In the last blog in this series, we focused entirely on the unconditional nature of the New Covenant. While the Old Covenant was a conditional covenant, centered on perfect obedience to the law, the New Covenant has no conditions.
In fact, the conditions of the Old have become the promises of the New! That is, what God had demanded Israel do in order to inherit the promises under the Old, God now promises to carry out Himself under the New.
For example, when describing the conditions upon which Israel would inherit the blessings, God used conditional language: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them”(Leviticus 26:3). Notice the conditional word if in the text. That means that blessing was totally dependent on Israel’s obedience. Reading Leviticus 26:3-13, we can see that Israel failed miserably to keep his precepts and thus inherit the blessings.
This idea of a conditional covenant is the idea we are most familiar with, it being the one the natural man more easily understands. Certain promises are given upon the fulfillment of certain conditions, and if those conditions are kept, the promises are fulfilled. For example, a father may promise a car for his teenager if she fulfills the condition of maintaining a certain grade point. Whether or not she receives the promise is based entirely on the keeping of the conditions.
However, when describing the conditions upon which the New Covenant is based, we discover there aren’t any. Instead, there is a promise of the Spirit being given with the end result being that God now causes our obedience: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:27, italics mine).
This promise that God would now cause them to walk in his statutes and obey his rules is more vividly described in the great promise of the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:33: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Under the Old Covenant, God’s laws were written externally on tablets of stone and were there before the people. But the problem with sinners is they have a rebellious nature and therefore cannot keep what it is written (though what is written is holy, just, and good). There is nothing wrong with the law. Therefore, it is a perfect expression of the nature of God. It is just that we are sinners and cannot keep it. The Law only exposes our sin, which is what it was given to do in the first place (Romans 3:20).
What was needed was for the Law written on stone to now be written “not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (II Corinthians 3:3). And that is what God does every time someone is born again: He puts his law within them and writes it on their hearts. That is why this must happen when a person becomes a Christian. Unless this act of God occurs whereby God writes his law into the fabric of our hearts, we cannot serve Him acceptably.
That’s exactly why the Son of God, in his discussion with the religious leader Nicodemus, stated emphatically “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). The phrase “born again” is a term used by Jesus to describe regeneration, the sovereign act of God whereby he changes the sinner’s nature so that he or she responds to God. According to Jesus, unless this happens, a person cannot even see the kingdom of God. We should pay careful attention to the fact that Jesus did not say, “unless you see the kingdom of God, you cannot be born again.” This is how many think it reads or should read. But that is not what he was saying. Rather, he was saying that unless God first regenerates a man or a woman, they couldn’t even see the kingdom of God.
This reality that the Spirit of God writes God’s law in our hearts at the new birth makes New Testament holiness possible. This is more than outward or external conformity to a certain standard but a changed nature so that we keep the law from a transformed heart. Jesus said that the law dealt with more than mere outward observance but regulated our inward disposition; adultery was more than the physical act but the thought of the heart. The same was true with murder; it began in the heart with uncontrolled anger and hatred and contempt before it burst into taking another life. That’s why the law must be written first in our hearts for, as the Savior taught, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
The New Covenant, therefore, is an act of God whereby he writes his law on the hearts of his people so that they obey him not on the basis of an outward law, but an inward life. This is God’s way that the “righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3). After we are born again, we find ourselves wanting to obey God and please him. Previous to this, our nature was drawn to sin without effort, and it was impossible to obey. But when God writes his laws on our inward parts, we, “who were formerly slaves to sin, have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).