Recently, I upgraded my mobile phone and entered into a new contract with my service provider. The new phone is far better than the old one. I have better access to the internet and to social networking. I have far more credit for free calls. Overall, the terms and conditions of the new contract are far better than the old one, which has now been annulled. Needless to say, I have discarded the old phone. It is disconnected and I am no longer using it.
In the same way, God has given us a new contract, or covenant. Its terms and conditions are far superior to the old. He wants us to enjoy all its provisions and benefits. And yet, so many of us are still relating to God under the inferior terms of the Old Covenant – even though it has been completely superseded by grace and is now totally defunct!
Jesus came to make everything new. He gave us a New Covenant and along with it, a new life, a new hope and a new relationship with God made possible only through the blood of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, he opened up the way for us all to come into close and intimate relationship with God. The Gospel of Matthew records that at the moment of Jesus’ death the veil of the Temple, which separated humanity from the presence of God, was torn apart from the top to the bottom (Matthew 15:38). This was physical proof that the New Covenant was under way. From this moment onwards, it was possible for every child of God to live in glorious liberty and in full assurance of forgiveness of sins.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body – Hebrews 10:19-20
The Bible shows us that God relates to humanity by means of covenant. He gave many covenants, each with different terms and conditions depending on the particular lessons God was teaching us at that time in history. We can trace these covenants from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to Moses, leading finally to the New Covenant in Christ. All these covenants build up to and find their fullness in the final covenant: the New Covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus.
Much of the New Testament is dedicated to teaching the superior provisions of the New Covenant, comparing and contrasting them to the inferior conditions of the Old Covenant, now made obsolete by Christ’s death on the cross. The New Covenant reveals God’s grace in all its fullness. The Old Covenant focussed on the works of the Law. And yet, legalism in all its subtle yet deceptive forms is still the single greatest problem in churches all over the world.
Everywhere I go, I find people struggling with sin and the guilt and condemnation that legalism brings. This is tragic. God has made abundant provision for us to escape the bondage of the old way of the letter of the Law and to live in the liberty of the Spirit enjoying all the blessings of the New Covenant. We are called to live in the Spirit knowing that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The old works of the Law bring nothing but bondage and always end in despair.
THE NEW COVENANT OF GRACE HAS RE PLACED THE OLD COVENANT OF LAW
It is important to get to know the provisions of the New Covenant and how we can live in them at all times. This is how you escape from the bondage of the conditions of the inferior covenant of the Law of Moses. We are going to note three of the most basic differences between the Old and the New. My purpose is to show you the glories of the New and I pray that, once you see this for yourself, you will never again try to live for God through the bondage of the Old Covenant of Law.
1.The Old Covenant was based on works of the Law; the New Covenant is based on pure grace received by simple faith
This is one of the most important facts to grasp about our new position in Christ. It is all about God’s grace and has nothing to do with human effort. Under the Old Covenant, blessing was based on merit. Moses said: “The one who does these things will live by them” (Romans 10:5). God gave the Law through Moses and it pronounced blessing on the obedient and curses on the disobedient. This sounds all very fair and just, but the problem is that the Law finds us all guilty before God. We are all under the curse of the Law because of our sin, “for there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10), indeed, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
But, in Christ, there is no curse. He carried every curse of the Law on the cross, so that we might enjoy every blessing of God activated in us by the Holy Spirit.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. – Galatians 3:13-14
The Old Covenant was based on works; the New Covenant operates by faith. Faith is the only condition we must fulfil to enjoy the benefits and blessings of God. Faith is not a work, it is simply trusting God. It is responding to God’s grace with a simple “yes” spoken from our hearts. It is opening our hands to receive the gifts of God.
God wants you to understand just how perfect his provision is for your life through Christ. He forgives you freely by his grace. It has nothing to do with what you deserve or can earn by your own merits. God calls you to depend totally on the merits of Christ – his perfect righteous life and his precious sacrificial death on the cross.
The glory of the New Covenant is this: Christ has already fulfilled every condition for your complete blessing – body, soul and spirit. These blessings include total forgiveness of sin, freedom from inherited bondages, deliverance from every curse over your life, prosperity and every provision for the life and health of your body.
Many teachers today bring us back under the bondage of the Law by insisting that there are conditions we must fulfil in order to be saved, to stay saved or to know we are saved. They rob us of the assurance of the simple faith which rests at heart of the gospel. The Law says, “Do these things and live”, but the gospel says, “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
This principle applies to every provision of the New Covenant. We are saved by grace, healed by grace, made to prosper by his grace – it is all the favour of God received by simple faith in Christ. Whatever need you have, learn to trust in the abundant provision of his grace for your life. I meet many people struggling with the bondage of trying to fulfil the conditions legalistic teaching has placed on them before they can be healed, or come under God’s favour or receive God’s blessing of abundance.
Legalism teaches that in order to be healed or to prosper we must first do, such and such. And, if these blessings do not come, it is entirely due to some fault or weakness in us. This kind of teaching puts us back under the Law and brings nothing but bondage. The glory of the New Covenant is this: Christ has already fulfilled every condition for your complete blessing – body, soul and spirit. These blessings include total forgiveness of sin, freedom from inherited bondages, deliverance from every curse over your life, prosperity and every provision for the life and health of your body. The next difference between the Old and the New shows us how all this became possible: through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.
2. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant provided temporary cover for sins; in Christ, your sins have been forever removed by the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross
There was never any permanent solution to the problem of sin under the Old Covenant. The sacrificial system provided temporary cover which had to be renewed annually. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Sacrifices for sins offered by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement protected God’s people from their sins for 12 months only (Leviticus 16). The fact that the same sacrifices had to be repeated the following year showed that this was not a permanent solution to the problem of sin. In fact, each year the ritualistic sacrifices were in response to God’s annual reminder that another payment for the debt of sin was due (Hebrews 10:3).
What a tragedy it is that many of God’s people live like that today. They never enter into the joy of the complete and eternal forgiveness of the New Covenant made in Christ’s blood. They live under the perpetual reminder of their sins – always more to be done, more to be repented of, more to be forgiven. Some people are under the impression that God’s forgiveness comes in instalments and that they are only forgiven if they are living right, doing right and “keeping short accounts with the Lord” by endlessly confessing their sins and wallowing in introspection, continually feeling bad for their failures.
This is sheer bondage and legalism. Christ has totally purged our conscience from all our sins, and we serve him in total freedom knowing all our sins have been forgiven. The writer to the Hebrews repeatedly shows the superiority of the New Covenant to the Old by pointing to how God has totally dealt with our sins through the sacrifice of Christ, made once-for-all on the cross. Read the following verses carefully and drink in their meaning – your conscience is cleansed by the blood of Jesus and you have the full assurance of total forgiveness in Christ!
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! – Hebrews 9:14
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:22
Jesus ended all sacrifice by his one and only sacrifice on the cross. His death so completely dealt with sin that we will never again rest under the guilt and failure of our sins. Instead, we look to the cross where that perfect sacrifice was made according to the will of God.
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. – Hebrews 10:10-12
Look again at the glory of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant had no permanent solution for sin. They were brought up again and again, year after year. But God, in Christ, has so completely dealt with all our sins, weaknesses and imperfections that he will never remember them again. He has forgotten every single one of our sins. We will never have to stand before God to be judged guilty for any single thing that we have ever committed. He has forgiven us everything!
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”– Hebrews 10:16-17
This brings us to another great difference between the Old and the New. It is perhaps one of the most glorious differences. The Old Covenant could never change a person’s heart. It only made demands. But, in the New Covenant, God changes us from within.
3. The Old Covenant was faulty; it could never deal with our sinful hearts. The New Covenant transforms our hearts.
The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone; it was all about the letter of the Law. It worked externally and commanded external actions. The New Covenant, on the other hand, works in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. God writes his laws on our hearts and on our minds. This means he gives us a new nature that is soft and sensitive to his will. We delight in his will and find that his requirements are not burdensome or external to our new nature. We find a new capacity within us to love God and to follow him in true heart obedience.
The Old Covenant was given by God for one specific purpose: to show us that we could never be righteous through our own efforts. No matter how hard we try, we fail every time. In Christ we find unconditional acceptance and new life. That is why Paul says, “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
The Old Covenant was not God’s final word to us. Its only purpose was to bring conviction and to show us our need of a Saviour. God was always planning something better for us, which the Law could never provide. When Christ came, the Old Covenant became obsolete and once the New Covenant was activated through Christ’s death on the cross, the Old Covenant passed away forever. It was a temporary provision and fulfilled its purpose but it was always limited in what it could do for us. The new covenant is a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22) because it is founded on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).
The glory of the New Covenant is the glory of Christ himself who set it in motion. We do not come to the Mountain that burned with fire at the giving of the Law, we come to the mountain of grace, called Cavalry, where Christ died and released the glory of God into our lives.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14
Now, beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed, by the Spirit working in our hearts, into that same image – the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Now we cease from our own efforts. We no longer try to make ourselves acceptable to God, or work to earn his blessing and favour. We simply surrender to the Holy Spirit and allow him to direct our lives. We no longer try to be what we are not, but simply become day by day who we are in Christ.
Once we understand the fullness of joy and the abundant provisions of God’s grace in the New Covenant, we will never again try to live according to the demands and conditions of the Old. We are free forever from the burdens of the Old Covenant and enjoy God’s unlimited favour and celebrate our absolute freedom in Christ.