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Why Is the New Covenant Better?

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Why Is the New Covenant Better?

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The New Covenant is "a better covenant, which was established on better promises," claims Hebrews 8:6 (emphasis added throughout). Why is the covenant that governs Christians better than the covenant God made with the nation of Israel? What are the "better promises" in the New Covenant, and what makes them better than those in the covenant made at Sinai, called "old" in verse 13?

Verse 7 notes that there was a fault with the Old Covenant, otherwise there wouldn't have been a need for the new. What was the fault?

Much is at stake on this determination because many believe that the fault with the Old Covenant was with the law, the commandments of God.

So, when verse 13 states that the New Covenant made the first "old" (King James Version, New English Bible, Phillips Modern English, Today's English Version) or "obsolete" (New King James Version, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Bible), many believe the New Covenant replaced or supplanted the law with grace and faith. This line of reasoning leads many to conclude that observing the weekly Sabbath and annual Holy Days and tithing and distinguishing between clean and unclean meats have been rendered obsolete by the New Covenant and therefore are not necessary for Christians.

But is this true? What is the truth about the covenants, which may well be the pivotal issue that determines where and when you worship? Setting aside all assumptions, we can see that the Bible clearly shows what was the fault with the Old Covenant, what has been changed from the Old to the New and why the New is better.

What was the fault?

The Old Covenant was an extension of earlier promises God made to Israel's forefathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Genesis 15:13-14; Exodus 2:24-25; 6:4-8). God determined, in light of these promises, to bring Abraham's descendants out of Egypt and make them His model nation (Exodus 19:5-6). Because of God's deliverance (Exodus 20:2), the nation was now expected to uphold God's way of life. After all the stipulations of the law, commandments, statutes and judgments had been given in Exodus 19-24, the Israelites responded to God's promises with a commitment to obey all that God had laid before them. The covenant was then ratified, or sealed, with blood (Exodus 24:7-8).

That covenant was broken. Of course, it wasn't God who broke it. After all, God's covenant involves a unilateral promise, sealed by His oath, which He will never break (Hebrews 6:13-18). Rather, although Israel made a commitment to be obedient to God, the nation was, in fact, unwilling to fulfill its commitment to all that God offered to its inhabitants and the responsibilities this placed on them. The history of Israel is characterized by a rejection of the covenant through a way of life contrary to God's laws.

Hebrews 8:7-8 helps us understand why Israel failed and what was the fault of the Old Covenant. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them," God determined to make a new covenant. In this crucial indictment, God says plainly where He found fault: not with the law, not with the Ten Commandments, not with the statutes and judgments, but with the people themselves.

Paul's support of the law

Contrary to what many believe and teach, the apostle Paul—more than 25 years after the death of Jesus Christ—believed and wrote that "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12). The law is the expression of God's character, which is holy, just and good. In verse 22 he wrote, "For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man."

Many assume that, once we have faith in Jesus Christ, the New Covenant means there is no more need to keep the law. Paul himself addressed this concept in Romans 3:31: "Do we then make void [Greek katargeo, meaning 'destroy' or 'abolish'] the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish [Greek histemi, meaning 'erect' or 'make to stand'] the law." Faith does not abolish the law, said Paul; it establishes and upholds it. No wonder Abraham is called the father of the faithful, praised both for keeping God's laws, commandments and statutes (Genesis 26:5) and for his superb example of faith.

Some 25 to 30 years after Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, Paul said he believed "all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets" (terms used for the Old Testament) and had done nothing against the law! (Acts 24:14; 25:8).

The book of Hebrews notes that God found fault "with them," the nation of Israel. However, Paul readily recognized the problem was not with just the nation of Israel. Sin, he saw, was a universal problem for all humanity. Jews and gentiles are all under sin (Romans 3:9; Galatians 3:22).

In Romans 7:7 Paul says that man would not recognize sin if it were not for the law. Could the fault possibly be with the law? "Certainly not!" he answers.

Paul knew where the fault lies. He explains that once we are given the law, which defines proper godly behavior, our human nature begins to rebel against God's standards (verses 8-11). God's law convicts man of his sinfulness (Romans 5:20), leading to our much-needed forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ (verses 6-12).

The fault is not with the law, but with human nature. Although we may recognize what is right and good, on our own we are incapable of fulfilling the commandment. We may know what we should do in our minds, but we all too easily succumb to the selfish pulls to gratify the flesh.

This was Israel's dilemma under the Old Covenant, and it is the dilemma of all human beings. Sin is easy. It is a way of life that comes naturally to us (Romans 7:13-23).

Paul asks the universal question: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (verse 24).

The problem of sin solved

Back when the prophet Jeremiah had the responsibility of going to the Kingdom of Judah and urging national repentance, his warnings caused the people to despise him. Again, the problem was the people.

The solution God revealed to Jeremiah for the problem of sin was the same one proclaimed hundreds of years later in the book of Hebrews: "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—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, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 31:31-32).

Again, the problem with the Old Covenant was not the laws, commandments or terms, but the fact that the people broke it!

God inspired Jeremiah to proclaim that a New Covenant would be established that would have a better outcome than the Old Covenant established at Mount Sinai. "But 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. No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they all shall know Me from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more" (verses 33-34). This New Covenant would have an additional dimension, an extra ingredient. The Holy Spirit would make the difference.

The New Covenant is a continuation of the earlier promises to Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 14-16). Because Israel despised God's covenant, He will establish it anew, or renew it (Ezekiel 16:59-60). It is a better covenant because it addresses the problem, or fault, of the covenant at Sinai and is based on better promises.

Notice that, rather than God's law being the problem with the Old Covenant, here it is described as the central feature of the New Covenant. The law of God would actually become a part of man. God's law being written upon the hearts and minds of man would enable him to conquer sin.

How would the law of God be written in the hearts and minds of mankind? Certainly not by man's penmanship. Israel had already shown its inability to live up to God's standard. In Romans 7:25 Paul gave the answer for how man, in spite of the weakness of flesh, can please God and keep a covenant with Him: "I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

The success of the New Covenant hinges on the work of Jesus Christ. Chapter 7 of Hebrews proclaims that His priesthood after the order of Melchizedek is better than the Levitical priesthood (verse 7).

How does Jesus Christ work with His people in writing God's law on their hearts? We know that Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

The importance of God's Spirit cannot be overstated. It gives us the ability to keep God's law through Christ working in our lives.

Paul brings out how Christ works in us in 2 Corinthians 3:3: "Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart." Through God's Spirit the law of God is written upon the hearts of Christians.

The contrast between the covenants, made possible through God's Spirit, is further brought out in 2 Corinthians 3:6: "[God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." The "new" is an altogether better and more glorious administration of the same law of God (verses 8-9)

The letter of God's law was written on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai as the first covenant was established. Sadly, that law, which reflects the very character of God, remained on the tablets of stone and did not become a part of the lives of God's people Israel. The same thing occurs today if the Bible gathers dust on the shelf and we do not let it change our lives.

But, if we allow God's Spirit to work in our minds and lives, God's law—the same law written on the tablets of stone—becomes a permanent part of our lives as Christians. It manifests itself in thoughts, words, deeds and character that reflect God.

Forgiveness under the New Covenant

Romans 8:1-4 summarizes our status before God under the New Covenant: "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

Through Jesus Christ we are forgiven of our sins. Our past sins are removed. We are justified (made righteous, or forgiven) by grace through faith. Christ's work does not stop there, however. Through the indwelling power of God's Spirit our nature can be changed so we can now be subject to God's law and uphold it.

Jesus works in us through the Holy Spirit to help us conquer sin. His New Covenant work will create a "new man" out of us, enabling us to "put off the old man," our previous self-oriented way of life (Colossians 3:5-10).

Some people hold to the misperception that Jesus Christ does everything for us. Can we sit back in our spiritual easy chair and prop up our feet? Chapter 3 of Colossians makes it plain that we are in partnership with Christ. Notice some of the imperative commands given to us: "Set your mind on things above . . . Put to death your members . . . Put off all these . . . Put off the old man with his deeds" (verses 2-9).

This is a tall order. To depend on our physical and mental abilities to do this would be hopeless. While we most assuredly cannot earn anything by our righteousness or by anything we can do, we must be in partnership with Jesus Christ our Savior—and He is the senior partner. Yielding ourselves to Christ working in us, "the righteous requirement of the law" (Romans 8:4) is fulfilled.

The creation's expectation

The New Covenant is a better covenant because God's way of life, reflected in the Ten Commandments, becomes a part of our very being. People in whose lives the work of writing the law upon their hearts and minds is completed are given a promise—not just physical blessings as with the Old Covenant, but eternal life. Then, throughout eternity, they will reflect God's way of life, summarized by love, in everything they think, say and do.

Paul says, "The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19). In this statement Paul reveals the ultimate outcome of the New Covenant. Vast numbers of sons and daughters will have yielded to Christ working in them through the Holy Spirit and will be revealed at His return.

The Ten Commandments, anciently written on two tablets of stone, will have become a permanent part of the character of those people, and ultimately they will be given the gift of eternal life. They will not sin against God, against each other or against any aspect of God's creation. Many sons and daughters will have been brought to glory (Hebrews 2:10).

Truly the New Covenant is greater, offering a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:7), better promises (Hebrews 8:6) and a better hope (Hebrews 7:19)—that of eternal life. GN


  • pastorlarry
    It is very important to observe how the Old Testament IS the Word of God and nothing of God's Word passes away. What it is pertinent to, when and how and to whom applied is vital. No opinion matters except for God's opinion. No theology trumps God's theology. The Bible is final authority for God's opinion and theology. "The Law is not for a righteous man..." (the redeemed,born again, child of God) 1 Timothy 1:9 The Law must be used righteously.
  • marvie

    I understand the New Covenant better and how it truly does not do away with the Old Covenant.

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