For by grace you have
been saved through faith,
and that not of yourselves;
it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8 WEB

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New Life of Beauty and Grace

Two Competing Covenants

The two Testaments of the Bible include many covenants. By one count there are four with the nation of Israel and three with humanity in general.[1] Why so many? Perhaps, we need a lot of examples to prove to us that God keeps His part of the bargain. Why highlight just two? Only one of the Old Testament covenants was ever superseded by another. The “Old Covenant” refers to God’s covenant through Moses with the Jewish people on Mount Sinai which gave way to the new and “better” one that Jesus made with all of us.

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 ESV
 

In the New, Out with the Old

The main thing to know about covenants in the Bible is that—thanks to Jesus—we now live under a “new” and “better” covenant, commonly called the covenant of Grace, in contrast to the Law Tablets and the Cross : Two Competing Covenantscovenant of Law, given at Mount Sinai through Moses in the Old Testament.[2] This is definitely something to celebrate, but it helps to understand what it is, why it is so much better, and what that means for us. It also begs the questions: “Newer and better than what?”, “What was wrong with the old one?”, and “Did God make a mistake?”

To take those last two questions first, the problem with the old one (aside from its limitations discussed below) was us. We couldn’t keep it!  And no, God wasn’t taken by surprise. His purpose in giving the covenant of Law at Sinai was not to make us righteous by it, but to demonstrate to all of us that we are unrighteous through and through.[3] We desperately need a Savior from sin. In this way the Law prepares us for the gospel and leads us to Christ.[4] Now let’s move on to the three things we need to know so that we can raise the roof with a shout of joy.

1) What it is. A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties in which duties, rights and obligations are spelled out and promises are made. In the Bible such covenants are usually “signed” or ratified by the blood of a sacrifice. With the Old Covenant made at Sinai Israel agreed that their responsibility was to keep the Law.

What makes the New Covenant so radically different is that in it God is the one taking on all the responsibilities and making all the promises. He made it without expecting anything of us. That’s why it is of grace!  All that God promises to do through this covenant is sheer gift to us, and He promises to keep on giving us the gift. The only “catch” is that it is still necessary for us to receive the gift by faith. It’s a free will issue.

2) Why it is so much better. Many reasons are given in scripture for why the New is better, the primary one being that this is a covenant of unlimited mercy and instantaneous forgiveness. The Sinai Covenant was limited in what it covered; it was also limited by how forgiveness was conveyed; worst of all, the onus was on us to summon up the obedience required. There were many sins that could not be atoned for by any sacrifice. For those select sins that were covered, each sin required a fresh sacrifice to be offered, another journey to temple or tabernacle and no real “taking away” of the sin.[5] How much better it is that we can go boldly to the throne of grace at any moment and “obtain mercy” for anything we need to confess.[6]

You might think that total forgiveness would be gift enough, but God didn’t stop there.[7] With the New Covenant He took the Law carved on tablets of stone and wrote it upon our hearts instead, giving us hearts like His. Under the terms of this covenant everyone has the opportunity to know the Lord as intimately as prophets and priests once did. Where the Old Covenant put Israel in bondage to the Law, this one sets its children free, upholding them by the “ministry” of the Holy Spirit (see the Scripture section). Additionally, Jesus is a better Mediator between God and us, because He able to bring us into “perfection” and shower us with an eternal inheritance! For more see What Just Happened to Me?.

3) What it means for us. Under the generous terms of our far better covenant, God is doing or supplying everything to us that would ever be necessary for us to experience true life and right living.[8] All that is except one thing: He cannot receive it for us. That’s our part. In a sense we “ratify” or give our approval to the covenant whenever we choose to trust God for all that He says He has done and will be doing to “save us to the uttermost.”[9] You can take this to the bank: We are saved by grace through faith, not by our own efforts.[10] But that one word “through”, however, defines our key role.

The one and only thing that we have to “work” at is finding a way to trust God and Jesus enough for two things to happen: a) we enter into the deep peace of His rest, and b) we become willing to do the next right thing as the Holy Spirit leads us. Keep in mind that you are being "wooed" by two competing covenants, each seeking your allegiance. Will you live this day under Law or under Grace? Unlike the Israelites under the Old Covenant, we don’t have to work hard at keeping the Law, we work at entrusting our life to Jesus.[11] As we do our part the Holy Spirit is able to fulfill the Law through us by lifting and leading us into a new life of grace. Trust, trust, trust and obey. How hard is that? OK, some days it’s really hard. For help with it see How do I live now that I am saved?
 

What Parts Still Apply?

The New Covenant rendered the covenant made at Sinai “obsolete,” but that doesn’t mean everything in the Old Testament has been rendered obsolete. For instance, the other five covenants are still on active status. Nevertheless, the Law’s punishments for sin have indeed been set aside. Our own civil laws may or may not mirror the Old Covenant’s laws and sin carries natural consequences, but God’s justice has been satisfied through the death of His Son. If we are in Christ through faith, we can rest assured that our God is not angry with us over our sins, nor does He have any desire to punish us for them. That no longer applies to us!

The dietary laws have also been set aside by New Testament revelation (thank God).[12] The ceremonial laws touching on ritual cleanliness, the offering of sacrifices, the prescribed festivals, etc. have all been set aside now that the Temple is within us and the one Sacrifice towards which they all pointed has been made. Likewise, the civil laws of Israel do not apply to New Covenant believers, whose King and Kingdom are not of this world as the kingdom of Israel and her kings were.  Even the Sabbath has been transformed through Christ from being one day of rest each week, to an endless rest of faith.[13]

These sections of the Law continue to be deeply instructive of the inward life with Christ, but the outward form is only still required (by the scriptures themselves) of Jewish believers who have not embraced the New Covenant. Much of what Israel experienced was a “shadow” or “type” of the new reality that has come through Christ and faith. What was outward and material for them is now inward and spiritual for us.[14]  What does this leave us to obey out of all the commands of the Old Testament? The moral law. Yet, even here there is transformation: in trusting and obeying Jesus, the moral law is fulfilled through us as we walk in the Spirit. Our primary focus is not the Law, but the Lord of the Law, our Grace Giving Savior, Jesus Christ!
 

Two More to Explore

Two Avenues of Grace  The Lord knows how difficult it is at times for us to believe in Him; how hard it can seem to only live by faith in His Word. We yearn for a “touch” from God; we want to see Him in the flesh. And He wants to meet with us! These two “avenues of grace” are His way of bringing invisible divine life into events of the material world. We make contact with Him through tangible means which are not only aids to our faith, but actually pathways for His life to enter and transform ours.

Two Realms of Habitation  It is hard enough learning how to live in one world, this one. Yet, our calling is to learn to live in two realms at once. It’s no good saying you can’t—God knows you can with His help. In fact you have already been “seated with Christ” in the heavenlies. You are in this world, but not of it: You are on pilgrimage through it looking for the “city not made with hands” which God is building with the new creations He is raising up.

New Covenant Scriptures

And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 ESV

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who 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 gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 2 Corinthians 3:4-9 ESV

On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:  "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever.'" This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. Hebrews 7:18-22 ESV

They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, "See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain." But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:5-7 ESV

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:15 ESV

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Hebrews 10:1 ESV


Scriptures and Foot Notes

[1]  The following description is taken from Got Questions?org: "The Bible speaks of seven different covenants, four of which (Abrahamic, Palestinian, Mosaic, Davidic) God made with the nation of Israel. Of those four, three are unconditional in nature; that is, regardless of Israel's obedience or disobedience, God still will fulfill these covenants with Israel. One of the covenants, the Mosaic Covenant, is conditional in nature. That is, this covenant will bring either blessing or cursing depending on Israel's obedience or disobedience. Three of the covenants (Adamic, Noahic, New) are made between God and mankind in general, and are not limited to the nation of Israel."
[2]  In saying that our covenant is “new and better” we are combining two scriptural sources: Jesus and the writer of Hebrews: And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:20 ESV; 
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. Hebrews 7:22 ESV
[3]  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20  ESV
[4]  Here is a clear description of the two competing covenants of Law vs faith and grace. For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. Galatians 3:21-24 ESV
[5]  Since it was an animal that was sacrificed in place of the penitent, full justice was not served, making it hard for the one who had sinned to feel fully relieved of the burden of guilt. The writer of Hebrews puts it bluntly: For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:1-4 ESV
[6]  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 ESV
[7]  See the New Covenant Scripture section to identify these descriptions.
[8]  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV
[9]  Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25 ESV
[10]  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
[11]  Jesus replied, “This is the work (service) that God asks of you: that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger].” John 6:29 AMP
[12]  See Mark 7:14-23; Acts 10:9-16; Acts 11:1-12; Galatians 2:11-15. For a complete list of all the relevant scriptures see The Bible on Diet and Health at Healingstreamsusa.org.
[13]  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest. Hebrews 3:19-4:3 ESV
[14]  See 1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:4-6 and 10: 1-2.