The law and commandments known as the old covenant came to the Hebrews from God through Moses. Others stood apart as Moses drew near to the darkness where God was on the mountain top (Exodus 20:21), and was given “judgments” to set before the people (21:1). As in prior covenants, conditions were dictated by God and obedience was required for blessings to be received. If the people would do as God commands, “all these blessings shall come on you, and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28: 2-13), God not only promised to provide sustenance and make them feared by other nations. He told them, “I will take sickness away from the midst of you” and “will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand and you shall drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:25, 31). The old covenant was not only a path to forgiveness and victory over enemies, but provision for needs of the people and protection against sickness (the latter often overlooked).
In contrast, failure to observe commandments and statutes of the LORD would result in curses of many kinds coming upon people (Deuteronomy 28:14-68). So it was the people promised to obey all which the LORD had declared, and oxen were sacrificed as peace offerings. Moses took some of the blood from sacrifices and sprinkled it upon the people, telling them, “Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you concerning all these words” (24:8). The covenant was sealed by shedding of blood being joined with promise of obedience to validate God’s acceptance and consecration to Him. Only as they pledged to obey with shedding of blood could they expect to participate in covenant blessings. It was a pattern that would apply to the new covenant with Christ’s shed blood at Calvary combined with obedience coming from faith (Romans 1:5).
The old covenant through Moses foreshadowed the words of Jesus at the Last Supper prior to being crucified to atone for the sins of the world. “This is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28). His sacrifice cleanses from sin as believers seek to walk in holiness. “This then is the message which we have heard and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). To share in blessings of covenant requires that one ‘walk in the light” as was true under the old covenant.
The old and new covenants are in perfect harmony unlike a great deal of present day teaching. Both require shedding of innocent blood to atone for sin, and both call for obedience as a condition for receiving covenant blessings. There is a very deceptive and erroneous teaching to the effect that ‘Jesus did it all’ so obedience to God is unnecessary as long as one has faith. It claims stress on obedience requiring one to obey the commands of Jesus makes salvation depend upon ‘faith plus’ and not just what Jesus did at Calvary. It is a distortion of the truth that indeed works cannot save (Ephesians 2:9) while ignoring that one is saved by grace through faith for the very purpose of works.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
Well-meaning people fall into error by taking the words “not by works” in Ephesians 2:9 out of context. There are abundant warnings in scripture of the New Testament stressing demand to obey the will of God and walk in the light so as to receive blessings and inherit eternal salvation. Those using a false claim of ‘faith plus’ are ignoring pertinent passages of scripture that make it abundantly clear as to what God is telling about a new covenant. The author of Hebrews tells that Jesus, having completed the new covenant, became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey His teaching.
“And being made perfect, He became the author of salvation to all them that obey Him.” Hebrews 5:9
Failure to recognize a bond between shed blood for atonement and obedience to inherit blessings for both the old and new covenants is widespread. There was no intention to withdraw demand for obedience to the commandments of God under the new covenant. As God told the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Yet many are confused by teaching the new covenant did away with the law and commandments instead of doing away with the curse of requiring dependance on one’s own strength and willpower since all fall short of the glory of God: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23).
James writes that Abraham, our father in faith, was justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar in obedience to God. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? See you how faith working with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteous-ness: and he was called the friend of God. You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:21-24). So it is James declares faith without works is dead (2:20).
Paul, a strong proponent of faith, describes his apostleship as teaching obedience coming from faith (Romans 1:5). And the words of God through James “not by faith only” are in conflict with “faith alone” teaching that tickles itching ears by failing to stress a demand of God for obedience to truth as has been revealed in the Word of God. Graduates of bible schools and ‘cemeteries’ of higher learning frequently fail to grasp the greatest difference between the old and new covenants. All prior covenants were between God and man, and the old covenant failed because of man’s inability to keep the commands of God due of a carnal nature. Because of failure, the Israelites received a certificate of divorce from God because of their many adulteries and failure to keep covenant (Jeremiah 3:8; 31:31-32).
The new covenant is foretold by God through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). This explains the essence of a new covenant. The new covenant was not between God and men as was the old covenant. The new covenant is between God the Father and God the Son, requiring pre-incarnate Jesus known as the Word to become flesh (John 1:14), relinquishing His position in glory, humbling Himself as a servant, and dying as atonement for the sins of the world (Philippians 2:6-8). In His own words as He hung on the Cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30). All which was necessary was finished so that it would be possible for the Spirit of Christ to indwell those coming to Jesus by grace through repentance and receive the gift of faith from God to believe unto salvation.
Calvary resulted in revelation of a “mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations” (Col 1:26). The mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (1:27). Those coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus are indwelt by His Spirit as our “hope of glory” which is why Paul describes the new covenant as the “ministry of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:8). After giving His life, Jesus ascended to the Father and received the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:23) to became Baptizer in the Holy Spirit as prophesied by John the Baptist: “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I comes, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16). Empowering of the Holy Spirit is what makes it possible for believers to live blamelessly by putting aside fleshly ways, fulfilling that prophesied in the OT: “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them” (Ezekiel 37:27). This empowering also makes it possible to do “greater works” of which Jesus speaks as He refers to miraculous works characterizing His own ministry on earth (John 14:9-13).
The following illustration may help some who have difficulty in grasping what I am trying to explain. At one time, I was an enthusiastic golfer. But despite lessons from an excellent professional and hours of diligent practice, I lacked the ability to play like my instructor. But had he been able to put himself inside of me and play through me, my scores would have been vastly better. Such is what occurs in the lives of those empowered by the Spirit of Christ. Believers are not expected to do as did Jesus in their own might. Under the new covenant, Christ lives both “in” and “through” believer by the power of Holy Spirit. Such makes it possible to both put away carnal (fleshly) ways and do the “greater works” which Jesus says are possible (John 14:12). The new covenant is not merely forgiveness of sins by Jesus’ atoning death as many erroneously teach. It is the indwelling of Christ by His Spirit, which is why Paul refers to a mystery hidden from ages and generations, namely “Christ in you, the hope of glory” manifested in those who come to true faith in the Son of God.