1.3 The New Covenant
By baptism, you became part of the seed of Abraham, an heir of the promises
to him, and therefore you entered the new covenant. The promises to Abraham
constitute the new covenant, and they were made relevant to you
through your baptism. It's this aspect of baptism which we want to consider
now in rather more detail. First of all, consider what it means to be
in covenant relationship with God. It means that He sees us always in
that position, as always in Christ- unless we break that covenant. Therefore
God does not see us as in covenant with Him as (e.g.) we sit and read
our Bibles, and then out of covenant with Him as we (e.g.) snap at our
wife. God pleads with Israel over 20 times in Jeremiah to simply return
unto Him, to come back to covenant with Him, rather than stop committing
sins A, B and C, and start obeying commandments 1,2, and 3.
We read of the new covenant that was made with us by the sacrifice of
Christ on the cross. Heb. 8 proves that we are under the new covenant
by quoting from Jer. 31, which is a prophecy of how in the future, Israel
will repent, and will enter into the new covenant. Twice the Spirit uses
Jer. 31:31 to prove to us that we are under the new covenant now (see
Heb. 8:6-13 and 10:16-19); yet Jer. 31 is a prophecy of how natural Israel
in the future will enter into that covenant, after their humiliation at
the hands of their future invaders. So we are being taught that our entering
of the covenant now is similar to how natural Israel will enter that covenant
in the future. The point is really clinched by the way the Spirit cites
Jer. 31 as relevant to us today. The reasoning goes that because Jer.
31:34 speaks of sin forgiven for those who accept the new covenant, therefore
we don't need sacrifices or human priesthood now, because Jer. 31:34 applies
to us. So therefore God writing in our hearts is going on now, too. This
is confirmed by Paul's allusion to Jer. 31 in 2 Cor. 3:3. God wrote with
His Spirit on our hearts, He made a new covenant on the covenant-tables
of our heart. Likewise 2 Cor. 1:22: " Who hath also sealed us, and
given us the earnest of the spirit in our hearts" . There are several
prophecies which speak of Israel entering that new covenant, and what
it will mean to them. All of them, in some sense, apply to us who are
now in the new covenant. All of us should be earnestly seeking to appreciate
the more finely exactly what our covenant with God means, exactly
what covenant relationship with God really entails.
Us Today, Israel Tomorrow
But firstly, I just want to prove beyond doubt that we are intended to
read the Old Testament prophecies of Israel's entrance into the new covenant
with reference to ourselves.
in the future under the new covenant
under the new covenant
will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean"
baptism; " Let us draw near...having our hearts sprinkled
from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water"
shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days...I will put my law in their inward parts
and write it in their hearts
" The Gentiles
(believers) shew the work of the law written in their hearts
" (Rom. 2:15; 2 Cor. 3:3)
and will be
their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:33)
our present relationship with God under the new covenant (1
Pet. 2:10; 2 Cor. 6:16)
Is. 55:1-3 prophesies
Israel's future acceptance of the new covenant: " Ho,
every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters... come unto
me...and I will make an everlasting covenant with you"
are alluded to by Christ is His appeal to us: " If any
man thirst, let him come unto me" (Jn. 7:37,38)
" I will
make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting
covenant" (Ez. 37:26)
of peace was the priestly covenant (Mal. 2:5)
" I will
ransom them from the power of the grave...O death I will be
thy plagues, O grave I will be thy destruction" (Hos.
We are now
the spiritual priesthood under the new covenant (1 Pet. 2:5)
This will be our experience
too; the description of Israel's national resurrection is
quoted about our personal resurrection (1 Cor. 15:55).
A New Heart
Paul in 2 Cor. 3:16 reasons that when Israel's heart shall turn to the
Lord Jesus, then the veil that is on their heart will be taken away. But
now, through the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, we each with unveiled face
can behold the glory of the Lord Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). The clarity of
vision concerning Christ which Israel will eventually come to should be
ours now; our hearts should turn to Christ now, as theirs will do. The
Old Testament gives us much information as to how Israel's heart
will turn to Christ.
There is a repeated theme that Israel's entry into the New Covenant will
be associated with God doing something to their hearts, confirming their
own change of mind. In other words, the covenant is largely a matter of
the mind. This new state of mind is in fact fundamentally part of being
in covenant relationship with God: " This shall be the covenant that
I will make with the house of Israel...I will put my law in their inward
parts, and write it in their hearts..." (Jer. 31:33). This leads
us to the paramount need for us to develop genuine spiritual mindedness,
the thinking, the breathing of God's Spirit in our minds. So God will
act upon Israel's heart directly, using the medium of His word to do so.
The initiative is God's; He will write His word upon their hearts.
He is not passively offering people the opportunity to do it to themselves;
He will do it to Israel. The same heart-swop operation is described in
Ez. 36:25,26: " Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye
shall be clean: from all your filthiness...will I cleanse you (cp. our
baptism into the new covenant). A new heart also will I give you, and
a new spirit will I put within you...I will put my spirit within you (note
the double emphasis), and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall
keep my judgments, and do them" . Being in the new covenant is therefore
characterized by having a new spirit, a new mind, and therefore a new
way of life. And so Heb. 10:20 calls the new covenant " a new and
living way" , a new, living way of life. Jer. 31:33 said that God
would place His laws in Israel's heart; in Ez. 36 we read that He will
place His Spirit in their hearts. So the way in which God will give Israel
a new heart will be through their response to the word. Thus they too
will enter the new covenant.
The prophecy of Ez. 36 is expanded by Ez. 37. The description of
Israel receiving a new heart, being spiritually re-created, is taken
up in earnest in this chapter. It describes the bones coming together,
the Spirit of God entering into them through the prophecy of the
Son of man (Ezekiel), and their resurrection. This is all couched
in the language of Adam's creation; firstly as a body, and
then the spirit being breathed into him (1).
2 Cor.5:17 describes us after entry into Christ at baptism as a
" new creation" .
What all this means is that under the new covenant, we really do experience
God acting upon our hearts, through His word. The very least we can do,
once we are aware of this, is to read the word daily, and think upon it.
As we read those words, God is writing upon our hearts, our inward parts,
the handwriting of God Himself is being placed on our innermost beings.
When you think of it like that, there really can be no excuse for not
reading the word daily. Rom. 6:4 says that after baptism we walk in "
newness of life" , the " new and living way" of the new
covenant (Heb. 10:20). Sometimes we can see a very dramatic change in
someone at the time of their baptism. Yet spiritually, mentally, that
great degree of change should be going on and on and on, so that as the
years go by we should become almost unrecognizable when compared to our
former selves. There are some in the churches today of whom this is true.
Sometimes you meet the parents of a brother or sister, parents who are
not in Christ. You can scarcely believe that the brother is their son!
His tone of voice, intonation, mannerisms, his gait as he walks...he's
from a different family. And so for each of us, this newness of
life should just keep on and on. And as we grow newer and newer, we ought
to be growing closer to others who are growing in the same way, forming
a new family identity. How wonderful it is to see an ecclesia made up
of converts whose natural families are not in Christ, and to see them
becoming bound closer and closer together as they grow in sharing the
spiritual family likeness.
No More Fading
Some fear, quite rightly, that we can easily go wrong in our thinking
about the Spirit of God. They fear that we will end up saying that God
just forces us to be spiritual without our freewill effort. Such an idea
is of course quite wrong. What we do know is that God will lead us closer
to Him if we draw nigh unto Him. That this work is done by His Spirit
cannot be doubted (for how else does He work?). Spiritual growth is a
mystery in this sense. As we don't know how the bones grow in the womb,
so we don't know the ways of God; and this passage from Ecclesiastes is
picked up by the Lord in Jn. 3- the process of being born again by the
Spirit cannot be defined. Even the Lord himself, in matchless intellectual
humility, said that He as the sower didn't understand how the little seed
of the Gospel turned into the plant of spiritual maturity. Think of the
contrition of heart which Israel will have in the last days, weeping for
their part in the crucifixion, as a man mourns for his only son (Zech.
12:10), before they can enter the new covenant. That intensity of repentance
must be ours. This certainly requires freewill effort. And yet we must
also bear in mind that the giving of this new heart to Israel is not purely
in response to their effort; often God says that such massive spiritual
help from Him is not really proportionate to the effort Israel will make.
He will do it for His holy Name's sake, and for the sake of the patriarchs.
And ditto for us.
" And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from
transgression in Jacob...this is my [new] covenant with them, saith the
Lord; My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words (notice the parallel between
Spirit and word) which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of
thy mouth...for ever" (Is. 59:20,21). In other words, the sense of
Spiritual strength from God which Israel will have will not just diminish
into nothing, it will not just fade away. I think this is one of the saddest
aspects of our present spiritual experience. You see a keen young brother
emerge from the waters of baptism, entering the new covenant, throw himself
into the study and preaching of the word, he grows spiritually....and
then he slips, slips and slips, until he slides down the slippery path
into the world. We go to a Bible study, a Bible school, we read the word
of the new covenant together in intense fellowship. And then it all slips
away, we lose the reality of our calling, we're strong for the next day,
perhaps the day after, and then back to base level. But then we will spiritually
run and not faint, walk in the new and living way and not be weary. This
is surely one of the most wonderful aspects of the Kingdom life; constant
growth, no regrets, no looking back over our shoulder, no sense of spiritual
anti-climax. No more fading away spiritually, instead the energy of constant
Real Repentance -?
But here we are in this life, getting on with the job of keeping ourselves
buoyed up, driving ourselves onwards and upwards in appreciating the covenant
we are in. The memorial service is a physical reminder and a personal
re-statement of the fact that we really are in this new covenant. We take
to ourselves the cup of the new covenant which is made with us in the
blood of Christ which we see symbolized in the wine (Lk.22:20; 1 Cor.11:25).
We must seriously ask ourselves whether we are repenting as we ought to
be, whether our contrition is as deep as it should be, whether we really
see the seriousness of sin, whether we really repented at baptism, or
just went through with it because we saw it as the logical thing to do
in the light of what we understood from the Bible.
It would be a foolhardy Christian who answered 'Yes' to those sort of
questions. Sin is a deceiver, Paul says. We've all been through the experience
of committing a sin, one we've not done before; we repent, very deeply,
and believe firmly in God's grace toward us in this matter. But then we
do it again, say the next week. And we are sorry, we have regret, but
not the same intensity of feeling. And then we do it daily, it becomes
part of our life, we shrug it off, we make excuses. Sin is a deceiver.
Let's remember that. This is why James speaks of confessing our faults
to each other, really being serious about our problem of sin, talking
about it with each other after the meeting.
But the more serious we are about this, the more firmly we will believe
and appreciate that we have been given forgiveness. Under the new covenant,
Israel will all " Know Yahweh...for (because) I will forgive
their iniquity" (Jer. 31:34). So being under the new covenant means
that we will know Yahweh, on account of our sins being forgiven. We will
be certain of their forgiveness, not just hoping for the best. As we face
the cross, as we face up to our own sinfulness, we should be really moved.
We should know Yahweh, know His saving grace, know our sins are
forgiven. Israel will shed rivers of tears as they come to realize what
the new covenant really means for them. Do we? Have we shed a tear at
the breaking of bread, or as we consider what our covenant means to us,
as we consider how deeply we have sinned? Have we? Perhaps we have,
but perhaps we don't do so now, or not so often. Perhaps that's explicable
in terms of just getting older. Perhaps we're slipping. The clear connection
between Israel's contrition on accepting the new covenant and ours is
a real difficult challenge to take on board. We really are being asked
to go a long way down the road of self knowledge and self realization.
And if we can do this, then there is the sure comfort that the Spirit
will take away our heart of stone and give us a soft heart, patterned
after the gentleness and grace and sensitivity of the Lord Jesus. For
this is what the new covenant is all about. So we must realize that
naturally we are hard hearted, self-centred, cold as stone to the warmth
of God's love. But He really is changing us away from this. So let's not
be hard hearted as the world is, let's not share their looks, the hard,
pert lips of the modern girl of today, that sort of macho indifference
of the modern man. Let's be soft, not sloppy and turning a blind eye,
but let's let the gentleness of spirit of the Lord Jesus really work in
us, let's allow God to write in our hearts.
(1) As Adam received the
breath / spirit of life, stood on his feet and was then placed by
God in the garden of Eden, so Israel go through the same process,
being placed instead in the land of Israel (Ez.36:27,28; 37:14).
There are reasons galore for identifying Eden with Israel (see The
Last Days ).