Last week we gathered as a group of Cor Deo “graduates” and enjoyed two days on “A Vibrant Faith,” looking at 2Corinthians 1-5 and a bit of Jonathan Edwards. Essentially we spent two days pondering the New Covenant. Specifically we thought about the solutions it offers to the human problem. We also recognized how easily we can fail to engage the fullness of God’s provision. Let me explain.
Essentially there are five key provisions in the New Covenant. We have our sins forgiven. Our hearts of stone are replaced by hearts of flesh. The Law is no longer written on tablets of stone, but engraved internally on our hearts. The Holy Spirit is now poured out on all who are God’s. And we have a personal, intimate, knowledge of the Lord – we have close relationship with the Triune God!
Strangely, though, many Christians don’t seem to be captivated by the provision of the New Covenant. It is as if we struggle to see what was wrong with the old way. So let’s look at it from a different angle. What was life like under the Old Covenant? Why was the New Covenant such a big deal in the New Testament? Why did the prophets look forward to it with eager anticipation? In fact, why do the books of Moses even look forward to it in the midst of the provision of the Old?
1. Our sin is the great barrier and separation between us and God. Instead of looking heaven-ward and seeing the face of God shining down on us, we tend to see the bleak foreboding barrier of our sin separating us from God. Back in their days that meant a constant sacrificial cycle, a perpetual reminder of the need for an atonement that would not just temporarily cover, but finally carry our sins far away. Of the five points I am going to make here, this is the one that the church tend to focus on. The great barrier is dealt with by the cross, praise God! This is where a lot of evangelism begins. And ends. There is a mechanism given by God in Christ to remove the barrier! But this is not an end in itself. This isn’t just about my now having access to a nicer destiny. This is part of the package that also includes having the next four issues addressed. (And when this is the sole focus of our “New Covenant gospel,” then we tend to only half believe even this part. We end up in a cycle of self-recrimination for the ongoing sin struggle of this life.)
2. Our hearts are the great source of sin, yet they are cold, unresponsive, unfeeling, stone-like. It can be amazing to read the Old Testament and see the obstinate hardness of heart among those receiving the gracious intervention and patience of God’s steadfast love. We wonder how they could be like that. Then we look in the mirror. Ah, but that is human nature. That is what humans are like under the Old Covenant. Hang on, such a statement shouldn’t comfort us! We shouldn’t be feeling excused for stony hearts. That is one of the great provisions of the New Covenant. Yet we too easily dismiss the transformative power of God in our hearts, we dismiss issues of the heart. We focus on our knowledge and determination, but neglect the heart-to-heart reality of the gospel. And with hearts ignored, we tend to feel only the pull of the flesh, and we become functional old covenanters. Which means our spirituality and Christianity defaults back to…
3. Our direction for living is a gracious provision from the finger of God, but it is external, yet requires an inside-out transformation. With our neglect of God’s transformative work in our hearts, we also fall back into following external codes of conduct. Instead of looking back to life under the Law and celebrating our new inner desire to please God, we doubt the heart elements of the New Covenant and so feel the need for external law codes. Any suggestion that we aren’t under the Law brings a reaction of fear – oh dear, you must be promoting sin! But we prove our lack of faith in God’s greater provision for the sin problem in the New Covenant by pushing back into an Old Covenant approach to the issue (an approach that was always intended to be temporary and preparatory). Of course, very few Christians will overtly print posters of 613 laws and try to follow them all. But maybe 10. Certainly an emphasis on Law in the process of sanctification.
4. Our connection with God is entirely hope-based, when in reality we now have an amazing union with Christ who indwells us by His Spirit. The Spirit of God used to fall on kings and prophets, for a time and for a task. Too often today we treat the Spirit as if that is still the way He works – special people for special ministry. Power displays or particularly gripping preaching is somehow a real anointing, but we travel to them, because we seem resistant to any notion that God has really come into us.
5. Our God is gracious, but often perceived to be a distant and daunting judge. This post is already too long, but here is the crux of the matter. If God’s provision for inside-out transformation by the heart transplant and the internalizing of the law is not fully engaged, and if God’s provision for relationship by the giving of His Spirit is not fully engaged, then God will continue to feel distant and essentially daunting. It is not simply a matter of the sin barrier being removed by Christ. The New Covenant is ultimately about our delightful and intimate relationship with the Triune God. God is love, and we are invited.
Embraced by the Trinity, why would we turn from the One who has called us and pull back from any part of this glorious New Covenant?