A New Covenant for Transforming the Heart

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A New Covenant for Transforming the Heart

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"But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and . . . he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises" (Hebrews 8:6, NRSV).

God planned from the beginning to transform the limited and temporary covenant He made with ancient Israel—with its abundance of symbolic sacrifices—into a far superior covenant commitment with a permanent sacrifice for sin open to all of mankind.

God's covenants contain a variety of promises. Yet, in one sense, they all reflect a single commitment. Through them God is making known key aspects of His plan for man's redemption from sin so salvation may be offered to all peoples. He has determined to ultimately give everyone an opportunity through Jesus Christ to enter His everlasting family of holy and righteous sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Peter 3:9). God has never wavered in this commitment since the beginning of His creation.

John states, "But as many as received Him [Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). Through Jesus Christ, we can attain the destiny God planned for us—to become members of His divine, holy family, a future planned for mankind long ago.

Paul adds: "In him [Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:7-10, NRSV).

Therefore His "new" covenant is a "better covenant" that offers the "better promises" related to eternal life that were not included in the Sinai Covenant. God chose not to make those better promises—especially forgiveness of sin through Christ's sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit—available to everyone until after Jesus had been crucified.

A key objective of those better promises is to set in motion the process of transforming the hearts and minds of those who respond to God's call to repent and accept Christ as their Redeemer. Through that process He offers to make them heirs of "the eternal inheritance" (Hebrews 9:15).

God's call to repentance is scheduled to be presented to humanity in stages—with most of mankind receiving that call only after the second coming of Christ. During this "present evil age" (see Galatians 1:4), God is calling a much smaller segment of humanity to repentance to serve as "the light of the world" and to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 5:14; Matthew 28:19).

(For the compelling details of God's salvation timetable, be sure to request our free booklets What Is Your Destiny? and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)

A comparison of the two covenants

A primary distinction between the Old and New Covenants is in where God's law is written (Jeremiah 31:31-34; compare Ezekiel 36:26-28)—not in whether it continues to define His will.

Under the New Covenant the spirit or intent of the law is to be inscribed in the hearts of those who are converted by receiving the Holy Spirit. This required a change in the law as to who would hold the office of high priest, giving us a High Priest who could assist us in obeying God from the heart (Hebrews 7:12).

The new focus is on heartfelt repentance that leads to forgiveness of sin through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We are also told to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2)—with the spiritual help supplied by God's Spirit.

The Sinai Covenant's rituals and sacrifices could only remind the people of their guilt and their need for redemption. They could not cancel their guilt—blot out their sins: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). Under the New Covenant, however, Jesus Christ's sacrifice blots out permanently the sins of those who repent and cancels their guilt (John 1:29; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5).

Significantly, the New Covenant first had to be offered to the same people who had received the Sinai Covenant—the physical descendants of Abraham. All of the apostles, including Paul, honored this requirement. Scripture shows that Paul, when visiting various cities, went to the Jews first, then to the gentiles Acts 13:45-46; Romans 1:16).

Peter explained why the Jews had to be given the first opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior: "Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days [of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant].

"You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers . . . To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities" (Acts 3:24-26; compare Ezekiel 16:60-63).

Providing a permanent sacrifice for sin—first to Jews and then to the gentiles—so genuine reconciliation with God through Christ would open the door for God's laws to be written in the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the foundation of the New Covenant. The gift of His Spirit to those who repent and are baptized provides the "missing dimension" in the human mind that makes this "better" relationship between God and His people work (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-4).

A personal relationship with our new High Priest

Hebrews 7 explains another change from the Sinai Covenant to the New Covenant. Under the Sinai Covenant, the high priest was a physical human being from the tribe of Levi, serving in the physical tabernacle or temple until his death. Jesus, however, born of the tribe of Judah, is now our eternal High Priest, serving in heaven with direct access to God the Father.

Notice how plainly this is stated in Hebrews 8:1-2: "The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man" (NIV).

Unlike the high priest under the Old Covenant, Jesus Christ as High Priest can personally assist every individual called by God. "They will all know me," He says, "from the least of them to the greatest" (Hebrews 8:11, NIV). This huge advantage of the New Covenant was not available under the Sinai Covenant with only a physical high priest.

Jesus, although divine and immortal, can still personally identify with our weaknesses and problems because of what He experienced as a human being: "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God . . . Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18, NIV).

As High Priest, Jesus is willing and eager to help Christians in their struggles to overcome sin. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Symbolic rituals no longer needed

The temple-based system of worship under the Old Covenant came to an end in A.D. 70 when Roman armies captured Jerusalem and completely destroyed the Jewish temple and the priesthood system.

As the book of Hebrews explains about the introduction of a new covenant, "By calling this covenant 'new,' he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear" (Hebrews 8:13, NIV; compare Matthew 24:1-2). By indicating the destruction of the temple beforehand and then allowing it to happen, just as foretold, God ended the Sinai Covenant's system of worship.

Notice this clear explanation of the temporary nature of that tabernacle/temple system: "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place.

"Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had . . . the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron's staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory [over the mercy seat] . . .

"When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.

"This is an illustration for the present time [before the temple system was destroyed in A.D. 70], indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order [established through the New Covenant]" (Hebrews 9:1-10, NIV).

Notice how explicitly the parts of the Sinai Covenant that had to be altered are defined in this passage.

Hebrews explains temporary aspects

These temporary aspects of the Sinai Covenant were applicable only until everything they symbolized was fulfilled by or through Jesus Christ. It is essential that we understand accurately what the book of Hebrews explains.

The author of Hebrews does not say that the laws of God defining righteousness were changed or abolished by the New Covenant or that they were only temporary. He does explain that the Sinai Covenant's symbolic features—summarized as "food and drink and various ceremonial washings" are no longer necessary under the New Covenant. Indeed, it would soon become impossible to continue them because in A.D. 70 the physical temple, to which they were inherently linked, was completely destroyed.

The fact that these examples are restricted to physical items, all having only symbolic significance, is crucially important! The laws of God that define sin are not included among those items explicitly identified as terminated with the destruction of the temple.

The focus in Hebrews is entirely on things associated with the symbolic worship system of the physical tabernacle (and the later temple complex) and the temporary Levitical priesthood. Notice its explanation:

"When Christ came as high priest . . . he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this [physical] creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

"The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

"For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant" (Hebrews 9:11-15, NIV).

The tabernacle/ temple ministry or service of the Sinai Covenant was only symbolic and temporary. In contrast, the spiritual ministry of Jesus Christ focuses on an "eternalinheritance" because it offers "eternal redemption" to those whose hearts are transformed by God's Spirit.

However, God's laws defining righteousness are not symbolic or temporary. The Psalms depict them as "wonderful" and "perfect," destined to last "forever" (Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:129-160).

Paul describes God's law as "holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." He then adds, "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin" (Romans 7:12-14, NIV). He taught that the problem that the New Covenant solves is the un spiritual responses of man, not some supposed defect in God's spiritual laws.

Jesus upholds obedience to Old Testament laws

Since many aspects of the Sinai Covenant were temporary, those who serve God under the New Covenant need to understand Jesus Christ's explanation of what is not included in the changes that had to be made. He was fully aware that the needed changes made by the New Covenant could be easily misinterpreted.

So in His famous Sermon on the Mount, He confirmed emphatically that the Old Testament scriptures would continue as the guide for Christian conduct. Notice His clear statement:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets [terms used at that time for the Old Testament Scriptures]; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill [to fill up the law to its fullest intent and purpose and to become the High Priest and ultimate sacrifice foreshadowed in both the Law and the Prophets]. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18, NRSV).

Jesus is very specific. The Old Testament is to remain unaltered, with a new understanding that its figurative aspects merely point to His role as our permanent High Priest and ultimate sacrifice.

But the entire Old Testament—every word and character—is to be preserved and used by Christians. Jesus makes it very clear that not even a part of a single letter of that original text is to be deleted or changed. He came to bring to pass what God had promised or foretold in His Word, not to discard or annul it. Even the sections describing the ceremonial aspects of the Sinai Covenant still teach us valuable lessons about the importance of Jesus Christ's work and sacrifice for us, as the book of Hebrews explains in some detail.

Jesus forcefully confirmed that His preaching should never be interpreted as nullifying any part of the Old Testament scriptures: "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great [by those] in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19, NRSV).

Through the remainder of Matthew 5 He gives many examples that show the law's requirements are even more binding on Christians, not less. He does this by illustrating the spiritual intent of the law that should govern our very thoughts and attitudes in addition to our actions.

Paul concurs with Jesus on the Old Testament

Paul, like Jesus, boldly tells us, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

"All Scripture is God-breathed" (NIV) is the literal translation of the first part of Paul's statement. Jesus and Paul both present the entire body of Old Testament scripture as divinely inspired and essential for equipping Christians to serve God.

Yet Paul did not say that Christians are required to perform—precisely as written—every detail given to ancient Israel. His emphasis is that all of it is profitable or useful—though not every detail is required of Christians for reasons explained above.

What then is not required? That also has been made very clear. Most symbolic aspects of Old Testament instructions are not now required. They were "concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10).

Jesus Christ's sacrifice replaced those symbolic aspects of the law that were merely temporary rituals. Though they were not spiritual commands, their value in explaining the role of Jesus as our High Priest and sacrifice for sin still exists. They still serve as important teaching tools.

This distinction in their use today is important! Temporary aspects of Old Testament legislation never defined sin. They usually represented how Jesus Christ would pay for sin or, as with the symbolic meaning of circumcision, that our fleshly inclination to sin needs to be removed.

When God thundered the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai, He declared that He would show "mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6). His merciful forbearance of ancient Israel's repeated disobedience under the Sinai Covenant is a type of the much greater level of mercy and redemption that the "new covenant in [Christ's] blood" (Luke 22:20) now offers to those who repent.

For human beings to receive that mercy, the Son of God had to become our sacrifice for sin. In the epistles of the New Testament the word death is used more than 60 times in reference to either the penalty for sin or the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The entire sacrificial system of ancient Israel was given to emphasize that forgiveness of sin requires the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22).

We must never forget that all Scripture is inspired and vital for our lives. All of it lays a solid foundation for Christian doctrine. All of it is profitable for instructing us in righteousness. Without it we could never be sure what righteousness is.

Here is an important principle: To properly understand the New Testament, we must first understand the Old Testament. The New Testament is not written as a replacement for the Old Testament. Rather the Old Testament is the basis and foundation of the New Testament (Matthew 5:17-20; Acts 28:23).

Only if we apply the principles of righteousness revealed in all of those Scriptures to our thinking and behavior will we be able to grow to the spiritual maturity that God desires! Only then will we be considered "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work," as Paul instructs us (2 Timothy 3:17).

Jesus expressed this point even more emphatically. "It is written," He said, "'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). The only Word of God at that time was what we now call the Old Testament scriptures.

According to both Paul and Jesus, those Scriptures are essential to our Christian growth and development. We must study them thoroughly to learn the thinking of God embedded in them. Through their instruction God wants to change our attitudes and thoughts, our hearts and minds, by giving us understanding of His thinking.

He says: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud . . . so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:9-11).

God's goal is to develop in us the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5)—for us to have the same thinking and outlook that He has. For that to happen, we must have the same trust in, and deep respect for, God's inspired Word that Jesus Christ and Paul had (compare Isaiah 66:2). When we do, those Scriptures become the instruments that transform our thinking and behavior as He intended, if we internalize them with the enabling help and power of God's Spirit.

Other New Covenant improvements

Paul also explained that some aspects of the Scriptures will, of necessity, need to be applied "not of the letter but of the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:6). What did he mean? What distinguishes the "letter" of the law from the "spirit" of the law? And what conditions make this distinction necessary?

One crucial change—the change in the priesthood—gives us the beginning point for understanding this distinction. Jesus Christ replaced the priesthood of Aaron's descendants by becoming our permanent High Priest (Hebrews 7:11-28). This makes a vast difference in the way certain parts of the Old Testament laws are applied.

Verses 18 and 19 explain why Old Testament regulations for the appointment of a high priest had to be modified: "For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment [specifically limiting the priesthood to Aaron's descendants] because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law [requiring high priests to be appointed from Aaron's descendants] made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope [Jesus Christ's appointment as our permanent High Priest], through which we draw near to God."

This change was foretold in the Old Testament scriptures. God promised that the Messiah would be seated at His right hand before returning to earth as the King of Kings: "The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool'" (Psalm 110:1).

This prophecy also confirmed by an oath that the Messiah (Jesus) would be the new, permanent High Priest: "The Lord has sworn and will not relent, 'You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek'" (Psalm 110:4).

We see that the Old Testament both foretold and authorized the change in who would be the high priest and how he would administer his office. The book of Hebrews explains the importance of his change in the application of laws governing the appointment and duties of the high priest. 

"This was confirmed with an oath; for others [Aaron's descendants] who became priests took their office without an oath, but this one [Jesus] became a priest with an oath, because of the one [God the Father] who said to him, 'The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever"'—accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.

"Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:20-25, NRSV).

This change in the priesthood required that the law appointing Aaron's descendants to that office be changed. But it did not abolish either the office or the basic role of a high priest.

It only required that laws regarding that office be modified so as to properly apply to Jesus Christ as our permanent High Priest. Therefore those laws are still applicable and profitable—but now according to the "spirit" of the law instead of the precise "letter" of the original text.

As Hebrews 7:12-16 explains: "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

"And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears [as prophesied in Psalm 110:4], one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life" (NIV).

A superior approach

Paul devotes most of 2 Corinthians 3 to explaining this important difference in the administration of some of the laws written in the Old Testament. They are not abolished. But the application of their text sometimes has to be applied in a way that is compatible with New Covenant realities.

In such instances the "spirit" of the law takes precedence over the letter of the law—with the clear understanding that the "spirit" of the law faithfully preserves the original intent for which any particular law was given. Two important principles stand out.

First, the new emphasis is on where the law is written—in the heart of those whom God calls rather than merely on tablets of stone (2 Corinthians 3:3).

Second, the law's basic principles, intent and purpose are still permanently useful and applicable to all of humanity (see James 1:25; James 2:8-12). Even more significant is the fact that the provision for such modification had already been revealed and divinely approved in Psalm 110:4.

It is also important to note that not everything concerning the office of the high priest had to be amended—only the regulations necessary to accommodate Jesus Christ's appointment as our permanent High Priest.

The same principle applies to sacrifices and ceremonies. A change from merely symbolic animal sacrifices to the real and permanent sacrifice of Jesus Christ necessitates an adjustment in the law. But it does not abolish our need for a sacrifice. The law's requirement that a sacrifice be made for sin remains intact. But now it is the sacrifice of Christ that fulfills that requirement (Hebrews 10:4, Hebrews 10:14-18).

Therefore, some changes to the law were necessary to amend what was already in the law, to bring it up to date. God's law has not been abolished by the New Covenant, but it now contains important revisions that accommodate the "better promises" foretold in those very same Scriptures.

The New Covenant administration of law

God especially gives His true and faithful ministers, through the power of His Spirit, the understanding they need to properly discern the intent of the law under legitimate New Covenant contexts (compare Matthew 18:18; Acts 15:1-29).

As Paul explained, "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6, NIV).

A major focus of the Sinai Covenant's "ministry" or priesthood—its service to the people on God's behalf—was to remind them constantly that God condemns both evil and evildoers. The New Covenant ministry is more focused on bringing sinners to heartfelt repentance so they can escape condemnation in the judgment to come (Acts 17:30-31).

Paul describes the Sinai Covenant's approach as "glorious." He never belittles or berates it. God designed both covenants to gloriously fulfill their intended objectives. But the New Covenant is a better covenant that offers eternal forgiveness with eternal life, not just symbolic, temporary forgiveness within the community of Israel for the benefit of physical blessings only.

"If the [old] ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the [new] ministry that brings righteousness [by blotting out sins through the death of Christ and leading people to obedience and eternal life]!

"For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory [of the new administration of righteousness]. And if what was fading away [the Sinai Covenant's physical reminders of the death penalty for sin] came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!" (2 Corinthians 3:9-11, NIV).

The Sinai Covenant's glorious reminders of condemnation for guilt through symbolic sacrifices has been replaced by a more glorious and permanent administration of mercy and true righteousness through Jesus Christ as our new and permanent High Priest.

Through the Holy Spirit, Christ gives His servants in whose hearts the law is now written the ability to discern how to properly apply the laws of God to their own lives (Jeremiah 31:33; 1 Corinthians 2:11-14; Philippians 1:9-10).

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," writes Paul, "for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).

Teaching people how to live righteously because they truly trust God was a vital aspect of Paul's ministry. And the same should be true today.

Proper spiritual discernment

How did Paul and the other apostles discern what parts of the law might have a different application under the New Covenant than they did under the Sinai Covenant?

All godly discernment must fall within the boundaries that are lawfully allowed by the Scriptures. In other words, the law's proper application is determined by the guidelines revealed in the Scriptures themselves, not by our own feelings or opinions. We should never allow the opinions of those who rely on human tradition contrary to the Scriptures to sway us against God's law.

Paul strongly stresses the point that "the law is good if one uses it lawfully" (1 Timothy 1:8). Therefore, Christians need to be cautious not to accept or adopt assumptions that the Scriptures themselves do not support.

Plainly speaking, the Bible interprets the Bible. This is especially important in studying the writings of the apostle Paul, who wrote some passages that many people misunderstand and distort (see 2 Peter 3:15-16).

Because all new Christians need guidance, Paul explains the proper means through which Jesus Christ provides it. He tells us: "It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:11-14, NIV).

A spiritually capable, teaching ministry is essential to our spiritual health and personal growth in the Church that Jesus built. We all need guidance from spiritually qualified ministers of Jesus Christ.

To ensure that Church judgments about the application of Scripture to current situations are sound and accurate, their compatibility with the entire Word of God must be checked thoroughly. As Paul explained to Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB).

Therefore, we must be careful to seek spiritual advice only from ministers who faithfully believe "every word of God" (Luke 4:4) and faithfully teach that "all Scripture" is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

That is why Paul wrote: "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Romans 10:14-15).

We need to be very careful that ministers and teachers from whom we seek spiritual guidance know the Bible well and teach it accurately—rather than interpreting it according to the traditions and ideas of men. Paul warns us to beware of those who "are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:13).

Building on fundamental principles

Sadly, even some of the earliest Christians were negligent in correctly discerning, comprehending and rightly applying the intent of the Scriptures. The author of Hebrews told them that "though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

"For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:12-14). Such ability comes from studying the "word of righteousness" regularly and using it skillfully over an extended period of time.

As mentioned earlier, everything God has revealed to us through His law has one central aim—to teach us to love as He loves. According to the law, that love is focused in two distinct directions: first toward God, and then toward our fellow human beings, all of whom are created in God's image.

The Ten Commandments expand those principles of love. God desires to write the fullness of these principles in our hearts.

Let's now turn our attention specifically to how Jesus Christ personally assists those who receive the Holy Spirit—particularly in rightly discerning and applying the principles of God's law under the New Covenant with a pure heart.

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