HOW THE NEW COVENANT OPERATES (EXCERPT OF EXCEPT YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SHALL EXCEED…)
From: Except Your Righteousness Shall Exceed… by Robert B. Thompson
Copyright © 1996 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Every Divine covenant from the time of Adam has had precisely the same goal—that people be in the image of God, that is, that they act justly and love mercy. Also, that they walk humbly with God.
The new covenant is no exception. However, the new covenant has been grievously misunderstood.
HOW THE NEW COVENANT OPERATES
Every Divine covenant from the time of Adam has had precisely the same goal—that people be in the image of God, that is, that they act justly and love mercy. Also, that they walk humbly with God.
Two aspects change from covenant to covenant. The demands on the human personality to behave righteously are increased, and the availability of God’s Glory and assistance are increased. The goal, however, never changes for it is the likeness of the unchanging God.
The new covenant has the same goal as the old, but the demands on the human personality have been increased greatly and the availability of God’s Glory and assistance (grace) have been increased greatly.
The Jews, in some instances, have changed the goal of the old covenant from justice, mercy, and faith to blind adherence to the letter of human interpretations of the Law of Moses. They strain out the gnats of minuscule ceremonial observances and swallow camels of unrighteousness. When they do this God does not regard them favorably.
The Christians have changed the goal of the new covenant from justice, mercy, and faith to eternal residence in a mansion in Heaven. They too swallow camels of unrighteousness while proclaiming that their pass out of Hell into Heaven depends on “faith alone.” When they do this God does not regard the Christians favorably either!
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—
“not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
“None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 8:7-12)
Let us examine carefully the above passage for it is the definitive statement concerning what the new covenant is. There are several facts we can consider.
If the first covenant had been successful there would have been no need for the new covenant. Success in any given enterprise can be measured only in terms of the goal of the activity. The goal of the first covenant (as is true of all Divine covenants) was people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves
The goal of all of God’s covenants is righteous behavior—righteous behavior as defined by the words of the covenant.
The first covenant was unsuccessful because God found fault with “them”; not with the covenant but with the people.
“Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not.” Since the first covenant depended on the fallen nature of man to obey the commandments given by the Lord, there had to be a new covenant.
The new covenant can be made only with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. The new covenant, the Christian covenant, cannot be made with a Gentile. Until we are willing to become part of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Israel in the purest sense, we cannot participate in the new covenant. We must become part of the holy olive tree of which Abraham and Sarah were the root.
The new covenant occurs as God writes His laws (the Torah) in our mind and heart. The new covenant is not primarily forgiveness, as it is presented today, but moral change. The writing of God’s laws in our mind and heart results in righteous behavior on our part. The Divine Law is always correctly expressed in behavior, not in knowledge.
It is not enough to know that the Word of God teaches we should behave justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. There is no benefit until we begin to practice upright behavior, delight in showing mercy, and humbly look to the Lord for every detail of life.
It is not enough to know that if any person is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. There is no salvation in knowing this fact. The covenant operates as our old fallen nature is actually crucified with Christ and the resurrection Life of Christ takes its place.
The new covenant will find fulfillment when every member of God’s elect, God’s Israel, needs no further teaching but knows God for himself.
The new covenant includes forgiveness (“For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”) The promise of forgiveness comes at the end of the passage. This is because in God’s mind the goal of the new covenant is not forgiveness but the transformation of people into the righteous moral image of Christ.
When the Apostles preached the Gospel of the Kingdom, as in the Book of Acts, their primary emphasis was on repentance (turning away from sin) and forgiveness of sin, not just forgiveness of sin but repentance and forgiveness of sin. Initial repentance and forgiveness are necessary because there is no way in which the righteous Nature of Christ can be developed in a human being until first he has turned away from his worldly ways and then has been forgiven through the atonement made by the Lord on the cross.
God can wink at our past sins because of the blood atonement. This forgiveness is not to be regarded as complete salvation. It is rather the authorization to begin the program of salvation. If our salvation consisted primarily of forgiveness the Kingdom of God would be a set of beliefs held in the mind. There would be no strength in it. This would be Gnosticism, not the Christian salvation.
The purpose of forgiveness is to make it possible for us to approach God with a clear conscience so that we, through the virtue Christ supplies and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, can begin to be saved.
What do we mean, “begin to be saved?” We mean that salvation is the changing of us from the likeness of the old fallen nature to the likeness of the righteous Christ. Meanwhile the blood of God’s Lamb keeps on covering and forgiving us so we may remain without condemnation.
The error of our day is that of mistaking our forgiveness through the blood of Jesus as being the primary (in some cases the only) aspect of the new covenant. The blood of Jesus is presented continually throughout the world as the Divine alternative to righteous behavior.
It is easy to understand how such an error would completely thwart the Divine purpose in giving a new covenant.
Contemporary thinking is that the new covenant is better, not because it enables people to keep the righteous laws of God but because it no longer demands righteous behavior of us and receives us without the “wedding garment.” The Kingdom of God has been turned into a “come as you are” party.
We are in a time of grave apostasy. But there is hope. The Lord Jesus is inviting us to repentance based on a true understanding of the new covenant.
We will set forth in four aspects the way the new covenant operates. We will start with the goal and work backward.
First is the goal. The goal of the new covenant is to change us into the moral image of Christ (and finally into the outer, physical image with a glorified body) and also to bring us into total, untroubled union with the Father through Jesus. The writing of the Law of God in our mind and heart is the same as Christ being formed in us. Christ is the Word of God, the Law of God, made flesh.
When we are in the complete image of Christ and in union with the Person and will of the Father we shall behave righteously by nature and shall be eligible and competent for all the relationships, privileges, and responsibilities God has planned for us from the beginning of the world.
Second is the means to the goal. There is no way of attaining the goal of the new covenant other than by having Christ formed in us and dwelling in us. The salvation of the Lord cannot possibly proceed from the fallen nature of man. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.
When we are baptized in water our adamic nature is assigned to the cross with Christ. We are born again, meaning Christ is born in us as a firstfruits of the salvation of our entire personality—spirit, soul, and at the Lord’s coming, our body.
Third is the willingness of our fallen nature to lay hold on the grace of God in order that we may obey the commandments given to us by the Lord and His Apostles.
It is this third aspect that well may be the area of greatest theological misunderstanding in our day.
The issue that sometimes is raised is as follows: How are the numerous commandments found in the four Gospels and in the Epistles related to Paul’s teaching of grace?
Let us think about the problem of fornication. Paul warned us that the believer who fornicates will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness,
idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,
envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
Here is the question: Will a Christian who continues to fornicate, making little or no effort to seek the Lord for the strength to stop sinning, inherit the Kingdom of God?
Many contemporary teachers would say yes, even though such an answer denies the written Word of God. We are saved by an unconditional sovereign grace that is unaffected by our behavior, it is maintained, and so it is impossible for Galatians 5:19-21 to apply to us.
If we applied this manner of interpreting the Scriptures to the remainder of the Scriptures we indeed would be in a theological free-for-all!
Other teachers might hedge a little and say, “If the believer turns his life over to Jesus, the Lord will deliver him from the need to fornicate. The believer is powerless to help himself. If he attempts in his own strength to stop fornicating he would be trying to add the filthy works of his own righteousness to the perfect righteousness of Christ.”
When one reads the Book of Galatians it is obvious that neither of these interpretations is in line with the tenor of the entire book.
The solution to this seeming quandary is actually quite simple. We certainly are required to keep all the commandments of the Lord and His Apostles. If we ignore them we will die spiritually. We will destroy our own resurrection to life.
By far, most of the commandments found in the New Testament can be observed by our fallen nature.
- We can stop stealing.
- We can stop gossiping.
- We can stop swearing.
- We can work with our hands so we may be able to assist the needy.
If the Christian does not cease practicing the works of the flesh he will die spiritually. This is the meaning of the following verse interpreted in context:
For the wages of sin [done by a Christian] is death, but the gift of God [for acting righteously] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Now, let us say that because of the type of personality we have (people are not all the same!) we try to stop gossiping and find we are in spiritual bondage to this sin. What are we to do?
We are to come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need. We do not ignore or seek to justify a sinful behavior. We confess it as sin. When we do, God is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Will we get instant deliverance from every sin and bondage we confess? Of course not. We are in a battle against the world, Satan, our bodily lusts, and our self-will and disobedience.
Let us begin to think of our own personality as Canaan. It is filled with the enemies of God. As we look to the Spirit of God He leads us to one city at a time. As we follow the Spirit He shows us how to drive out the enemy found in that city—not in the entire land but in the behavior under consideration.
As many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God. The Spirit leads the sons of God to put to death the deeds of their body that they might inherit eternal life.
For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:13,14)
Please keep in mind that it is our fallen adamic nature that must read the Word and call on God to help us obey the numerous commandments in the Scriptures. The majority of the commandments can be kept by us if we will make up our mind that we are required to obey God if we are to inherit the Kingdom of God. If there is some behavior we are unable to stop practicing, then we have a spiritual bondage and we must seek the Spirit of God for release.
The Scripture commands us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Are we absolutely unable to do this without the power of Divine intervention? The Bible commands us to call for the elders of the church when we are sick. Are we absolutely unable to do this without the power of Divine intervention?
It is true that even in these simple admonitions we will be more successful if we ask the Lord to assist us. In all matters great and small we will be successful if we will call on God for His grace and mercy. God will help us—this is His everlasting promise.
But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (Romans 6:17)
We must obey from the heart the doctrine advanced by Christ and His Apostles. God will enable us to do just that.
But we said that we can only meet God’s standard as Christ is formed in us and dwells in us. Now we are saying that it is the fallen nature that must obey the commandments, that must present its body a living sacrifice on the altar of God.
Absolutely! As we seek to keep the commandments of the Lord, Christ is formed in us. As Christ is formed we are able to obey God from our new righteous nature.
But here is the point! If we do not begin to keep the commandments of the Lord, even though we have to depend to some extent on our own efforts, Christ will not dwell in us.
Notice this fact in the following:
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:23)
If a man loves Jesus he will obey Jesus’ commandments. If he does not keep the words of the Lord, then the Lord will not come to him and make His abode with him. It is just as simple and straightforward as that. Here is the answer to the theological confusion of our day.
Are we saving ourselves by our works? Yes, and no. We are saving ourselves by doing (with the help of Divine grace) that which the Lord has commanded. As we, by cooperating with the Spirit of God, do what God has said, Christ is formed in us. In this manner we enter the new covenant, which is Christ in us the hope of glory.
The new covenant teaches that we are to save ourselves.
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (I Timothy 4:16)
When we, even though we are in our fallen adamic nature, turn to God for help in taking heed to ourselves and to the doctrine of the Apostles, we save ourselves. What does it mean to save ourselves? It means to continue to diminish as to our own nature and to continue to increase as to Christ’s Nature.
This is the true relationship between keeping the Lord’s commandments and the Divine salvation.
To not make an effort to study and observe to do the commandments found in the Scriptures is to neglect our salvation and to expect to face severe chastening at the hands of the Lord.
First is the goal. The goal is to serve God in righteousness.
Second is the means to the Goal. The means to the goal is to be filled with Christ.
Third is the willingness of our fallen nature to lay hold on the grace of God in order that we may obey the commandments given us by the Lord and His Apostles.
The fourth aspect of the manner in which the new covenant operates has to do with the grace of God. Just what is the grace of God? Here is another area of confusion and misunderstanding.
A survey of the way the term grace is used in the New Testament is very revealing when compared with the manner in which it is employed in our day.
Grace is sometimes defined as “unmerited favor.” In popular usage, grace is a synonym for forgiveness. As such it is viewed as an alternative to righteous behavior. “We are saved by grace,” meaning if we will confess Jesus as Savior and Lord we will go to Heaven when we die even though we have failed to live righteously.
Actually in many instances grace is clearly not a synonym of forgiveness but rather of Divine enablement to do God’s will.
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
Certainly not a synonym of forgiveness but of Divine enablement.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (Romans 12:6)
Not a synonym of forgiveness but of enablement.
According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. (I Corinthians 3:10)
Not a synonym of forgiveness.
So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. (II Corinthians 8:6)
The “grace” of giving of our material means.
The new covenant operates in the following manner:
- The goal of perfect righteousness is set before us.
- We attain the goal by having Christ formed and dwelling in us.
- Christ is formed and dwells in us as we strive, with the Lord’s help, to obey the Scriptures.
- The grace of God, including forgiveness and all other Divine blessings, is given to us in Jesus’ name so we can press forward each day into the fullness of Christ.
In the purest sense, Christ Himself is the Grace of God. Christ is the Divine Grace given to us in order that we may work out our own salvation.
Let us examine now how the Apostle Peter sets forth the relationship between the second and third aspects, that is, between having Christ formed and dwelling in us and our striving with the Lord’s help to obey the Scriptures.
And so we have the prophetic word [the Scriptures] confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star [Christ] rises in your hearts; (II Peter 1:19)
The “more sure word of prophecy,” which at the time Peter was writing consisted of the Old Testament and perhaps Paul’s Epistles, is more certain than the voice of God that was heard on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter commands us to take heed to obey the commandments of the Scriptures. This is the third aspect of the four we have mentioned.
As we take heed to the Scriptures the day dawns. That day is the Day of the Lord, the period when the Lord alone is exalted in our personality. The Day of the Lord will begin in the hearts of those who are obeying the Lord, those in whom the Lord alone is exalted.
The “day star” (the morning star) rises in the heart of each believer who keeps the commandments of the Lord. Physically the day star is the planet Venus. This bright planet announces the coming of the new day.
Spiritually the day star, or morning star, is the Lord Jesus.
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16)
As we keep the commandments of the Lord the Day of the Lord dawns in our heart and the King, the Lord Jesus, ascends to the throne. Only then are we eligible and competent to govern the nations of the earth.
“And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—
‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father;
“and I will give him the morning star. (Revelation 2:26-28)
- The goal of every Divine covenant is righteous people who can have fellowship with God and successfully perform all the roles for which man was created.
- The method of attaining God’s goal is to have Christ formed and dwelling in us.
- Christ is formed in us only as we keep God’s commandments.
- Divine grace is given to us so we may keep all of God’s commandments while we yet are overcoming through Christ our fallen adamic nature.
This is the way in which the new covenant operates.
The Scriptures do not present a “sovereign, unconditional grace” that gives the “believer” a pass from Hell to Heaven. The product of this deception is unrighteous people who hope by the sole means of their profession of belief in Christ to have fellowship with the fiery God of Israel, to be members of the Bride of the Lamb, the Body of Christ, and to be living stones in the eternal Temple of God.
In this instance our salvation has become (for those who are acquainted with computer terminology) a sort of virtual reality. It is a dream world, fabricated to appear real. But when the power shuts off we are back in the cold gray light of Monday morning.
So it shall be for the believers who have trusted in a sovereign, unconditional grace that operates only in their mind (and supposedly in God’s mind) and is separate from actual transformation of personality. They will come forth in the day of resurrection to discover that no new creation has been formed in them. Theirs has been a virtual reality, not spiritual reality.
The concept of a sovereign, unconditional grace that operates independently of our behavior is unscriptural. An overgrown justification wipes out the critical need for the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification.
Our common sense tells us that the Christian salvation ought to make us better men and women, that we ought to be growing in God’s image. If this is not taking place, are we actually being saved from death to eternal life? Are we actually experiencing a better covenant?
(“How the New Covenant Operates”, 3075-1)