The Blessings of the New Covenant in ChristNovember 7, 2014
When the author of Hebrews delineates for us the blessings of the New Covenant we find perhaps the best summation of the essence of Christianity to be found in the NT. Where we go wrong is in identifying Christianity with external rituals and rules and activities or perhaps with the local church you attend or the denomination of which you are a part. Continue reading . . .
When the author of Hebrews delineates for us the blessings of the New Covenant we find perhaps the best summation of the essence of Christianity to be found in the NT. Where we go wrong is in identifying Christianity with external rituals and rules and activities or perhaps with the local church you attend or the denomination of which you are a part. Now, are there certain rituals and rules and activities to which God calls us? You bet there are. But they flow out of an already existing relationship of love and intimacy and forgiveness with God. We must be careful that in our zeal for doing what is right and representing Christ to a lost world we not externalize the faith as if it can be reduced to where we go and what we watch and with whom we hang out.
So what are the blessings of the New Covenant?
(1) The promise of an internal power. “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Heb. 8:10b).
People during the time of the old covenant could obviously memorize the law of God, and many did. But this in itself didn’t come with a promise of power to obey what the law commanded. When he speaks about God himself writing the law on our hearts he means that our obedience will flow from a transformation that has occurred within us, by virtue of a power that God has himself provided. Please note carefully: we are being told here that every member of the New Covenant has been regenerated and has had the law of God placed on their minds and written on their hearts. This is precisely what the OT prophet Ezekiel was referring to when he wrote down these words from God:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek. 36:26-27).
In the new covenant, the will of God is inscribed on our heart, internally, experientially, in the sense that whatever God requires of us in terms of our obedience he provides for us in terms of the Spirit’s internal, enabling power.
(2) The promise of a personal relationship. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Heb. 8:10c).
In Revelation 21:3 we are told of what life will be like in the new heavens and new earth in eternity future: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’” But the glory of the new covenant is that we get to experience that now! What will come in utter and eternal perfection when Christ returns has already become our experience in the present day.
God isn’t just God. He’s not just there. He’s not simply the omnipotent, infinitely kind and gracious supreme being who created all things and upholds all things. What we rejoice in isn’t simply that God exists. Rather, he is my God! He is your God! He belongs to you. And I’m not just a human being. I’m more than a creature. God says of me: “Sam is mine!” God says of you: “Amy is mine! John is mine! Dustin is mine! They all belong to me!”
All of this points to the glorious truth that God will never leave us nor forsake us; he will always be present; he will never turn a deaf ear to our prayers; no matter how horrific life may become; no matter how great the loss may be; no matter how deep and penetrating the pain may feel, God will never let you go; he will never permit anything to destroy you or sever you from his love.
(3) The promise of an intimate knowledge. “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).
During the time of the Old Testament or Old Covenant, the people of God were a mixed community. That is to say, Israel was composed of both believers and non-believers. Not everyone who was circumcised in his flesh was circumcised in his heart. Again, this simply means that not everyone who received the physical sign of the old covenant was born again or regenerate.
This is why members of the nation Israel had to be exhorted to “know” the Lord. But under the New Covenant we encounter an entirely different situation. Every member of the New Covenant is a believer. Every member of the New Covenant has been born again. Notice what our author says: “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (8:11).
This promise that every member of the new covenant will experience personal and first-hand intimate saving knowledge of God is one of the main reasons we don’t baptize infants at Bridgeway. Let me explain.
We must remember that God’s covenant with Israel was theocratic in nature. Israel was not only the people of God; Israel was also a political entity. Therefore, all those who were circumcised physically were members of the covenant community whether they ever came to saving faith or not. That’s not true in the New Covenant. Only those who come to saving faith are members of the new covenant community.
This may upset some of you, but listen closely. The Church is not a political entity. The Church is not a geo-political state. The Church is a spiritual organism united to Christ. That doesn’t mean the Church shouldn’t be involved in the political process. The degree to which you as individual Christians participate in that process is entirely up to you. I love my country. I’m as patriotic as the next guy. But the United States of America is not in a covenant relationship with God. It never has been and it never will be. I’m not talking about whether or not it is correct to describe the U.S. as a “Christian nation.” What I am saying is that men cannot institute or establish a covenant with God. God alone can initiate and establish a covenant with human beings. And he has done that only with the members of the body of Christ, the Church.
The Church is made up of men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation across the expanse of the globe. You and I have a deeper and more vital unity with a Christian living in the Sudan or in Germany than we do with any non-Christian who is a card-carrying citizen of the United States.
To say that every member of the New Covenant knows the Lord doesn’t mean that there aren’t in our midst people who claim to know Christ but don’t. But those who are genuinely saved and genuinely members of the New Covenant are all born again and justified by faith in Jesus.
Here is the primary argument that paedo-baptists make (paedo-baptist being the common way of referring to those who believe you should baptize the infants of believing parents). They say: since in Old Testament times circumcision, as the sign of the covenant, was applied to all, even though many never came to saving faith, baptism, as the sign of the New Covenant, should be applied to all, even though many who are baptized will never come to saving faith.
But as I’ve pointed out, the Old and New Covenants differ significantly and thus the analogy breaks down. Unlike in the OT, everywhere in the NT we read that members of the New Covenant are born-again, justified believers in Jesus. Therefore it is only to them that the ordinance of baptism is applied. Members of the New Covenant are those who have the law of God written on their hearts; they are those who belong to God in a relationship of personal intimacy; they are those who know God; they are those whose sins have been forgiven. That is why we do not baptize infants at Bridgeway. Infants who have not as yet trusted Christ for salvation are not members of the New Covenant.
(4) The promise of final forgiveness of sins. “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12).
The forgiveness of sins was not a new idea when Jeremiah recorded this prophecy. The people of Israel were quite familiar with the concept that God graciously wipes us clean of the guilt of our sins and refuses ever again to bring them up or to use them against us. If you have any doubts about this, read Psalm 51 or Psalm 103.
But under the old covenant forgiveness was never final and forever. One had to return year after year after year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) so that the high priest could continually slaughter an animal and place the blood of the sacrifice on the altar in the Holy of Holies. For an OT believer, it was wonderful to experience forgiveness for sins previously committed. But each person knew that with future sins there was a need for another, future sacrifice. The blood of bulls and goats could never perfectly purge their consciences.
But in the new covenant, established by the shedding of Christ’s blood, our sins are altogether and forever forgiven: past, present, future.
Such are the blessings of the New Covenant!