Commentary on "The Two Covenants"
Day 7: Friday, December 2, 2011 - Further Study
The final day of the week is again devoted to teaching from the Seventh-day Adventist prophetess, Ellen G. White. In reading the White quote along with it's surrounding passages in Patriarchs and Prophets it is clear that the primary issue being addressed is a contrast between trying to keep the Decalogue by one's own power versus keeping the Decalogue though the power of Christ. Keeping the Law by one's own effort alone is self-righteousness while keeping the Law by the power of Christ is portrayed as "grace". "The same law that was engraved upon the tables of stone is written by the Holy Spirit upon the tables of the heart...Through the grace of Christ we shall live in obedience to the law of God written upon our hearts." (PP pg. 372). The lesson's author goes on to present the two covenants as two modes of righteousness, self righteousness versus grace. Presumably he defines these in the same way as White does in the selected quote.
It is true that the two covenants can be seen as a contrast between works righteousness and righteousness by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. However, it is incorrect to say that "The same law that was engraved upon the tables of stone is written by the Holy Spirit upon the tables of the heart". It is also a distortion to define grace as Jesus giving us the ability to keep the Law. While the White quote does have some valid things to say about the righteousness of Christ being accepted on our behalf, the addition of the Law and of works to the equation nullifies grace. Grace plus anything is not grace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God bestowed upon us while we are still dead in our sins. Works do not enter into it and if they did we would have something to brag about it, but God is going to take all the glory because it is all His work (see Eph. 2). Works are purely the outflowing of an ongoing work of God in our lives and those works are never tied to the Old Covenant Decalogue in Scripture. The New Covenant is not simply a rehash of the Old Covenant, where the Decalogue is now written on our heart and we are empowered to keep it. The New Covenant is fundamentally different from the Old Covenant. We can gain insight into these difference in Hebrews.
The book of Hebrews highlights the differences in the two covenants. Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were undergoing hardship and persecution from other Jews. They were sorely tempted to turn again to their Jewish roots and customs. They were sorely tempted to turn back to the law and the things of the Old Covenant. Hebrews was written to encourage them to stay the course and to remind them of the superiority of Christ over all the shadows in the Old Testament.
The author of Hebrews spends several chapters discussing Christ as our high priest. Chapter 7 is devoted to showing how Christ is not from the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek. The basic idea of this comparison is that the Aaronic priesthood was temporary, but Jesus' priesthood is without end. This comparison leads naturally into a discussion of the Old and New Covenants in chapter 8. The Old Covenant was temporary, but the New Covenant is without end.
"Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, 'SEE,' He says, 'THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.'" Hebrews 8:1-5 (NASB)
Before we skip too quickly over this, let's note that Christ's priesthood and the gifts He brings are not according to the Law. Those things in the Law were only a shadow of what was to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Jesus' ministry is truly new; it's not just a continuation of the same Old Covenant.
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises." Hebrews 8:6 (NASB)
Note that not only is Jesus' ministry more excellent, but He is the new mediator of a new and better covenant. This New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is better than the Decalogue. The new covenant has better promises. It truly is new. It's not just the same old covenant warmed up. It's not just the ministry of condemnation, the Decalogue, transferred off stone and onto flesh. Such an idea is foreign to the text.
"For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second." Hebrews 8:7 (NASB)
Now note that the Old Covenant was not faultless. Many want to say that the Decalogue is the ultimate law of God, but that does not square with the idea expressed here. The Decalogue was good and holy to be sure, but it was not the ultimate law that God would bring. All the Decalogue could do was to condemn. It couldn't save and it couldn't produce holiness. The Decalogue rightly pointed out the depravity of man and condemned them to death under the righteous wrath of God, but it had no power to change this wretched condition. A totally NEW covenant was required, not just some reworking of the Old Covenant; not just transferring the Decalogue from one place to another.
"For finding fault with them, He says, 'BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.'" Hebrews 8:8-9 (NASB)
This couldn't be clearer. The New Covenant really is new. It's not like the Old Covenant, the Decalogue. Let me say it again for emphasis, the New Covenant is not like the Decalogue.
"'FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, 'KNOW THE LORD,' FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.'" Hebrews 8:10-11 (NASB)
There are many things that are new about this New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, God seals us with the Holy Spirit by actually putting Himself in our hearts (2 Cor. 1:21-22, Eph. 1:13-14, and Eph. 4:30). It is not the old Decalogue that God puts in our heart, but the third person of the Trinity. Because of this, scripture tells us that we have the very "mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16)! This is how God's laws are written in our heart. We're not talking about the Decalogue dwelling in our heart. That concept borders on sacrilege. We're talking about the indwelling presence of God the Spirit.
The ultimate law of the universe is God Himself. God's very nature, essence, or being is the very definition of righteousness and truth. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit we partake in the righteousness of God. No one needs to tell us "know the Lord" because we know Him in the most intimate of ways. We have His very righteousness within us through the person of the Spirit. The ultimate lawgiver of the universe dwells within us. We will explore what the Bible calls the "Law of Christ" or the "Law of Liberty" later in our study. Suffice it to say for now that the Decalogue is not, and never was, the ultimate law of God, it was only a shadow of what would come.
"'FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE.'" Hebrews 8:12 (NASB)
Here's another contrast. The Decalogue was the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation. The Decalogue highlighted sin and condemned all under the wrath of God. The Decalogue had absolutely no power to change this sorry state. Under the New Covenant our sins are remembered no more! That really is new!
"When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)
The New really is new and the Old really is obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear. The Decalogue is obsolete. The Decalogue is growing old. The Decalogue is ready to disappear. The Decalogue no longer plays a role in the life of the regenerate believer. The Decalogue is obsolete because we now have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, dwelling in us. The Decalogue is obsolete because the Holy Spirit conforms us to the Law of Christ. The Decalogue is obsolete because we have a new covenant, a better covenant, a covenant that is not like the Decalogue. The Decalogue that came through Moses is obsolete because we have a new and better mediator, Jesus Christ Himself. Everything about the New Covenant is truly new and better. Even the promises Jesus Christ has given us are better promises. Please read through the following verse and try to determine what the promise is:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 (NASB)
The promise we receive in Jesus is eternal life. But what is this covenant promise based on? Is it based on faith like the Abrahamic covenant or is it based on works like the Old Covenant? It appears from our text that the promise simply comes through faith. There is nothing that a person can do to earn or deserve the promise of the New Covenant. Like the Abrahamic Covenant, the New Covenant is a unilateral covenant within the Triune God and no person can do anything to merit having a part in the covenant. Benefiting from the promise of the New Covenant is by grace alone. It is a gift. Let's read the surrounding verses as well as a few more passages to drive the point home.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." John 3:14-18 (NASB)
"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction" Romans 3:21-22 (NASB)
"But what does it say? 'THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART'—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, 'WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for 'WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.'" Romans 10:8-13 (NASB)
These passages make it clear that the promise of the New Covenant is through faith alone. The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant which was conditioned upon works/obedience. The New Covenant is like the Abrahamic covenant which was based on faith alone, not works.
So now we have the promise of the New Covenant which is an unconditional covenant based on faith alone. Let's now turn to the sign of the New Covenant. The New Covenant has a new repeatable sign, not like the repeatable sign of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath. Examine these verses for the sign of the New Covenant:
"While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He brokeit, and gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is My body.' And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And He said to them, 'This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'" Mark 14:22-24 (NASB)
"And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.'" Luke 22:19-20 (NASB)
"For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, 'This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.' In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.'" 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NASB)
The repeatable sign of the New Covenant is the Lord's Supper. Every time we observe this sign we proclaim the fact that we are in the New Covenant purchased through the blood of Christ. Every time we eat of the bread and drink the wine we testify that Jesus is our suzerain Lord and savior. Not only does the New Covenant have a new repeatable sign, but it also has a new entry sign:
"and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." Colossians 2:11-12 (NASB)
Baptism replaces circumcision, the entry sign of the Old Covenant, as the new entry sign to the New Covenant. Circumcision was only a shadow of what was to come. Circumcision symbolized and looked forward to the removal of the "flesh" which Jesus Christ would accomplish by giving us new life in the Spirit. Baptism is an outward acknowledgement of what Christ has done once for all, cleansed us of sin and raised us to a new life in the Spirit. There is no reason to continue the entry sign of the Old Covenant because we are not under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was replaced by a New and better covenant. The old entry sign was replaced by a new and better entry sign that witnesses to Christ's complete and finished work.
This raises the question of how we should relate to the Old Covenant and what we should do with it. The Bible answers this question in the chapter of Galatians that we have been studying this week. Since the author of the lesson has not engaged in a thorough line by line exegesis of Galatians 4:21-25, we will do so now.
The Christians in Galatia had allowed false teachers, Judaizers, to convince them that they were obligated to keep parts of the Old Covenant. Paul dispels this serious heresy by telling an allegory.
"Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children." Galatians 4:21-25 (NASB)
Paul leaves little doubt as to exactly what he is talking about here. We discovered earlier in this week's commentary that the Decalogue was given to the people, who were alive at the exodus, at Mount Sinai (Deut. 5:3) and that the Decalogue was the covenant document (Deut. 4:13, 9:10-11, 9:15, and 10:4). Paul now uses Hagar to represent the covenant given at Sinai and uses allegorical language to say that those who are under the covenant from Sinai are in slavery. Now contrast this with his description of the New Covenant.
"But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, 'REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.' And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise." Galatians 4:21-28 (NASB)
Those who are under the New Covenant are free. They should rejoice because they are the children of promise. Unfortunately, there will always be those who try to steal that joy.
"But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also." Galatians 4:29 (NASB)
I think those of us who have faced the transition out of Adventism could echo Paul's words here and heartily say, "So it is now also". It seems that that many of those who want to be under law also want others to be in bondage as well. As it was in Paul's day, so it is now also. So what are we to do with the Old Covenant and those who teach it and try to put us under it? The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms in the very next verse.
"But what does the Scripture say? 'CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.' So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman." Galatians 4:30-31 (NASB)
There are many groups who would try to put New Covenant Christians under the Covenant document engraved on stone at Sinai. But the Bible tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we are to have no part of such Judaizing because we are not in bondage, but are free! Cast out the bondwoman and her son! What blessing and joy we have as children of the free woman! Let us rejoice, break forth and shout!
Copyright 2011 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised November 6, 2011. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
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