For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, “Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
(New American Standard Version, 1995)
Much of what I understand with regard to my new covenant relationship with God, and much of what I believe about His expectations of me as His new covenant child, hinges on Jeremiah 31:31-34 finding its fulfillment here in Hebrews 8:8-12. This is where the Hebrew writer, in comparing and contrasting the old covenant Law of Moses with the new covenant in Christ, says that the new covenant is not like the old. Let’s look at the text together:
In this passage, the Biblical writer points out the particular distinctions, that make the new covenant different from the old, specifically:
1.) I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS — as opposed to putting His law on tablets of stone and writing them on tangible parchments to be kept by the priests and other religious leaders.
2.) AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE — as opposed to Israel so often honoring other gods at various times down through their history.
3.) AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, ‘KNOW THE LORD,’ FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM — as opposed to the Jewish children being born into a covenant relationship with God (little baby boys received circumcision, the sign of the covenant, when they were only 8 days old) therefore becoming a part of God’s covenant people by physical heritage; but then later in life having to be taught to know the Lord.
4.) FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES; AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE — as opposed to the regular daily, seasonal, and annual remembrances of sin at various special occasions, as well as the need for continual, habitual animal sacrifices to deal with their sin problem.
Many people today seem to struggle with these concepts; that is, how the new covenant in Christ Jesus is different from the old covenant that God made with the nation of Israel. They seem to think and act as if the new covenant is simply an “add on” to the old covenant — as if nothing really changed all that much, except maybe the fact that we don’t have to offer animal sacrifices anymore. And so, people still turn, like the ancient Jews did, to a separate and distinct “priesthood” (only today it’s pastors, priests, preachers, and ministers of all kinds) as their surrogate priesthood to do the “work of the Lord” on their behalf, rather than celebrating their part and parcel within the priesthood of all believers.
People still believe in holy places like the ancient Jews did the temple; only today it’s the church building, or some kind of sanctuary or other physical location). People still want to celebrate holy times like the ancient Jews did the Sabbath Day, and new moons, and various Jewish festivals; only today people make it the 1st day of the week, and the specifically appointed “worship” time, and sometimes other special events, or holidays. People today, just like the ancient Jews, still tend to recognize holy work and activities that are religiously centered, or church related, as opposed to what they think of as just being common “secular” work and activities.
The result is that Christianity is constantly plagued by man-made, sometimes self-made, religious ideas and observances because people still insist on reading and interpreting the writings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament as though they were reading the book of Leviticus. People, including any number of religious leaders, devote their lives to extrapolating a check list of “do’s and don’ts” based on alleged commands, examples, and inferences found in scripture—most of which are subject to human interpretation, opinions, and traditions—which they then turn into some kind of a religious “law” by which to live. And worse still, people tend to base their own salvation, and hence their fellowship with other people who also claim a relationship with God, on how well they and others manage to keep and measure up to all their religious laws and traditions.
Sadly, people still walk in bondage of the fear that, perhaps, they really are not saved after all because they don’t always manage to measure up to their own religious expectations, let alone the Lord’s — (perhaps He is not as merciful as we need Him to be; perhaps He really does remember all our sins, for which we will all be called to give an account one day).
I find myself amused sometimes, although it really isn’t very funny, at some people’s attempts to reconstruct the Christian’s 10 Commandments. It goes something like this: 1. Hear, 2. Believe, 3. Repent, 4. Confess, 5. Be Baptized, 6. Pray, 7. Sing, 8. Study, or at least listen to the preacher for an hour 9. Take the Communion, 10. Give Money — oh, and make sure your “worship” is conducted on the “holy” day, at the “holy” place and time. The unbiblical and tragic implications of this kind of thinking are innumerable. But what really makes all this a “killer” of faith is that it traps people in mundane, albeit comfortable, ruts and routines that all but extinguish any passion one may have for a personal relationship with the Lord. The Apostle Paul warns against this mentality when he said: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4).
Paul also warned against surrendering our faith to the ideas, opinions, interpretations, and traditions of man, or any man-made religious structure, saying: “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:20-23)
But I praise God for the new covenant which, while not without identifiable form and substance, is “NOT LIKE THE OLD!” As children of God, a designation predicated only upon our faith in Jesus Christ, we are all “HOLY UNTO JEHOVAH,” because we are a “ROYAL PRIESTHOOD,” a “HOLY NATION,” a “PEOPLE FOR HIS GOD’S OWN POSSESSION” (I Peter 2:9). Therefore, everywhere we go is “HOLY GROUND” because you and I, as holy children of God stand upon it! And every single day is a “HOLY DAY” because you and I, the holy children of God, are allowed to live in it. Furthermore, everything we do, when done to God’s glory and in a manner that pleases Him, is a “HOLY SACRIFICE OF WORSHIP” unto God, because we ourselves are a “living and holy sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).
I love the fact that, so long as we do not give up our faith in Christ, so long as we do not repudiate the precious gift of His sacrificial death on the cross for us, then every moment and every hour of every day that we live and breathe we are being perpetually and continually cleansed by the blood of Christ and clothed in His righteousness — despite our ignorance, our weakness, our selfishness, our ulterior motives, and our continual propensity to sin. My prayer is that every single new covenant child of God will be set free from the legalistic tendencies of human reasoning into the freedom, beauty, joy, and power of God’s New Covenant in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior!
Oh Lord, My God, thank You for displaying Your incredible wisdom in the giving of the new covenant in Christ. Your old covenant taught us much about Your character, Your holiness, Your righteousness, as well as our own human frailty, faults, and shortcomings. Most of all, it taught us the insufficiency of law, the Law of Moses, or any other religious law, to bridge the gap between You in all Your purity and splendor and mortal human beings whom You still love though so plagued by sin. Your old law has convicted us of our need for a Savior. As a tutor, it has served its purpose in pointing us to Jesus, our only Lord and Savior. And now we can celebrate authentic love, eternal life with You, and freedom—freedom from the consequences of sin, freedom from the tyranny of adherence to any kind of regulatory religious law meant to save us—within the scope and expanse of Your new covenant in Christ.
Lord, I want to keep it real. Help me, Oh Lord, to keep it real and to keep it spiritual. May Your Holy Spirit enlighten the eyes of my heart so that I’m not sidetracked or enslaved by anyone’s feeble attempts at human wisdom and reasoning in propagating some man-made, self-made, religious ideology with its rules, regulations, restrictions, or requirements. Thank You for setting me free to celebrate every day as a holy day. Thank you for setting me free to enjoy every place as a beautiful holy place. Thank you for allowing everything that I do and say to become worship and praise unto You if I deem it so and it is in keeping with that which is good, and pure, and honorable, and holy in Your sight. Thank you for allowing my body, my work, my very life on earth to become a living and holy sacrifice unto You. Lord, may I live that way!
By the authority, with the permission, and in the name of Your beautiful and precious Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I offer this prayer, the fruit of my lips, as a sacrifice of praise unto You… amen, and amen!
Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud
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