The good news about the Christian faith is that it is based on an everlasting, unchangeable covenant. It is not about us being good enough, checking the right boxes, or trying to be better. It is about a covenant between ourselves and God. Luke 22:20 reads:”In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
This idea of covenant is seen throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and some of the most powerful passages about who Jesus are found in the Old Testament. Recently while reading in Ezekiel 16, I noted this passage that so clearly lays out what this “New Covenant” would look like.But first, what is a covenant?
In non-Biblical terms, a covenant is essentially a legal, binding agreement. When you get married, take out a loan, lease a house, or sign a document, you are entering into a type of covenant; an agreement in which both parties make certain promises to one another.
In Biblical terms, a covenant between God and people holds a great significance, and forms the foundation of how God interacts with people. The covenant most often referred to by Jesus as “The Law” is the Mosaic Covenant. Given to Moses at Mount Sinai, this covenant laid out the rules for how God’s chosen people would agree to live. This is where we get The Ten Commandments.
The problem with this covenant is that try as we might, no one could possibly ever live up to it! The law gives a guide of how God would have us to live and what a sinless life would look like, but our end of the deal is simply impossible to uphold. Because of this, in Ezekiel, God promises a new, better covenant:
Ezekiel 16:59-63 reads “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant (side note, they weren’t even trying to fulfill it anymore). Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both those who are older than you and those who are younger. I will give them to you as daughters, but not on the basis of my covenant with you. So I will establish my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the SovereignLord”.
What we read here is the fullness of the Gospel: Even though we can’t keep our end of the deal, God is faithful to remember His and will give us another, better opportunity. God does not choose to just be done with humanity forever, but remembers the old covenant, and promises to establish a new, better and everlasting one. This new everlasting covenant is established through what Jesus did on the cross, which is also the atonement mentioned in verse 63. God promises throughout the Old Testament that He will not break His covenant. He keeps this promise by not only keeping up His end of things, but amending the terms in our favour.
The people of Israel will receive their sisters and brothers (non-Jews who were not a part of the first covenant with Moses) on the basis of this new covenant. This is the picture of the good news of Jesus being preached to every nation, by which everyone on earth may be saved and brought into the promises of the new covenant.
This new, everlasting covenant is much different from the previous one. Where the first covenant turned out to be impossible to keep, the new covenant brought about by Jesus requires only our faith and trust. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant completely so that through faith in Him, we may be brought into this promise of God’s people and have certainty that we are in good standing.
This is the beautiful mercy of the new covenant and the aspect of Christianity that distinguishes it from every other religion: we are saved not by works, but by faith.
When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, justification and sanctification come into play. It is important to differentiate between justification and sanctification.
Justification is another word for salvation. Jesus gave his life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. His blood washes away our sins and frees us from an eternity of suffering and condemnation. Believers are saved because of what Christ has already done. We can do nothing to earn salvation, it is the gift given to every child of God regardless of race, age, maturity, or merit.
Sanctification occurs as a result of salvation. At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit enters our life. We are no longer held hostage by death, but are free to live the life God desires for us. We are thus sanctified simply because of our standing as lost souls saved by grace. Justification is the process whereby God declares a person to be righteous on the basis of faith in the Person and work of Christ. Justification is the activity of God which liberates a person from the guilt of sin. Sanctification is the activity of God which liberates the Christian from the power of sin. Justification imputes the righteousness of God to man. Sanctification imparts the righteousness of God through man.
Sanctification does not stop with salvation, but rather it is a progressive process that continues in a Christian’s life. Unlike the things and places that are sanctified by God in the Bible, people have the capacity to sin. Even though we have been “set apart” as God’s children, we continue to behave in ways that are contrary. As Christians, we realize shortly after we have been saved that there is a new inner battle being waged within us – a battle between our old sin-lead nature and new Spirit-lead nature. Paul in Galatians best describes this inner struggle in Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
Some Bible verses which clarify this subject:
Hebrews 9:15 reads: “Therefore Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, now that He has died to redeem them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 reads: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Galatians 3:23-29 NIV reads: “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise“.