Old and New Covenants
Jeremiah 31:31 talks about a new covenant that is written on your heart. This covenant is not like the old covenant, which was a literal covenant. The purpose of the old covenant was to point to the new covenant, which is fulfilled by Jesus.
Jer 31:31 Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day [that] I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this [shall be] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
In order to understand the new covenant you must understand the old one. There are actually a number of covenants in the Old Testament, but the one that we are concerned about is the covenant given at Mount Sinai. The core of this covenant is the 10 commandments.
The purpose of the 10 commandments were to guide the Israelites to the new covenant, and to set apart the nation of Israel for God’s own purpose. This covenant was a literal covenant. That is, by keeping this covenant perfectly, you would be able to establish your own righteousness. Of course, the Israelites, even though they were under this covenant were unable to keep it. Not because of any fault of the covenant itself, but because of the fault of the people. The intrinsic nature of man causes him to sin, that is, a man cannot not sin because it is his nature of man to sin. Conversely, God cannot sin (or will not) because it is his nature to be righteous and sinless. God behaves like what he is (sinless) and man behaves like what he is (sinful). Therefore, the Israelites could not keep the covenant, and it is recorded that they broke the covenant almost immediately. God knew that the Israelites would break the covenant. He gave it to them to show them that they could not establish their own righteousness and that they needed to seek the one who’s righteousness was perfect.
Both covenants are perpetual and are in parallel with each other
The old is a perpetual covenant and the arrival of the new covenant did not remove the old covenant. Rather, the new covenant is in parallel with the old covenant. Notice what is said in Exodus 31 concerning the Sabbath, which is part of the old covenant.
Ex 31:16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, [for] a perpetual covenant. Ex 31:17 It [is] a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for [in] six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Jesus himself reinforced this:
Mt 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
There is an old covenant that is in parallel with the new covenant.
The new is better than the old
Hb 8:7 For if that first [covenant] had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. Hb 8:8 For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah
The old covenant was not able to bring salvation, since the people could not keep the covenant (they were at fault). Therefore, another covenant had to be established.
Nature of the new covenant
In a way the old covenant is still with us in the new covenant. The old covenant is summed up by the first four commandments, which teach us how to love God, and the last six commandments, which teach us how to love each other. The principals behind the 10 commandments are timeless. The old covenant has been transformed in the new covenant. Using the 4th commandment as an example.
Ex 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Ex 20:8 Says to remember the sabbath day. The sabbath day is a day of rest that points back to the original creation. The book of Hebrews quotes the Genesis passage.
Hbr 4:4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh [day] on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works.
But the “rest” has a larger meaning than just physical rest as shown here in Hebrews 4:10.
Hbr 4:10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God [did] from his.
Placing your trust in Jesus as your savior, that is, resting from your own personal works is the larger meaning. So in the new covenant the Sabbath (the rest) has been transformed from the physical to the spiritual. Said in another way, the rest is now a person (Jesus), rather than the physical day (Saturday). Following this thought further, the reason that the Sabbath is not repeated in the New Testament is that it is fulfilled in a person. Conversely, there is no longer a day of the week that is designated “the day of rest.” Since the rest is now in Jesus, all days are now rest days.
Old Nature vs. New Nature
The label “born again” has taken on a negative connotation, but the origin of the term is biblical and vital in the new covenant.
Jn 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
This is a strong statement from Jesus. You can not see the kingdom of God unless you are born again. So being born again is vital if you would like to see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was explaining to him when he asked him,
“Jn 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?”
He thought that Jesus was referring to physical birth. But Jesus was speaking of a spiritual deep spiritual matter.
Jn 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
He needed to be born of the spirit, that is, he need to have a new nature, one that was in the likeness of God rather than the likeness of man. The Apostle Peter understood what Jesus meant and reiterates what Jesus taught.
1Pe 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
To give an example. A dog behaves like a dog because it is its nature to do so. It is a dog. It acts like what it is. You wouldn’t expect a dog to act like a cat. Humans also act like what they are. A human acts like a human because it is a human. Carrying this further, a humans nature is to sin. We can not help it. When we sin, we are behaving like what we are. Humans sin because they are sinners. Humans are not sinners because they sin.
We need to be born-again. We need to start over with a nature that does not sin.
New Nature vs. the Law
Living in the new covenant means that your relationship to the law is different. For example, what is the reason that we do not steal? Is it because one of the 10 commandments says, “Thou shall not steal?” If you answered yes, then you would be operating under the old covenant. If you answered no, we do not steal because it is the loving thing to do, then you would be operating under the new covenant. The motivation for a person living under the new covenant is always love. A person living under the new covenant does not need a law that says, “do not sin,” because they will not be sinning. So in effect, the law is redundant for that person. The old covenant is obsolete. This, in fact, is the precise word that the writer of Hebrews uses.
Hb 8:13 In that He says, “A new [covenant],” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. NKJV
Freedom in the New Covenant
Not being bound by the old covenant does not mean that you do whatever you want.
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
In fact, it is more binding to be under the new covenant, but unlike the external control of the law, there is internal self control.
Matthew chapter 5 is an exposition of the new covenant.
Mat 5:17, Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.
Mat 5:21, The law said, “Do not kill.” Jesus said do not be angry.
Mat 5:28, The law said, “Do not commit adultry.” Jesus said do not even lust.
Mat 5:31, The law allowed divorce. Jesus said if you divorce you force your mate into adultery.
Mat 5:33, Perform your oaths. Jesus said mean what you way, but don’t swear.
Mat 5:38, Eye for Eye, tooth for tooth. Jesus said forgive.
Mat 5:43, Hate your enemy. Jesus said to love your enemy. Do good to all.
Mat 5:48, Concluding the matter. Doing everything out of love is a perfect way to behave, because it is just like God behaves, who is perfect.
After looking at a list like this, you would think that it would be a burden to live under the new covenant, but just the opposite is true.
Mat 11:28 Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Mat 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Mat 11:30 For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.
Jesus’ yoke is light and not a burden. In fact, you will even find rest there.
Is the law evil?
The context of Romans 7 is about how we are now dead to the law, that is, that covenant no longer applies to those in the new covenant. Paul is answering the question, “If we are no longer under the law, does that mean the law is evil?” The answer is a definite no.
Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? [Is] the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
Rom 7:12 Therefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
Just because we cannot keep the law does not mean that there is something wrong with the law. Paul refutes this by directly saying that “…the law [is] holy.”
The codified law comes from the spirit of the law. Application comes from the principal. For example, two principals, “Love God, and Love your brother” are the basis of the ten commandments. The first four commandments deal with loving God. The last six commandments deal with loving neighbor. Perhaps, we could say that there were thousands of ways to love God, or millions of ways to love your neighbor. The spirit of the law goes far beyond a mere numerical value.
As shown in Rom 7:12, since the old covenant is holy, when you are in the new covenant any of the old covenant commands are permitted for you to keep. You are keeping the law because you are saved, and not to become saved.