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,
7 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 Jesus. 27 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?