The problem with the Israelites was with their heart—their thinking and attitude. The Israelites did not obey God and fulfill their part in their relationship with Him for a simple reason: ". . . Everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart" (Jeremiah 11:8). God, however, had a solution: a different covenant, a new covenant, that would correct the problem.
Notice God prophesied He would someday create a new heart in His people by giving them His Spirit so they would obey Him: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God" (Ezekiel 36:26-28).
Why do we need God's Spirit?
"For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Romans 8:6-9).
People do not naturally like to obey God's laws. It is not in our natural, carnal nature to follow God's ways. Many people through the ages have tried to solve their own problems their own ways, without the Spirit of God. But those ways produce human misery and ultimately lead to death (Romans 3:16; Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25).
What effect does God's Spirit have on those who receive it?
"For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!'" (Romans 8:13-15, New American Bible).
God's Spirit empowers us to put to death the deeds of the body, the evil works of the flesh such as adultery, fornication, hatred, jealousy, anger and selfishness (Galatians 5:19-21). When we have God's Spirit dwelling in us, it enables us to have an attitude of enthusiastically and from the heart wanting to submit to God and follow His lead.
What is different in the New Covenant?
"'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah . . . This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days,' says the Lord, 'I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people'" (Jeremiah 31:31-33; compare Hebrews 8:10; Hebrews 10:16).
The New Covenant is God's commitment to give His people His Spirit so they can obey Him. Notice in this passage that God's law is included in the New Covenant. His law has not changed. What God commits Himself to change is the human heart. He will enable those entering the New Covenant with Him to willingly and wholeheartedly obey His laws.
Remember, God did not find a fault in His law under the terms of the Old Covenant. The fault was in the self-centered and rebellious thinking of the people. God's law and way of life remain an integral part of the New Covenant. The New Covenant requires a genuine change in the heart and mind that can be accomplished only through the transforming power of God's Spirit.
Once a young man asked Jesus, "What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Jesus responded, ". . . If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments'" (Matthew 19:16-17). Rules are involved in any relationship. God's laws were part of the Old Covenant. They are also part of the New Covenant. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can have a heart able to respond much differently from those ancient Israelites who rejected God's way of life.
The nature of God's law is fundamental to the understanding of biblical covenants. The laws of God endure forever (Psalm 119:89, Psalm 119:160). He established them to last forever (Psalm 119:152). The notion of a covenant without rules that define the relationship simply makes no sense.
What makes the New Covenant a better covenant?
". . . He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises" (Hebrews 8:6).
The major difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is in the promises God makes. The New Covenant is, in a sense, an expansion and renewal of the promises He made in the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant offered primarily physical blessings. How are the promises of the New Covenant better?
The New Covenant includes the promises God made to Abraham that were the basis of the Old Covenant. But its emphasis is on promises related to conversion through God's Spirit and to eternal life. Paul tells us that "the blessing of Abraham [has] come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14). One of the promises was that of the Holy Spirit, which would bring the spiritual renewal of the heart. This, as we saw earlier, was the problem with the relationship between God and Israel under the Old Covenant. The Israelites didn't have a converted heart to obey their Creator.
Some of the requirements of the Old Covenant, such as animal sacrifices and temple rituals, pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which replaced them when He died for our sins (Hebrews 9:1-14; Hebrews 10:1-14). However, the laws of God that were the foundation of the Old Covenant relationship are also the foundation of the New Covenant relationship. Now they are infused in the hearts and minds of God's people instead of only written on stone or scrolls.
What "exceedingly great" promise does God make under the New Covenant?
". . . By which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4).
"Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Matthew 25:34; compare Matthew 25:46).
The greatest promise of the New Covenant is eternal life. The Old Covenant made no provisions for people to receive eternal life. However, under the New Covenant, "He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [which] dwells in you" (Romans 8:11). Having God's Spirit makes it possible for us to receive God's gift of eternal life. The physical blessings of the Old Covenant, such as prosperity and protection, cannot compare with the far greater blessing of immortality available to us under the New.
As Paul exhorted Timothy, "fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses" (1 Timothy 6:12). God promises we will inherit His Kingdom and His nature, His holy, righteous character.
God confirms His promises are certain by a solemn oath. "Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:17-18).
God even assures us He will glorify us as Christ is glorified. "Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvationwhich is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Timothy 2:10-12).
The New Covenant assures us of help from Jesus Christ, our living Savior and High Priest, through the Holy Spirit. It is the supreme expression of God's love and His desire for us to have an eternal, everlasting relationship with Him as His children.