The New Covenant
If as Christians we struggle against secret sins, fearful that God is losing patience with us, chances are we do not understand the new covenant. If as a Christian, we feel safe from God’s wrath because we have our sins mostly under control and repent daily, chances are we do not understand the new covenant.
We have a distorted view of God. We tend to think of sin as individual acts of commission or omission, but Paul said our rebellion against God goes much deeper. Creation itself gives witness to the glory of God, but we have exchanged the glory of God for a lie (Rom. 1:11). We have a distorted view of God and this leads to a distorted relationship with others. If we read Paul’s list in Rom. 1:22-32 and say to ourselves, “I thank you God that I am not like them”, we haven’t read far enough. Paul’s point is that we are like them (Rom. 2:1). Our deepest brokenness is outside our conscious awareness and control. Out of this brokenness flows compulsive thoughts, addictive behaviors, crippling fears, life-robbing words, and hurtful deeds. We find ourselves doing those very things that we don’t want to do (Rom. 7:19). The new covenant is God’s healing answer to our brokenness.
The new covenant is not a written code of law. Nor is the new covenant any combination of the scriptures from Matthew to Revelation. The new covenant is a continuation and fruition of the everlasting relationship that God established with Abraham and His Seed (Gal. 3:16). The Law of Moses, added 430 years later, did not replace or cancel this everlasting covenant (Gal. 3:17). And when the Law had served its purpose and become obsolete (Heb. 8:13), what was left was the everlasting covenant now renewed and brought to fulfillment in the person of Christ: "I will keep you, and I will make you a covenant for the people and a light to the nations..." (Isaiah 42:6).
Christians do not live under the penalty of law.The apostle Paul referred to God’s everlasting covenant as “the promise”. This promise was renewed with Isaac, with Jacob, and ultimately with Christ, the Seed of Abraham to whom God had made His promise (Galatians 3:18). Those who are in Christ are participants in the new covenant and heirs according to the promise. They live under law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21), but they do not live under a written code of law, nor do they live under the penalty of law (Rom. 6:14). Those who are in Christ live under the mercy of God and have been freed from the power of sin and death in order to serve God more fully (James 2:12). There are only two things that can separate the Christian from God. The first is accepting God’s gift of mercy while not showing mercy to others --“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). And the second is making a deliberate choice to live in rebellion against God from that time forward (Hebrews 10:29).
God’s will for humankind arises from His nature and is unchanging. God’s revelation of His will was progressive, like a light glowing brighter and brighter in the darkness. So for example, it was always wrong to murder, even before God warned Cain against killing His brother. After the flood, God gave a law against murder (Gen. 9:6). At Mt Sinai, God gave the Law of Moses, which applied the commandment “Do not murder” to various situations, such as the killing of a home invader in daytime. Ultimately, God made His will known in Christ, who confronted his listeners with their failure to recognize the deeper significance of the Law of Moses. Jesus taught in essence that calling someone “Fool” was committing murder in one's heart (Matt. 5:21-22). More than that, Jesus demonstrated that "Do not murder" implies more than a passive restraint from murder; it also involves acting to give life to others.
The new covenant provides us with an undistorted view of God. While God’s revelation of His will was progressive, God’s purpose has never been merely to make His will known. Knowing God’s will does not change the distorted image we have of God. Knowing God’s will does not address our deepest brokenness, which is outside our conscious awareness and control. We need something more than knowing God’s will, we need to know God Himself, without distortion. And that is what God promised He would accomplish with the new covenant: “…they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing…” (Hebrews 8:11-12).
God is the One who give us a new heart. God’s purpose has always been to make Himself known in a way that calls forth a response of trust, loyalty and submission to Him, all without violating the free will He gifted to humankind (Ezekiel 36:26-27). So for example, God gave the Ten Commandments (literally Ten Words) in the context of His act of saving the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. In giving the Ten Commandments and Law, God self-revealed as moral, just, merciful, and intimately concerned with the well-being of His people. The appropriate response was trust, loyalty and submission, but Israel failed in this regard. In Christ we don’t have Ten Words carved on stone, nor do we have another written code of law. Instead, we have the Word made flesh, the living Word, the ultimate self-revelation of God’s holiness, the ultimate saving act from sin and death: "The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
God empowers the Christian to conquer sin. As Christians, we don’t realize how distorted our view of God is, nor how deep our brokenness is, until we have learned to trust the mercy of God. When we understand that we are God’s beloved children, not throwaways, we find our hearts changing (1 John 3:1-3). We have an increasing awareness of our deep brokenness and at the same time we experience God’s great compassion toward us. We see ourselves with new eyes – with God’s eyes – as infinitely valued, beloved, cherished. And when that happens, we are filled with life overflowing and people start to notice a difference in us. We become more open about our sins, less defensive, less judgmental, less angry, less anxious, less fearful, less compulsive, less prideful, less covetous – you name it. That doesn’t mean God gets to do all the work. We have work to do as well. Feeling accepted and forgiven by God empowers us to take the risk of confessing our sins to others. We break the isolation, we ask for help, we seek counseling, we join a support group, we find a trusted accountability partner, we do whatever we can to address the hidden sins that God is now making us increasingly aware of.
The letter kills, but the Spirit produces life. Those living under law to Christ do not live under the penalty of law. They have come to know God through His forgiveness in Christ and their response is one of trust, loyalty and submission to God. They see more clearly each day the immeasurable holiness of God and gratefully, humbly accept the transforming work of God in their lives.
He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:6)
"I will keep you, and I will make you a covenant for the people and a light to the nations..."
"For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace."
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment”
“…they will all know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their wrongdoing…”
"The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth"
“He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:6
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