Thursday, January 28, 2016

The New Covenant is Not Like the Old

Members of the New Testament church often treat the New Testament as if it's essentially of the same nature as the old - a system of rules and regulations.

I would encourage such members to hear this one thing: the new covenant is not like the old. So many of us have simply swapped out one legal system (with its laws written on stone, for all to see) for another legal system (with its laws hidden mostly between the lines, requiring just the right love of the Truth and just the right hermeneutic in order to find them). But, the new covenant is not like the old.

The writer of the book of Hebrews quotes a prophecy found in Jeremiah 31:31ff:
ESVm Heb 8:8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares YHWH, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 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.
And what does it mean to be "not like the [old] covenant"?

The old covenant was a system of rules and regulations, written in stone for all to see, in which you had to keep the letter of the law; the new covenant is a relationship, in which you need to keep the spirit:

10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares YHWH: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [ie. this describes a relationship]
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ [it's not about head-knowledge]
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. [it's about relationship]
WEB Rom 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God. [it's about the spirit, not the letter of the law]
Rom 7:6 But now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so that we serve in newness of the spirit, and not in oldness of the letter. [it's about the spirit, not the letter of the law]
2 Cor 3:6 [God] also made us sufficient as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. [it's about the spirit, not the letter of the law]
The first covenant was about "ordinances of divine service" (Heb 9:1), consisting of "gifts and sacrifices" that are "incapable ... of making the worshiper perfect" (v. 9), consisting of "fleshly ordinances" (v. 10) like "don't touch, don't taste, don't handle" (Col 2:21), don't eat this, don't marry, don't drink that (1 Tim 4:3), don't play this instrument, don't clap, don't observe Christmas. But Jesus has brought us a new covenant, by fulfilling the regulations of the old, and has thus cleansed us, not by our paying the debt which we owed to the law, but by our faith in him who paid the debt which he didn't owe (Heb 9:11ff).

The new covenant, the kingdom of God, is not built around regulations like what you eat or drink, but around doing the right thing and having peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Nothing is unclean of itself (Rom 14:14) -- not eating meats sacrificed to idols, not drinking a little wine with supper, not eating with unwashed hands, not playing an instrument while praising God, not observing (or not observing) a new moon or a Sabbath; these things are just a shadow of the new way (Col 2:16). They indeed appear like wisdom in worship; but ultimately they have no value (Col 2:22).

Once a person begins to grasp that their salvation is not dependent on how well they themselves keep the law (however you define "the law" - as the Ten Commandments, or as the Law of Moses, or as The Law of Christ, or as the Perfect Law of Liberty, or as the Two Greatest Commands, or whatever), but rather on their relationship to the one who kept the law perfectly, life begins to change, and freedom begins to creep in. (But take care, lest your freedom tromp on the scruples of a brother, which is wrong.)

ESV Gal 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free....
Don't submit again to a yoke of slavery of keeping this rule and that regulation and tithing this and limiting that.
Gal 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Our "whole law" is not about finding hidden rules in the text - don't use instruments; don't drink; take the Lord's Supper every first day of the week; there's nothing wrong with these things. But they are not our whole law. Instead, our whole law is to love one another. And lest you think that's not the case, the inspired apostle Paul repeats himself:
Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
And lest you think Paul has missed it, the inspired writer James reiterates this message:
Jam 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
James also speaks of true religion; he does not say it's about tithing and keeping certain days holy and worshiping according to these or those regulations; he says it's about visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and living a clean life (Jam 1:27).

Jesus, when declaring how his disciples would be known, did not say, "By this will all men know you're my disciples, if you have the correct doctrine and worship in the correct way". Rather, he said, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:25).

And when Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, he does not do so on the basis of who kept what rule, but on how we treat one another (Matt 25:31-46).

Relationship. Freedom. Love.

Not rules, regulations, perfect obedience.

When you get that, perfect love then casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The one who is still afraid he's not "good enough to get into heaven" has not yet been perfected in love (same verse), which is, to say, suffering from "performance anxiety".

At that point in time, you'll be free to praise God with everything you have - your voice, your heart, your guitar, your feet, your hands, your body, your absolute everything. Until then, you'll always have to "ride the brake" in order to make sure you "don't go beyond what is written".

Before closing, let me give one example of this "performance anxiety". Last week we had a baptism; a new brother was added to our number. When he came up out of the waters of immersion, there was a smattering of applause from amongst the witnesses, but the church as a whole frowned on the applause, because "clapping is not allowed". The congregation was "riding the brake" to avoid breaking an unwritten "rule".

The freedom to express joy at a new spiritual birth was squashed because of a "rule" which can not be found in the New Testament. When Peter healed the lame man in Acts 3, this man was not restricted from expressing his joy; he "walked and leaped and praised god"(v.8).

This restriction on expressing joy occurred because we treat the new covenant as if it is like the old, a system of rules and regulations, rather than as a relationship between us and God and others. The new covenant is not like the old, but we have made it such, and in so doing, have created something God did not create.


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