A proper view of covenants.

The Mosaic Covenant was explicit in many ways and written in order that unregenerate people could understand and obey. By contrast, the New Covenant is written such that natural man cannot understand it, because it is a spiritual covenant and can only be understood by those made alive by the Spirit. 

Membership into the Mosaic Covenant was by (for the males) circumcision of the flesh (Leviticus 12:3; Exodus 12:48 for the resident alien) and a promise to obey the commands of God given in that covenant (Exodus 19:3-6). Once Moses had passed from scene, the administration of the covenant and its law was given to the Levitical priests (Deuteronomy 31:9-13) for under that priesthood they were given that law (Hebrews 7:11). Faith in God was not required for membership in the Mosaic Covenant community, as the people by and large had stiff necks and uncircumcised hearts of stone (Exodus 32:9; Deuteronomy 10:16; Ezekiel 36:26; Acts 7:51).

Entrance into the New Covenant is by grace through faith in the Son of God (Galatians 2:16; Acts 15:11; Romans 4:22 – 25) and all who are in this covenant know God (Jeremiah 31:34) and be cleansed from all sin and have a new heart wherein the Spirit of God dwells and His people walk in His ways (Ezekiel 36:25 – 27). Paul summed this up in several places, including: 

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:10 – 15, NKJV)

These things could not be said about nation of Israel, though there was a remnant of believers ever in their midst. These things are true about the Israel of God, though there be false brothers in our midst. 

In Hebrews 12:18 – 24, “The writer contrasts the nature of the old covenant, which was all about tangible, very physical phenomena, with that of the new, which is concerned with the realities which those ‘shadows’ merely represented. It is critically true of the believers’ covenant that it is to do with ‘what may not be touched’.” In this grace-based covenant, “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NKJV), because “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NKJV) The old covenant could not be described in this way. 

John 1:17 contrasts old and new covenants, law vs truth and grace. “Note that Moses is the ‘conduit’ for the Law. Jesus is the ‘carrier’ of .. what .. more law? New law? No, of ‘grace and truth’. This is significant. At the very point where it could have been emphasised, beyond doubt, that the gospel was the implementation of a superior ‘law of Christ’, John says no such thing. His message is that Jesus brings grace and truth to us. Truth in the form of His own person. Not in the form of ‘law’. The contrast is not between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. It is between the law of Moses and the grace-and-truth of Christ.” 

This contrast is also seen in Galatians, as Paul wrote in Galatians: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (verses 16 – 18, NKJV) Law-keeping is not the solution for sin, walking in the Spirit is. Law-keeping was the basis, the foundation of the Old Covenant; walking in the Spirit with love for one another is the foundation of the New Covenant.

Positively, the two covenants can be understood and delineated by two specific ‘givings’ of God. Both happen decisively, declaratively, determinedly and definitively. 

The first ‘giving’ of God – the Law:

The old covenant ‘giving’ happened on Mount Sinai. It defines the covenant. It was unmistakeable. With its full range of terrifying ‘audio -visual’ accompaniments -thunderings and lightning, cloud, the sound of a trumpet, God pronounced that He was giving law to Israel, as their land-law for living in Canaan. In the whole of human history, God has given law only once. And He made absolutely sure that anyone within audible or visual range knew about it.

The second ‘giving’ – the Spirit”

The second ‘giving’ of God was on Mount Zion. It happened on the Day of Pentecost – the very feast where the Jew remembered Sinai, fifty days after the Exodus and the Passover. Fifty days after the cross, the great deliverance from the Egypt of sin, God poured out His Spirit and birthed the new covenant church. This ‘giving of God’ was also accompanied by audible and visual signs. And, as Hebrews tells us, the first giving was a ‘shadow’. The second is its ‘substance’. The Law – the shadow; the Spirit – the substance. The second ‘giving’ of God defines the new covenant. It is a Spirit-covenant, not a law-covenant.

In conjunction with the establishment of the Mosaic Covenant, God gave through Moses the law of that covenant, with the Tablets of Testimony as the capstone thereof. By keeping this law, the Hebrews would be known as the people of God.

In conjunction with the establishment of the New Covenant, Jesus gave His apostles a new commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” And it was further stated, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34 – 35, NKJV). 

Note the contrast, again, between the law covenant and the truth and grace covenant. Many rules and penalties in the law covenant; one bare commandment with equipping by the Spirit given to all within the new covenant. Weekly Sabbath-keeping and circumcision of the flesh marked those who belonged to the law covenant; love for one another which flows from being loved by God in Christ marks those who belong to the grace and truth covenant.

The new covenant is a Spirit-covenant. Not a law-covenant. The difference is critical. Paul says, in Romans 7 vs 6: “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Note the ‘new way’. He is not merely saying that the old, Mosaic Law is obsolete, its control over lives which it once ruled, broken. He is saying – and very loudly – that the old ‘dynamic’ of the way the law, ‘written code’ worked is gone and has been replaced by the Spirit’s new dynamic, the new way. This is how new life in Christ ‘works’.

And so, I am convinced, that the difference between new covenant and old is not just that the law given to them no longer applies to us ‘as law’. It is much, much more. The whole inner workings of the covenant is radically different. The ‘dynamic’ of living for God, for believers, has become the vital, beating heart of God Himself inside the man, inside the woman. Christ is in us – CHRIST is in us: “To [His saints] God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27).