Covenant and Law

Reading

The staff team at Warnbro Community Church has been working through a great book entitled… How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. (https://www.koorong.com/search/product/how-to-read-the-bible-for-all-its/9780310517825.jhtml)

This week we are working through the section that speaks to how we read and apply the message of the Old Testament law as people included in the covenant of Christ.

Relation to the Law

Our relationship to the law as followers of Christ has been difficult for many over the centuries and I thought it would be a worthwhile effort to share with you my notes on the subject.

What follows are two parts on one idea. Please read both so that you get the whole idea.

Happy reading…. Ryan Laden

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What is the proper relationship between the Christian and the law of Moses?

>>The source of this conflict is a misunderstanding of the true nature of both the law of Moses and of the New Covenant.

The law of Moses was given for one purpose, to shape and mold the people of Israel into a Holy nation and a kingdom of priests who were to be the face of God to all of creation.[1] Through the obedience of God’s people to these laws, God’s love and grace were to be seen and recognized by all nations.[2] God’s covenant was made with the people before the law was given and before the law was upheld or broken by the people.[3] God’s relationship with the people was purely of his own choosing and was rooted in grace and mercy.[4]

>>The law was never intended to be a ladder by which people could climb up to God.

The law was to be the sign of God’s covenant relationship between Yahweh and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.[5] However, this covenant was not exclusive to the ethnic descendants of the Israelites. God’s covenant was open to any and all who sought to know God. Anyone willing to enter into this covenant relationship was welcomed by God and was to join with the Israelites in living according to the plan of God.[6]

>>God’s goal was never to limit his salvation and provide obstacles between himself and his creation.

In fact from the initial giving of the law forward the intention was to one day move the focus of the law from being an outward system of rules to an internal desire that was located within the mind and heart of the child of God. This was clearly expressed by the prophet Jeremiah:

“‘The time is coming,’” declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. ‘This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’
This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the LORD Almighty is his name:” Jeremiah 31:31-35

>>God expanded his history of covenant relationship with his people by creating a final covenant.

This was not a novel or new covenant in that it was essentially an internalization of the previous. The previous covenants and their corresponding signs[7] were to be written on the hearts of those who were called by his name. The focus of the new covenant was that each believer should have a personal knowledge of God. This was not unlike the foci of the previous relationships God initiated with man but this offer of relationship was coupled with final forgiveness of sin and a complete internalization of the law of God.

However, having the law become a part of one’s internal belief system and having one’s violations of this law forgiven by God does not negate or erase the law. The law functioned to show that people needed forgiveness and that they were completely dependent upon God to provide a solution to their failure to uphold the law.[8]

>>This new covenant was ushered into existence in and through the person and actions of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.[9]

In the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the final covenant between God and man was established and sealed.[10] So the believer in Jesus Christ has been freed from the external law by the forgiveness of God and by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is this righteousness to which Paul refers in his letter to the Romans:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:21-24

>>The new covenant promised in Jeremiah 33 was accomplished through Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ has fulfilled every point of the law.[11] He has attained his own righteousness before God by upholding the law of God in every way. As a result, Jesus Christ has earned his own salvation, something that no man has ever done before nor will any man be able to do in the future.[12] The righteousness of Jesus Christ came through his own perfection and his perfect sacrifice for all sin, therefore this right relationship with the Father became the means by which God fulfilled his promise of forgiveness in the new covenant.[13] For this reason Paul stated:

“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Romans 3:28-31

All who faithfully call upon the name of Jesus Christ, regardless of ethnic connection to the people of Israel, were included in the righteousness of Jesus Christ and therefore have received the perfection of Jesus Christ.[14] As such, the law was neither abrogated nor nullified but rather was made eternal through Jesus’ fulfillment of the law.[15]

>>In Christ the law will never end or fall away.

The Christian has a higher view of the law than those under the Mosaic law because the end result of the law was proclaimed in Christ. In the law, the principles and truths that the Father wanted his people to know and possess were made complete in the completed work of atonement accomplished by the Christ.[16]

>>The believer in Jesus Christ was freed from the external demands and the penalties of the law of Moses.

This freedom was given to those who have received the gift of God’s grace and the new nature that belonged to Jesus Christ.[17] The Christian’s freedom was given only as the law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So the Christian was set free to live for Christ, seeking to become the imitation or image of Jesus Christ.[18]

Three Views of the Covenant

>>It would help the Christian tremendously if the covenants of God were seen as they were intended.

Most tend to look at the law of God and the covenants between God and man in ways that distort the power and meaning of these covenants.

Freestanding

Typically these covenants are understood as being episodes or as free standing events that simply occur. Each event is seen as an independent and free standing act of God, not necessarily connected to any other act of God. This view fails to see the context and background that connects the new covenant in Jesus Christ to all previous covenants.

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Replacement

>>The second view of the covenants assumes that each covenant replaces the previous.

This view assumes that the previous covenant was in some way flawed or corrupt and in need of being fixed. While the covenants are limited in scope and effect they are not mistakes of God. This view mistakenly assumes that the Mosaic law was insufficient and in need of replacement. This view fails to note that without the law there would be no need of repentance. Consequently, if there were no need of repentance then there would be no need for a savior.

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Expansion

>>The third view is the correct view.

Each covenant with God was perfect and right. Each covenant retained its appropriate significance as the following covenants only expanded God’s message and relationship with man. 

In this view the Noahic covenant was expanded and made applicable to the family of Abraham when the Abrahamic covenant was introduced.

The Mosaic covenant likewise nationalized and solidified the Abrahamic.

The New Covenant took all these covenants and provided fulfillment and inclusion of all people who confess the name of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.

The Christian needs to know that his or her faith is built on the solid foundation of God’s covenant relationship with mankind. That this backbone has not changed but has been fulfilled in Christ.

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Footnotes / References

[1] Exodus 19:1-9Deut. 7:61 Peter 2:9
[2] Deut. 4:5-14
[3] God made a covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:189:9) and later with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17). God made his covenant relationship known to the Israelites before the law was ever handed down (Exodus 19).
[4] Deut. 9:6
[5] Deut. 4:9-14
[6] Lev. 19:34 “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.” See also, Isaiah 49:6
[7] All covenants came with an outward sign by which both parties could memorialize the agreement. For Noah it was the rainbow, for Abraham it was circumcision, for Moses it was the law. Each expansion of the covenant absorbed the signs of the previous covenants.
[8] Romans 3:20 “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
[9] Luke 22:20, Jesus refers to the cup of the Lord’s Supper as the sign of the new covenant which is sealed with his blood. The blood of Jesus is the sign of the new covenant. See also, 1 Corinthians 11:25.
[10] Hebrews 9:12-15
[11] Matthew 5:17-18, “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.”
[12] Hebrews 7:27, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” Jesus was not only perfect according to the law but his sacrifice atoned for all sin, therefore Jesus alone has attained righteousness.
[13] Romans 3:25-26, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. . .”
[14] Romans 10:9-13, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
[15] Matthew 5:17-18
[16] Hebrews 1:3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” See also Hebrews 12:1-2
[17] Romans 6:1-14. Paul demonstrated that the follower of Jesus was buried with Christ in his death and given a new life in and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore the Christian no longer lives according to the law but lives according to Christ.
[18] Philippians 2:3-5. Paul compels the follower of Jesus to imitate the attitude and actions of Jesus.

Original material by Ryan Laden, 2017 All rights reserved.