Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Why The New Covenant Is Unilateral (Notes)

The Bible is what we call the Word of God. The Scripture itself says that it is “god-breathed” or “inspired” by God. Working through ordinary men, God spoke in a miraculous and mysterious way, through the writing of these men, so that we have a record of the actual thoughts, the very heart, of God. In what we call the Holy Bible.

And as we read and study this Bible, this Word of God, one of the most important things we can do is to “rightly divide” the word of truth.

2 Timothy 2:15, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."

Cutting Straight The Word of God

That phrase “rightly dividing” literally means “cutting straight”. We need to cut straight or rightly divide the Word, in the sense that we see the divisions that God Himself has made as He progressively revealed Himself over many hundreds of years.

In one sense, it’s absolutely stunning that so many men over so many hundreds of years could write something that fits together in a way that makes sense. At least it makes sense if we “rightly divide” it. If we don’t rightly divide it, then some things don’t make sense.

God at various times and various places, with various peoples, sometimes had different plans, different commands, different expectations, and different ways of dealing with those people.

The Old Covenant And The New

And one of the most important ways that we need to “rightly divide” the Word is regarding the difference between the Mosaic Covenant, or Old Covenant, and the New Covenant.

Let’s read from the book of Hebrews something about the New Covenant, and then we’ll look at some comparisons with the Old Covenant.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.

For finding fault with them, He says, "Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;

"Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.

"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those day, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

...."For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more."

When He said, "A new covenant" He has made the first obsolete.
(Heb. 8:7-13, selections)

I’d like you to notice three things from this passage:

1. The Old Covenant is obsolete.

--doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from it
--well worth studying
--what we want to know is the heart of our Lord, don’t we?
--there is much about Him that we can learn even from the Old Covenant
--but it is obsolete, even for the Jew (it was never meant for the Gentile)
--vs 13, “becoming obsolete” refers to 70 A.D. destruction of the temple

2. The Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant

"When He said, 'A new covenant' He has made the first obsolete...." (Heb. 8:13)

--although promised to Israel, the Gentiles have been grafted in, as Rom. Chapter 11 tells us, and we Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ, are now included in this great New Covenant.

We see this in such passages as:

1 Cor. 11:25, "In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'"

2 Cor. 3:6, "...who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

3. There is a reason why the New Covenant replaced the Old, and why The New Covenant is a BETTER Covenant.

Heb. 8:6, “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises."

So what is the reason why the New Covenant replaced the Old, and why it’s a better covenant?

Hebrews 8:7,8, "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah."

What does He mean, “finding fault with them”.

Well, it simply means this. The Old Covenant was a bi-lateral covenant. That means it had conditions for both sides. This was expressed many times in the Old Covenant laws, which said over and over this basic message:

“If you follow these laws, you will be blessed. If you don’t follow these laws, you will be cursed.”

Now there are a couple problems with that, to put it mildly.

The Problems With The Old Covenant

1. First, it couldn’t save.

There were over 600 laws under the Old Covenant, and the bible makes it clear that if you broke one single law, one time, it was just as if you’d broken them all, and that would keep you from earning salvation.

And obviously, no one could keep all the law, all the time.

Most couldn’t keep any of the law all the time, and some could hardly keep any of the law any of the time.

So the Law couldn’t save.

2. Secondly, the Law was a great burden.

If you read through Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you will literally thank God that you are not under the burden of the 600 laws proscribed there, many with a simple penalty: death.

But even if you made the attempt, of course you would fail over and over, at least regarding the perfection the Law required.

And because you would fail, the sacrificial system itself was a burden. Actual rivers of blood flowed from the slain animals sacrificed to cover sins.

3. And that brings up a third problem. There could be no forgiveness of sins, only the covering of them.

Only the temporary covering of sins, because "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." (Heb. 10:4)

And so the sacrifices had to be done over and over and over, with never any real assurance that it was enough. At times God Himself said, your sacrifices make me sick, because your hearts aren’t right.

Then Came Jesus

Ah, but then came Jesus. Then came the Lamb of God who became the final sacrifice, the once for all sacrifice, the One who gave His blood that truly could take away sins.

In came the New Covenant.

The New Covenant is not a bi-lateral Covenant. The bi-lateral Old Covenant failed, in that man was unable to keep his end of the the Covenant. So a better Covenant was put in place. And the one sure defect was left out, namely, dependence on man doing his part.

The Unilateral New Covenant

The New Covenant is UNI-lateral, that is, it was planned, instituted, carried out, fulfilled, and maintained by God. It is not a Covenant between God and man, with each having conditions to make the Covenant "work". It is not of the "letter", but of the "Spirit", and thus cannot fail.

It has His laws placed into the hearts and minds of His people, and He causes them to walk in His ways. It causes man to die to the Law (the very *principle* of Law), so that he is no longer under Law, but under Grace. And this very construct insures that the Law, all Law, is fulfilled, not by the [always shaky] performance of man, but by the [always sure] performance of God.

1 Cor 11:25, "In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'"

2 Cor 3:6, "...who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."


John said...


Hey I was wondering what your take is on the relationship of the New Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant. Can you point me to any good resources out there. I've read a few articles, but nothing super helpful. Things still seem murky.

Would you say that faith was the "condition" of the Abrahamic Covenant? How does faith tie into the NC?

Thanks brother.

- John

Mark D. Vilen said...

I always look forward to your blogs/devotionals. I ran across a few verses in James last night which confused me a little in relation to grace, and God's total forgiveness. James 5:19,20 says this:
19 "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul[f] from death and cover a multitude of sins."

Now, under the New Covenant, it would seem that v. 20 is inconsistent, suggesting that a believer who walks after the flesh (ignoring the spirit) is destined for hell unless he repents. OR, since the word "sinner" is used, is it referring to a nonbeliever, who hears the gospel, but then does not respond to Christ? If it is the former (a believer), then isn't it inconsistent with the New Covenant and total forgiveness?

I would appreciate your thoughts.


Phil said...

Thanks,Terry :) I was going to ask if you agreed with me on this...I understand the Abrahamic Covenant as one of promise of the New Covenant, brought in by the pedagogical Old which 'came in by the side'. The right response to the Old should have been for unbelieving Jews to join with their believing fellows, laying hold on the faith of Abraham that was awaiting the Messiah,while kept in check by the Old as a temporary expedient...but here's the question. I see the sense that the Gentile was 'grafted on' in the New Covenant purely as the fact that the non-Jew had not received the revelation of the promises that were by faith. In that way only, the Jew was (back then) the natural heir. It's not that those outside the Jewish nation were not always joint-heirs with the Jews,but that it was a mystery hidden until the New Covenant came and 'the faith' was made known...Do you agree? I don't mean to be polemical here, but it just frustrates me when some groups say the church has Jewish roots, as if the present-day non-Jew is somehow a sub-member of God's new Covenant of grace. No,the church has roots in the Abrahamic Covenant,as far as it is the fulfilment of that promise, before Abraham was circumcized. And it's a new thing, totally distinct from the Old because it's founded on a better Priesthood made after an eternal life, and not a carnal commandment concerning flawed human priests, offering sacrifices that couldn't take away sins,according to a law that was temporary...And the Jew/Gentile distinction in God's eyes, was abolished at the cross, and demonstrably at AD70. Do you agree? Have a Happy Christmas.

Adrian said...


What is your view of the "law of Moses"-----many say that "the law" is comprised of three portions: moral, civil, and ceremonial. I'm doing a series of posts on this subject on my blog, and I wondered your view. I believe many protestant denominations believe in the "3 portions" theory.


Terry Rayburn said...


It seems to me that the Abrahamic Covenant was sort of a "precursor" or "model" of the New Covenant, in that it also was unilateral.

In one sense faith is a "condition", but since Abraham's "believing God" was the result of revelation, it thus was unavoidable, or as we say, "irresistable", not a "work".

To illustrate, if I hold a quarter in my closed hand and ask you to believe that I have a quarter in my hand, you may "try" to believe it, or feel some obligation to believe it.

But when I open my hand and reveal the quarter to you, then you know by revelation that I do indeed have a quarter in my hand.

Likewise, the Bible indicates that God "reveals" Christ to someone through the New Birth (regeneration), and they can't help but "believe" in Him.

Abraham "believed God" and it was credited to him for righteousness. Not because Abraham "decided" to believe God, but because God revealed Himself in Abraham's heart and mind through regeneration.

This was prior to the Old Covenant, and became the model for the New Covenant.

Of course, even Abraham's sins had to be dealt with in the New Covenant, so we see that the New Covenant is retro-active. So it might be more accurate to say that the New Covenant was the "post-cursor" to the Abrahamic (just a side-thought).

So how does faith tie into the NC?

Faith is merely believing, and when the "wind" of the Spirit blows where He sovereignly chooses, a person is "born again" or "regenerated", and as a New Creation they can't help but "believe" [have "faith"].

And like Abraham, when we "believe God" [re Jesus Christ], he credits that to us as righteousness.

Only now He also indwells us with His Spirit, indeed makes us "one spirit with Him" (1 Cor. 6:17).

Bhedr said...

Merry Christmas

Terry Rayburn said...


James was writing to a mixed group of believers and unbelievers.

When he uses the word "sinner" (4:8 and 5:20) he is referring to the unregenerate.

The unbiblical idea of calling Christians "sinners" is so wide-spread in the Church that it causes all kinds of confusion in Bible study.

The Scripture NEVER refers to a believer as a "sinner". We do, of course, sin. So loosely speaking, we could be called sinners. But in the New Covenant Scriptures, titles like "sinner" or "saint" express "identity", not behavior.

Born-again believers are not Sinners but Saints (holy ones, separated ones, sanctified ones).

The wide-spread use of "Sinner" to refer to a Christian comes at best from "wrongly dividing" the Word, and at worst from a pseudo humility that is really a form of pride at abasing oneself lower than the next guy.

Why did James seem so schizo in his writing back and forth to believers and "sinners"?

Because James was particularly sensitive to "false profession".

This actually is one of the great values of his epistle, which has been sometimes demeaned by "Grace" teachers, and has confused many.

When we understand the simple fact that a person who is truly saved -- entirely and forever by Grace through faith, apart from good works! -- WILL nevertheless have "Fruit" in their life as a RESULT of their New Birth, we can grasp James' faith-works teachings easily.

But if we take the so-called "Free Grace Theology" view (Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie) that a person can be truly saved and then have NO fruit in their lives and live a completely ungodly unrepentant life, then James makes no sense.

Terry Rayburn said...


You said a lot in your comment, and I heartily agree with what you said in general.

I would add to or modify your comments by saying that there is an evident "spiritual" and "physical" Israel.

You are right that a Gentile is not a sub-member of the spiritual Kingdom of God. And I've seen some of that same attitude that you have. Often it's shown among blatant Legalists who impose "Messianic Jewish" things on the Church, such as Jewish Feasts and other trappings.

For reasons that are only partly clear to me, however, God has an interest in "physical" Israel, in addition to the "neither Jew nor Greek" spiritual Body of Christ.

I don't take a strong view on end-time "systems", but it does seem pretty clear in Romans 11 that the openness of Gentiles to the Gospel will come to an end in general, and that physical Israel will experience an openness to the Gospel like never before.

Still, your point is well-taken that spiritually speaking, the Jew/Gentile distinction was indeed abolished at the Cross, as far as the "Church" (the "Body of Christ") is concerned.

Adrian said...


I think you're right in stating that God still has a "physical" Israel that He's not done with.

I believe it's a dangerous error when someone concludes that the nation Israel does not matter one iota in God's future plan. But it's more that to their own detriment than I'm hurt and offended by it.


Terry Rayburn said...


I think the Bible teaches that any Law given by God automatically becomes a "moral" law, so I don't think the three-fold distinction is of much use.

Certainly some were "ceremonial" or "civil", but if you were an Israelite, you had better take them seriously as "morality", or you would be under a curse.

The more important distinction is between the Mosaic Covenant, which was made only with Israel, and the New Coveant, which was promised to Israel in the Prophets, but which God has graciously extended to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

The Mosaic Covenant with all 600-plus of its laws, was a conditional covenant which brought blessing or curse on the Israelite, depending on how well they obeyed it's laws (not as to salvation, which was always by grace with a future look to the New Covenant).

While the commandments we find in the New Testament are sometimes different, even "higher" or more lofty than those of the Old, we can learn from Old and New, because we learn of the HEART of our Lord and Savior.

That is, we learn what He loves, what He hates, what His frame of moral reference is, what His character is like, and really how wonderful and good and righteous and holy He is.

The finding out of these things, while certainly humbling to our flesh, should nevertheless thrill us with the awesome Being that our Lord is. And with the stunning Grace and Love by which He has become a Friend to us.

Finally, no Bible student can rightly understand Laws and Covenants without dealing with the plain statement of Rom. 6:14, "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace."

Our acceptance with God simply no longer is based in ANY way (salvation, favor, love, etc.) on the keeping of laws.

Why? Because all of our law-breaking, all of our transgression of His laws, has been paid for and forgiven through the Cross.

When we really grasp that, we are far along to understanding the New Covenant, even while we recognize that His laws are good, and holy, and righteous.

Terry Rayburn said...


Merry Christmas to you and yours, too, brother!

I tried to put up a Christmas post, but Blogger is having "java" issues with my blog and many others, so no go for now.

Anonymous said...

When did the new convenant begin? Some say that it was made in eternity past between God the Father and God the Son. But I find that confusing because it make sense that the convenant was inaugurated by the blood sacrifice of Christ at the cross.

Adrian said...


I agree with you on the law being one package, not three portions like civil, ceremonial, and moral.

But I wonder how prevalent the view is among protestant denominations in their attempt to make the terminology conform to clear understanding. I'd like to poll various denominations to find this out, as a curiosity.

Terry Rayburn said...


There is always a sense in which things that we view in "time" are things of "eternity" or "timeless" with God.

But "in time" the New Covenant was ratified through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

There is nothing to indicate that "in time" it came about earlier, and in fact was promised "in time" by the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

So in "eternity" it was a done deal before the foundation of the world, but "in time" it began when ratified at the cross.

Phil said...

Thanks,Terry,for your comment...just to clarify, that I was suggesting that there's no separate blessings to modern-day Israel outside of the new covenant doesn't mean that I think God has 'finished with Israel', in the sense of closing them off from entry by faith into the new covenant. Absolutely the contrary. I just feel strongly that it's an implicit denial of the gospel to say anything other than ALL the promises of God are yea and amen IN CHRIST. That's for the church,formed from every tribe, nation and language. Faith, by definition, precludes anything being in the positive column of my ledger,but Christ alone...so I don't at all like the dispensational view of 'two plans' of God...I don't know that a historic pre-mil view has any NT warrant. I can certainly see that God may sovereignly bring about the salvation of an unusual proportion of modern day Israelis before Christ returns, but not as the fulfilment of any promise that those in Christ don't have...I think Rom 11 is describing the process God sovereignly employed post-cross to turn unbelieving Jews to faith by jealousy on account of Gentiles entering into the fulfilment of the promises. All but a remnant of Israel were judiciously given over to their unbelief. But only until the consummation of that judgement in AD 70. And in the meantime, God was using Gentile salvation to recover hardened Jews to the gospel through their jealousy...And after AD70, the Old covenant heritage has demonstrably given way to the greater New Covenant heritage which was always intended. Such that there's neither unique blessings or cursings to modern day Israel, in or out of Christ...I may be not entirely right, but I worry about the ramifications for maintaining a duality in our thinking,concerning 'spiritual Israel' and 'physical Israel'. I think Paul's use of the former term is just to say 'those that are of faith are the heirs of the promise'. He's not saying the church has replaced national Israel, nor that it comes alongside Israel, but that she's the transformtion/fulfilment of Old covenant Israel,just as Christ our new Covenant is of all it's elements...Daniel Thompson, I think, wrote a paper on Rom11 which is over at milpitas bible fellowship's online library. You might be interested. I think the address is solidrock.net,but I may be wrong. Sorry I haven't the link,and sorry for the lack of paragraphs! I'm typing on my phone...hope I'm okay sharing these thoughts.

Phil said...

Just to clarify some, I mean to suggest that the physical Israel of today is not the one that pre-new covenant, were branches on the tree rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. That tree has been transformed - the unbelieving branches of Old covenant Israel were broken off when that covenant was fulfilled and abolished in Christ. Those that were previously 'Gentiles',having not had the Old covenant revelation, were grafted on with 'Jewish' believers as they received the grace of Christ in the new covenant. The tree rooted in the Abrahamic Promise then looks like the fulfilment of that Promise- all it's branches are those who receive Christ apart from works - the church. The tree has been transformed,having received the fulfilment of the promise,and is now rooted in Christ himself. All the branches are now co-heirs with Christ himself. They are all on a level. And all branches outside of the tree are on a level, too. Thus, before God (and when judgement has been handed over to the risen Christ), there is no Jew-Gentile distinction outside of Christ, either. The only reason Paul uses the two identifying terms post-cross,is because the vestiges of the Old covenant remained until AD70, as God was still dealing with nation as a nation before him,while the new covenant realities were sinking in and taking hold...I think!

Terry Rayburn said...


Once again, I think your points are well-taken.

And I enjoyed the piece on Rom. 11 by Thompson for the most part (although I'm not convinced as he is that the "time of the Gentiles" ended in 70 A.D., and the blindness of Israelites as a general state ended then. I would at face value think Rom. 11 puts that yet in the future. I will continue study on that...)

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Phil said...

Thanks,Terry. Yeah, I see your point. I can't remember all the details of Thompson's piece. I guess 'the times of the Gentiles'would have to refer to the peculiarity of that era,when there was an overlap between God's dealings with national Israel and the coming of the Gentiles into the promises at the same time...I do wonder that I'm not trying to force it some. When we look at things pragmatically,historically,it seems otherwise. But then, to view it so, we must still be looking at it through the lens of an ongoing Jew/Gentile distinction of sorts in God's eyes, that judges 'the time of the Gentiles' by the preponderence of salvation from non-'Jewish' backgrounds, over 'Jewish' backgrounds...It certainly would be wonderful if many 'Jews' of today came to Christ and brought with them a fresh injection of new covenant faith into the church,perhaps like has never been seen. But then, so it would from anywhere...I have much to get settled in me. Jesus really did promise abundant life,and I want it experientially. A spirit of love,power and a sound mind. Adoption, not fear. Simplicity in Christ our covenant...if you've got more to add sometime on Rom11,Terry,please send your thoughts my way. You can get me at 'tigerbright22' at the hotmail place...hope you are enjoying the season :)

Adrian said...


Keep reaching for that abundant life in Christ. And I pray we all remember to keep the simplicity of the gospel before us; many times we create this gospel that becomes more complicated than it would seem.

Christ in us, the hope of glory.


Phil said...

General thought...we need to make sure that we're not making'Christ in us,the hope of glory' a new 'law' that says 'we're righteous/justified because we're involved/see ourselves involved in a subjective relationship/process. I feel some do that,and it takes us back to Rome. The grace of the gospel is objective before anything else. We were justified apart from works,and apart from anything imparted to us. If we lose the gospel as moment-in-time eternal forgiveness and perfect imputed righteousness apart from works/anything imparted, we lose the only basis for 'no condemnation',and can't be transformed by 'Christ in us'. The gospel is 'it is finished',not 'it is being finished'. And it says,'become a partaker of what is finished in the eternal,in the present,and thus transformed in the present from glory to glory, into the same image. Believe and live'. Believers have that, now,and the faith that is a gift works this way,to express the glory of Christ in them,in whom they are complete...As Terry said, the cross puts us under grace to receive ALL of God's blessings FREELY,which is the only place to receive them. It doesn't do it without righteously qualifying us first,but that qualification is the eternal forgiveness of sins and Christ's perfect righteousness imputed moment-in-time,apart from anything in us,the moment we first believed/received it so...if we don't believe this, we will be filled with self-righteousness, EITHER of the variety that says 'God, I thank you that I'm not like that sinner over there!',OR
the variety that says, 'God, I thank you that I'm not like that self-righteous Pharisee over there!'...and all the while, God still says, 'all who believe are justified from all things,from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses...or a law of your subjective,personal 'faith''. The latter is just another brand of 'a righteousness which is of the law'-a works-righteousness which is one's own, and not 'the righteousness of God which is by genuine faith,and unto all who believe'.

Terry Rayburn said...


Agreed :)

Phil said...

Nice :)