22 – ENGAGING THE POWERS OF THE KINGDOM – THE POWER OF THE NEW COVENANT- PART ONE
In this study, I make a distinction between the Old and New Covenants and the Old and New Testaments. “Covenants” refer to the legally binding agreements God made with His people. Although “covenant” and “testament” mean essentially the same thing, “testament” usually refers to either the first or second part of the story of the Bible.
Many of God’s children have not yet understood the significance of the New Covenant. They hark back to the Old Covenant in many of their beliefs and practices and try to blend the two in their Christian walk in the world.
For example, there are prayer practices which are based on Old Testament incidents and others which have no reference to anything in Scripture, yet they form the basis of modern prayer movements.
“Prayer walking” is one such practice, probably based on Israel’s conquest of Jericho, which has no counterpart in the New Testament. Identifying strongholds and altars and “pulling them down” is another such practice which is not found anywhere in the Book of Acts.
Some believers even go as far as connecting “leylines” to unmask the enemy, and carry out rituals to overcome the power of the principalities and powers over cities, towns and “high places”. This is, firstly, a waste of time and energy and, secondly, an insult to the work of Jesus on the cross. His final declaration before He died, says it all. “IT IS FINISHED!”
“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.” Ephesians 1:19-23 NLT
Some practices blatantly contradict what Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection. So called “spiritual warfare” is one such activity that ignores His conquest of Satan, misrepresents the clear message of Scripture and takes the focus of our attention from the transformation of our inner lives to our circumstances with their problems and inconveniences.
“You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” Colossians 2:13-15 NLT
“… But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8 NLT
“For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6 NLT
Other sections of the church insist that certain parts of the law are still binding on believers. One such group makes observance of the seventh day obligatory and even teaches that the mark of the beast is worship on a Sunday.
Still others enthusiastically observe Jewish feasts and even travel to Israel to celebrate there. They do this, apparently, to identify with the Jewish people in the hopes, perhaps of breaking down hostility between Jew and Gentile.
All of these practices contradict the letter and spirit of the New Covenant.
THE OLD COVENANT
So, what was the meaning and purpose of the Old Covenant?
- The Abrahamic Covenant expressed, in embryo, God’s purpose to bless all the nations of the world through the Jewish nation to be born from Abraham and Sarah.
“…. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3 NLT
God fulfilled His promise to Abraham by growing the nation of Israel through Isaac, the promised son, the nation through which He sent His Messiah to die for the sin of the world.
- The Mosaic Covenant was a covenant between God and His people, Israel. It was essentially a “ketubah”, a prenuptial marriage covenant detailing God’s requirements for an intimate relationship with Him.
The Mosaic Covenant was an interim covenant. In other words, it was not the covenant to bless all the nations on earth that God planned from the beginning through Abraham. It was a “training” covenant, or a betrothal covenant to prepare the bride for her marriage to her groom.
The terms of this covenant had a specific purpose in the lives of God’s people, to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s eternal covenant with Jews and Gentiles.
The Mosaic Covenant was designed to teach God’s people…
- That God is holy and separated from His people. They could only approach Him through an elaborate system of sacrifices and rituals.
- That sin is infectious and pollutes not only the individual but the whole nation. Sin required blood to atone for its offense to God, to cleanse from its pollution and quarantine to protect from its contagion.
The law, according to Paul, awakened sin and provoked the sinner to rebel.
“When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.” Romans 7:5 NLT
- That God required perfect obedience to all the details of His law. Any transgression cut His people off from Him. Hence, the Old Covenant was a covenant of death because no one was able to keep it perfectly.
“But I assure you of this: If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods, worshiping and bowing down to them, you will certainly be destroyed. Just as the Lord has destroyed other nations in your path, you also will be destroyed if you refuse to obey the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 8:19-20 NLT
- Essentially, the Old Covenant showed the people how impossible it was to please God through trying to obey the law.
“For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.” Romans 3:20 NLT
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah in the Old Testament and Paul in the New, reached the same conclusion…
“All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own….”Isaiah 53:6 NLT
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9 NLT
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 NLT
Israel’s history proved that the Old Covenant, with its emphasis on “do this and you will live” could never restore His people to fellowship with Him. It only revealed how sinful they were and brought judgment and punishment on the whole nation until they eventually became slaves to Rome.
What, then, is the value of the Old Testament and the Covenant it describes, for us?
- Without it, the person and life of Jesus would make no sense. Who was He? What was His origin and ancestry? How do we know He was authentic and what He said was true?
Prophecy, through the history of the Jews, supplies all the anwers. “The New is in the Old concealed. The Old is in the New revealed.” The Old Testament is the first half of the whole. The story of the Bible is incomplete without it.
- Paul gives us another purpose for the story of the people of God written in the Old Testament. Their failure to obey God’s laws is a warning to us.
“I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11 NLT
- The law (both the law of conscience for the Gentiles and the Law of Moses for the Jews) was our guardian until Christ came and set us free from slavery to sin.
“Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” Galatians 4:1-5 NLT
THE NEW COVENANT
Entwined in the history of Israel with its rebellion, sin, failure, and judgment, is the golden thread of a new covenant that would have the power to deal with sin and the sin nature. It promised forgiveness of sin and a new heart, the restoration of the Holy Spirit within, which mankind lost through Adam’s sin, and the power to overcome sin’s hold and live in fellowship with God.
This new covenant was to be brought about through God’s Messiah. He was to be given as a covenant to the people.
“I, the Lord , have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.” Isaiah 42:6-7 NIV
“He (God) says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6 NLT
“This is what the Lord says: “At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as my covenant with them. Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel and assign it to its own people again. I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’ They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare.” Isaiah 49:8-9 NLT
God’s promise of a Messiah and a New Covenant was not an afterthought. It was the bright light of hope that shone through the darkness of Israel’s dismal history. Its first glimmer began in the Garden of Eden when God promised to Satan, the perpetrator of the deception, that…
“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15 NLT
Woven into the story of Israel’s failure is the hope that God would make a New Covenant that would no longer depend on fallible man’s imperfect obedience but on the perdect obedience of one who would stand in man’s place and take the rap for man’s sin.
Isaiah, of all the prophets who had visions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, paints the clearest picture of what He would do.
‘My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53:2-6 NLT
“But it was the Lord ’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord ’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” Isaiah 53:10-11 NLT
The entire New Covenant is contained in this one person who was able to do what the entire nation of Israel could never do.
“He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.”
But it was the Lord ’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord ’s good plan will prosper in his hands. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.” Isaiah 53:7-10, 12 NLT
Where Isaiah paints the picture of the one who IS the New Covenant, Jesemiah and Ezekiel describe what the New Covenant would accomplish.
“The day is coming,” says the Lord , “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord . “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord .’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord . “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT
“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 NLT
When did this New Covenant come into effect?
“For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NLT
Jesus announced, on the night before His crucifixion, that the New Covenant would come into effect and be ratifief by the shedding of His own blood.
What happened to the Old Covenant? Does it still apply? Do we still have to obey the laws of the Old Covenant, and especially the Ten Commandments which are the core of the Old Covenant?
Let’s look at what the Bible says.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OLD AND NEW COVENANTS
- The Mosaic or Old Covenant was between God and Israel, not the Gentiles, therefore it doesn’t apply to us. Does that mean that we don’t have to keep it? No, it does not because God’s moral law (contained in the Ten Commandments) is written into our conscience. Everyone is born with a conscience.
“Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” Romans 2:14-15 NLT
Therefore, the law of conscience is universal and everyone is under obligation to obey it.
- The Mosaic Law, written into the Old Covenant, demands obedience for its promises to be effective. The New Covenant is fulfilled, not through obedience but through faith. The Old Covenant said,” Do this, and you will live… ” The New Covenant says, “Believe, and you will live…”
“The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” John 20:30-31NLT
It is, therefore, impossible to live according to both the Old and the New Covenants because the one cancels the other out.
Paul had an altercation with Peter because Peter, intimidated by Jewish believers, who insisted on obedience to the Law, was drawing back from fellowshipping with Gentiles.
“You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.” Galatians 2:15-16 NLT
What happens when believers try to keep the law?
“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” Galatians 5:2-4 NLT
Paul struggled with legalists who tried to force Gentile believers to become Jews by being circumcised. We can substitute any of the Mosaic laws for circumcision and the result is the same.
“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.”
This includes copying any rituals or practices in the Old Testament to get God to act that are not authorised in the New Covenant.
The operative words in the Old Covenant are “obey” and “do”.
The operative words in the New Covenant are “believe” and “done”.
Our manual for understanding the New Covenant is found in the New Testament. We need to use both the Old and the New Testaments for the purpose for which they were written.
What happened to the Old Covenant, then?
“If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it…. But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the Lord , when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah…. When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.” Hebrews 8:7-8, 13 NLT
According to Hebrews, it will “soon” disappear. Why has it not disappeared already? The Old Covenant still has a purpose….
“Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.” Galatians 3:23-25 NLT
So, the law (of conscience or the Mosaic law) was necessary in our lives. It revealed the nature of sin in us and our need for a Saviour. However, when we believed in Jesus, we were set free from the necessity to obey the law.
Why? In the, New Covenant, we have the Holy Spirit and God’s word written on our hearts.
To go back to the law in any form is to take on the burden of perfect obedience again, and to cut ourselves off from the power of God’s grace.
In the next study, we will examine the New Covenant more closely because the New Covenant gives us all the tools for overcoming the world, the flesh, and the devil.
All Scripture quotations in this series
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.