John Wesley’s Covenant Renewal Service
By Jonathan Powers
In 1775, John Wesley introduced a covenant service as an important part of spiritual life in the Methodist Societies. This renewal service was a time for the Methodists to gather annually in a time of self-examination, reflection, and dedication, wholly giving up themselves and renewing covenant with God. Repentance through confession and commitment was a key focus of the service, demanding humility from those willing to submit themselves to the dynamic words stated within the liturgy.
According to Wesley’s journal, though the covenant renewal service was held on various occasions throughout the year, by the end of his life, the service was observed typically on or the Sunday nearest January 1st. The covenant renewal service is a practice that continues in churches and Christian communities today, often near the beginning of the new year. It has undergone many revisions and adaptations, but its purpose as an evocative ceremony of commitment to ongoing discipleship and Christ-like character has always remained intact.
Presented here is a modern liturgical adaptation of the covenant service. The vocabulary and syntax have been updated to what would be more familiar in the world today. As you participate today, please refrain from judging any differences to traditional liturgical forms (such as The Lord’s Prayer) so that you may be fully in the moment of complete covenant renewal with God. Today and always, may we freely give everything to God’s pleasure and disposal.
The Covenant Renewal Service
Leader: Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations
People: You are the one true God who reigns forever.
Opening prayer and The Lord’s Prayer
Leader: Almighty God, You search our hearts and you see every part of us. All our desires are known to You, and from you no secrets are hidden. By the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, cleanse our hearts so we may perfectly love you and glorify Your holy name. We pray this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer (in contemporary English)
Leader: Now as God’s dearly loved children, let us pray together:
People: Our Father in heaven, holy is Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today Your daily bread, and forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the Kingdom, the power, and glory are Yours, both now and forever. Amen.
Scripture Lesson 1 Peter 1:13-25
Renewing the Covenant: Part Two, by Pastor Stephen
Last week we looked at 2 Kings 23 and King Josiah’s call for Israel to renew her covenant with God. We talked about the elements of a covenant and looked at six major covenants in both the Old and New Testament, finishing with the covenant God has made with us through the Person of Jesus Christ.
This is the Good News: God loves you and me so much that he was willing to pay the ultimate price for our freedom from sin and death—the price of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died a criminal’s death, bearing the sins of the world and satisfying the wrath—the just punishment—of God so that we might have peace with our Creator, Covenant-making-and-keeping God. And all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.
But here’s the tragedy. We American Christians have bought the lie from the enemy that all we have to do is say we believe—pray a prayer, walk and aisle, raise a hand—and we’re done. No real commitment. No real life-change. Beloved, that simply is not true. Jesus said this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Last week, we talked about the significance of being in a covenant relationship with God, but I don’t think I clearly explained why. The only way to truly be in a right relationship with Christ is to be in a faithful covenant with Him. Just like a good marriage requires faithful obedience to the sacred covenant made in our wedding vows, a good marriage with our Bride Groom requires obedience to the promises we make when we say, “I do.” “I surrender the right to myself and trust that God’s ways are better than my ways.”
The 1st century Christian Church was surrounded by paganism and self-indulgence. Peter was calling for believers to maintain the faith even when facing the temptation to act like the world, the persecution by the Jews and even death at the hands of the Romans. And when we read accounts of the advancement of the kingdom of God in the Book of Acts, we see that they did just that!
Sadly, however, the American Christian church seems to have not only forgotten our covenant with Christ, we have assimilated into the pagan culture around us…a culture of self-indulgence and pleasure…a culture where anything goes. For many, our lives look no different than the world of unbelievers around us. And we wonder why the church is losing ground!
Last July when we studied the letters of Peter, I led with this story. Some time ago, a new Christian took the time to read the entire New Testament and made this observation: “Amazing things were going on back then. People converted not just their faith but their lives and values. They were healed, dropped prejudices, and crossed ethnic boundaries. People were beaten, tried, and killed for their faith.” Then she looked at the American church today and saw little similarity between the early Christian church she read about in the NT and ours. She concluded that it’s safer for church members NOT to read the New Testament.
Something mighty had happened in the NT church: world shaking and world shaping. The American church today, by contrast, seems like one of two things. On the one hand, mainline Protestant and Catholic churches can seem like gigantic, cold, empty monuments to the past. They have the form of religion but deny its power. On the other hand, seeker-sensitive, non-denominational churches draw big crowds by trying to meet peoples felt needs, but fail to call people into a life of personal holiness and accountability.
It’s time for the people of God to get back to our roots…to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is the God of Peter, James, and John, Mary and Martha, Paul, Stephen and Lydia. The God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever! The God who rescues us from sin and death through the Covenant he has made with us, ratified in the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.
It’s time for us to take stock in ourselves, to acknowledge our sinful ways and our need to turn back to God. This was the message of the prophets to the people of Israel. This was the message of John the Baptist during the time of Jesus. This was the message of Peter to the churches in Asia Minor. And it is the message of us today!
As we move into what could be one of the most significant moments of worship for us in a very long time, I want to make a few comments about the Scripture John Bobb just read from 1 Peter and how it relates to our covenant with God.
The heading in my Bible where John read says, “Be Holy.” This sums up what Peter is calling believers to do in light of all that is happening around them. Be set apart for God’s special purposes in the world. We are part of the Great Mission Plan of God, to declare our independence from a life of sin and separation from God and our DEPENDANCE on God for life in every sense of the word.
Peter begins by telling us to prepare our minds for action. As one thinks, so one is. You do what you set your mind to. What do you think about most? Health? Wealth or Security? Work? Family? Hobbies? How much to you think about the ways and will of your Creator Covenant God? The more we consider God, the more our actions will imitate that of God’s. If we remain in the Potter’s hands, he can shape us into the object that most glorifies God and most fulfills our true purposes.
We are to be self-controlled…restrained. When we say no to the things that are not God’s best, we leave room for God to fill our lives with what He desires, which is always for our best. We do this by setting our hope fully on God. We don’t conform to the patterns of this world, but we allow God to transform us by the renewing of our minds, says Paul in Romans 12.
This is what the process of sanctification is all about. That word, sanctification, merely means being set apart for God’s special purposes. It necessarily involves a conscious decision every day to give ourselves to God. Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Is that our aim? Are we so committed to our Creator Covenant-making-and-keeping God that we give up the right to ourselves daily SO THAT God can do amazing things in and through us. Will we so dedicate our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ that the world will truly see the glory of God through us and be drawn to repent and follow Him as well? That should be the aim of every believer, and this Covenant Renewal Service we are about to enter is one way to reclaim our purpose as Christ-followers…to realign ourselves with the will and purpose of God for our lives.
We are publicly drawing a line in the sand…declaring that—as of today—we are no longer living for ourselves but for God and his kingdom!
As we move into this Covenant Renewal Service, let me remind us that liturgy—written worship materials—it can be easy to read something and not mean it or feel it. But if we open our hearts to God, believing that God is present with us through His Holy Spirit, to receive our prayers of confession and promises, then we can experience the power of forgiveness and the grace to keep this covenant we are making today.
Leader: Dearly loved brothers and sisters, the Christian life is a life found in Christ, redeemed from sin, and consecrated to God.
We are those who have entered into this life and have been admitted into the new covenant of Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator of this covenant. He sealed it with His own blood, so it would last forever.
On one side of this covenant stands God, who promises to give us new life in Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Every day God proves His goodness and grace to us, showing us that His promise still stands firm.
On the other side, we stand as those who promise to no longer live life for ourselves but instead to only live for Jesus Christ because He has loved us and given His life for us.
There are times in our lives when it is important for us to remember and reaffirm our promises and vows. In this same way, we come today to renew our covenant with God. Many generations have done this before us. Today we make the covenant our own, renewing with both joy and sincerity the covenant that binds us all to God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Leader: We are those who seek to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we fall short. Let us now examine ourselves before God, humbly confessing our sins and submitting our hearts so that we do not deceive ourselves and cut ourselves away from God. Let us pray:
People: Father God, You have set forth the way of life through Your Son Jesus Christ, whom You love dearly. We shamefully confess that we have been slow to learn of Him and have been reluctant to follow Him. You have spoken and called to us but we have not listened. You have revealed Your beauty to us, but we have been blind.
You have stretched out Your hands to us through our friends, but we have passed by them. We have accepted Your gifts and offered little thanks. We are unworthy of Your unchanging love.
Leader: We now confess to you our sins.
Please forgive us for the poverty of our worship…
for the selfishness of our prayers…
for our inconsistency and unbelief…
for the ways we neglect fellowship and Your grace…
for our hesitation to tell others about Christ….
for the ways we deceive others…
People: Forgive us for when we waste time and when we misuse the gifts you have given us. Forgive us for when we have made excuses for the wrong things we have done and when we have purposefully avoided responsibility.
Leader: Forgive us that we have been unwilling to overcome evil with good and that we have not been ready to carry our cross. Forgive us that we have not allowed Your love to work through us to help others and that we have not made their suffering our own. Forgive us for those times when instead of working for unity we made it hard for others to live with us because of our lack of forgiveness, inconsiderate judgment, and quick criticism.
People: Forgive us for when we have not tried to reconcile with others and when we have been slow to seek redemption.
Leader: Forgive us also for these sins that we silently confess to you now.
Words of Assurance and Pardon
Leader: God, the Father of all mercies, is faithful to cleanse us from our sins and restore us to Christ’s image. Praise and glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.
Leader: Let us now in covenant commit ourselves to Christ as his servants. Let us give ourselves to Him so that we may fully belong to Him. Jesus Christ has left us with many services to be done. Some of these services are easy and honorable, but some are difficult and disgraceful. Some line up with our desires and interests, others are contrary to both. In some we please both Christ and ourselves, but then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
Jesus Christ, we offer You this prayer:
People: Let me be Your servant. Let me follow your commands. I will no longer follow my own desires. I give myself completely to your will.
Leader: The power and strength to live as true servants is given to us in Christ. We accept the place and work that He gives us, acknowledging that He alone will be our reward.
People: I am not my own. I am Yours alone. Make me into what You will. Rank me with those You will. Put me to use for You. Put me to suffering for You. Let me be employed for You. Let me be laid aside for You. Let me be lifted high for You. Let me be brought low for You. Let me be full or let me be empty. Let me have all things or let me have nothing. With a willing heart, I freely give everything to Your pleasure and disposal.
Leader: Christ is Savior to those who are His true servants. He is the source of all salvation to those who obey. To be His servant is to consent fully to His will. Christ accepts nothing less. Christ will be all in all, or he will be nothing.
Now confirm this truth in holy covenant. Make it a reality in your life in these ways:
First, set apart time in your day, more than once, to spend alone with the Lord. Seek to perceive God’s special care for you and gracious acceptance of you. Carefully think through the words of this covenant and its conditions. Examine your heart, even if you have freely given your life to Christ. Name the sins in your life. Reflect on whether you are willing to choose Christ’s holy laws and strict commands. Be sure you are clear in all of these, so you do not lie to God!
Second, uphold a serious spirit of holy awe and reverence.
Third, claim God’s covenant. Do not trust in your own strength and power but rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength. In this way, He will empower you to keep your promise.
Fourth, be determined to be faithful. You have given your heart and life to God. You have opened your mouth to dedicate yourself to the Lord. With God’s power, never go back to your former way of living.
And last, be prepared to renew your covenant with God. Fall on your knees. Lift your hands. Open your hearts.
The Covenant Prayer
Leader: Let us pray together:
People: My righteous God, for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, see me now as I fall down before You. Forgive my unfaithfulness when I have not done your will. You promise mercy if I turn to You with my whole heart.
Leader: God requires that you rid yourself of every idol in your life.
People: From the bottom of my heart, I here and now renounce every idol in my life, covenanting with You that I will not commit any known sin. By turning against Your will I have turned my love toward the world. In Your power I will watch for any temptation that will lead me away from You.
Leader: Through Jesus Christ, God offers to be your God again, if you allow Him to be.
People: Before all heaven and earth, I here and now acknowledge You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as my Lord and God. I vow to give all of myself, body and soul, to be Your servant and to serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life.
Leader: Jesus Christ is the only way and means to God. God has given us Jesus as the way and means to salvation.
People: Jesus, I here and now accept You as the only new and living Way. I join myself in covenant with You. I come to You hungry, sinful, miserable, blind, and naked, unworthy even to wash the feet of Your servants. With all my power, I accept You as my Lord and Head. I renounce my own unworthiness, and vow that You are the Lord, my righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom and take You for my only guide. I renounce my own will and take Your will as my law.
Leader: Christ has told you that you must suffer with him.
People: Jesus, I here and now make this covenant with You and accept whatever comes in life. Through Your grace I promise that neither life nor death will separate me from You.
Leader: God has given holy laws as the rule of your life.
People: I here and now willingly take on Your yoke and burden. All Your laws are holy, just, and good. I accept them as the rule for my words, thoughts, and actions, promising I will strive to order my whole life around your direction. I will not allow myself to neglect anything I know to be my duty as a Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ.
Leader: The Almighty God searches and knows you, even the thoughts of your heart.
People: O God, You know that we have made this covenant today in sincerity, without deceit or reluctance. If You find anything false in us, guide us and help us to set it right.
And now, glory be to You, God the Father. From this day forward, I shall look upon You as my God and Father.
Glory be to You, God the Son. You have loved me and washed me from my sins in Your own blood. From this day forward, I shall look upon You as my Savior and Redeemer.
Glory be to You, O God the Holy Spirit. By Your almighty power, You have turned my heart from sin to God. From this day forward I shall look upon You as my Comforter and Guide.
O mighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have now become my Covenant Friend. And I, through Your infinite grace, have become Your covenant servant. You are mine and I am Yours. So be it. May this covenant that I have made here on earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Dismissal with Blessing
Leader: May our God, who establishes covenant relationship with those who seek to enter the Kingdom, be with you always. May Jesus Christ, who seals the new covenant with his blood on the cross, bring you peace. May the Holy Spirit guide your life both now and forever. Go in peace to serve the Lord. Amen.