The following is adapted from Bob Hoestra’s class Living By God’s Sufficiency, available free at the Blue Letter Bible Institute (www.blbi.org).
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To properly consider the new covenant, we should begin by looking at the promise of it in ages past. In history, God intervened with man and promised the new covenant to the nation of Israel. We will see a glimpse of this in Jeremiah 31. As we look at these verses, we shall see three aspects of the new covenant that we will be able draw upon later.
“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 lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,” says the LORD.
“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.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Some day Israel, as a nation, will come into this new covenant.
Now, they are living under the burden of having rejected the Messiah who brought in the covenant. Of course, many Jews, one by one, for the last two thousand years, have been coming to the Messiah to live under this new covenant, but they have yet to come en masse. Perhaps you, by natural human bloodline, were Jewish in origin and you have come to believe on Christ as the Messiah. This is your covenant. And someday the nation will come. Particularly, it will happen as the end of Romans 11 describes it, it says, “Thus all Israel shall be saved.” That is what eventually awaits Israel.
Three terms to this covenant
There are three terms to this covenant, which are laid out gloriously in this passage. The first of these is the forgiveness of sins, found at the end of Jeremiah 31:34. “For I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” Forgiveness of sins is part of the new covenant. For many believers, the forgiveness of sins is really all they know of when they hear of the new covenant. These recall easily that “this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you,” and yet forgiveness is only one part of the covenant.
Not only do we see forgiveness of sins in this new covenant, but we must note the second term of the agreement: a personal relationship with God. “No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother saying, know the Lord, for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (verse 34). The door for the intimate opportunity to get acquainted with God is opened under the provisions of the new covenant.
Take special note of this third provision of the new covenant: the internal working of God, enabling His people for Godly living from the inside out. “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” (verse 33).
The difference between the covenants is striking.
In the old covenant of the law, the message was inanimate. There was no life in it. It was a message of words carved in stone, external to man; it was an outside, inanimate message. The old covenant describes what life should look like, but it neither provides nor can it provide life to those who are under its terms. God intends for life to be godly, to be holy, to be righteous. And the law demands it, describing life as it should be. But it never offers life.
The new covenant, however, works inside the man.
It is alive and operating at depth in the believer’s soul. It is the Spirit of God at work. This is the glory of the new covenant: that the message of abundant and godly life is brought internal by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God brings the message of holiness and life inside the man and places it in his mind, embedding it in his heart. In other words, God begins to develop that godly, holy life from the inside out. This is God’s sufficiency for godly living. In the new covenant God works in us, developing a godly life deep in our heart and it will flow forth by His grace.