The New Covenant is the wondrous and glorious fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of God. Before we study it in detail, let us first summarize the prior seven covenants we have studied.
- Edenic Covenant – made with Adam before the entrance of sin; reveals God’s purpose for man’s creation.
- Adamic Covenant – made with Adam after the fall of man for the redemption of the race of Adam.
- Noahic Covenant – made with Noah and with mankind as a whole, and with all creatures; re-establishes God’s original purpose as revealed in the Edenic Covenant.
NOTE: The following four covenants were made primarily with the chosen nation of Israel. Yet each of these covenants contains a Messianic element that pertains to all people.
- Abrahamic Covenant – involved Abraham, his natural seed, the national seed of Israel, the Messianic Seed Jesus Christ, and through Him, the spiritual seed of all those who believe on Christ for salvation.
- Mosaic Covenant – the giving of the Law, designed to be a tutor or schoolmaster to prepare Israel to receive the Messiah (Gal 3:24).
- Palestinian Covenant – renewed the Abrahamic Covenant of a promised land to a new generation, and reaffirmed the conditions upon which they were to enter and maintain it.
- Davidic Covenant – made with David after the death of Saul and the establishment of David’s kingdom. It involved David and his natural and spiritual seed; it prophetically pointed to the Messiah, and His throne and Kingdom being established forever.
THE NEW COVENANT
The New Covenant is called “new” in contrast to the “old covenant” with Moses (Jer 31:32; Heb 8:6-13). The new replaces the old because the old Mosaic Covenant was limited. It could only point to the things that the New Covenant actually fulfilled: The child of God could live a victorious life consistent with the righteous commands and character of God.
The New Covenant fulfilled (consummated, completed) all previous covenant revelations. But it also established something infinitely greater. Thus, it exceeded all previous covenants.
All that was promised by God – all that had been revealed in the previous covenants by prophetic foretype – was now completed and embodied in the Person of Jesus Christ.
There was much that the prior covenants could not do, or were inadequate to perform. The prior covenants could not:
- Change man’s heart and nature.
- Open a way of salvation as a free gift to all people.
- Give every recipient of God’s salvation the power, ability and gifting that would enable them to lovingly obey God, be transformed from within and live victoriously.
All that could not be accomplished by the prior covenants is now fully realized in the New Covenant. It is all available through Jesus Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit now living within every believer!
COVENANT OF GRACE
The New Covenant is often referred to as the Covenant of Grace, or the “better” covenant (Heb 8:6; Heb 7:22). This is because the New Covenant is unconditional in its nature.
It is called the Covenant of Grace because the terms of the covenant are a free gift of God. The provisions of this New Covenant are undeserved and unearned. What mankind deserves and has earned is death (Rom 3:26; 6:23); but through faith in Jesus Christ we can now have life (2Cor 3:6).
NOT BY WORKS OF MAN
We cannot gain salvation or eternal life by our works (law), or by a combination of works and grace. It is by grace alone that we receive eternal life and salvation (Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16; 3:21). Jesus did it all for us! The only thing we can do is to put our faith (belief) in Jesus Christ: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8,9).
There is nothing – and no one – that can add to or replace what Jesus has already done and provided for us (Rom 4:1-5).
FINISHED WORK OF JESUS CHRIST
The New Covenant was ushered in by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
Jesus fully completed what He was sent to earth to do (John 3:16). As a result of His work, He accomplished the following for each of us:
- Replaced the Old Covenant (Law) with a New Covenant (Grace): “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13).
- Provided a way to the Father: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).
- Cleansed us from our sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9).
- Prepared a place in Heaven for us: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
- Exchanged our old sinful nature for a new nature: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2Cor 5:17).
- Sent the Holy Spirit to us: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).
- Destroyed the works of the devil: “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1John 3:8).
CHRIST REVEALED IN THE NEW COVENANT
What Jesus accomplished on the Cross of Calvary, in obedience to the Father, was something totally new. He guaranteed salvation to all who would put their trust in Him (Rom 10:13). He also gave the Holy Spirit to every believer as a sign or seal of being born again (2Cor 1:21,22).
The Holy Spirit makes it possible for believers to live the life they are called to by God. The Holy Spirit gives power and help for a believer to be both willing and obedient (Phil 2:13). It is the Person of the Holy Spirit that makes the difference in the life of a believer (Acts 1:8).
The Holy Spirit is also given as a “guarantee” of God’s full redemption of our lives – body, soul and spirit (2Cor 5:1-5; Eph 1;13,14). Those who believe in Christ for salvation can be assured and live with great faith. We can know that we are empowered here on earth and that we have a place reserved for us in Heaven. Hallelujah!
TYPE AND FORESHADOWS
As we read the New Testament, we are reminded of the typology seen in the previous seven covenants. Let us now look at some of those typologies.
- Shedding of Blood
Let there be no doubt of God’s love for us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is God alone Who sent His own Son to die in our place, even though mankind is sinful and rebellious (Rom 5:6-10).
The phrase “He gave His only begotten Son” seems to understate the fact that Jesus was bruised, battered and rejected for us (Isa 53:4-6). Jesus shed His own blood to initiate the New Covenant. His sacrifice provided for us full forgiveness of sin, an overcoming life here on earth and a blessed hope of a future eternal life with Him.
- “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7).
- “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate” (Heb 13:12).
- “And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth, to Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev 1:5).
- The Great Exchange
In all covenants with God, an exchange takes place. As covenants are made and kept, God, as the stronger party, gives blessing, provision, protection, wisdom and more to the weaker party, which is man.
In our study of covenants, there is no better example of this exchange than the New Covenant. The exchange is so clear, and what we receive so glorious and abundant, that it is known by some scholars as “The Great Exchange.”
Let us look at some examples of the exchange provided by the New Covenant:
- Jesus took our lack of power and gave us His authority.
“Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:18-20).
- Jesus took our sickness that we might have health.
“Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed” (1Pet 2:24; Isa 53:5).
- Jesus took our sin and gave us forgiveness.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Cor 5:21).
- Jesus took our poverty that we might have eternal riches.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2Cor 8:9).
- Jesus took our lost and homeless condition and gave us an eternal home.
“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (Matt 8:20; John 14:2).
- Jesus took our weakness and gave us strength.
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8; Eph 3:14-16).
- Jesus took our turmoil and confusion and gave us His peace.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
- Jesus experienced hell that we might experience heaven.
“Now this, ‘He ascended’ – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph 4:9,10; Ps 16:10).
- Jesus took our death that we might have life.
“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10; Heb 2:9).
Of all the exchanges and agreements that have taken place since the beginning of time, the most important exchanges by far are those we have received from Jesus. He truly provided for us The Great Exchange!
We gave Jesus our sins, failures, guilt, shame and past. In return, Jesus: extends His friendship to us (John 15:14); He makes us joint-heirs with Him (Rom 8:17); wipes away our sins and our past (2Cor 5:17); gives us a hope and a future for this life and eternity (John 14:1-3; Col 1:27; 1Pet 1:3).
Let us thank God for the New Covenant that is far better than any prior covenants!
THE NAME OF JESUS
We have been given a name above every other name. It is a name that we are able to declare with boldness and faith: the name of Jesus! The name of Jesus is filled with His power and authority. Christians around the world know the power of His Name!
- “…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10,11).
- “And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour’” (Acts 16:18).
- Even the demons tremble at His Name: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble” (Jas 2:19).
Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He is the Sacrifice that purifies and atones for our sins. We are justified, sanctified, made righteous and holy because of His finished work at the Cross of Calvary.
We are set free from the Law – a system that required endless sacrifices for sin. Even then, those sacrifices could not purify our hearts, transform us or set us free from sin (Heb 10:1-4).
But the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all and need never again be repeated. His sacrifice is truly sufficient to set us free from sin and condemnation – set free to serve the only true God! “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10; see also Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-15).
BLESSINGS AND CURSINGS
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are in a covenant relationship with Him. “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6).
When we are walking on the “highway of holiness” and righteousness (Isaiah 35:8) we are walking under the covering of God’s blessing. This is not because of the Covenant of Law, but because of the better covenant, the New Covenant!
We cannot earn God’s blessings. However, our obedience from the heart to Christ positions us to receive what He gives by His grace (Matt 6:33).
THE COVENANT MEAL AS A MEMORIAL
Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood” (Matt 26:28). What a powerful statement this is from Jesus!
Jesus first spoke these words as He celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Matt 26:26-29).
What makes this statement of Jesus even more remarkable is that He spoke these words prophetically – He had not yet gone to the Cross. His body had not yet been broken, nor His blood shed for us.
It is one thing to lose your life because of circumstances that cannot be avoided. It is quite another to know you are going to die a horrible death, but still choose to lay down your life. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:5). How wonderful it is to be considered a friend to Jesus! (See also John 10:14-18.)
COVENANT RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS
As His disciples, we are instructed to recreate the covenant meal as a remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ love for us. Paul the apostle relates the Last Supper events that took place in the upper room (1Cor11:23-26) by way of a personal revelation from Jesus (Gal 1:11,12).
The communion remembrance is also our reminder that we are in a covenant relationship with Jesus: “And when He had given thanks, He broke the bread and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1Cor 11:24-26).
Jesus carries the eternal scars (John 20:27) in His hands, and on His feet and His side as a memorial. These scars remind us of the fact that Jesus paid the price for us to enter the New Covenant. He also carries on His back the stripes or scars for our spiritual, physical and emotional healing (1Pet 2:24).
A MORE EXCELLENT WAY
Jesus is the perfect sacrifice (purifier). But He is also the mediator (intercessor) of that better Covenant. “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom 8:34).
“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (Heb 8:6).
Let us examine more closely these important terms found in this verse.
“MORE EXCELLENT MINISTRY”
This speaks of service of a higher order or a more exalted nature. The ministry of the Levitical priest (Law) was just a shadow of the real thing. Jesus’ ministry is the real and substantial service. The new ministry pertains to heavenly and eternal things, while the old was concerned with the earthly tabernacle (temple) that would eventually vanish (Heb 9:11,12).
Jesus Christ is the Mediator between God and man, according to the arrangements of the New Covenant. By definition, a mediator can intercede, reconcile, even settle differences.
In the Old Testament, the imperfect Levitical priesthood mediated between God and man. In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is in the highest position of representing the needs, requirements and desires of both parties – God and man – with equal zeal. His divinely-appointed position requires Him to be the ultimate Priest and Servant.
As the eternal High Priest, Jesus brought to us this new and better covenant. The heart of our loving heavenly Father is revealed to us when Jesus established God’s unbreakable promises of salvation through grace by faith.
Jesus accomplished all of this by being the ultimate Servant. He established these promises with His own blood (Heb 9:12,14) shed for us at the Cross. By this act, Jesus serves God’s loving and age-old desire to reconcile man to Himself (2Cor 5:18,19). In the same act of sacrifice, Jesus also serves man (Matt 20:28) by opening the way of salvation and restored relationship to our almighty Creator and heavenly Father (1Tim 2:5,6).
Moses, as a mediator for Israel under the Old Covenant, gave the Law as God had commanded it (Gal 3:19). The temple priests mediated for Israel through the sacrifice of bulls and goats. The Old Covenant of the Law and the sacrifices were insufficient and inadequate to save man.
But we now have an eternal High Priest, Jesus, Who is sufficient! He can and will “save to the uttermost” all those who call upon Him as Lord and Savior (Heb 7:18-28).
The Old Covenant of Law was important and significant; but it was a covenant that could result only in death and not life (Rom 8:2). The Old Covenant proved this: that the Law was impossible for man to keep.
The commands of God are righteous and true (Matt 5:19; Gal 3:19-21). But the Law did not give man the power to obey! Rather, it only revealed how desperately we need a Savior (Gal 3:22-25). The Law, with its rules and sacrifices for sin, was not sufficient to deal with the source of man’s problem – sin (Heb 10:1-10).
The Better Covenant is a covenant of life! “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal 3:13,14).
The promises in the Old Covenant were primarily about the present life and material blessings. They were promises that included: long life; increase in numbers; seed time and harvest; national privileges; and extraordinary peace, abundance, and prosperity.
In the New Covenant, however, the promise of spiritual blessings becomes the central benefit of our faith in Christ. Those spiritual blessings are available because of the free gift of the Holy Spirit living in us (1Cor 6:19), Who will teach us and lead us (John 16:13) in an overcoming life on earth (Rom 8:37).
In the New Covenant, our Lord does promise to provide for our needs (Matt 6:25-34). But our hearts are also directed toward Heaven. We are reminded of the temporary nature of this life, and that this is not our eternal home. Our souls are at peace with the assurance of eternal life, the favor (grace) of God and the anticipation of Heaven.
THE KEYS TO THE NEW COVENANT
GRACE (GIFT) VS. WORKS (EFFORT)
Much of the Bible is prophetically portrayed and rooted in the Old Testament. And most of the Old Testament is about the Law. Thus, a common error among church leaders is to blend the Old Covenant of Law (Mosaic Covenant) with the New Covenant of Grace found in the New Testament.
Here is the key: The Old Covenant is just a shadow or a type that points to the New Covenant. The Old Covenant points us to the ultimate Truth, the One Who fulfilled the Law and made possible the New Covenant – Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Salvation is a gift of grace; it cannot be earned. But many people still believe that their works or efforts are needed to “earn” salvation from God. You cannot have both salvation by grace and salvation by works. One will cancel out or nullify the other.
- “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work” (Rom 11:6).
- God, “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Tim 1:9).
NEW WINE IN OLD WINESKINS
In three of the Gospels, Jesus cautions us to not put “new wine into old wineskins” (Matt 9:16-17; Mark 2:21-22; Luke 5:36-39). If we do, the results will be disastrous: “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined” (Luke 5:37).
Wine will expand as it ferments and matures. If you put new wine into an old, dry, stiff wineskin, it will rupture the old wineskin and the new wine will be lost.
Many people still try to live the New Covenant life under the Old Covenant’s requirements. The “wineskin” of the Old Covenant is not big enough or strong enough to contain the life, power and joy provided by the New Covenant!
OLD AND NEW
People, in their natural way of thinking, often cling to old ways of doing things because those ways are familiar and comfortable. The same can be true of learned traditions or religious beliefs that are not rooted in the New Covenant. They are familiar, so it can be difficult to change them to fit the requirements of the New Covenant.
The New Covenant requires a radical change in thinking about life in God and salvation that is very different from the Law of the Old Covenant and the religious traditions of that day. Jesus often addressed this issue with the Pharisees.
In one encounter, Jesus confronted the Pharisees regarding their love of rituals and traditions as opposed to the truth (Luke 5:33-39). Sadly, many of the practices and beliefs of the Pharisees were not based on the Law as given by God, but were based on traditions developed over many years and considered equal to God’s laws (Mk 7:1-8).
Today, as in Jesus’ day, preferring the old rituals can keep people from embracing the New Covenant promises and the free salvation Jesus gives to us. Jesus understood that the old can often seem good enough because it is familiar: “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:39). The familiar can make one reluctant to let go of old ideas, traditions or beliefs.
But beliefs that are based on traditions of men and not on the Word of God become like chains of bondage. And, trying to serve the terms of the Old Covenant today can also be like chains of bondage, especially in light of the freedom Jesus purchased for us: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (John 8:31,32).
Jesus came “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) to set His people free!
WHAT GRACE IS NOT
There are some who are suspicious of the message of grace. They see grace as weakness, or as “permission” to sin. Nothing could be further from the truth! “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom 6:1).
Grace is not a license, or liberty, or excuse to sin. As a matter of fact, Jesus makes clear that grace demands even more of us than did the Law (Matthew 5:20-48). For instance, the Law says to not murder; grace says to not even get angry at someone. The Law says to not commit adultery; grace says to not even look at a woman with lust in your heart.
Grace requires more because Jesus seeks to transform our hearts, to change us from the inside out (Matt 15:1-20; 23:25-28). We are not to be “actors” who know how to go through outward religious motions or just follow rules. We are to be Christians – those who follow Christ and His ways – who from our hearts do what He would do and say what He would say!
Sin always has consequences; sin always places obstacles in our relationship with God. A significant change between Law and grace is that the condemnation for sin has been removed by the work of Jesus on the Cross. When we, as believers, stumble and sin, we are not cast away or rejected by God. We are still His sons and daughters! “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:1,2).
Our walk to become more holy is a process that will continue throughout our lifetime on earth. When children are learning to walk, they stumble and fall. As parents, we do not reject or abandon our children because they fall down! In the same way, God will not abandon you if you fall as you are learning to walk with Him.
This is a wonderful gift of grace from God. But, it is never to become an excuse to live a fleshly life or ignore the teachings of Scripture. Our goal should always be to do our best to live in a manner that is obedient and pleasing to God. We might fall into a pit along the way; but we should not return to or stay in that sinful pit!
God expects us to mature as Christians. As we learn and grow in the Word of God, and mature in following Christ, we should no longer be stumbling or falling into temptations or sin. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1Cor 13:11,12).
Immature children may stumble. But the things we stumble over in our immaturity should not still cause us to stumble when we are more mature.
WHEN WE STUMBLE
Now, as a Christian, if I do sin, the Holy Spirit will convict me of my sin. I will feel “a godly sorrow” and a need to repent. If instead I feel like running away from God and trying to hide my sin, that is “worldly sorrow” (2Cor 7:8-10) and leads only to death.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9). Our confession and genuine repentance is the process to receive God’s forgiveness when we stumble.
When we repent, and ask God to forgive us, three things happen:
- We face our sin and take responsibility for it.
- The feelings of guilt, shame or fear are removed as we confess our sin to God.
- Our open relationship with God is restored, and the sin no longer separates us from Him.
Repentance has the added benefit of helping us admit our weaknesses to God. This will teach us to ask for God’s help and to rely on the Holy Spirit for the strength to avoid that sin in the future.
The grace of God does not permit us to presume on God’s forgiveness. If we are practicing a life of sin as a believer, we are in terrible danger! (See the warnings in Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31.)
The Bible reveals that if we are truly born of God (born again) we will not actively pursue a sinful life (1John 3:4-9). That does not mean a born-again person will never again stumble and sin (1John 1:10). But for a Christ-follower, an act of sin should be the exception. Sin should never be passively allowed or intentionally practiced (1John 3:1-3).
GRACE IS GOD’S IDEA
If you have any ideas about what grace is (or is not) – and those ideas are contrary to what is in God’s Word – you must abandon those ideas! Embrace God’s Word, embrace His grace: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14, 17).
A UNIVERSAL PROBLEM
The Law clearly reveals the human problem that is common through all of the covenants: man is unwilling and unable to completely obey God. Mankind often chooses to do what they want or what is right in their own eyes, rather than what God says is right.
God desires our obedience as an expression of love for Him (John 14:15,21,23; 15:10; 1John 2:4-6). Some people may obey God, but sadly it is often out of fear of punishment. Human nature resists obeying God from a heart of love for Him. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom 8:6-8).
THE HOLY SPIRIT
But the New Covenant introduces to mankind something entirely new. The New Covenant gives us the “Helper, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth” – Who is the Holy Spirit – to live within us (John 14:16,17).
In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would “come upon” or “be with” someone. But in the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit lives “within” the believer. Christ-followers are a temple for the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19).
The Holy Spirit comes with power and authority over the devil (1John 4:4). As we surrender our lives to God, we have the Holy Spirit’s power to conquer our selfish will. He helps us live the Christian life as we learn to be led (guided, directed) by the Spirit. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).
NEW LIFE IN THE SPIRIT
Our new life in the Spirit is what Jesus addressed when speaking with Nicodemus (John 3:1-17). As we learn to walk in the Spirit, we will overcome the desires of the flesh: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal 5:16-18).
This new life in the Spirit requires a new way of thinking and doing things. The Bible instructs us to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:23,24).
We also have the following promise: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:13,14). The word “led” is present tense in the Greek, and therefore means we are to be continually led.
OLD COVENANT TERMS IN A NEW COVENANT SETTING
Let us now study some familiar terms as they apply to the New Covenant. This will help us understand what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ and the New Covenant.
Grace is an attribute of God that is foreign to our natural experience, because God’s grace is perfectly selfless and motivated by love. The trials and tribulations of life can make us wary of expressions of perfect love. We may not know how to react or respond.
- Some feel unworthy of God’s grace and try to run away and hide from God.
- Others try to understand God’s grace by attempting to intellectually comprehend Him; the result is a very small concept of God.
- Still others try to earn the right to “deserve” God’s grace by being “good.”
- Finally, there are those who set up rules and regulations, and make sacrifices, so that they might “earn” God’s grace.
God’s grace is an unconditional promise. It is His free-will gift motivated by pure love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The availability of this kind of grace depends entirely on the one who offers it. God offers His grace to all of mankind (the world), the just and the unjust alike. Grace is not offered on the basis of merit or deeds, but only upon God’s divine decision to love and bless His creation.
God is sovereign and, in His wisdom, knows that man cannot save himself. The failure of mankind to keep all of God’s past covenants both reveals and proves this point. So, in the “new and better covenant,” God makes His grace available to humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ. As we believe on Christ for salvation, it is by His grace we are saved (Eph 2:8.9).
The grace of God in Christ becomes our divine enablement by which we can live victorious, overcoming lives (Rom 5:1,2). This divine grace also gives us the means of escape from the righteous judgment of God upon all sin (Rom 5:8-10).
The only thing one must do to receive this grace is to believe that it is available in Christ, and act upon it. This believing and acting upon the grace that is offered is called faith. The focus of our faith is on the One Who gives us the free gift of grace – Jesus!
THE FIERY SERPENT
The Old Testament gives an example of God’s grace and faith working together (Num 21:4-9). While Moses was leading the people in the wilderness, they began to again complain about their circumstances – as they had often done before. God had provided all that was needed for them, but the people still complained and rebelled.
As a consequence of their rebellion, God sent fiery serpents to bite them as punishment. Some people began to die from the bites of the serpents. Others, when witnessing God’s wrath, began to repent and ask Moses to intercede before God on their behalf.
God responded: “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived” (Num 21:8-9).
Moses interceded and God relented. Though the people were unworthy, God made a provision for escape from His wrath. God provided grace or favor in this situation and instructed Moses to make the bronze serpent. This act of grace from God required the people to respond and do what was necessary to receive it.
FAITH IN ACTION
Suppose you were bitten by one of these serpents and dying. What would you do? You might think, “A serpent on a stick, how can that save me? What a foolish idea!”
But, if you believed what God said about the bronze serpent on a pole, you would drag yourself to that location and place your gaze on it. That is just what faith is! Faith is believing in what God says and acting in response to that belief.
Those who believed in what God provided, and who acted upon that belief, were saved from death. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16).
Today, those who believe upon Jesus for salvation, and who act upon that belief in faith by receiving and following Him, are saved!
FAITH AND GRACE
The Scriptures tell us that it is impossible to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). Obviously faith is important to God! But, what is faith? Faith is believing – but not just believing in anything. Biblical faith is belief in what God says or reveals.
The Bible defines faith like this: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). By God’s definition, His kind of faith goes beyond the natural realm into the “invisible realm,” or the spiritual realm. God is spirit (John 4:24); His Word, the Bible, is spiritual (2Tim 3:16); and His Holy Spirit lives in us (John 14:16,17).
FAITH AND SPIRITUAL RELATIONSHIP
1 Corinthians Chapter 2 is a beautiful passage about spiritual communication between God and man. This entire chapter reveals that God has given us spiritual eyes to see, spiritual ears to hear and a heart to comprehend spiritual things. He has given us the “mind of Christ” (v16).
God has always sought a spiritual relationship and fellowship with mankind. We were created by Him and for Him (Rev 4:11). But to have a relationship requires communication, a two-way communication or dialogue.
- Too often when we pray (talk to God), we get up when we have finished praying and go our way. We do not take the time to wait on the Lord and listen to what He would say to us.
- We study God’s Word in the Bible, but we may not take the time to ask, “Lord what are you saying to me today through Your Word?”
- We may desire an obvious “burning bush” experience, but may not be willing to wait for the “still small voice” of the Master (1 Kings 19:12).
NOT WISHING, BUT KNOWING!
Faith is not just a hope or wish using our natural, earthly thoughts. Genuine faith in God is a spiritual hope based upon knowing the will of God. We can know God’s will! God has communicated His will to us through the Scriptures, and leads us by His Holy Spirit.
Paul the apostle said of Abraham (who at the time had been given an unfulfilled promise of a son from God): “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore ‘it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Rom 4:20-22).
Someone once said, “Faith is impossible unless the will of God is known.” Herein we see an important key: Grace is activated by our faith when we do the will of God. In other words, when we step out in faith to do God’s will, our action will be accompanied by God’s grace (divine enablement) to perform all that He has called us to do.
The word “works” in Paul’s writings (and James’ too) has a unique and specific meaning. In these contexts, “works” refers to deeds of the law performed in order to be accepted by God.
Works of this kind are in direct contrast to faith in Christ. Faith in Christ is the only way the sinner is saved (justified). There are no human works possible that can accomplish salvation.
- “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom 3:27,28).
- “…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16).
Works are man’s attempt to make us acceptable to God. But God has made it clear that faith in Him is the only way to His heart: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6).
OBEDIENCE IN LOVE
James speaks of justification by “works” and “faith” (James 2:14-26). However, in this case, James is referring to works that demonstrate or show a faith that is real and vital. In other words, because we believe in God, we do what He instructs us to do. Our works then demonstrate our faith in God.
Works cannot make us acceptable or approved of by God. Only faith in Christ can do that. But if we have true faith in Christ, it will be revealed and validated by our actions, words, attitudes, thoughts and conduct.
Obedience to the Lordship of Christ and the Father’s will in our lives is essential, and is the direct fruit of our genuine faith in and love for the Lord (John 14:15,21; 15:10; Heb 5:8,9).
The term “dead works” refers to those works that are not motivated by faith and therefore do not originate with God.
GOD AND MAN RECONCILED
Reconciliation (or atonement) is the process by which God and man are restored to relationship. The Bible teaches that God and man are alienated from one another because of man’s sinfulness, which is not compatible with God’s holiness. This alienation started in the Garden of Eden and continues to this day.
Although God loves the sinner, His righteousness and holiness cannot be compromised. Thus, God must and will judge all sin (Rom 1:18; 1Pet 4:5). But thanks be to God for His mercy and love! For His Word reveals to us the reason for our hope: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, man’s sin is reconciled or atoned for and God’s judgment and wrath upon sin are appeased. Thus, a broken relationship of enmity, alienation and judgment can be changed into one of peace and fellowship for those who believe on Christ for salvation.
GOD MOVED FIRST
God took the initiative in reconciling with mankind. His plan to restore mankind to relationship with Him was put in motion when man first rebelled and rejected Him (Gen 3:1-7). Then, while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8,10). Therefore, reconciliation is God’s own completed act. God moved toward us first, and what He has done is the groundwork that allows the human actions of confession and repentance to follow. “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled” (Col 1:21). God Himself “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (2Cor 5:18).
Christianity is unique among all religions because of its teaching of justification by faith through grace: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). In essence, an individual is declared innocent when identified with Christ (Rom 6:1-14; Gal 2:20).
Justification is God’s declaration that the demands of His Law have been fulfilled in the righteousness of His Son. Jesus is righteous; so, if we are in Christ, we too are found righteous! Paul reveals that, “…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2Cor 5:19).
God’s justification covers all sin: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). Justification is based on the work of Christ, accomplished through His blood (Rom 5:9) and brought to His people through His resurrection (Rom 4:25).
When God justifies, He charges the sins of mankind to Christ and credits the righteousness of Christ to the believer (2Cor 5:21). Thus, there is an exchange: “through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom 5:18). Christ takes our sin and unrighteousness, and gives us His righteousness. What a glorious and free gift our great God has bestowed upon us!
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
The Lord Jesus has paid the price for our justification. But it is through our faith in Him that we receive Him, and experience and enjoy His righteousness (Rom 3:25-30).
As a result of God’s justification, we are saved from condemnation and the experience of His wrath (Rom 5:9). We are saved to:
- Experience His glory (Rom 8:30).
- Experience His peace (Rom 5:1).
- Experience His purpose (1Cor 10:3; Col 3:17).
- Experience continued access to God’s grace (Rom 5:2).
- Experience the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23).
- Experience an eternal inheritance (Rom 8:17; 1Pet 1:4).
The Old Covenant could not change or transform man’s essential sinfulness. But in the glorious New Covenant, we are being changed from “glory to glory” (2Cor 3:18). This process is called sanctification.
Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to produce holiness and righteousness. It is more than a moral rehabilitation of character brought about by the power of the truth. Sanctification is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit that brings our entire nature more and more into conformity to the image of Jesus (Rom 8:29).
The process of sanctification will result in separating us from sin, and helping us become more dedicated to God’s holiness and righteousness.
- “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:13,14).
- “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:1).
- “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor 6:11).
- “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2Thess 2:13).
Perfect holiness is God’s command and purpose (1Thess 4:7; 1Pet 1:15,16). As Paul prayed: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” (1Thess 5:23). Sanctification is a process that is continual throughout our lifetime as believers (Phil 1:6; Heb 10:14). Only after death are the saints referred to as “perfect” or wholly, completely mature (Heb 12:23).
HOLY FOR GOD’S USE
In the Bible, Christians are regularly called “holy” or “saints.” Most often, these words are used in a moral and spiritual sense – to describe the life and conduct that is taught by the Scriptures.
However, another important concept for the word “holy” is a separation from the world and a consecration unto God. Just as Israel (under the Old Covenant) was a chosen race, so the Christian Church (under the New Covenant) becomes a holy nation (1Pet 2:9). And, the Christian individual, as one of the elect (chosen) people, is to become a holy man or woman (Col 3:12).
SENT WITH A PURPOSE
To be holy and separated from the world does not mean that we are to run away or hide from the world. It is true that we are not to participate in the sinful attitudes or behavior of the world. However, the Lord has a purpose for each one of us as we live out our life of faith and grace in this world.
Just as Jesus was sent from the Father with a purpose, in like manner Jesus sends each one of us out with a purpose: “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18).
We are to be a holy people with a holy purpose, which includes:
- To fulfill the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:44-48);
- To be light and salt (Matt 5:13-15);
- To heal the sick and cast out demons (Mark 16:17-18);
- To preach the Good News (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-20);
- To be a witness to Jesus (Acts 1:8);
- To serve the less fortunate (Matt 25:31-46; James 1:27);
- To be more like Jesus every day (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18).
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Paul used the words “holy” or “saints” to describe believers. But that did not mean the believers were walking in perfect, godly character. As a matter of fact, the first letter to the Corinthian church was written to address their carnal and un-Christlike behavior.
Yet even then, Paul addressed them this way: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1Cor 1:2).
Paul was not ignoring or making excuses for bad behavior. But Paul understood that holiness (sanctification) is a process. We have been sanctified and made righteous before God through Christ Jesus, and His work is complete. But becoming holy is a work of the Holy Spirit throughout our lifetime, moving us toward completion.
We are all on a spiritual journey in this life. Our ultimate goal is “perfection” (complete maturity) – a goal we will realize only when we get to Heaven. “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (Col 1:21,22).
The Holy Spirit lives within all born-again believers. The work of the Holy Spirit is continual within each of us. We also have the sure expectation in the New Covenant that God makes us able, by His Spirit, to live up to the moral qualities that a holy God requires of His people. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1).
The word righteousness comes from a root word that means “straightness” This conveys the idea of aligning with a fixed or unchanging standard. This certainly describes God’s standard as revealed in the Scriptures.
Righteousness involves both thinking and doing the things that please God, out of a motivation of love for Him. Some would define righteousness as holy and upright living in accordance with God’s standards.
Righteousness is a moral concept that is defined by God’s character. Therefore, man’s righteousness is defined in terms of God’s righteousness. In practical terms, righteousness is thoughts and deeds that are right in God’s eyes (1Ki 15:51; 2Ki 15:11; 2Chron 14:2).
The following are three examples to consider:
- For Adam and Eve, what was right in God’s eyes was their obedience to His command: Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. His commands were the standard for their behavior. Thus, Adam and Eve would have acted righteously if they had obeyed God.
- The Ten Commandments and related laws given by God defined Israel’s relationship with Him and all people. To obey God’s Law was to act righteously. Such obedience maintained the covenant relationship between God and His people.
- The cross of Jesus is a public demonstration of God’s righteousness. God puts to our account, or transfers to us, the righteousness of Christ when we trust in Him for salvation (Rom 4:3-22; Gal 3:5-7; Phil 3:9). We do not become righteous because of our inherent goodness; God sees us as righteous only through our identification by faith with His Son, Jesus Christ.
When a person receives God’s grace by faith in Christ, and not by works, he/she is:
- reconciled with God;
- justified by faith in Jesus;
- sanctified by the Holy Spirit;
- continually being made holy and righteous.
This is what it means to be “saved” or born-again (John 3:3-7) in the New Covenant of grace. What no prior covenant could do, God did for us through the New Covenant. Jesus accomplished this for us, once and for all! Hallelujah!
SURVEY OF THE NEW COVENANT
The New Covenant is the fifth and last of the theocratic covenants – those that are unconditional in nature. This means that God will keep His word even if man does not (2Tim 2:13). Jeremiah prophesied the New Covenant and spoke of it as a future event. The fulfillment of that prophecy came when Jesus gave His life on the cross of Calvary.
Let us look more closely at Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the New Covenant. It is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34:
Verse 31: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”
- The New Covenant is “new” in contrast to the former covenant with Moses, which is called “old.” “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb 8:7).
Verse 32: “…not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.”
- The New Covenant fulfilled (Matt 5:17,18) – and thus eliminated the need for – the Old Covenant: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13).
- The New Covenant will not be like the Old Covenant (Mosaic). Man will no longer live by the letter of the Law. Instead, man can live by both the power and leading of God’s Holy Spirit: “…who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2Cor 3:6; see also Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18).
Verse 33: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
- The New Covenant will provide for a supernatural regeneration: a new nature as a result of a new birth (Titus 3:5).
- “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’” John 3:3.
- “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:5,6).
- God will put His law in their innermost being and write it in their hearts. No longer will a walk with God be founded upon external commandments and rules; now the commandments will be written on the heart.
- “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2Cor 3:3).
Verse 34: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
- The New Covenant will release the personal ministry of the Holy Spirit; people will be taught, guided and led by the Holy Spirit (God).
- “For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12).
- “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
- “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).
- “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:14).
- The New Covenant provides for full justification; the sins of people will be forgiven and completely removed, and they will be declared innocent by God.
- “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
- “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
- “And by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).
- “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col 2:13).
- “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake” (1John 2:12).