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A View from the Altar / The New Covenant isn’t the Old Covenant
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The New Covenant isn’t the Old Covenant

One of the most curious controversies in the Christian world revolves around the phrase “New Testament,” as in, “the last major section of your Bible.”  It comes as a surprise to folks of Baptist background to learn that many denominations view the New Testament as basically the same thing as the Old Testament with just the signs and symbols updated.  Rather than do destruction to that view, I’ll just set forth my conviction that the two covenants are indeed two covenants, one in force now, the other superseded.

The New Covenant was foretold in Jeremiah 31, a passage quoted in Hebrews 8.

Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come , saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake , although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 33 But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying , Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

It’s signal that Hebrews chapter 8 cites this text because the book of Hebrews, taken as a whole, argues for the belief that the New Testament is superior to the old in every respect.  It starts with the superiority of Jesus over the angels (and indeed over everything else), speaks of the superior tabernacle, superior salvation, Christ’s superior position as a Son and not a servant, the superior position of Christ’s priesthood in heaven rather than on earth, the superiority of Christ’s ordination by God’s oath rather than human bloodlines, the superiority of his intercession by the power of an endless life, the superiority of his sacrifice at Calvary, and the superiority of its results.  On that last one, it’s not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, but the blood of Christ has perfected his people once and for all.  (Heb 10:10-14)

Folks who come at this with some of the higher-intensity forms of covenant theology, to be as respectful as I can to their views, certainly have their reasons for looking upon the New Testament as a codicil to the Old.  It’s not necessary to refute each of those reasons.  I need only to produce the book of Hebrews which is a protracted and detailed argument explaining why the New Testament is just that — new.  And the writer pens this benediction over the Mosaic code, Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:13)

What this means to you has everything to do with how you approach the Lord.  Paul explains in Galatians 3:12 that the one who performs the commandments will live in them.  In like manner, the rich young ruler asked Jesus what to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus replied to him, “Thou knowest the commandments…”  (Mark 10:19)  Get the point?  If you come requesting a list of deeds to perform, you’ll be directed to the law which is a compendium of excellent things to do.

But eternal life is a gift (Rom 6:23), not a paycheck.  Now that the passion of our Lord is a completed fact, the New Testament is in force upon the blood of the divine Testator (Heb 9:16; Heb 9:22), and the question about life eternal gets a different answer under a different covenant.  “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” asked the jailer, to which Paul replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…”  (Acts 16:31)

Does this mean that there have been two means of salvation across history?  Direct answer: no.  There has never been any means of salvation except by God’s grace through faith in his provision.  But the Mosaic code presented the holiness and perfections of God in a way that men would expect if they thought they could attain eternal life by the works of their own hands.  Under that code, absolute perfection was the minimum passing score. (Deut 27:26)  In this way, the Law of Moses became that schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Gal 3:23-26), not because the blood of bulls and goats actually does take away sins, but because the demands of the law are impossible for sinners to meet.  When we come to the end of ourselves in the perfections of the law, we’re ready for deliverance in the person of Christ.

Thus the intent of the old law was never that we would find hope of life in it, but that we’d find hope in the One about whom the law testified. (John 5:46)  Every lamb offered upon the altar foretold the coming of the Just One whose sinless life and redeeming death would satisfy every demand of the law on our behalf.

When we approach the Lord, therefore, we don’t come as performers seeking to win his approval by our striving.  Whoever said life is an audition for heaven had it precisely wrong.  And we don’t even come as supplicants offering sacrifices like Cain to purchase his favor.  We come as sinners — convicted by the law — but whose transgressions have been covered by the death of our Savior.

Our part is really a passive one.  Rather than reaching out to grab something, we simply receive it.  And by God’s grace it is brought to us, given freely without money and without price (Isa 55:1) when we believe the record that God gave of his Son.  God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

A different covenant indeed.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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