1. The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants
When we open the Bible, one of the first things that we notice is that the Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Within the Old and New Testaments, there are covenants, special agreements ratified by sacrifice and sign. There are covenants between individuals such as Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:27). More importantly, there are covenants between God and man.
For example, God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by Flood. He put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant.
Genesis 9:14-15 ESV When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
God made a covenant with Abraham that the childless old man would yet become the father of a multitude of nations, that kings would come from him and that God would give them the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18; 17:1-21).
Besides these covenants, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel:
Exodus 34:27-28 ESV And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
Though Israel would break the covenant, God would not forget His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though He would judge Israel and drive them into other nations, God says in Leviticus 26,
Leviticus 26:42 ESV then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
Leviticus 26:45 ESV But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”
When God makes a covenant with man, it is a gracious act on his part. It is not a negotiated contract whereby we haggle and try to get God to do something that we want. God is God and he does whatever he pleases (Ecclesiastes 8:3; Psalm 115:3). When God makes a covenant, he takes the initiative and promises blessing if we will fulfill the terms of the covenant.
The covenant that God made with Israel would eventually be called the Old Covenant. In speaking of the Jews, Paul says,
2 Corinthians 3:14 NLT …to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.
So the covenant of the Law that God made with Israel is called the Old Covenant. And if the covenant of the Law is the Old Covenant, there must be a New Covenant. There is a New Covenant and that New Covenant was announced under the Old Covenant in the Old Testament, more than 600 years before the coming of Christ. We read in Jeremiah,
Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
So we see the great difference between the Old and New Covenants. God says, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors.” The Old Covenant was the Law. It was external. It was written on tablets of stone. In all, there were 613 rules that they had to follow. Six hundred thirteen! Most people could not tell you what the 10 commandments were, much less the 613 rules of the Old Covenant.
God says that the New Covenant would not be like the Old Covenant. It would not be external. It would not be outside of man. It would not be written stone tablets. Rather, God would write His instructions on our hearts:
Jeremiah 31:33 ESV 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.
So God’s instructions would not be on the outside of man; they would be on the inside. God would write his instructions on the heart.
The prophet Ezekiel describes the newness that comes with the New Covenant:
Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
This new heart and new Spirit is the new birth that Jesus talked about in John 3. Jesus describes it as being born of water and the Spirit. The water represents the cleansing from sin and uncleanness that Ezekiel describes: “I will sprinkle clean water on you… I will cleanse you.”
Ezekiel also tells us that this New Covenant would include a new heart and a new spirit. In fact, God would put His Spirit in us: “I will put my Spirit within you…” This is what it means to be born of the Spirit. This is the new birth, being born of water and the Spirit, being cleansed of sin and made alive unto God. This is the new birth that is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.
That was the promise of a New Covenant that God gave through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as the Israelites were about to be carried off into the Babylonian Captivity because they had broken the Old Covenant that God had made with them. As they had broken the Old Covenant, God promised the New Covenant.
Fast forward more than 600 years to the night before the crucifixion. Jesus and his disciples are gathered together in the upper room to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Then he takes the cup, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).
“This cup is the New Covenant in my blood,” he said.
Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, we celebrate the New Covenant.
The writer of Hebrews gives a remarkable commentary on the Old Covenant comparing it with the New Covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy. In Hebrews 8:6f, we read that Jesus,
Hebrews 8:6-13 NLT …mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. 7 If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. 8 But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 9 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. 10 But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. 12 And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
So the author of Hebrews quotes the lengthy prophecy of Jeremiah about the New Covenant. Then he makes this commentary:
13 When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.
This is a most remarkable commentary. The New Covenant that was enacted by the shed blood of Christ is far superior to the Old Covenant of the Law. Had the Old Covenant been faultless, “there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it” (8:7). The Law was inadequate. The Law cannot change the heart. The Law needed to be replaced.
Hebrews 8:13 ESV In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The Old Covenant of the Law is obsolete. It’s out of date.
Sometimes you go to the grocery store and you see that they have radically dropped the price on something that you have been wanting to buy. Says it’s a box of cereal that normally sells for 2000vt, and you see that it is on sale for 500vt. Well, you grab it up, all excited about the great deal that you just got: a 2000vt box of cereal for 500vt! You can hardly wait for breakfast the next morning. You get out your cereal bowl and pour in the cereal, but what do you find? The cereal is full of bugs! It’s stale! It is inedible! How did that happen?
You search all over the box until you find the expiration date. You look at the calendar. Oh, no! The cereal is past the expiration date. It expired a week ago, a month ago or more! It’s no good!
That’s what the writer to the Hebrews is saying. The Old Covenant of the Law has passed its date of expiration. It is out of date. It is no longer valid. It has been replaced with the New Covenant.
So why are you still clinging to the Law? Why have you bought into the Old Covenant of the Law? Why are you trying to live by the Law? It has passed its expiration date. It was valid for a time but it has been superseded by the New Covenant. Why are you trying to live by the external Law? “Do this, do that.”
That is like trying to use an old mechanical typewriter instead of a computer. Why are you doing that? Why are you using an old worn out mechanical typewriter when there is a brand new powerful computer sitting on your desk? Why are you trying to live by the letter of the Law instead of by the power of the Spirit of God? God has given us the power of the Spirit so that we can live in a way the pleases and glorifies Him.
The Law is finished. It’s over. Get over it.
2. Shadow and Reality
Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow, not the real thing:
Hebrews 10:1 ESV For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.
The Law was only a shadow. Let me illustrate. You and I are walking down the road together one afternoon. We are hungry and would like something to eat. The sun is shining brightly and suddenly on the road in front of us, we notice a shadow. We recognize from its shape that it is the shadow of a papaya tree full of papayas. Let me ask you, “Will that shadow satisfy our hunger? Will we get any nourishment or strength from the shadow?” No, we will not. But the shadow is there because there is a real papaya tree with real papayas that can satisfy our hunger and meet our need.
Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. You have tried to satisfy yourself with the shadow. You have embraced the Law thinking that it is the real deal. It is not. It is only a shadow. It pointed to the reality. It pointed to Christ.
Paul also writes of the Law as a shadow in Colossians 2. He tells us that God forgave all our sins and canceled the legal charges against us by nailing them to the cross (v. 14).
Colossians 2:16-17 NLT So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.
So there are no food laws to follow: “Do not let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink.” The Christian is free to eat whatever he likes. You are free to eat meat. You are free to eat pork or any other meat that you may like. Jesus himself declared that all foods are clean:
Mark 7:14-19 NLT Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” 17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)
The English Standard Version renders Mark’s explanation, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” So all foods are clean. Bon appétit!
Again in Colossians 2, Paul goes on to say that these people are not holding on to Christ, but the danger for you is that if you follow their teaching, they will disqualify you or cause you to lose the prize:
Colossians 2:18 ESV Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [abstaining from certain things, doing without] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,
The Scriptures warn us about people who have visions and try to take authority over our lives and rob us of our freedom in Christ. “Let no one disqualify you… going on in detail about visions…” They tell you to abstain from foods and how you must worship. These rules about what you can eat and when you must worship have nothing to do with the Christian faith. In the next verses, the Apostle Paul tells us that we are free from these rules:
Colossians 2:20-23 NLT You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
The Apostle Paul tells us,
- Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
- Do not let anyone rob you of your salvation by insisting on self-denial and submission to angels. Hold on to Christ.
- Stop living as if you belonged to the world. Man-made rules have an appearance of wisdom, they will do nothing to help you live a life of holiness.
3. Room for Difference of Opinion
All that is very clear. There are matters of consequence, and where the Word of God speaks clearly, we must speak clearly. We must not compromise on issues where God has spoken or we will be found to oppose God. Such matters include the biblical teachings about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the nature of God, the Trinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal existence before coming into the world, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for the whole world, his literal physical resurrection from the dead, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, his intercession for us. To that we could add the fall of man, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the believer producing a life of holiness without which no man shall see God, the primacy of the Church and its mission, the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth. These truths are non-negotiables. You can see that these are weighty matters and on them the Scriptures speak with absolute clarity.
But there are also matters of opinion, areas where there may be different points of view or conviction. For example, in the area of food. We do not have the problem so much today, but in the early church there were both Gentile and Jewish Christians. The Gentile Christians were free to eat foods that some Jewish Christians, because of their upbringing, could not eat without feeling guilty. Can you imagine a church dinner where the Jewish believers would bring their kosher Jewish foods and the Gentiles would bring their non-kosher foods including pork and non-kosher foods of various kinds? The Gentiles could enjoy it all: chicken, salmon, tuna, beef, lamb, venison, and gefilte fish. Sounds good! Sometimes it is good to be a Gentile! But the Jewish believers would have a hard time swallowing bat, catfish, eel, shark, lobster, oyster, scallops, shrimp, snails, horse meat, or pork! Although Jesus declared all foods clean, some Jewish Christians having been brought up in kosher homes might have a troubled conscience if they were to eat non-kosher food.
The Bible addresses this issue in Romans 14:
Romans 14:1-4 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
You know what? Food matters do not matter. So if someone is weak in faith and feels that they cannot eat pork, let him be. Don’t look down on him. And the person who does not eat pork is not to think that he is any better than the one who does.
I’ve been to some stores where they had canned food with labels that told the customer that the ingredients looked like meat, smelled like meat, and tasted like meat, but that you could eat it because it was not really meat! If you are a Christian, you are free to eat it whether or not it is meat!
Food matters do not matter.
What about differences of opinion about the day of worship? This sounds so much more important. Surely we’ve got to get the day right! Not so. We have already seen in Colossians 2:16 that we are not to let others condemn us for not celebrating the Sabbath. The Bible says the same thing here in Romans 14:
Romans 14:5-12 NLT In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose– to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. 10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” 12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.
What does all this mean? It simply means that worshiping God in spirit and truth has nothing to do with the day that you meet for corporate worship. The person who meets with other believers to worship on Sunday must not look down on those who meet on Saturday. And those who meet to worship on Saturday must not condemn those who meet on Sundays.
Why does it not matter? It does not matter because we are not under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is obsolete. We are under the New Covenant.
4. Living with a Corpse
Death is a terrible enemy. And the Bible tells us that it is the last enemy that will be destroyed, being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). But imagine a widow who did not want to admit that her husband had died. Going to the graveside she talks endlessly to the grave, wondering why her husband does not respond. She prepares wonderful meals for him and pleads with him to come home for something to eat. In the evening she says, “Honey won’t you come to bed with me? It’s so cold out here.” As ridiculous as that sounds, many people try to live with a corpse.
We live under the New Covenant, and according to the New Covenant we are dead to the Law. Hear the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:1-4.
Romans 7:1-4 ESV Or do you not know, brothers– for I am speaking to those who know the law– that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
God made a covenant with Israel. It was the Old Covenant of the Law. By the Law, we died to the Law. This is how Paul says it in Galatians 2:19,
Galatians 2:19-21 ESV For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
We died to the Law. We have been released from it. We are no longer under it.
Romans 7:6 NLT But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.
New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg explains,
Rom 7:7–13 clarifies that it was not the Law that was evil or deficient in any way. It was God’s perfect covenant for its era. But to try to continue to follow the Law after its fulfillment has come is like a woman who tries to remain married to her deceased husband after she is widowed. Christians are freed from the law as the covenant to which they are obligated (7:1– 6). Thus, when Paul declares in Rom 10:4 that Christ is the telos (end) of the law “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes,” he means that Christ is both its goal and termination, as nicely captured in the TNIV’s translation “culmination.”
The coming of Christ changed everything.
Romans 10:4 NIV Christ is the [end] culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Are you trusting in the Law? Or are you trusting in Christ? Sabbath keeping will not save you. Abstaining from meat will not save you. Christ alone can save you. Hanging on the cross, he declared, “It is finished!” and the work was done.
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.
See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:
- Sabbath Day Controversies
- The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants
- The King Has Come!
- Law and Sabbath, the Old and the New
- It Happened on a Sunday!
- Are we lawless Christians?