Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: The Unbreakable New Covenant


Last Sunday, we saw in Joshua 9:16-10:15 that our God is a covenant-keeping God.  Because He is faithful, to break a covenant would be to deny His own nature.  And because God is a covenant-keeping God, and His character is the standard for our conduct (Lev 11:45; 1 Pet 1:14-16), He expects us to keep our covenants as well.
This truth was depicted in stark terms in the Joshua 9 passage in that Israel was expected to keep the covenant with Gibeon even though the covenant was based on Gibeon’s deception of Israel.  A covenant is a covenant, and we know from 2 Samuel 21:1-9, that God considered this particular covenant to be binding even on subsequent generations.
While the thrust of the message Sunday was on our responsibility to keep covenants and the power that God gives us to do so, we did not have the time to look at the other side of this issue.  The fact that covenants are absolutely binding doesn’t just affect us in that we are bound to keep covenants.  One of the grandest truths in all of Scripture is that we are the beneficiaries of the greatest covenant of all, the New Covenant.
This New Covenant is first mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-34: "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, 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, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." 
(There are some who would deny that this passage has any relevance for Gentile believers today.  They contend that this is a promise to Israel alone and will take place at the end of the age.  The problem with this view is that everywhere that the phrase “new covenant” is used in the NT, it refers to the covenant inaugurated by the blood of Christ and in effect at the time of writing.  Also, in 1 Cor 11:25 and 2 Cor 3:6, Paul, writing to Gentiles, speaks of the New Covenant as if it is applicable to current Gentile believers.  So, it is my position that the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31 is a covenant of which you and I, as Gentile believers, are now beneficiaries.  When Jeremiah 31:31-34 is read in light of the argument of Romans 11, it seems clear to me that there is at the present time a great number of Gentiles and a remnant of Jews who are partakers of this covenant.  The complete fulfillment of Jeremiah 31 will take place at the end of history when ethnic Israel will be brought to faith in Christ.)
These verses clearly layout the terms of the New Covenant between God and His people.  1) God will write His laws upon their hearts; 2) He will be their God; 3) They will be His people; 4) They will know God; 5) He will forgive their iniquity.  It is not my intention to exposit this passage, but simply to note that God promised to bring about a change of heart, a qualitatively new relationship with His people, and to forgive their sins.
As we turn to the New Testament, we find that this New Covenant was inaugurated by the blood of Christ on Calvary.  We celebrate it every time we observe the Lord’s Supper.  On the night of Christ’s arrest, as He reclined in the upper room with His disciples, after giving them the bread which represented His broken body, He then gave them the cup, saying,  “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). 
There are two kinds of covenants, bilateral and unilateral.  Bilateral covenants involve mutual promises between two parties, so that either party is capable of breaking the covenant.  Unilateral covenants involve one party making promises to another party so that only the promising party is capable of breaking the covenant.  If we look closely at the terms of the New Covenant outlined by God in Jeremiah 31:31-34, we can come to only one conclusion – the New Covenant is a unilateral covenant!  (Some might contend that it is a bilateral covenant in that it is conditioned upon the repentance and faith of the believer.  Technically, that is true – one must repent and believe in order to be saved. However, Scripture teaches that both faith and repentance are gifts of God wrought in the hearts of those who believe [Acts 5:31, 11:18; Rom 2:4; Eph 2:8-10; 2Tim 2:24-25]  Therefore, God alone is the initiator and author of our salvation.)  What does that mean to you and me?  The only way for that covenant to be broken is for God, the initiator of the covenant, to break it.
I’ll save the traditional New Testament texts regarding the perseverance of the saints for another time.  For now, simply recognize that the very character of our covenant-keeping God ensures that those who are in Christ, who have partaken of the New Covenant, are secure in their salvation. 
If God enforced the Joshua 9 deception-based covenant between Israel and Gibeon 400 years after it was inaugurated (2Sam 21), do you think that God Himself would break a covenant inaugurated by the blood of His own Son?  Impossible. 
If we pay close attention to the Old Testament scriptures, we can find a treasure trove of such truths that point us toward our unfathomable riches in Christ.  Let’s continue to keep our eyes open.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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