Andrew Naffin, Theology, church, scripture, N.T. Wright, Karl Barth
What is it that makes the ‘new covenant’ in the Bible ‘new’?  In order to understand the distinction in the new covenant, it is crucial that the old covenant is first grasped.  The old covenant is found all throughout the Old Testament.  In this covenant God initiates a relationship with people so that He will be their God and they will be His people.  The relationship exists for the mutual delight in each other in loving faithfulness.  Marriage is the key to understanding the nature of the covenant relationship between God and His people.  Isaiah 54:5 says that God is a husband to his people.  God invites human beings into the trinitarian relationship that He has within Himself.  In this relationship there is the delight and love that is shared between the Father toward the Son and the Son toward the Father, all through the Holy Spirit.  This covenant that God made with His people was one that called for a response of loving faithfulness towards God as a result of God’s initiation.  The ‘law’ in the Old Testament is a covenant description of what this relationship looks like.  It’s a description of a people responding in love towards God within a relationship already established and not a description of people earning a relationship with God.  In this covenant, obedience is a natural and desired response towards God as a result of our affections (our deepest motivations) being captivated by the love of God.  This is the covenant of the Old Testament.  

The rest of the story in the Old Testament is the history of a people that reject this relationship that God has made with His people.    It is a history of unfaithfulness and of His people’s hearts being captivated by many loves other than God.  God’s people are often referred to as an adulterous people who have deserted the companion of their youth.  Nearly the entire Old Testament is marked by this kind of hard hearted unfaithfulness towards God.  After the infidelity in the Garden of Eden mankind has been marked with this attitude towards God.  Despite all of this however, God says that he will still pursue His bride.  In Jeremiah 31:31-33 God says:

"The time is coming," declares the LORD,
       "when I will make a new covenant
       with the house of Israel
       and with the house of Judah.

 32 It will not be like the covenant
       I made with their forefathers
       when I took them by the hand
       to lead them out of Egypt,
       because they broke my covenant,
       though I was a husband to them, "
       declares the LORD.

 33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
       after that time," declares the LORD.
       "I will put my law in their minds
       and write it on their hearts.
       I will be their God,
       and they will be my people.

Here we begin to see the distinction between the New Covenant and that of the Old.  In the New Covenant God writes the description of the covenant relationship not merely on tablets of stone, but on the hearts of His people.  It is not that the nature of His covenant has changed, but he changes the hearts of the people in it.  In Ezekiel 36:24-29 God says:

‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.  I will save you from all your uncleanness.’

This here is the chief difference between the new and old covenants: in the new covenant God redeems His wayward people and removes our idolatrous heart and gives us a new heart by putting His Spirit within us.  The Holy Spirit is the significant difference between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant.  This is not plan B, but God’s plan all along.  Through the redeeming work of His Son He would send His Spirit to pour out His love into our hearts (Romans 5:5) thereby transforming us into a people who are united to Christ through the Spirit, responders to God’s loving kindness, and a people marked by loving-faithfulness.    


Lots of great stuff in there, man. One thing I still have difficulty understanding finds expression in a question: If I am a new creation with the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of me, how come I still feel so driven toward sin at times? How can I ever lack the conviction to choose righteousness? The resources just don't seem to be so great as the Bible describes them. "...that power which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead..."

Andrew Naffin

It's a great question man. It's something I'd actually like to do a blog on in the future - probably after I knock out these classes. I think it involves the tension between the "already" and the "not yet" of our Christian lives. In the resurrection of Jesus we have the assured hope of final victory, but as is obvious on the pages of the New Testament, this hope has not be completed yet. We look ahead towards the final overthrow of all evil on the one hand and currently wrestle (in the power of the Spirit) with the evils that exists now on the other hand. Check out Ephesians 4:22 and following. We enter into a new life when the Spirit is poured out in our life, but it's not magic. We not only enter a new life, but are called to walk in that new life and to leave the life that we once had. We are called to live as citizens of a new country.


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Andrew Naffin, Theology, Church, Scripture, N.T. Wright, Karl Barth