Is that a trick question? I think the vast majority of those who profess Christ today would answer this title question with a resounding “YES, of course we are”. I have an old baptist friend who likes to say “I understand we are not under the Jewish ceremonial law, but we are under the moral law contained within the new testament”. To which I always reply… show me the scripture. He takes me to…
2 Cor 3:6… “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
Paul even reflected Jesus own actions after the manner of the last supper! (Or did he?)
1 Cor 11:25… “After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Paul’s epistles are contained within the “new testament” section of the Bible after all and he calls himself and those with him “able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit”. I’d like to explore this not oft asked question in this post and, as usual, challenge some very common and dearly held beliefs while I’m at it.
Let us look first as to what a testament is and when it actually began in Biblical history. Noah Webster defines a testament as: “1) A solemn authentic instrument in writing, by which a person declares his will as to the disposal of his estate and effects after his death. A testament, to be valid, must be made when the testator is of sound mind, and it must be subscribed, witnessed and published in such a manner as the law prescribes. 2) The name of each division of the canonical books of the sacred scriptures; as the Old Testament and the New Testament. The name is equivalent to covenant, and in our use of it, we apply it to the books which contain the old and new dispensations; that of Moses and that of Jesus Christ.”
Although Webster makes proper note of the existence of Biblical dispensations, in this definition, he fails to note that Jesus, during His earthly ministry “rightly” taught the Law of Moses and thus Webster “wrongly” divides the Word of Truth. When Jesus is asked what must a man do to inherit eternal life, Christ answers:
Mark 10:19… “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.”
Note, He did NOT say (as He said to Paul) “believe that I died for your sins and was raised again for your justification.” Indeed, He was not yet crucified… This is the very letter of the law, or old covenant that Jesus is correctly teaching His disciples.
Be that as it may, Webster does render a proper definition of the word testament and equates it with the word covenant. I am sure we are all in agreement that the Old Testament is the Law of Moses. It is that covenant agreement that God made with His nation Israel. If you keep the Law, then will you be blessed (and vise versa). Very clearly stated:
Exodus 19:4-8… “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, IF ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, THEN ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, ALL that the Lord hath spoken WE WILL DO. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord.”
Boom. Agreement entered into. Old covenant written down (on stone tablets, by Gods own finger). The 39 books of the Old Testament “section” of the Bible, plus Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the first half of Acts all convey the history of Gods first covenant agreement with the nation Israel and their intended relationship to the Gentile nations. They were to be the channel of blessing from God to the Gentile world (Gen 12:1-3).
Let’s examine the question as to WHEN the New Testament/Covenant began. Webster, in his definition of testament, rightly notes that a testament comes into effect AFTER a person has died. If this is true (and of course it is) how is it that the “New Testament” section of the Bible begins with the birth of Jesus Christ? Methinks this is misleading at least, and deceptive at worst on the part of Bible publishers. The book of Hebrews is in agreement with Mr. Webster.
Heb 9:15-17… “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.”
Christ alone is the mediator of the New Testament. As the old or first testament was written in the law (and, continuing in the book of Hebrews, the blood of calves and goats) the new testament is written in the blood of the Lord Himself, Him who fulfilled the law. Christ, as we all know, did not die until the end of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; therefore, the New Testament, written in His blood COULD NOT have begun with His birth, but must have waited till after His death to be “in effect”. The new testament, as the above verse demonstrates, was OF NO STRENGTH while Christ was alive and walking among His people. He rightly taught them to keep the law (the old testament).
Let’s look at WHAT exactly the Bible tells us the new testament actually says. Continuing in the book of Hebrews which reaches back to Jeremiah 31 we find:
Heb 8:6-10… “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith 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 continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:”
We see here several things. First, that the new is “better” than the old, established upon better promises. Second, that the first was NOT faultless; meaning there was fault found within it. WHAT? How could anything that God established be WITH fault? Answer: because the old covenant depended upon mans (Israels) ability to keep the agreement; to follow the law. This new covenant is made BECAUSE Israel failed to continue in the old one (not because God failed). This new one says that God will PUT the law into their mind and WRITE it into their hearts. The prophet Ezekiel, in agreement with Jeremiah, says…
Ezekiel 36:27… “And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.”
Note very carefully that these verses are specifically directed at the nation Israel (the house of Israel, the house of Judah). 1) The old covenant was given specifically to them. 2) They failed to keep their end of the bargain. 3) God made a better one for them. We see this beginning to take place in the early chapters of the book of Acts. The Spirit comes upon them in Acts 2 and works within them till the book turns from the “Acts” of the twelve toward the “Acts” of Paul.
The new covenant says that it will literally and supernaturally ENABLE people to keep Gods law. Show me a person alive today who can do such and I’ll show you a liar. The OT was given to Israel. The NT was given to Israel. Where does that leave today’s believers who are not Israel? Covenantless… (gasp)
What then does Paul mean when he claims that he (and those with him) are ministers of the new testament??? If there is no one alive today that can follow Gods law (the very promise of the new testament); how can anyone say they are “new testament” believers? How can any lay claim to such? It is true that Paul was a Jew and therefore the old belonged to him (see Philippians 3:4-6) but, as we know, God gave him a different message to bring to both Jews and Gentiles (now neither Jew nor Gentile). That message was NOT the new covenant! It was the message of grace without works of any kind. The message that God is no longer (albeit temporarily) recognizing Israels given worldly authority.
Paul says he is such a minister NOT in the letter but in the spirit. Some may exclaim that this is exactly what the new testament promises as it was the Spirit came upon the Jewish believers, but it can’t be. None today can keep Gods perfect law perfectly and such was promised to believing Israel, the little flock. None of us are supernaturally enabled to, as were the believers in early Acts. (Those phony TV preachers are full of more than garbage.)
The spirit of the New Testament as Paul preaches it, is GODS righteousness made available both to us and to Israel (to any one at all) NOT by way of the law, either by our own failed human effort to keep it OR by Gods supernaturally empowering us to keep it, but by way of freely offered (no strings attached, no “moral law” anywhere to be found) grace. Pure grace. Nothing but grace. All we must do is recognize we are in need of such and accept His most gracious gift.
Rom 3:26… “To declare, I say, at this time HIS righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
In this dispensation of grace there are NO covenants to be seen, none to be had. Believers today are in a NON- covenantal relationship with God. By grace through faith alone, trust in what God did on our behalf, do we believers today receive the gift of Christ’s Own righteous nature imputed to our account by way of His death, burial and resurrection. Such realization alone, no externat if/then constraints, should cause us to want to accomplish “good works” as that’s what we are created for. Paul is declaring Gods very righteousness, NOT ours; the righteousness which belongs only to His Son now made personally available to individual believers. Not “put into” a believer physically as the new covenant explains and specifies to and through the nation Israel in order that they serve their intended earthly purpose, but offered as a free gift if we would but take it, that God might use us to serve His heavenly purpose.
1 Corinthians 6:3… “Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?”
Gods righteousness is provided to us today via grace alone and to Israel in ages to come via the graceful new covenant. God has always show grace to His believers. No man has ever been saved without grace. He asks us to do nothing in order to receive it. Contrarily, He asks a great deal of Israel. They are to rule His earthly domain in righteousness as Adam was to have before he gave that dominion over to Lucifer.
John 1:17… “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
Yes indeed! By grace and covenant promises (beginning with Abraham) does He offer Israel (His earthly children) the ABILITY to do the work intended for them; the work they agreed to do but failed as anyone would have; to follow the law and be His example of righteousness to the entire world. By grace does He offer believers today (His heavenly children) heir-ship with Christ in all things completely freely.
Romans 8:16-17… “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
We suffered with Him vicariously upon His cross. We are crucified with Him. We have, by way of Christ, already experienced the wrath of God we so richly deserve. The grace shown by Christ to take that for us is incomprehensible.
Romans 6:6… “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
Galatians 2:20… “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
I live in this sinful body of flesh by His faith and grace alone. By His grace alone do the earth and heaven eventually return once again to His rightful control; all unrighteousness, physical and spiritual eventually purged, replaced with only His righteousness, through all and in all. What a day… but what a hard time the world, by its own choosing, will have with such.
We are not new covenant believers. The new covenant is not yet in effect. This dispensation of grace must come to an end for the new covenant with Gods true Israel to be realized. The difference between Jew and Gentile will once again need to be recognized and true remnant Israel supernaturally revealed. The church which is His body must be supernaturally taken home as it is not appointed unto wrath. Free grace will end and wrath will come as prophesied; as it almost did in Acts 7 when Stephen, in his dying vision, saw Christ STANDING on Gods right hand prepared to return. Thank you Father for interrupting such and giving us fools a chance by calling Paul with your dispensation of free grace. May many more of us wake up to this truth before it is too late. The new testament promise of supernatural physical ability will be an absolute necessity for the very survival of these future believers in the coming great tribulation, when Christ returns in judgement and war against those who fail to love the truth which is Christ Himself, and act according to His just and perfect law. Here is supernatural ability plus amazing responsibility!
1 John 3:9-11… “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, AND the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
Mark 16:17-18… “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
A moments honest reflection, sans wishful thinking, demonstrates abundantly clearly that this worlds peoples have very little love for one another. We are selfish and deceitful; undeserving of His grace. And that’s what makes His grace all the more amazing!
Rom 5:20-21… “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Amen and thank you Father for your Son who unbound us from legal covenant agreements and died that we would be freed from the bondage of such. Any and all religion, mans attempt to please God or assuage His wrath, is today pure human vanity.
Galatians 2:21… “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
Boom again. Agreement nullified.