So you’ve heard the gospel proclaimed and in response, you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Acknowledging before all people that hope is found in no one else, and so you entrust yourself to Him who came, who lived, who died, was raised, and ascended to the Father’s right hand. Now what?
What do you do after you’ve embraced the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom? What do you do then? From where do your marching orders come? How are you to live? How are you to raise a family? How are you to act as an employee? How are you to be a member of a local church? How are you to be a good citizen in the society in which you live?
According to Jesus, as His disciple, you are to observe “all that He has commanded” (Matt 28.19), but what does that mean? Does this limit Christian behavior to the few things recorded in the New Testament that Jesus said? Does it incorporate the things that His apostles, after Him, taught?
This may or may not be where you stopped your investigation. Perhaps you have been taught that Christians are only bound (for the most part) to abide by New Testament teaching. I mean, the Bible does say, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8.13; ESV).1 But in what sense is “new” being used? Has the content of the Old been entirely done away with? Is “new” meant to convey, ofan entirely different origin? Or is “new” meant to be understood as “different from one of the same category that has existed previously?”2
It is the means by which the covenant has been ratified and applied that is new, not the standard by which the covenant is to be honored. The standard of both covenants—what is referred to as Old and New—is holiness. To be an honored member of the covenant between God and man, the person in question must live honorably by reflecting his/her Creator’s mind and action.
Holiness is the requirement. Holiness defined by God our Maker, not mankind the creature; “…without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12.14). For the charge from our Lord is, “… [to] be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5.48). A demand based upon divine writ: “You must be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the other peoples to be mine” (Lev 20.6; NET). And before the critic speaks, yes this applies to all who would be called children of God. As Zechariah prophesied before the birth of our incarnate Lord:
“That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1.75).
Therefore what is “new” about the New Covenant is not a “new” standard of living, but the means by which it is ratified and applied:
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once and for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9.11-14).
What the living sacrifice of Jesus offered to creation was a perfect redemption. In the past copies of heavenly things (the tabernacle, the mercy seat, the holy places, etc.) were ratified with a temporal offering, but since the crucifixion of Jesus the shadows have passed away:
“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb 9.24-28).
Christ came to bear His people’s sins (cf. Matt 1.21), that is what the writer of Hebrews is pointing out. In defining the New Covenant, we find that a better sacrifice has been offered, a better high priest has been given to intercede on behalf of those who are rightly called children of the Most High. He was able to do this as our representative for at least two reasons: 1) He came from God being the living Word that put on flesh (cf. John 1.1-18)3; 2) He lived a perfectly holy life.
This brings us full circle to the questions posed at the beginning of this post. If we are saved from our sins. If we have our identity seated in the God-Man Jesus the Christ. How should we live? How should we govern our lives? How should our families be governed? How should our churches be governed? How should our society be governed?
Are we saved from our sin, from our “dead works” (Heb 9.14) to live by some other standard or by His standard? The apostle Paul points out that before Christ redeemed us we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). But after our redemption we have become God’s “…workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2.10).
Well, what are those “good” works? Is not the goodness of God shown in His holiness? And is it not accurate to say that God’s holiness is a light that shines through the darkness with blinding authority? And to where must we turn to find such holiness, such righteousness, such a light that is able to cut through the darkness of sin that plagues creation, but is now being overcome? Is it not God’s Law-Word?
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa 119.105).
Therefore should we not walk as our Savior walked in this life4; a man who was guided by every intention of God’s heart, careful to do all that He commanded (cf. John 5.19; 10.32; 12.49)?
“I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules” (Psa 119.106).
Preparing to deal with the specifics…
At this point in the dialogue, I imagine that most professing believer’s would acknowledge a great deal of what I’ve said with an “Amen.” But, I have only spoken in a general way. It is easy to get people to agree with you when you speak in generalities, if you leave the specifics or the particulars unspoken. This has been true since the beginning. For if we speak in generalities, then freedom is left to the creature to fill in the specifics or particulars as he/she sees fit. Moses was likeable (Exod 4.29-31) until he declared what must be done (Exod 5.20-21). Many enjoyed the company of Jesus until he got down to the specifics (John 6). Christians of every stripe and color today will agree with many general ideas, concepts or themes of a biblical nature. But the ire of the people grows when you start laying out the black and white areas of life.
No, I’m not speaking about woke, cancel culture of modern day America; although, the content of that subject could be applied here. What I’m referring to is that dirty word called theonomy. When next we meet the specifics and particulars of how we are to live as God’s people, and where it all really applies will be discussed. All I wanted to do in this post was to get you, the reader, thinking about what it means when we say “new” covenant. And, by what standard we are commanded to live by in this day an age. As I said, next time we will begin to look a little closer at the specifics of how we should live. In so doing, we will be starting to shine a light on why theonomy is such a dirty word in many Christian circles.
1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
2Def. 5, Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008, desktop edition.
3That Jesus was no mere creature is evident in these 18 verses alone. In the opening of John’s gospel we find that Jesus is identified as God, being present with God in the beginning (vv. 1-2). This means that He was with God the Father as a separate person, but He shared the quality/essence of Godhood. He is revealed as the Creator distinct from the creature (v. 3). He is identified as the author of life and the source of light that overpowers all dark forces (v. 4). He is the source and hope of mankind’s salvation (vv. 9-13). He put on flesh to represent us and to reveal the unseen Father who is in heaven through grace and truth (vv. 14-18). Thus, He alone is worthy to be called “My Lord, my God” (John 20.28).
4“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1John 1.6-7).
“By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1John 2.6; italics added).