In the previous blog, I introduced the new book I invested a significant portion of 2017 writing, New Covenant Life.
The book will be available digitally later this month. My last blog introduced how the old covenant, which was given by God, failed to produce righteousness. This was not because of some fault of the covenant or the law under which it was given, but due to our sinfulness. The law, while perfectly reflecting the nature of God, was powerless to deal with our nature. Indeed, that was not its purpose; the Father gave us the Law to expose sin for what it is (Romans 3:20).
Man needed a new covenant, one that would deal with our two basic needs as sinners, our bad record, and our bad nature. First, it must deal with the fact we have a bad record due to our having transgressed the law. We have sinned, and that means we have real guilt before God. This covenant must, therefore, provide a way for our record to be expunged and must do so lawfully.
But it is not enough to remove our record; that covenant must also deal with the reality that we are wrong as well: We have a nature that rebels against all that is holy, righteous, and good. It will not suffice to remove our record while leaving us in our wretched state. That covenant must also provide for the creation of a new nature; one that loves righteousness and is empowered to obey.
God announced the New Covenant to Israel through the Prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34), the New Covenant promises to do both. The first thing we must give attention to is the statement that this new covenant would not be “like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord” (31:32). As we saw in our previous blog, that covenant which God had formerly made with Israel was a conditional covenant; certain promises were made which were dependent on keeping certain conditions (see Leviticus 18:5).
But the New Covenant is different from the old in the fact that it is an unconditional covenant. It is based on God promising to do certain things for his people. And when we go to look at the conditions that must be fulfilled we see that there aren’t any. In fact, the conditions of the old are now the promises of the new! In other words, what God promises to do for his people is not based on their fulfilling certain conditions, but upon God’s faithfulness to perform what he has promised.
In the Galatian letter, the apostle Paul teaches how the new covenant, featured in the promise made to Abraham, predates the old covenant:
“This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward,
does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God,
so as to make the promise void.
For if the inheritance comes by the law,
it no longer comes by promise;
but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”
When God spoke of a land he would give to Abram and his descendants, Abraham asked for confirmation that he would indeed possess it. It was then that God told Abraham to bring certain animal sacrifices to ratify the covenant. In those days, the custom was to divide the animals in half and lay the pieces against the others, while each of the parties passed between the pieces, reciting the covenantal terms. Abraham prepared the pieces and waited to enter between them. But as the sun set, a deep sleep came upon Abraham and with it a dreadful darkness as God spoke to him, revealing to him that his descendants would suffer in a foreign land for four hundred years. But with it is the promise of the exodus and the inheriting of the land.
But nowhere in the account is there any record that Abraham walked through the pieces. Instead, we read this:
“A smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:17-20).
Did you get that? Abraham never passed through the pieces. The smoking fire pot and flaming torch were tokens of God’s presence indicating that God alone passed through the pieces. Why? Because the covenant was not based on any conditions, Abraham could fulfill. In other words, it was not a conditional covenant but an unconditional covenant which God made with Himself! As the writer of Hebrews said, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you” (Hebrews 6:13).
This is the power of the new covenant that it is based on unconditional promises that God made that cannot be altered and whereby he swore by Himself to fulfill.