Clarifying New Covenant Confusion

I could spend weeks talking about the differences between the Old Covenant under Moses and the New Covenant we have in Christ. But there’s one significant difference that seems to be misunderstood by a lot of Christians which brings confusion and leads to powerless living and needless bondage.

Basically, a covenant is an agreement between two parties. In the Bible, it’s an agreement between God and his people, in which God makes promises to his people and, usually, requires certain conduct from them. In the Old Testament, God made agreements with Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

Under the Mosaic Covenant, this agreement was between God and Israel. In other words, between God and a nation of people. In Deuteronomy 27-28, we see a litany of blessings and curses related to this particular people-group for obeying or disobeying the covenantal contract. God agrees to do such and such, Israel agrees to obey His commandments (see Exod.19:7-8). They would be blessed by following the rules, cursed if they didn’t follow them. You could say that all the bad things that befell Israel in the Old Testament were because of violations of this agreed-upon contract between them and God.

But my question here is this: if the Old Covenant was between God and Israel, which two parties is the New Covenant between?

If you said, between God and Jesus, you would be right. In fact, the prophets declared that this would be so:

“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house. (Isa.42:6-7 *)

Notice that God promises to give a person as a covenant to the people. And, in doing so, God was making good on His promise, not to Moses, but to Abraham. Paul, addressing this very issue in his letter to the Galatians, says it this way:

16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Gal.3:16-18*)

Paul is trying to get the “foolish” Galatians (and foolish Christians today) to understand that this New Covenant was between God and Christ (with Abraham as proxy) and to stop dragging the Mosaic Law into it. Mixing these two covenants together is probably one of the most confusing and detrimental doctrines for those who want to follow Christ. I talked about this bewitching brew here.

My next question is this: if the New Covenant is between God and Christ, and He fulfilled it with His death, how can we break it?

The only answer possible is that we cannot break it because we’re not one of the parties involved in it. And since Christ already fulfilled it with His death, it stands forever.

This is why Paul could say there is no curse with this covenant. There are no curses relevant to the New Covenant because curses can only come to the party who violates the contract. And Jesus fulfilled it on the Cross (Gal.3:10-13).

This is also why Paul said that these foolish Galatians were following “another gospel” (Gal.1:6-9). Actually, it wasn’t good news at all because all their “mixing of new wine into old wine skins” did was put them under legalism, which is the worst form of religious bondage.

And so it goes with any believer who tries to keep a covenant that’s not theirs to keep. They’ve cursed themselves, so to speak. They’ve put themselves on the hamster wheel of rules and punishments for infractions of those rules, so they never find rest in God (Heb.4:1-16). They have fallen from grace by reading the Old Testament as if Jesus never happened.

So, how do we relate to the New Covenant? I’m glad you asked! We relate to it in Christ. God made this covenant with Christ and has placed you and me in Him (2 Cor.5:14; Gal.2:20; Eph.2:5-6; Col.2:11-15; 3:3). Paul answers this very question at the end of Galatians 3:

26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal.3:26-28*)

So, you and I cannot keep the New Covenant nor can we break it. We can only participate in its blessings by faith. This is because of what God did to us—because were placed in Christ—not because of our good or bad behavior. It’s all God’s grace. This is the good news that brings great joy! This is what it means to live on the right side of the Cross. Have you received this good news?

* New King James Bible Translation. All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 39 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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9 Responses to Clarifying New Covenant Confusion

  1. What I write is slightly off topic but related…

    You just helped me understand another point on why Calvinist believe as they believe. They have put themselves back under the law. Let me explain.

    I recently did a FB teaching on the 4 views of prophecy teachers (historicist, idealist, preterist, futurist). When I explained historicists, I let the people know that it was primarily a reformist view and that John Calvin believed that Israel lost all rights to the Old Covenant promises which were now bestowed upon the Church (replacement theology). Well, this went over like a lead balloon with one individual who, I believe, is a 5 point calvinist. But the facts remain. They have put themselves under Old Covenant law by adopting the view that the Church is the substitution for Israel.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You make a good point, Patrick. We don’t replace Israel because we are not even in the same Mosaic covenant. But what we see in Scripture is how God worked with His people in various ways and seasons, through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and now, through Jesus. And, as Paul said, the only true Israel there has ever been since Abraham are those who live by faith in God.

  2. hawk2017 says:

    Reblogged this on Logos Speaks.

  3. tsalmon says:

    In reading this and in all my recent religious studies, I keep coming back to Mathew 22:40. Am I right in thinking that Jesus’ New Covenant did not abrogate Mosaic Law, but it focused it, it exposed its more fundamental purpose and it gave us a profound new way of interpreting the loving spirit of the Law that preempts the legalistic and Pharisaic letter of the Law?

    • Mel Wild says:

      I think you’re on to something there. Paul said that the purpose of the Law was to bring us to Christ. And Christ brings us to God’s other-centered, self-giving love, because that’s who God is in His very essence. So, all of Scripture can be summed up in loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (because that’s how He loves us!) and love others with that same love. Everything else is subsumed within this one things and it explains the whole point of everything that God does. So, Jesus came in human form to give us the correct view of God and His true nature and to explain the true intent of the Law itself. But this intent comes into direct conflict with whatever is not according to this relational love, which certainly always includes religious legalism.

  4. Cool post, Mel!

    So what is “Old Testament law?” It is actually Jesus! It is the way the Bible says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then we have the promise to Abraham and all his stars in the sky. Then we have the rainbow, God’s covenant and promise to us all. Again Jesus tells us in the Bible, “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.” He is the law that was prophesied, the fulfillment of God’s covenant, the victorious completion of His love story.

    It’s not really a “New” Covenant, it’s actually the same covenant throughout, we just tend to get all caught up in the laws, regulations, details, red tape. When Jesus says, “if you love me, obey my commandments,” I suspect He is speaking of the Greatest Commandment, not specifically the Ten Commandments. Jesus says, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    So He is saying, “if you love me, love others.” And when we actually do love others, we also tend to not murder them, steal their stuff, lie, etc, etc. And the Apostle Paul kind of validates this truth by telling us, “against these things there is no law.”

    That’s how I see it anyway. 🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Good point. It is all Jesus in that sense because everything in the Bible can be reduced to other-centered, self-giving love found in loving God as He loves us and loving others the same way. This is because God IS love.

      My point in this post, though, is that covenants were made between God and people. The New Covenant is between God and Jesus (incarnated Christ), whereas the Mosaic Covenant was between God and the nation of Israel. Israel was obligated to keep its side of the covenantal agreement. Since we’re not a party to the New Covenant, and it’s already fulfilled at the Cross, we cannot keep it or break it, we can only participate in its blessings by faith. As the New Testament writers say, we’re inheritors of an estate, so to speak, that we had nothing to do with. And we are heirs of this “estate” because we were placed in Christ by God, so we receive what Christ receives as inheritors. In that sense, the two covenants are radically and crazy cool different. That’s why it’s the good news that brings great joy! 🙂

  5. Lily Pierce says:

    Really helpful explanation, Mel. I like how you pointed out the two “parties” in both “contracts.” Your posts tend to make me contemplate things I hadn’t thought of before!

  6. Pingback: How do we relate to the Ten Commandments? | In My Father's House

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