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Have you ever been involved in a covenant? Most all of us have at some point in life. If you're married, you entered into a covenant with your spouse. The words “until death do us part” make that covenant an unconditional one that only death can disannul. If you have ever purchased a home with a standard 30-year mortgage, you entered into a covenant with the lender to make regular payments until you paid off the loan. The mortgage covenant is conditional. In the event you fail to make payments on time, the lender has the right to repossess your home.
The Bible is a book defined by its covenants: Old Testament and New Testament. Within the pages of these testaments, scripture identifies several covenants. Some are conditional, others are unconditional. For the most part, they are not covenants between men and women, borrowers and lenders. They are covenants – sacred agreements – between a holy God and sinful men. The purpose of this document is to provide a high-level summary of these biblical covenants.
The first of these is the Adamic covenant. The terms of this covenant between the LORD God and the first couple, Adam and Eve, were rather simple. They could “freely eat” of every tree except one. They would “surely die” if they transgressed that one prohibition (Genesis 2:16-17). The Adamic covenant was conditional in nature, contingent upon Adam and Eve walking in compliance with God's directive. The disobedience of Adam brought into play the “surely die” provision of the covenant. Spiritual death was immediate; physical death came 930 years later (5:5).
The Adamic covenant has a prominent place in the NT revelation. In Romans 5:12-14, scripture says: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” The entire human race was in the loins of Adam when he sinned. Thus the whole human race sinned and died spiritually with Adam.
Paul made reference to the Adamic covenant in 1 Corinthians: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (15:21-22). As he concluded his resurrection argument, he added: “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit: (15:45). Jesus Christ is the last Adam, single-handedly providing the life solution for the spiritual death incurred by the first man Adam and us his co-transgressors.
The second is the Noahic covenant as recorded in Genesis 9:1-17. The post-flood world would bring a dread of man by the animal world (9:2) and the institutionalization of capital punishment (9:5-6). It included God's promise never again to flood the earth (9:11). As a token (sign) of his intent to honor this covenant, God set his bow in the cloud (9:13). The Noahic covenant was both “everlasting” (9:16) and unconditional. It was not contingent upon any future behavior in Noah, his sons or descendants. It was also universal, meaning that all men, whether saved or lost, would be benefactors of God's unconditional covenant. To this day, the rainbow is a reminder of God's faithfulness in honoring the Noahic covenant.
The third is the Abrahamic covenant as revealed in Genesis 12:2-3; 15:1-21. God promised to make of Abram a great nation with innumerable seed, including the Messianic seed, which was Christ (see Acts 13:23; Galatians 3:16, 19; Hebrews 2:16). Abraham “believed in the LORD; and he counted it unto him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Abraham is the model for how God EVER saved a sinner – by faith! Paul wrote: “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Galatians 3:9). If there is any OT covenant that directly impacts the NT believer, it's the Abrahamic covenant, because Christ is the seed of Abraham in whom all believers are justified. Paul explained this in detail in Romans 4:1-25 and Galatians 3:1-29. Every OT saint who has ever been justified (Abel, Noah, Samuel, David, Isaiah, etc.) had the righteousness of God imputed to them by faith. The Law of Moses has never saved and will never save anyone!
The Abrahamic covenant was unconditional in nature. It was not contingent upon the future behavior of Abraham or his descendants. Genesis 15:9-10 describes the manner in which Abraham prepared animal sacrifices to seal the covenant. After Abram had laid them out as God prescribed, a “deep sleep” fell on him (15:12). Then this transpired: “And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (15:17-18). The furnace and lamp were clearly God the Father and God the Son. They made an unconditional blood covenant with each other. The benefactors would be (1) Abram, (2) his seed, and (3) every believing sinner from all the nations of the earth who would follow Abram's example of faith. This covenant was made four-hundred thirty years before God gave his Law to Israel. In terms of NT salvation, the Abrahamic covenant is the model, not the Law.
The fourth is the Mosaic covenant as revealed in the Torah. The Ten Commandments are enumerated in Exodus 20:1-17, written with “the finger of God” on tablets of stone (31:18). In the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the Lord added many ordinances, tabernacle instructions, priesthood and sacrificial requirements, etc. The Mosaic covenant was conditional in nature. If Israel complied with its statutes, they would experience God's blessing. If they forsook the Law, God would withhold his blessing.
The benefits of Law compliance were largely temporal, not spiritual. We know this from several NT statements. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). And again: “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law” (3:21). Law compliance CANNOT justify a sinner. It CANNOT produce a righteousness that God will accept. It CANNOT impart spiritual life to the compliant. But it can bring a better quality of life in temporal terms: “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them” (3:12).
The context of Galatians 3 demands that the “life” the Law cannot give be interpreted as spiritual life and that the “live in them” reference be interpreted as a better quality of life. Otherwise we have Paul contradicting himself in the same context. Paul intertwined life and righteousness (3:21). The source of both is faith in Christ rooted in God's promise to Abraham. The Law CANNOT disannul the Promise: “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (3:17).
What then is the purpose of the Mosaic covenant if not to bring righteousness and impart spiritual life? First, it is a schoolmaster: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (3:24-25). Saved men no longer need a schoolmaster. Secondly, it brings an awareness of sin: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Thirdly, it makes sin exceeding sinful: “Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (7:13). Paul summed it up this way: "Wherefore then serveth the law? It was ADDED because of transgressions, TILL the seed [Jesus of Nazareth] should come to whom the promise was made" (Galatians 3:19). The words "added...till" are the equivalent of a time stamp. The Law was an ad hoc provision, designed by God to lead sinners to Christ, the promised seed of the Abrahamic covenant. Believers who have come under law to Christ are no longer under Mosaic Law in any way, shape or form.
The Law is holy, just and good (7:12). It's purpose is not nullified by the law of faith, but established: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (3:21). When the Mosaic covenant accomplishes its established purpose in a lost man's life, causing him to embrace the promise of life and righteousness by faith in Christ, its work is done in that man's life. Paul painted this contrast: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?” (2 Corinthians 3:6-8).
Paul describes the Mosaic covenant as the letter that killeth, the ministration of death and as fading in glory. Contrariwise, Paul describes the new testament as a life-giving spirit, the ministration of the spirit and more glorious than the old. The words of Jesus are eminently applicable: “No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). There is no mixing possible of the new testament in the blood of Christ and the old testament written in tables of stone, between the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus and the ministration of death. There is zero compatibility between them. The old and new testaments are mutually exclusive although God intended the old to point sinners to the new.
Paul taught that the believer in Christ is “dead to the law.” But that didn't mean the Law had failed in its divine purpose: “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Galatians 2:19). Those two prepositional phrases modifying 'dead'–THROUGH the Law and TO the Law–encapsulate in six little words the whole relationship between the Law and the NT believer. He continued with: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (2:20-21). The believer who has died with and lives in Christ is beyond the reach of the Mosaic covenant. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become DEAD TO THE LAW by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4). Any believer that gets married to Christ by faith and subsequently mixes his faith in Christ Jesus with the Mosaic covenant is guilty of spiritual adultery.
The fifth is the Davidic covenant. Isaiah stated it as follows: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). The covenant is both unconditional and earthly in its scope. Jesus will one day reign as King from Jerusalem. Christ inherited the throne of David legally at birth and ultimately by his triumphant resurrection from the dead. The relevance for the NT believer is that we will one day rule and reign with him. O what grace to think the King of heaven and earth would share his authority with his servants!
New Covenant in Christ's Blood
Our sixth covenant is the New Testament. During the Last Supper, Jesus said: “This cup is [represents] the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20). Paul reiterated this truth: “After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). The blood of Christ secured his role as Mediator: “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15). In addition: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy2:5). In Galatians 3:20, we find this profound gospel truth: “Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.” In other words, the incarnation produced the God-Man, combining into one person a function that usually required two. Moses (party #2) was a mediator between Yahweh (party #1) and Israel (party #3). Jesus the God-Man became the mediator of the new testament by virtue of his own blood, uniting the roles of Yahweh and Moses in himself. When a sinful man (party #2) comes to Christ (party #1), he finds both God and Mediator in one person. Christ is all a sinner needs!
How important is the blood of Christ? Jesus purchased the church of God with his blood (Acts 20:28). The blood was a propitiation Godward for our sins (Romans 3:25). God justifies believing sinners by the blood (5:9). We have redemption and forgiveness through Jesus' blood (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). His blood made peace and reconciliation possible (Colossians 1:20). The blood of Jesus has the power to purge the conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:14). The blood of Jesus affords the believer boldness to enter into the holiest (10:19). The blood cleanses believers from all sin as they walk in the light (1 John 1:7). The blood of Jesus will be an eternal theme of praise for the redeemed in heaven (Revelation 5:9). Hebrews 9:12 sums it up: “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” The ONLY Old Testament covenant that has any working relationship to the New Testament in the blood of Christ is the Abrahamic covenant inasmuch as Christ is the promised Seed.
There are some who think the Law (Mosaic covenant) is still applicable to the NT believer. There are several problems with this doctrine. First, one CANNOT be 'under Law' and 'under Grace' at the same time (Romans 6:14). They are mutually exclusive. Calling it 'covenant + grace' rather than 'law + grace' is an intellectually-dishonest distinction. Secondly, it requires putting new wine in old wine skins; theological disaster! Thirdly, it's a fatal exercise that mixes the ministration of life with the ministration of death. Fourthly, it deludes the practitioners into believing they can compartmentalize the Law. If ANY part of the Mosaic covenant is applicable, then ALL parts are applicable. One CANNOT chose which parts of the Mosaic covenant he wants to embrace. If one thinks the Ten Commandments are still applicable as a means of winning the favor of Yahweh, he should be prepared to arrange for a Levitical priesthood and animal sacrifices. Paul said: "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the WHOLE law" (Galatians 5:3). In doing so, he must remember that all his efforts to comply with the Decalogue will NOT result in spiritual life or righteousness. Fifthly, the idea that observance of the Law is able to generate a single spiritual benefit Godward defies a 3,500-year track record of abject failure. Sixth, it fails to take into account the new testament dynamic whereby the indwelling Spirit writes the Law of God in fleshy tables of the heart and transforms believers into living epistles of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:3). Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it counts the blood of Jesus, the believer's path into the holiest, as inadequate and Christ himself as insufficient.
Dealing with a False Accusation
The next logical topic of discussion is the false charge Satan and his cohorts have leveled against the proponents of NT grace for the last two thousand years. The LIE goes like this. One who believes he or she is no longer 'under Law', but 'under Grace', is lawless by default. This LIE is called antinomianism; that is, one who is 'against' Mosaic Law lives without law. Nothing could be further from the truth. The proponents of grace live under a higher law. Paul identified it as “the LAW of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” that makes the born-again believer “FREE from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Paul continues: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (8:3-4). What the Law CANNOT do is provide freedom from sin! Why? Because the flesh is weak, unable to comply in total with the Law's demands. God's design for the NT believer is fulfillment of the Law IN US by the power of the indwelling Spirit. The Law of the Spirit of life supersedes the Mosaic Law. I heard a little rhyme years ago that goes like this: '"Do this and live that Law commands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. A better word the Gospel brings, it bids me fly and gives me wings!"
The believer in Jesus Christ LOVES God's Law because it is a reflection of his holy character. Grace does NOT give him a license to sin, that grace may abound. He desires to please his heavenly Father by obedience. The born-again believer who operates in Spirit power will find himself complying with the Law of God PLUS bearing the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance–against which there is no Law (Galatians 5:22-23). This is why Paul admonished the Galatians against turning back to the “weak and beggarly [powerless] elements” of the Mosaic Law, which engenders to bondage (4:9). The Law is holy, just and good, but has no power at all to produce fulfillment of the Law. The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, the Law that supersedes the Mosaic, is God's solution for producing IN US the righteousness of God's Law. The man who has experienced the saving grace of God has no problem understanding the doctrine of grace. It is the unregenerate crowd who never seems to 'get it' because they've never experienced it.
The Issue of Guilt
Now a final word regarding guilt. If and when a man takes upon himself Torah compliance as a means of winning God's favor, he is obligated to live in sinless perfection. No man since God gave the Law through Moses, including Moses himself, has ever accomplished that feat. Being 'Under the Law' carries with it serious consequences. Paul wrote: "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become GUILTY before God" (Romans 3:19). James adds: "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is GUILTY of all (James 2:10). The glory of grace through faith in Christ is that Jesus, who DID live a sinlessly perfect life, bore our guilt on the Cross. He offers the guilty sinner who believes in him the forgiveness of sins, imputation of Christ's righteousness and eternal life! God reckons the believer as having done the whole law inasmuch as he is clothed in Christ's righteousness and accepted in the Beloved. This is the glory of the gospel. It is impossible to be 'under Grace' and 'under Law' at the same time. Moreover, a life of sinless Torah compliance, even if possible, CANNOT get a man to heaven. He would still lack God's righteousness and eternal life, which are ONLY obtainable through faith in Christ Jesus, the promised Seed of the Abrahamic covenant.
A document of this length cannot possibly deal with all aspects of covenant. But it is my prayer that it has been sufficiently informative to provide a healthy perspective on God's dealings with men. As we have seen, there are many covenants with unique applicability. Some are conditional, like the Adamic and Mosaic covenants. Others are unconditional and eternal – the Noahic, Abrahamic and Davidic. The New Covenant in the blood of Christ is also unconditional and eternal. The one condition upon which it rests is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is able to save to the uttermost those who come unto God by him (Hebrews 7:25). Once a man is in Christ and Christ is in the man, the new covenant in his blood is irrevocable!