By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
“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: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: 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
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord GOD.” Ezekiel 11:19-21
In the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, God established the Old or Mosaic Covenant – the Law – with the children of Israel. Most Bible readers will be quite aware of the fact that this law was not kept by the children of Israel to whom it was given. After the giving of the Ten Commandments when Moses went up Mount Sinai for forty days, the children of Israel – under the leadership of Aaron – broke the commandments they had just been given, indulging in idolatry and adultery. Moses came down the mountain and, seeing what they were doing, broke the two stone tablets which God had given him on the mountain. The children of Israel had broken the covenant which had not even been completely given at that time.
This was not an isolated incident. The Hebrews throughout the time of the Old Testament continued to break the covenant again and again. As a nation they would rebel against God, worship idols, and live in sin. The covenant God had made with them was broken.
It was not God’s fault that the covenant He had made “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12) was broken, but through the Prophet Jeremiah, He promised a New Covenant and a fresh start. This New Covenant would be made with the houses of Israel and Judah; everyone who voluntarily places himself under this New Covenant is grafted into the olive tree of Israel, from which all of the unbelieving and disobedient Jews have been cut off until such time as they repent (Romans 11:17-25). We notice next in this passage that this covenant would be “not according to the covenant that I made” before. How would this covenant be different? In the Old Covenant, God made lists of laws which were written on stone tablets and on paper. It was the job of the priests to make sure that the people knew the laws so that they could be kept. This New Covenant, however, would be different in that God would “put [His] law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts”. This does not mean that the New Covenant would not have written laws, but that those laws would be stamped thoroughly on the heart of the people who had accepted the New Covenant – written on their hearts so that they would obey God out of love and because it was an inner conviction to do so, not because they were compelled to.
The Prophet Ezekiel gives more information about this then-future time when the New Covenant would be made. He says that the people under this covenant would be given “one heart”. How can many people be given one heart? The answer is found in II Peter 1:4, where we are informed that this “new heart” is none other than God’s heart: “that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature”. God would impart His own Heart (Spirit) to His people! This is how they can share one heart and how His laws can be written upon our hearts. If we have God’s own heart within us, we will naturally desire and actually do the things which God wants us to!
God, through Ezekiel, goes on to say that He would remove the old, stony hearts and give hearts of flesh – warm, soft, living, and active. The purpose and result of this “heavenly heart surgery” is seen in verse 20: “That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them”. The problem with the Mosaic Law was not its requirements, although they were lower than God’s ultimate requirements. The problem was that laws, in and of themselves, have no power to give life. Any law is simply a mirror. By that mirror, a man can see whether he is measuring up to the standard or not. A simple example is a speed limit sign. If a man drives past a speed limit sign, he can look at his speedometer, look at the sign, and see the requirement of the law and whether he is living up to it or not. But the speed limit sign has no ability to make the driver tap the brakes to slow down and bring himself into conformity with the law. The same is true of the Law of Moses. The Law made demands on peoples’ lives and could be used as a mirror for an individual to evaluate how he compared with what God had commanded. But there was no “life clause” in the Law to provide the power to be able to keep the standard of righteousness which was given! “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).
The New Covenant, on the other hand, has higher requirements than the Mosaic Covenant did. If the children of Israel for thousands of years failed to live up to the requirements of the Mosaic Law, how could anyone possibly hope to hold to an even higher standard? The biggest difference between the two covenants is summed up in one word: life. The dead human spirit cannot keep God’s standard of righteousness – not even the Mosaic standard. Death and sin rule over the unregenerated soul, keeping it in bondage to disobedience and rebellion against God (Romans 5:12-21). Nevertheless, in the spiritual operation called the New Birth, Jesus Christ will impart the promised “heart of flesh,” full of the heavenly life of God Himself, filled with the Law of God, and which overthrows the devilish reign of Sin and Death. The result of this miracle is called VICTORY, and the response of the new saint is PRAISE! Hallelujah for the New Covenant!
Practical Application: Many practical applications might be drawn from these passages and the principles discussed, but I would like to focus on one in particular. Jeremiah tells us that God would write His laws on the hearts of those who accept the New Covenant. It is possible to obey the laws of the New Covenant (the commands of Jesus and the Apostles), at least in outward form, without having them written on the heart. How is it possible to discern if these laws are written on one’s heart? We normally call something written on one’s heart a “conviction.” Anything not done out of conviction is not written on one’s heart. If you find yourself in doubt, ask yourself the following questions: do I obey some principle of the New Covenant (for instance, separation from the world, the woman’s head covering, or nonresistance) simply because it is what the church expects? Or because it is what my parents expect? Or because if I did not, I would suffer negative social consequences among the people in my congregation(s)? Do I love to find some way to be “borderline” from what the New Testament requires – i.e., just on the edge of disobedience? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then I beg you to examine yourself in the light of God’s Word and ask yourself if you truly are under the New Covenant or are under the Old Law of outward compulsion. Then go to God and ask Him for the New Heart, filled with the Law of God, which will make one delight in doing His Will!
Originally published in The Witness, November 2012.