A Divine Plan
From the beginning of creation, God had a plan for humanity. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God was working to bring mankind to a place of full redemption. The fullness of His design was not immediately evident; but over the course of hundreds of years, the beauty and power of the ultimate plan of salvation was revealed through the coming of Jesus Christ.
Covenants of God
The Bible is a book about man’s journey and his relationship with God. Through the various dispensations of time, God has required different things of different generations. It is vital to understand the system and principles under which God is dealing with mankind today. The foundational systems from which God deals with mankind are referred to in the scripture as “covenants.” The scriptural covenants from God were much more than a mutual agreement between God and man. A covenant signified more accurately God’s promises and counsel by which He conveyed His favor and blessings to man.
The First Covenant
The first of two covenant systems was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. “And the LORD said unto Moses…. I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel…. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Exodus 34:27-28). The covenant was composed of all the statutes and judgments which were given to Moses (Deuteronomy 5:1-3). This covenant, also referred to as the “law of Moses” (Malachi 4:4), was made specifically to the Jews and neither the law nor its benefits were given to all people (Romans 2:14).
The law of Moses contained guidelines pertaining to all manner of civil, moral, and ceremonial precepts. The Jews were told how to worship God and instructed to offer various sacrifices for their ongoing sins and transgressions. This covenant was given in preparation for the second and final covenant that was given through Jesus Christ. The law was a “shadow of good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1-4), but it was not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sin. There was only temporary atonement for committed sin. The people had fleshly, ceremonial worship to God, but their hearts were not purified by the works of the law nor by the sacrifices which they offered. The law was weak through the flesh (Romans 8:3) and made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19).
While imperfect, the first covenant was given to mankind for a reason—to prepare mankind for the perfect offering of Jesus Christ which reconciled man to God. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a school-master” (Galatians 3:24-25). The law brought the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19-20). “Without the law, sin was dead” (Romans 7:7-8). It was the Mosaic law that revealed the sinfulness of mankind and his weakness and inability to overcome that sin through works and deeds of the flesh.
The Second Covenant
God had planned all along to make a better covenant with man. “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). This new covenant was no longer dependent upon rules written on tables of stone. John 1:17 states that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need of a second (Hebrews 8:6-12).
Superiority of the New Covenant
The New Covenant was superior to the old, for mankind was reconciled to God through the death of Christ on the cross. He abolished the law of commandments (Ephesians 2:13-16). He did away with the old covenant law, animal sacrifices, and ceremonial worship. The new covenant was based not in works but in an experience of faith in Jesus. He “redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:12-14). The death and punishment of the law was made void and an avenue of forgiveness and life was made available. Jesus shed His blood “of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). His perfect sacrifice did what the blood of bulls and of goats could not do. His blood purged the conscience from dead works to serve the living God (Hebrews 9:11-16). “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified…. where remission of these [sin] is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:11-18). The New Testament, or New Covenant, of His blood brought freedom from the very power of sin. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin…. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:31-37).
There was not perfection by the Levitical priesthood nor by the law. Jesus Christ is now the great high priest (Hebrews 4:14) of a better testament (Hebrews 7:20-23). As there was a change in the priesthood, so there was of necessity a change in the law also (Hebrews 7:11-13). “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).
Old Covenant Abolished
With the introduction of the covenant of grace, the old covenant was passed away. “In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13). Hebrews 10:9 stated that “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” No longer does sin have dominion over mankind, “For ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
A Higher Standard Under Grace
Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). While people are no longer under the Mosaic law, many of its principles were reintroduced in the new covenant. Under grace, the law was written on our hearts and there is power to live according to that law. Romans 13:8-10 very beautifully demonstrates how the true love of God is actually the fulfilling of the law. Many people rejoice in their freedom under grace, and well they should; but, a relationship with God in grace enables and requires true righteousness. There is a higher standard of living under the new covenant as demonstrated by Christ when He contrasts the law with requirements under grace in Matthew 5.
True righteousness was never attained under the Mosaic law nor was man ever justified by the good works of the law. Man is justified by the faith of Jesus Christ alone (Galatians 2:16). Salvation is of grace through faith and those who still seek for justification by works under the old or new covenant make Christ of no effect and they are fallen from grace (Galatians 5:2-4).
The old covenant to the Jews is passed away with a new and better covenant which is to all people. Under the new covenant through the blood of Jesus, people can not only find forgiveness from sin but also the power to live righteously and godly. The Old Testament is still important as it teaches much about God and sin, but the covenant itself is void. Thank God for the grace and liberty which is in Christ Jesus.