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The New Covenant: What is it?

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).

 Previous posts in this series:


From trusting your own sufficiency to trusting God’s sufficiency

The change from trusting one’s own sufficiency to trusting upon God’s sufficiency is a wondrous shift in the believer’s life. From living by his own sufficiency (which can never be sufficient) to living by God’s sufficiency (which is always completely sufficient) is the difference between life and death, defeat and victory, weariness and abundant life. Godly living is integrally related to God’s sufficiency. Without God’s sufficiency there can be no godly living. All true godly living flows from the sufficiency of God at work in and through our lives.

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.
(2 Corinthians 3:6)

When Paul speaks of ministry here, he is speaking of servanthood. Believers are servants of the new covenant and serve God in and under its terms. Therefore, familiarity with the covenant and its specifics is essential.

A covenant is an agreement.

We might call it a contract, or arrangement, between two parties. The difference between this contract and the average human contract is palpable. In this particular covenant, the new covenant, we bring little to the bargaining table. We set before God broken, empty lives that are fallen in sin and floundering in human inadequacy. God sets upon the table everything those empty, broken lives need. The inequity of the two parties involved is stark. Though we deserve no deal or contract, God is gracious. We are granted a very good deal in this new covenant. We are given a new arrangement for living. The new covenant is central to the believer’s life—it is by this covenant that God has arranged for the believer to live life in Christ.

The new in “new covenant” is not so much a focus upon chronology as it is upon character.

Central to the character of the new covenant is its newness. Paul speaks to this in Romans 7:6, saying that we serve in newness of the Spirit (the new covenant), not in the oldness of the letter (or the law). Newness is spiritual vitality from the Spirit of God.

In Hebrews 10 there is a phrase speaking of life under this new covenant, “the new and living way.” This is the natural contrast against the old, dying way—against the law. The man who seeks to live by the law will grow weary quickly for the law is death to fallen man. The law will destroy the man who seeks godly living of his own resource. The message of the law is: Be holy. It is not Be better. It is not Be good. It is not Be improving. Man must be holy. Man must be as holy as God. As this is a feat impossible for mere man, the attempt on his own part will kill him. But the Gospel is that there is this new and living way through the grace of God that provides life. God’s mercies are new every morning (cf. Lamentations 3:22-23): fresh, vital, alive, and always available.

The sufficiency we need from God for godly living with God is available under the terms of the new covenant of the grace of God. The new covenant is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 31Matthew 26Mark 14Luke 221 Corinthians 112 Corinthians 3, and Hebrews 89 and 12. Several other passages speak of the covenant without using the term directly: Isaiah 59Jeremiah 24Ezekiel 11 and36Galatians 4 and 5, and Hebrews 7. There are other places of mention, but this will offer a good survey of the new covenant.

“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily—death to self—and follow Me.”
(Luke 9:23)

Christian discipleship is at the heart of life in the new covenant.

The believer denies himself because there is no other option for him—he is bound to every day follow Jesus. There is no difference at all between new covenant living and Christian discipleship. Both speak to the same truth, but merely utilize different terminology. Ephesians 5:18 exhorts the believer to be filled with the Spirit. Spirit-filled life is also merely further terminology to describe life in the new covenant. “I came that you might have life and have it more abundant.” This description of the abundant life from John 10:10 lends to further terminology synonymous with new covenant living.

The apostle Peter describes the grace of God as “the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). One might also call it “the many-faceted aspects of the grace of God.” God’s grace shines forth as an infinitely glorious heavenly diamond. Viewing a diamond, one will notice that from every shift of perspective, a different facet will be revealed, a different color, a different lighting, a different insight into the wonders of that gem. Consider this a simple parable of the grace of God. From every place in Scripture, from every shift of perspective, one will see the glory of the new covenant; it may look slightly different or be called by the same name, but in the end, it really is the same core thing—the new covenant life.