Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Question and Answer about the New Covenant

In a well known account in the life of Christ, a man asked Jesus Christ a question about the New Covenant. Specifically, He asked Jesus what He had to do in order to receive eternal life. This was a New Covenant question because eternal life was never offered under the Old Covenant but is offered under the New Covenant.

The Old Covenant was a covenant between God and the physical nation of Israel and was made during the days of Moses. Israel agreed to obey God including God's law of the ten commandments, and in return God promised to bless Israel with national blessings of wealth, protection from enemies, and health (Exodus 15:25-26, 19:1-9, 20:1-17, 23:25-27, 24:3-8, Leviticus 26:3-13, Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But if you read carefully everything God promised Israel under the terms of the Old Covenant, you will not find eternal life offered. The promises under the Old Covenant included blessings in this physical life only.

But the New Covenant is based on better promises than the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-8). One of those promises is forgiveness of sins (Jeremiah 31:31-34, especially verse 34). The penalty of sin is eternal death, but under the New Covenant, sins are forgiven and the penalty wiped out by the sacrifice of Christ, and the gift of eternal life is made available (Romans 6:23). There are a number of scriptures in the New Testament that confirm that eternal life is a promise under the terms of the New Covenant (1 John 2:24-25, John 3:16, John 6:54, John 10:27-28).

So when the man asked Jesus Christ what he had to do to obtain eternal life, he was asking a New Covenant question. Specifically, he was asking a question about the requirements of the New Covenant (Mark 10:17, Luke 18:18).

Jesus answered, "You know the commandments", and named several of the ten commandments (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20).

In answering a question about New Covenant requirements for eternal life, Jesus pointed the man to the commandments he already knew. This was a man who was taught in the traditions of Israel and the commandments he knew since his youth were the ten commandments (Mark 10:20, Luke 18:21).

The man's question, and Jesus Christ's answer, had nothing to do with the Old Covenant. The man's question and Jesus's answer had to do with the New Covenant only. This is entirely a New Covenant doctrine.

So under the New Covenant, if you want eternal life, keep the ten commandments.

That the ten commandments are still in force after the death and resurrection of Christ is confirmed by James 2:10-11 which says that if you transgress one commandment you transgress all of them. Why? The reason James gives is important. He says, "For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder' ". In other words, it is because of WHO gave the commandments that we must obey them. Because God gave the commandments, we must obey all ten of them. It is clear that James is quoting from the ten commandments.


Todd G said...

Hey that's good stuff, I appreciate the thought you've put into this topic, but also the numerous scriptures you use to show that it's not your own opinion you're speaking, but God's truths.

God Bless

Angela said...

I agree that we need to follow the 10 commandments, however this will not get us into heaven. Only the saving grace of Jesus does that. We follow the commands because we love him and Jesus says:

15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command.
John 14:15 (NIV)

In this passage of the rich man, Jesus took this one step further. He told the rich man to sell everything he had and follow him. He knew the man's money was more important to him than Jesus was. So in effect, the rich man was making an idol of the money and I just helped you make part of your point.

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' "

20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Mark 10:17-21 (NIV)

I think what you are trying to say, correct me if I am wrong, is Jesus came to fulfill the law.(Matthew 5:17) In which case, I completely agree with you.

Angela said...

Ok, so I should have read the post that comes before this one first. I sometimes get ahead of myself. I see that if both are read, everything is made clear.

You have wonderful insight into the Word of God.

author@ptgbook.org said...

Thank you both for reading my blog and commenting.

Angela: Yes, keeping the ten commandments will not save us. It is God's grace through Jesus Christ that saves us, nevertheless we do need to keep the commandments.

Jesus came to fulfill the law by obeying it, which He did perfectly, setting an example for us to strive to follow. He also fulfilled prophecy about His first coming and in the future He will fulfill prophecies concerning His second coming.

Raul Batista (Varonelo) said...

Thank you brother for your excellent blog. I want to return to it in the future, so I've put a link to it on my blog.

It's been years since I've encountered the Church of God. I'm glad you took the time to leave a thoughtful comment on my blog. I like the comparison you made between Sabbath keeping and learning to play an instrument or learning a sport. Unfotunately, I've never had the natural ability for either, but I did make a connection with learning a new language, which I have a natural ability for.

I will need to carefully read your your reply as it gives lots of good advice regarding Sabbath keeping. I am encouraged that someone took the time to both read and comment with so much detail about something I posted out of a need to make an attempt at keeping the Sabbath meaningfully.

May God continue to bless you in your gospel web ministry.

Angela said...

I have a question for you. How do you distinguish between which old testament laws are still valid and which ones are not. I have heard several theories on this but have not found a clear scriptural reference to back any of the views. I was just wondering what your thoughts are. Thanks,


author@ptgbook.org said...

Thank you, Raul, for your kind comments.

Thank you Angela for the question.

You ask a very good question, and sometimes it can be a tough one. I don't know that I can give a simple short answer, but I will try to share some common sense principles that I use, and I try to base the way I approach this question on the what the Bible itself teaches. I can also share some examples of Old Testament laws that continue and some that do not continue, and I can explain how I arrive at my conclusions about these examples based on the Bible.

When I first read the Bible, I read it in sequence, starting with Genesis 1:1 and ending with the last verse in Revelation, and this is still the way I read the Bible most of the time. I realize that the books are not necessarily arranged in the same order they were written exactly, but it does put the Old Testament before the New Testament, in reading sequence, and the events in Genesis through Exodus are in sequence. Most events in the remaining books can be fairly easily put into sequence.

My basic rule of thumb is that what God says remains in force unless and until He changes it, and that one part of the Bible cannot contradict another. The principle that the Bible cannot contradict itself is based on scriptures that show that God inspired the Bible and God cannot lie (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, John 10:35). Some scriptures are hard to understand, as Peter says about some of Paul's writings (2 Peter 3:15-16). Also, we may not understand all scriptures perfectly, because we only know things in part, not fully or perfectly yet in this life (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Peter said we are to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), so we don't know everything yet. We are human and make mistakes, even in understanding scripture. So since I may not understand difficult scriptures yet, I think it is common sense to let clear scriptures interpret unclear ones.

Also, all the scriptures on a topic are not necessarily together, and I try to get all the scriptures on a topic and put them together to understand that topic.

What this means in practice is that I understand that the laws in the Old Testament were in force until the New Testament, and then I read in the New Testament which ones are no longer in force.

For example, circumcision is clearly a command from the time of Abraham on (Genesis 17:9-13). But the New Testament teaches that for Christians, circumcision is of the heart and not the flesh, and that physical circumcision is no longer required (Acts 15:3-5, 24-29, 1 Corinthians 7:17-19). Had the New Testament not said that physical circumcision is no longer required, I would believe that it is required. But this is an example of a law that was changed in the New Testament.

Likewise, the system of animal sacrifices is not required of the Church today because animal sacrifices were to be made by the Levitical priesthood, but there has been a change in the law in the New Testament because the Levitical priesthood has been replaced by the priesthood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:12-16). So animal sacrifices are no longer required. We could not offer animal sacrifices today because there is no Levitical priesthood to offer them. So that question is clear.

Many of the laws of the Old Testament had to do with national government and the administration of justice. In other words, it was a law of the government of Israel, given by God, that if a man commits murder he is to be put to death, and that if a man or woman blasphemes he or she is to be stoned to death. It was not up to any individual to take it upon himself to do this, but this was the sentence to be administered by judges. In effect, God was ruling the nation of Israel and giving instructions on how the government would administer justice. It was as if God was Israel's congress, president, and supreme court. Since God is not directly ruling over the nations we live in today, those governments are not following God's laws concerning the administration of justice and the punishments for crimes. Individual Christians are not to go around stoning people, but individual Israelites were not to do that either. It was a matter for the courts of ancient Israel during the time that God was their king. So those national laws are not in effect today in any nation because God is not directly ruling any national government (or no government is submitting to God's laws that way).

In many other matters, I look for clues in the New Testament to see what laws were repealed or are still in force. For example, there is no indication that dietary laws were changed in the New Testament. If they were, Peter would not be so reluctant to eat all the creeping things he saw in his vision (Acts 10:10-14). Also, the distinction between clean and unclean meats existed in the days of Noah, long before the Old Covenant was made, so I know it is not just an Old Covenant ritual. I do not know why God says in the Old Testament not to eat pork, but since God designed the human body and all animal bodies, my best guess as to God's reason for saying this is that the flesh of animals God says are unclean are probably not the best foods for us, so for health reasons I do not eat pork.

There is nothing in the New Testament that says that the weekly Sabbath or the annual holy days are abolished, and in fact there are examples in the New Testament showing that the Church observed these days, so I observe them myself.

The New Testament is very clear that the Ten Commandments are still in force, so that part of the law is still in effect (Mark 10:18-19, James 2:8-11, Matthew 5:17-30, 1 John 3:4). That includes the seventh day Sabbath day, not only because it is part of the ten commandments, but because Jesus said that it was made for man, that is mankind, not just the Jews (Mark 2:27), and therefore it is not limited to the Old Covenant.

So I look at these things on a case-by-case basis when a question comes up. I look for clues or indications in the New Testament and the whole Bible to see if it is something that continues for the Church or not. If the New Testament Church observed it or if the New Testament confirms or reinforces the law, that shows it continues. If the New Testament specifically says it is no longer required, such a physical circumcision, then it does not continue. If the New Testament is silent about an Old Testament law, it probably continues, but sometimes the context of the law in the Old Testament shows that it does not continue for Christians today, such as the laws of the government concerning punishments for crimes, land inheritance between the tribes of Israel, etc.

If you can think of examples of questions about particular laws, we can discuss them. I don't claim to know all the answers, and I am willing to learn new things from the Bible myself. There are many things I never researched in detail before.

Todd G said...

That was one of the most Biblical and just plain logical answers I have ever heard! Praise God for people who put their faith and trust in God and His word to lead them.

You, my friend, are a true pilgrim indeed. :-)

Angela said...

Thank you for taking the time to answer me in such detail. I am really enjoying your blog.