Two, Part V: Old Covenant – New Covenant

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The Levitical laws are suffocating in their all-encompassing completeness. Sin, sin, sin. The requirement for sin was that you publicly confessed it, had to bring your own property to sacrifice, and your animals had their throats cut or necks wrung because of what you did.

The New Testament has a commentary on this: Hebrews 10. “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come.. can never with these same sacrifices…make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”

So when that bull’s throat was cut and the blood pumped out in its death-struggle, when the innocent she-goat lay there with her legs twitching in a crimson pool, all it did was remind the worshiper of his imperfection, his sinfulness, his sin, his wrong. It reminded him that he was a bad person. And it reminded him that someday a Redeemer would come, the Seed of the Woman, the Anointed One, the Messiah.

This is God hammering home the consequences of the wrong Tree, a performance-based acceptance with God. Strive to not sin. Pay up when you do. It is a sin-consciousness whereby we “try to not sin” rather than loving God and loving others. It’s the old covenant, the Old Testament.

What is offered us in the New Covenant, the New Testament? A one-time, once-for-all sacrifice of the only One whose blood can take away sins. But wait, there’s more.

Hebrews 10 goes on to say, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God…For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being made holy. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,’ then He adds, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.'”

Now, let’s get this straight. The New Covenant is not only where the Messiah offers one sacrifice for sins forever and sits down, finished. The New Covenant is also where Jesus gives us an inner perfection by that one sacrifice, and that salvation in our inner being is being outworked into our daily lives because He has put His laws into our hearts and written them in our minds. This “Christ-in-you” was not revealed in the Old Covenant.

So – sins paid for, once for all time. An inner perfection, given to us in Christ, once for all time. That inner perfection, Christ Himself, is being worked out into our daily lives because He is the inner, living Law put into our hearts, as the unbroken tablets of the Law were put into the Ark of the Covenant. We’re not only dead to sin in fact; we are also dead to the Law – to that sin-conscious, sin-generating system of performance-based acceptance.

We have a choice. We can live according to the old way, sin-consciously building up a system of fence laws, rules and regulations based on fear of sinning. Or this: “Not only did Christ die for me, and pay for all my sins, but He lives in me and is even now my inner, living Law – both the desire to fulfill the Law and the power to do so.” This God-awareness (in an Old Covenant frame) is what caused God to call David, “A man after My own heart.”

That’s what God is looking for – a vast army of Aragorns, “…who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection…”

The choice is to live the old covenant, or to labor by faith to enter His rest – the righteousness which is of God by faith, ceasing from its own works. It is a giant-subduing faith, leading the alcoholic to get drunk on the Spirit, the porn addict to turn to the real Man within him, the financially fearful to trust upon the God who “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” This is the God who draws us deeper and deeper into His inexhaustible Well.

That’s the Good News; anything less isn’t. In the mid-nineties I found “Jesus-died-to-pay-your-sin-debt” was only half of the Gospel. I prayed at that time, “Lord, if you don’t change my life, don’t bother forgiving me anymore.” After growing up with a legalistic concept of God, and then after years of “greasy grace” I was sick of who thought I was. When God started to shake what can be shaken, a real self began to emerge and is still emerging – a humanity that is more and more being owned and operated by the indwelling Savior that is “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” the living Law that is in my heart and written on my mind.

I’ve found Biblically and experientially that reliance on God brings His life through me; reliance on “my self,” brings me under sin’s power, because that “self” is a false self generated by unbelief. That’s life under the written Law, and the subject of Romans 7. But as we learn to walk in the Spirit – a faith-choice in every situation whereby we rely on Christ-in-me to live through us – He lives. Temptation and even sin become God’s calling card telling us what the next area of Spirit appropriation and victory will be.

So ask yourself: “Do I live in a sin-consciousness? Do I feel I have to ‘pay up’ when I sin? Am I aware daily that Christ paid a one-time eternal fee for me? Am I aware that He has put Himself in my heart and written His laws on my mind? Do I live from that awareness – or do I live from sin-awareness, fear, and my own fleshly striving to do good and avoid evil? Am I walking in my true identity?”

The one consciousness brings about the seeming reappearance of “the old man” as we lock into a false struggle with ourselves to in an attempt to do good and avoid evil by our human will power. The other consciousness – faith in God’s Word –  causes Christ to live through us more and more as He progressively appropriates more and more of our psyche and body. Faith takes the things of the Unseen and brings them down into manifestation; through faith our inner and outer Land is taken for the Kingdom.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


9 Comments

  1. Tony

    What a thought provoking essay. As I am now reading Leviticus and trying to understand the thoroughness of God’s commands this essay strikes home. I too live in the world of trying to pay for my sins while knowing that Jesus already paid that price once and for all and that any effort on my part to “pay” was futile and frustrating. Thanks for sharing your knowledge of God’s Word.

  2. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    Amen. We do have a choice if we are in Christ. This is a war and the “great cloud of witnesses” you site from Hebrews 11 should stir us to engage in it. What follows is not semantics (as you noted in a prior post), but a difference in our hermeneutical approach to Scripture.

    We are brothers in arms and I’d fight to the death along side you. My quibbles noted below wouldn’t change that one bit. Even these disagreements are spurred by our mutual love for God and His Word. So, in the spirit of “iron sharpening iron” here’s my first of two posts for Part V. 🙂

    I disagree with your use of the Law as a performance based system of salvation. You say: ‘It is a sin-consciousness whereby we “try to not sin” rather than loving God and loving others. It’s the old covenant, the Old Testament.’

    The concept of “loving God and loving others” is at the heart of the Law. The Jews understood this as is noted in two encounters with Jesus in the New Testament where the question is “What is the greatest commandment?” The answer from the Law is the two laws you’ve give as “new.” See Mark 12:29-34 and Matthew 22:34-40 for the context, but Jesus says those two laws, love of God and man, are on what all of the Law and Prophets rest. That would have been the whole of Scripture at that point.

    There is also the idea of the Kinsman-Redeemer in the Law. This is portrayed for us beautifully in that great love story that is the book of Ruth. A story that foreshadows God’s love for the world as Ruth, a Gentile, is woven into the line of Messiah as was Rahab before her.

    I see the Law as a tutor (Galatians 3:23-25) and its main lesson is to teach us how to love. In teaching that lesson, the Law reveals and constantly reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior. It fosters dependence and I’d submit that has always been its aim and purpose.

    The Law still serves that purpose today and that’s why Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-20:

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    For the Christian, that Law, as you noted from Hebrews where the author is quoting Jeremiah, is written upon our hearts. I like R.C. Sproul’s take on the Law’s use as it relates to our growth in Christ: “By studying or meditating on the law of God, we attend the school of righteousness. We learn what pleases God and what offends Him. The moral law that God reveals in Scripture is always binding upon us. Our redemption is from the curse of God’s law, not from our duty to obey it. We are justified, not because of our obedience to the law, but in order that we may become obedient to God’s law. To love Christ is to keep His commandments. To love God is to obey His law.”

    I’m sure there is much more to say about this topic, but that was the part that jumped out to me from this post. Thanks again for the series and allowing us all to wrestle with the truths you are putting before us.

    Have a great week-end and please pray for me and my fellow church officers as we hold our annual “retreat.” We are spending a half-day tomorrow learning about “kingdom-focused prayer” led by Archie Parrish (http://www.kingdomprayer.org/ ). I’ve heard him in the past, so it is sure to be an edifying event.

  3. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony H,

    Many misunderstand the use of the Law.

    It is not a tutor to teach us to love; it is a tutor to bring us to Christ, the living embodiment of the Law. This “bringing” is not only for the unbeliever – the Law has a purpose for the believer as well, but its purpose isn’t to teach us to love.

    Jesus came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it – first in His own life, and then, through the Holy Spirit, in ours. He wants to fulfill the Law through us, living in us, through us, as if it were us living.

    What we’re dealing with in the Old Covenant is a system by which people related to and performed for God. The moral Law was there to tell them how to act. The ceremonial Law was there to fund their forgiveness when they failed.

    What most Christians do is replace the ceremonial Law, the blood of bulls and goats and the Levitical priesthood with the blood and priesthood of Christ. Then we set about to do what the Law demands. That’s still Old Covenant thinking; it just takes half of the Good News, giving us a new covenant with God that is unilateral in giving us His love and acceptance but leaving out His power). And so we have Christians today who hold to a form of godliness (“Just sinners saved by grace, so I’ll just keep on sinning) but are denying its power.

    Just as the Law leads the unsaved person to come to know his need of Christ, a Savior, so the Law in the life of a believer leads him to come to know his need of living bread and living water. We cannot in any way “learn to love” by looking at the Law and trying to fulfill its demands. Of course all that trying and striving teaches us a good experiential lesson – that we don’t have what it takes in and of our human selves.

    So then, when the believer has finally learned his lesson of the Law to a large degree, when he has finally found his total inability and weakness, that’s when Christ in him really begins to kick in to high gear.

    The main problem in the believer’s life is the false idea of being separate from God and able to perform good and avoid evil. The idea that I as a believer can do good “with God’s help” is just another facet of this satanic construct. The truth is apart from Christ none of us can do a thing for God or for anyone else. We can all mouth those words fairly easily without really knowing it deep down, but it often takes a radical shaking of the believer’s paradigm before we really begin to accept our “cupness.” In reality, there is no power to do good, as God sees good, except that Christ within the believer rises up and generates holiness – love for God and others. And that rising up of Christ within us is prompted when we hold Him to His promises.

    The believer with a separated consciousness cannot rise above himself, even with “God’s help.” What we need is a radical reprogramming which begins to bring us into a unity with God in every area of our lives (for we can trust God in one area, say finances, and not another, say our children). We need to come to seeing ourselves as in union with and in unity with God. That begins at a fundamental level: “What good am I capable of? And if I am not capable of any, why I am I striving and trying and exerting so much effort to be ‘good’?

    This recognition of our total weakness is foundational. We can give it lip service, but we will not experience the abundant, overflowing rivers of living water coming out of our inmost being until we finally recognize who we are (cups, need, branches) and who God is (Wine, Supply, Vine). Any wrangling about with independent self-effort, as if it can do anything but point us in sin’s direction, causes the Romans 7 false self experience.

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Wes, Tony (other Tony),

    The freedom that God has for us is almost too overwhelming in its completeness. Rather than trying to keep the letter of the Law, the Holy Spirit rises in us to keep the spirit of it – Himself. This process happens by faith, something we’ll talk about in the last two installments of this series.

  5. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony H,

    Another point:

    Imagine me being a hungry dinner guest in someone’s home, and they lay a great feast out before me. Before dinner starts I keep talking about what a wonderful spread it is, and how desperately hungry I am, and how thankful I am for it, and man am I STARVING! Then, as grace is said and everyone starts eating, I keep talking about how I need a good meal and man I am so hungry. After awhile I start to nibble on little bits of this or that, continuing my monologue on being so hungry and needing a good meal. While everyone else is having dessert, I’m still nibbling and letting everyone know that I still need a good meal, and man am I so starving.

    It would be rude to the host and to the other guests as well.

    I look at it like this: I’m a cup. I am no longer in need of a good Wine. I have it. I’m the lack, God is the Supply. Will I sin if I don’t faithe? Heck yes. The devil will tie me up in knots and I will be totally self serving; it happens. But as I go along in this life-long earthly Dinner I find that any other food begins to taste like – well, like lies in the heart.

    But the point is – we have the feast. We have the supply of righteousness that will fill us here and now if we will eat His flesh and drink His blood. We don’t have to cry “LEPER, LEPER” or “SINNER, SINNER,” or “STARVING, STARVING” everywhere we go, because He has healed us, washed us, fed us.

    The whole idea is to get off of a “need” consciousness to a “have” consciousness. The old man is a have-not. The new man has his need supplied once for all time. In Christ I have everything I need for life and godliness. Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

    The written Law, external to the heart and mind, is just a shadow-picture of the reality of the engrafted Word, Jesus Christ. Believers have, here and now, the living Law implanted in our deepest being. He is our river of living water, and is meant to gush forth from our lives to love God and others. The wrong Tree in our minds keeps our minds centered on what we think is our “self” – centered on trying to be good and avoid evil. Jesus Christ wants our eyes off that Tree and on to Him.

  6. Stacy Grubb

    Tony,

    I know you are familiar with a 3 part series that Ron posted several months ago entitled “Driving Out the Canaanites.” Up until I read those posts, I wasn’t grasping exactly how I was supoosed to go about “living in Romans 8” and lay off of my own self efforts. At that time, my eyes were only recently opened to the fact that I’d been starving and nibbling on the feast before me, to use Ron’s analogy. I learned something very valuable through those posts, which was the particular snare of unbelief that had me in its grasp the tightest. I realized that, most of all, I was ruled by fear and the fear led me to scratch and claw in an attempt to feel in control. I can write an autobiography right here and now that starts on that day and takes us to present day, but I’ll spare everybody the gory details and spare myself from reliving some not so fun moments. To sum it up, though, for the first time in my life, I invited God to work His will in my life. Drama ensued. Why? Because I was living so far outside of His will. I finally threw the doors wide open to Him and He had a lot of demolition to do. I’ve cried, begged, pleaded, prayed, and grown more in the last handful of months than I had in the 10 years prior. That’s because the majority of those years were spent as me “trying to be good,” and relying on God’s “help.” I knew just enough about my Salvation to make me miserable. I had a hopeless, guilty conscience and lived a life of sin, repent, repeat. All of that had to be busted up and blown to smitherines. That’s something God did, of course. All my years of self effort got me nothing but sick and tired. I wanted to learn to be better. Intellectually, I did know how to be better: Do this, Don’t do that. But the real, true desire to fulfill the demands were centered in me wrongly, so knowing didn’t matter. Thank God for the crash and burn of that mindset. I’ve realized that no amount of learning the laws and rules will teach me to actually work them into my life. I can’t be taught how to love – really and truly love as God intends for us to love. Agape. I can’t learn that. I might think I feel that, but often times, when push comes to shove, our true colors will reveal something different. But while I can’t be “taught” Agape love, I can know that Love lives in me and, not only can achieve, but will achieve what I never could if I will make the choice to let Him.

    One thing I only recently understood was that Jesus, as a man, was no less vulnerable to temptation as I am. Why, then, did He live a sinless life and I have not? His faith in the Father is the answer. Jesus is our standard. If it was impossible to be like Him, why would it be God’s desire that we be like Him? I can jump off of my roof and flap my arms all day long, but I’m never going to fly. That’s the frustration of self effort, adhering to the law. We just keep jumping and flapping only to hit the ground. Our efforts won’t even slow down the fall. It is only by a leap of faith that we can achieve the freedom we were promised. The result of that is an organic adhering to the Law, not because of something we’re doing, but because of what God is doing through us. Our own efforts have us adhering in a sin-conscious way. When we faithe, we adhere in a Christ-conscious way, often times not even realizing that we’re, in fact, upholding the Law. We are living Christ-like by desire fueled on faith.

    Stacy

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    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy, right on. We end up keeping the Law of love many times not even realizing we’re doing it – “Lord, when did we visit you in prison or on your sickbed?” All we’re doing is living life and trusting the One who is Life.

  8. Tony Heringer

    “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly. I’m a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” – John Newton (heard this at our officers retreat this week-end. It fits our theme!)

    Ron,

    The whole of Newton’s great hymn “Amazing Grace” encapsulates where we are heading in this life in Christ (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/newton/olneyhymns.h1_41.html a hymn based on 1 Ch 17:16,17). Like John the Baptist, the Christian must decrease and Christ must increase. I think a fully mature believer thinks nothing of himself or herself but wholly of Christ. This side of eternity, we will always be striving to hit that mark (“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48) and never get there because there is much to it – and that’s a good thing. Our life in Christ is always frontier always horizon. It truly is a great adventure and not for the timid (as Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7)

    Therefore, if I hunger and thirst for righteousness, Christ will fill me up every time. Problem is, as someone once said, “Christians leak.”

    So, we constantly have to be filled with the Spirit. I noted in a prior post my pastor’s simple teaching on this subject, but it is critical. This filling happens as the Spirit exposes us to God’s Word and God’s people. Those two elements propel a follower of Christ forward in her journey with Him. She is able to stand against the devils schemes because of the Spirit in her – nothing else will protect her. So, if she doesn’t learn this lesson, life will be painful – in fact more painful, at least temporally, than being without Christ. A fact, the Psalmist laments in Psalm 73. The ease at which the wicked live can seem that way to some until, like the Psalmist, we understand the fate of the wicked.

    We start this process by knowing that we are dead to sin and united with Christ in newness of life (Romans 6:8-10). Then we consider the implications of this truth (Romans 6:11) and then present ourselves to God for His service (Romans 6:13). The Spirit leads those who are submitting to His will. In doing so He enables the submitted heart to do mighty things for God’s glory. But it is by His power and might that those things are done. We are fully dependant on Him.

    Which brings us back to the Law, here’s a quote from Michael D. Williams great book “As Far As The Curse Is Found” (p. 241):

    “God’s one covenant story holds together in His Son; and the entire drama must be understood in His light. Thus the covenant is newly shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus. And Jesus is the true glory of the old covenant as well as the new. God’s covenant revelation in Moses looked toward Christ; and now that Christ has come, the entire covenant story is redefined in terms of Him. Jesus Christ is the “new” in new covenant.”

    When I referred to Galatians 3:23-25 I had in view Christ as the target of the Law – as Paul noted. The lessons used by this apt tutor are the lessons of love: love of God and love of man. The Jews noted this because that is what they were taught and they were taught that because God is unchanging or to use the fancy theological word immutable. He always relates to His people via love. God is love (1 John 4:16) – agape, all-consuming love as we noted in our prior post.

    You noted in that post a clever use of agape for us, before we are in Christ. Without Christ we are consumed by sin – caught the tail end of Return of The King Last night where Gollum and Frodo fight over the ring. That’s a good picture of this sort of agape. Or Terrell Owens quote: “I love me some me.” 🙂

    You said “The truth is apart from Christ none of us can do a thing for God or for anyone else.” Amen. The power for us is the Spirit. He is the Law within us and He is showing us how to exercise this love.

    There is loads more we could say, but those are the points that jumped out to me. Good discussion my friend. Look forward to Part VI of 2.

    Stacy

    Thanks for sharing your journey. It is most helpful. I loved this line: “I realized that, most of all, I was ruled by fear and the fear led me to scratch and claw in an attempt to feel in control.”

    That makes me think of Newton’s great line “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.”

    None of us mature all at once – physically, emotionally and especially spiritually, because it is a growth process – to go back to the beginning of the series here. That growth, will eventually produce fruit. I think for all of us, it takes longer than we want and think it should take, but in this process of sanctification, we are on God’s clock, not ours. He knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us. The Spirit, who abides in us, is patient not willing that any perish, but that all come to everlasting life. We are commanded to submit to God, to our spouse in marriage, to each other, but it is our volition or decision to submit that makes the difference. Only in Christ can we truly get out of God’s way and let Him do His work.

    But even then, I will act like little child (“No me do it Daddy!”) or a stubborn person who will not seek medical attention, the longer I wait, the harder and most time the more painful it gets. That is the old nature we are free from, but still living with. Jesus freed us from the penalty of sin, not its consequences – i.e. we live in a fallen world and are bodies still carry around the marks of that sin; we will carry them to the grave or until Jesus returns.

    As for Jesus, yes, He is fully human. Therefore He was subjected to all the things you and I are subjected to as men and women. But He was like Adam before the Fall and more so because He was also fully God. Truly God with us. So, that only Jesus had the power to overcome sin which is why only when I’m 100% fully dependent on Jesus am I able to over sin. That is where the Law is oh so helpful. I can walk through the 10 commandments and see the gaps in where I am and where I want to be. I then can present myself to God and He fills those gaps.

    Like I said to Ron, there is a whole lot that can be discussed here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I look forward to hearing your new CD when its available.

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