2 Corinthians 3:4-6. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant…
For us as Christians the New Covenant is a pretty big deal. Because Paul has been writing about our union with Christ, he has been writing about the blessings of the New Covenant in all of his letters so far. But here in 2 Corinthians is one of the first time we hear it called “the New Covenant” by name (the term was used by the Prophet Jeremiah and by Jesus before Paul used it).
So what is the New Covenant? Before we answer this, let’s answer the question: What is a covenant?
God is a covenant making God. Throughout history he has made covenants with mankind. A covenant is an agreement between two parties that they will live by promises that they have made to one another (like a marriage). In the Bible, covenant is the primary way God relates to his people. God’s covenants with his people ARE the story of redemption, they are his plan to save the world. There are several covenants, but only ONE plan of redemption.
What covenants did God make with mankind?
After the Flood, God made a covenant with Noah, and with the earth itself, promising that he would preserve creation and restore it someday. Then, God made a covenant with Abraham and his family that they would be used to save the world and reverse the effects of sin and death, as they thrived in a land of promise. Next, God made a covenant with Moses and the nation of Israel, often called the “Old Covenant.” It more specifically outlined how God would use Abraham’s family to save the world, end sin and death, and draw the world to himself in the promised land. The Old Covenant made it clear to the nation of Israel that there were blessings for obedience but also curses for disobedience, including death. The last covenant in the Old Testament was a covenant with King David. God promised that King David’s son will rule forever and restore justice through a kingdom in the promised land. This son of David will be God’s Messiah (hero) who will save the world.
Why did we need a New Covenant?
The covenants above were both unconditional and conditional (except the one with Noah was only unconditional). Unconditionally, God in his grace would make them happen. Conditionally, they were each dependent on the people being obedient and doing what God said. Which of course, none of them did. This is why God sent Jesus to fulfill each of these covenants. In Jesus Christ, the God-man, both sides of each covenant are faithfully fulfilled by God – he does the God part and the human part.
What is the Good News of the New Covenant?
Jesus fully obeyed the Old Covenant’s laws, and then also took the curse that comes with disobeying those laws – the curse of death and separation from God. A covenant can only be ended by the death of one the covenant members. In his death on the cross, Jesus made the Old Covenant obsolete. “It is finished,” he cried!
It was in his resurrection that Jesus could inaugurate the New Covenant. You see, just fulfilling and ending the Old Covenant does not deal with our ongoing sin problem. Our sins must be forgiven AND our hearts must be changed. Jesus’ death and resurrection, and our union with Christ that follows from the Spirit, will solve this biggest of problems, forever.
Hebrews 8:10-12. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
The New Covenant is God’s agreement with Israel through Christ to take away their sins and change their heart’s desires. But it is not only Israel that benefits. Every nation on earth can be brought into the blessing of Israel, the blessing of Abraham, the blessing of King David, by the mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus Christ. By joining his life to ours he brings us into each covenant unconditionally and offers us a real solution to sin. He offers us a regenerate heart, reconciliation with God, and complete righteousness. He offers us a unified humanity – every tribe and nation unified in Christ.
“To live is Christ” is to live IN and AS the New Covenant. The indwelling life of Christ is the blessing of the New Covenant right now, and the guarantee of the New Covenant’s ultimate fulfillment someday. Because of our union with Christ we have the full assurance of no condemnation and every sin forgiven forever. We also share the heart of Christ; a new heart bent towards God ready to be his instrument of righteousness.
Have you experienced the joy of forgiveness of sins and the joy of the new heart? How would you explain the New Covenant to someone? How does our union with Christ satisfy all of God’s promises to mankind and complete his redemption plan?