren’t only oath-bound to God; he’s oath-bound to us. He promises he’ll never leave us or forsake us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 8:35f.). And by nothing, I mean nothing. He promises to answer our earnest prayers, meet our greatest needs, give us the strength to defeat the world, the flesh and the Devil. We don’t bow to a weak, ineffectual suzerain. He’s King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules from the heavens and rides on the clouds and accomplishes his will in the earth. No one can thwart his purposes.

If today you feel overwhelmed, weak, impoverished, rudderless, know this: you have a great suzerain, a great King, who is covenantally bound to you. It’s not simply that he might help or might not. He’s willingly tethered himself to you by covenant. He can’t do otherwise. Some things God cannot do, not because he is not all-powerful, but because he has willingly bound himself to his promises. One of those promises is to be perseveringly faithful to you and me as his covenant people. Hold him to his covenant promises. He delights when we remind him of his promises to us, because that shows that we take his word seriously (Is. 45:11; 62:6–7). Take God at his covenant word.

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