The dictionary defines a covenant as: an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.
The Bible records the journey of mankind from perfection at creation, to falling into sin, then to being redeemed back unto perfection through a series of covenants. These covenants made between God and man, define the way God interacts with man at any given time.
While there are several covenants, I will focus here on the three most well known. The Covenant of Abraham, the Covenant of Moses and the New Covenant. Let’s look at a quick summary of these covenants.
1- The Covenant of Abraham
This is a covenant of faith. Abraham believed God and so God treated him as righteous (without sin) and blessed Abraham without any further conditions. This is why when we read about the life of Abraham (Gen 11:26-Gen 25:11), we see him doing many sinful things but still being protected and blessed by God.
2- The Covenant of Moses
This is a covenant of performance between God and the nation of Israel. The people had got so far from God that they needed a list of laws to show them the way. The law of Moses (about 613 regulations), were to be obeyed and followed. If the law was obeyed there would be blessings on the people and if the laws were not obeyed, there would be curses on the people (Deuteronomy 28).
3- The New Covenant
This is again a covenant of faith. God made a covenant with Jesus to save all that believed in Jesus. Those that believe in Jesus become one with Him (Him in us and us in Him) and inherit the salvation that comes through the New Covenant. Through Jesus we are in fact inheriting all the promises of blessing made to Abraham.
From the summaries above we see that there are two main types of covenant, a covenant of faith or a covenant of performance (works). One relies on God and the other relies on our own good works. The Bible calls the covenant of faith the New Covenant and the covenant of performance/works the Old Covenant. It is also clear that we can’t mix these two types of covenant:
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.”
The Old and New Covenant are incompatible with each other. You can’t be made right with God both by keeping a set of laws and by believing in Jesus, it’s either one or the other. The truth is that we could never be made right by keeping a set of laws in our own strength. Israel tried for over a thousand years and failed.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”
Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf, we now get all the blessings without any of the curses (He became a curse for us).
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.
So what happens when Christians don’t understand that they are under a New Covenant? What happens when they approach God not in the boldness of being made righteous through Jesus but in their own performance and good works?
This is what happens:
- They become beggars and don’t act like sons/daughters of God because they are always failing in keeping the law, they don’t feel worthy.
- They feel that when bad things happen to them that God is punishing them as He did to Israel when they disobeyed under the Old Covenant. They don’t understand that under the New Covenant God punished Jesus and so He only has blessings and good gifts for us.
- They are offended at God because they try hard to please Him but don’t see any of the good things they read about in the New Testament. They don’t understand that by putting themselves under the Old Covenant, they nullify the promises of God that are ours through faith in Jesus.
Which covenant are you living under? I strongly suggest you choose the New Covenant and not the Old one!
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.