We must admit our limitations in understanding and appropriating the New Covenant, apart from the grace of God. What Grace is to the New Covenant is what Law is to the Old Covenant. The principles and purposes of God did not change because of the change in covenant. The Law God gave Israel is still the will of God in a general sense for mankind.
The Law (mainly the ten commandments) under the Old Covenant was resolved into one application with two expressions shortly before the New Covenant commenced: Love God and Love your neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40). “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (v.40). This is the heart of the entire law which becomes the focus of the human heart after that heart has been transformed – changed from a hard heart to a soft heart. And since this transformation was not available under the provisions of the Old Covenant, except for information about our sinful condition, God made a New Covenant that simply resolves the problem – God puts the law inside the heart so that there will be both a willingness and ability to obey.
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
8 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:
10 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:
Hebrews 8:7-8, 10
What then changed when God inaugurated the New Covenant?
Among other things, one keynote of the New Covenant is the change of priesthood that administers the Covenant. The priesthood itself represents the “life” that accompanies the Covenant. The sons of Levi were the priests under the Old Covenant, and the keynote of their lives is weakness. They themselves were not free from sin, which is the common problem of man. Therefore, as good as the Law of God, and the Covenant that brought it into effect was, the weakness of the priests themselves and the repeated sacrifice for sin became the common feature of life under the Old Covenant (Hebrews 10:1-4,11).
19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did (which is the New Covenant); by the which we draw nigh unto God.
23 And they truly were many priests (in the Old Covenant), because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death (lack of life that triumphs over sin and doesn’t die): Hebrews 7:19, 23 (emphasis & explanations mine)
The Law diagnoses the human condition
Let us bear in mind that the Law itself was given to reveal our problem. It was a sentence and confirmation of sin upon the entire human race. “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” (Galatians 3:22). The law is to confirm heaven’s position over the condition of man. There is no doubt here, all are concluded under sin. Everyone is found guilty of sin (Romans 3:19). This is done so that man can realize the reason for his predicaments.
After exhausting the options of psychiatry and psychotherapy, the very hidden cause, the first cause, behind all the wickedness, evil, lust, greed, avarice, corruption, jealousy, hypocrisy et al is sin. Unless we admit our sinfulness, we cannot make use of the divine remedy for our malady. This is the goal of the Old Covenant: to reveal the problem so that we can apply the appropriate solution.
The doctor diagnoses the patient first and then proffers the appropriate solution. Not knowing the cause of an illness is in itself a greater problem that can lead the sufferer to an earlier grave. Hence, the Law reveals our common problem as humans. Regardless of our diversities – racially, educationally, positionally, financially – all our peculiar ways of (mis-) behaviours come from one thing – sin.
The Law gives concrete evidence of our inherent sinfulness
Even though that is already self-evident in the Scriptures before the advent of the Law, God being just still fulfilled all righteousness by turning His principles into a legal document and allowed an entire dispensation for mankind to discover for itself its own depravity. So that man will be inexcusable before God, He showed man what to do (i.e. how to live), and it was soon clear that eating of that old tree of knowledge of good and evil, knowing right from wrong, is not the answer to the problem of evil.
The Law exposes the secret wickedness of our hearts
In fact, this knowledge has only made man selective and calculative such that we can behave ourselves when it is to our own advantage, and if otherwise, we can easily change our acts altogether. Hence, we realize that the tree of knowledge is not as helpful as we had imagined. It is a tree of options to the heart that is yet hard and untouched by the grace of God.
We can even use good things and good actions for questionable purposes, since the intention is hidden away in our hearts. For instance, as good as it is to give to those in need, there are all manner of premeditated evil that could accompany such “generosity”, anything between mildly controlling people’s choices to outright purchase of their conscience. A noble deed indeed, but corrupted by a well-concealed vice.
All of these, although exposed by the Law, remain unrestrained, not necessarily because man loves it so (although that is a very high possibility), but because he doesn’t know what to do to end it. This is the dilemma of everyman who has experienced the Old Covenant. (NOTE: There is a sense in which everyone goes through the Old Covenant (Law) first before entering into the New Covenant (Grace), because unless we experience (not just read about) the weakness of our human nature to obey God, we cannot have a proper valuation of the Grace of God).
Grace is the cure
And this is the very thing the Grace of God has been given for in the New Covenant to resolve in our lives. Therefore, that which is lacking in the Old Covenant is what is supplied in the New. Whereas the Law informs us only the Grace of God transforms us. Although, the Law offers an accurate diagnoses, that in itself does not treat the problem.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” John 1:17
Those are two separate Covenants and Dispensations. However, we notice that what was the Law with Moses became Truth with our LORD Jesus Christ. Which means when we embrace the New Covenant, the Grace of God begins to work in us and the Law which alone can only bring us death (Romans 7:9) is converted to Truth which quickens us, makes us alive and keeps us from (spiritual) death. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1) Hallelujah!
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version.
Also, materials used from other sources does not imply endorsement. However, we are “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” with ALL believers (Ephesians 4:3).
Picture Credit: kcm.org