Advent thoughts: December 19

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31—read Jeremiah 31:31-34).

God’s love is more important to him than his justice. God has justice and righteousness, but God is love. His grace is greater than his law. He prefers rescuing sinners rather than punishing them.

Therefore, God’s new covenant is older than his old covenant. The old covenant comes first to diagnose our need for a Savior, but the new covenant was in God’s mind when he began to create the world. God knew that his people would sin. He knew they would need a Savior, because they would not be able to rescue themselves from sin and evil. He knew that he would have to pay the full price to redeem sinners. Knowing these things, God chose to create the world and chose to continue his plan of redemption.

So, God gave the old covenant to his chosen people. He said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” He told them what it meant to be his people: to have no other gods; to honor his name and his time and the earthly authorities that represent his authority; to love their neighbors and respect their neighbors’ lives, marriages, property, and reputations; and to be content with what God provided them, not coveting what belonged to their neighbors. He said that if they kept their side of the covenant, he would provide them with safety and prosperity. If they broke the terms of the old covenant, he would cause famine and drought and poverty, and he would allow them to fall into the hands of their enemies.

The old covenant is conditional. The new covenant is unconditional. Because his people broke the terms of the old covenant, he allowed them to be afflicted by drought and famine. He allowed them to be afflicted by Midianites and Philistines and Assyrians and Babylonians. He allowed them to be captured and carried off into captivity. Even the holy city Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord were destroyed under the terms of the old covenant because his chosen people were unfaithful to the Lord.

At the same time that they preached about the old covenant and the consequences of breaking God’s commands, Moses and the prophets also spoke of a new covenant. Moses prepared the people for a king and priest and prophet. Isaiah repeatedly told of the coming servant who would be Immanuel, God with us. Jeremiah specifically promised a new covenant that would be different from the old covenant, because it would be based on God’s faithfulness and not on the faithfulness of the people.

“I will be their God, and they will be my people,” God said. Those words belong to both the old covenant and the new covenant. Under the terms of the old covenant, the thoughts and words and actions of the people determined whether they remained God’s people. Under the terms of the new covenant, the thoughts and words and actions of God determine whether we remain God’s people.

Old Testament believers were saved by faith through grace under the terms of the new covenant. They believed the promise of a coming Savior. New Testament believers are saved by grace through faith under the terms of the new covenant. We believe that the Savior has come—he is Christ, the Lord—and he has kept all the promises upon which the new covenant depends. He has lived a life of perfect righteousness, earning rewards which he shares with his people. He has offered that life as a sacrifice, removing the sins of his people. He has risen from the dead, victorious over all enemies, sharing that victory with his people.

“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God knows everything, but he is able to forget. Between his birth and his resurrection, Jesus forgot the date of his glorious appearing on the Day of the Lord. God has forgotten the iniquity of his people because Jesus paid in full for those sins. God has forgotten the iniquity of his people because our sins were killed with him on the cross, buried with him, and left dead and buried when Jesus rose from the dead. God has forgotten the iniquity of his people because he has removed our sins from us “as far as the east is from the west.” We belong to him forever. Thanks be to God! J.

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6 thoughts on “Advent thoughts: December 19

  1. I have always had trouble with the idea that the New Covenant is unconditional – or a One Party Covenant. Seems to me we still have to “sign on to” the New Covenant by believing in Jesus and his atoning work of grace. Can you tell me why that is not a Two Party Covenant? Our salvation is not automatic just because He did his part. Is it?

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    • That is a very good question, and one that is hard to answer briefly. But I will try to be brief.
      Faith is a gift from God to us, not a gift from us to God. God creates faith in us through his Word. Then that active faith receives God’s blessings and begins the transformation into the image of Christ, a transformation that will not be finished until the day of our death or the Day of the Lord.
      A useful analogy is Jesus telling the lame man to pick up his mat and walk home. That man wanted to do those things before, but he could not do them until Jesus commanded him. The Word of Jesus gave him the power to do those things. Likewise, the Word of Jesus made Lazarus able to leave the grave. If Jesus had not said, “Lazarus, come out,” Lazarus would have remained dead in the grave. So we were dead in our sins until the Gospel Word came to us: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” We repent and we believe because of the command of the Lord, not because we decided to sign onto the new covenant by believing.
      On the Day of the Lord, everyone entering the kingdom of God will affirm that we are entering entirely because of what Jesus did for us, without any contribution on our part. Everyone sent away from the kingdom will know that they are lost because of their own sins, chiefly because they refused to believe in Christ and his promises.
      You might remember a day when you first began to believe in Christ, when you asked him to forgive your sins and be your Savior. But you are no more responsible for making that change in your heart than you are responsible for being born physically into this world.
      I hope that helps. J.

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  2. Good stuff, as this entire study has been, J. You said:

    “Old Testament believers were saved by faith through grace under the terms of the new covenant. They believed the promise of a coming Savior.”

    Absolutely, yet many seem to not understand this. Periodically, I get asked this question by somebody, sometimes folks who have been around faith for years. The perception that OT believers were saved by adherence to The Law is pernicious. I use that word because it seems to spill over into some forms of legalism in the New Testament churches.

    Liked by 1 person

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