The New Covenant is “a better covenant, which was established on better promises,” claims Hebrews 8:6 Hebrews 8:6But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
American King James Version×(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 Genesis 15:13-14 13 And he said to Abram, Know of a surety that your seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years;
14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.
American King James Version×; Exodus 2:24-25 Exodus 2:24-25 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 And God looked on the children of Israel, and God had respect to them.
American King James Version×; 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 Exodus 19:5-6 5 Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
American King James Version×). Because of God’s deliverance (Exodus 20:2 Exodus 20:2I am the LORD your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
American King James Version×), 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 Exodus 24:7-8 7 And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the LORD has said will we do, and be obedient. 8 And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you concerning all these words.
American King James Version×).
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 Hebrews 6:13-18 13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swore by himself,
14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.
15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
16 For men truly swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us:
American King James Version×). 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 Hebrews 8:7-8 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
8 For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, the days come, said the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:
American King James Version×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 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
American King James Version×). 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 Romans 3:31Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yes, we establish the law.
American King James Version×: “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 Genesis 26:5Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
American King James Version×) 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 Acts 24:14But this I confess to you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
American King James Version×; 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 Romans 3:9What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
American King James Version×; Galatians 3:22 Galatians 3:22But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.
American King James Version×).
In Romans 7:7 Romans 7:7What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. No, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet.
American King James Version×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 Romans 5:20Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
American King James Version×), 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 Romans 7:13-23 13 Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.
16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent to the law that it is good.
17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.
18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwells in me.
21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
American King James Version×).
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 Jeremiah 31:31-32 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
32 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 broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
American King James Version×).
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 Galatians 3:7Know you therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.
American King James Version×, 14-16). Because Israel despised God’s covenant, He will establish it anew, or renew it (Ezekiel 16:59-60 Ezekiel 16:59-60 59 For thus said the Lord GOD; I will even deal with you as you have done, which have despised the oath in breaking the covenant. 60 Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish to you an everlasting covenant.
American King James Version×). 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 Romans 7:25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
American King James Version×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 Galatians 2:20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
American King James Version×).
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 2 Corinthians 3:3For as much as you are manifestly declared to be the letter of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.
American King James Version×: “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 2 Corinthians 3:6Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.
American King James Version×: “[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 Romans 8:1-4 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
American King James Version×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 Colossians 3:5-10 5 Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
6 For which things’ sake the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience:
7 In the which you also walked some time, when you lived in them.
8 But now you also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
9 Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
American King James Version×).
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 Romans 8:4That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
American King James Version×) 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 Romans 8:19For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of the sons of God.
American King James Version×). 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 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
American King James Version×).
Truly the New Covenant is greater, offering a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:7 Hebrews 7:7And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better.
American King James Version×), better promises (Hebrews 8:6 Hebrews 8:6But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
American King James Version×) and a better hope (Hebrews 7:19 Hebrews 7:19For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw near to God.
American King James Version×)—that of eternal life. GN