Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Covenant vs. Old Covenant

First, you should know that even as the Old Covenant (OC) was being rolled out in the Law, the New Covenant (NC) was already being prophesied. As early as Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6, Moses was writing about a “circumcision of the heart”, leading to Paul’s similar language in Romans 2:25-29. 

Occasionally, God was more direct through the prophets. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read about a promised “new covenant”—where God says: “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it...” and makes reference to not having to depend on human teachers. Looking back, at least from a post-Pentecost perspective, the clear implication is that the NC would involve the Holy Spirit in us, informing and empowering believers from within.

The tightest reference is Ezekiel 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (See also: Ez 11:17-19.)

The Holy Spirit is described as awesome by Jesus—in fact, better than having Jesus on Earth for a number of reasons. (See: in particular, Jn 14:16-17, 14:26-27, 16:7,13.) The new regime was enacted at Pentecost—to kick off “the last days” of the Holy-Spirit-empowered Church Age (Acts 2). And particularly through the writings of Paul, the importance of the Holy Spirit is emphasized repeatedly. In a word, the NC is to be the life-changing, Earth-shaking, post-Pentecost norm (a la Watchman Nee’s Normal Christian Life). Moreover, as per Andy Stanley's book Irresistible, the OC is not your covenant.

I was so fortunate to have had Dwight Edwards as my pastor at Grace Bible Church during my grad school days at Texas A&M. He was a terrific expository Bible teacher/preacher who often focused on the OC/NC and the Spirit-filled-life, while conveying a love for the Old Testament. (He spent an academic year teaching through Joshua and taught other excellent series on Habakkuk and Haggai.)

In my mind, Dwight had the ideal combo. But the rarity of this is at the heart of what worries Stanley in Irresistible. Without an understanding of the OC and the NC, the OT can easily lead to all sorts of confusion and trouble. In fact, these concerns are inevitable if the role of the Holy Spirit is misunderstood or underestimated. Without the Holy Spirit, the NC is tepid or weird—and the temptation to replace it with the OC will be great.

To illustrate the role of the Spirit vs. the Law, I’ve often borrowed an analogy from Dwight on athletics and coaching: Imagine that Roger Federer is as good of a coach and teacher as he is a player. If I had 20 lessons from Roger, I would be a much better player. If I practiced, I would be an even better player. But I still wouldn’t be able to compete in a tournament. Imagine instead that I had Roger playing tennis within me—and if I practiced with Roger playing within me—then I could be a threat to win. The Law is the instructor—and that’s fine as far as it goes. But having the Spirit living out the “saving life of Christ” from within me is so much better. 

For more on this topic, I would highly recommend Andrew Murray’s excellent book, The Two Covenants—a terrific small-group resource for those who want to understand this topic. On the Spirit-filled life, I'd recommend the Nee book above and Ian Thomas' The Saving Life of Christ


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