Let’s get these covenants separated. That simple step will make a world of difference in understanding our Bible. Over three weeks, I’ve been sharing a three-part series of teachings on the “Sunday Preaching” broadcast called, “Two Covenants, Not One.” For many years, I stayed confused when I read the Bible because I didn’t understand this simple aspect of understanding the Scripture.
The Old and New Covenants are very different from each other in many ways. God told those in the Old Covenant that a day was going to come when He would make a New Covenant with His people and it would not be like the covenant He had made with them through their Fathers (Jer. 31:31-32).
Through Jesus Christ, that day came to us so that now the covenant He has made is totally different – not at all the same. It’s new and, according to Hebr. 8:13, the old one is “obsolete.” It has passed away. It’s gone, expired, finished, over!
Isn’t the Old Testament God’s Word?
This fact is a sticking point in many people’s minds. “Isn’t the Old Testament God’s Word?” they will ask. Of course the Old Testament is as much a part of the Bible as the New Testament, but here’s a key that will help us immeasurably when we understand it. The Old Testament was not written to us! It was written for us, but not to us (Rom. 15:4). There’s a big difference. That’s why the Apostle Paul cautioned Timothy to take great care to ensure that he would “rightly divide the word of truth” when he taught the Bible (2 Tim. 2:15). All kinds of trouble are created in our minds and lives when we don’t do that.
First of all, the Law was never even given to the Gentiles. It was given to Israel. Consider these texts:
These are the statutes, the ordinances, and the laws that the Lord gave between Himself and the children of Israel on Mount Sinai, by the hand of Moses (Lev. 26:46).
He tells His words to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He did not do so to any nation … (Ps. 147:19-20).
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves. . . (Rom. 2:14).
The New And the Old Don’t Mix!
Christians today put themselves in a confusing cycle of condemnation when they try to apply an Old Covenant mentality to understanding the Bible. The New and the Old don’t mix!
Example: Do you believe your heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things? If you do, it’s because you’ve failed to “rightly divide the word.” God had Jeremiah tell the people that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9) but in Rom. 5:5 Paul said that “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” Which is true? They both are! It was true when Jeremiah said it to those to whom He spoke in the Old Covenant and Paul’s words are true for we who live under the New Covenant! Do you see the confusion that happens when we fail to make the distinction between the covenants? There are many biblical texts like that. When we read the Bible, we need to ask ourselves, “Who is speaking? To whom is he speaking? When is He speaking?” These are basic questions that will settle a lot of confusion in reading the Bible.
When Does the New Covenant Start?
Remember this: The new covenant doesn’t start at Matt. 1:1. It starts at the death of Jesus. The importance of this fact can’t be overstated. Hebr. 9:16 says, “For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it.” In other words, a Last Will & Testament means nothing until the person who wrote it dies. That’s important even when we read the New Testament pages.
For instance, you’ll get yourself into a world of confusion if you try to apply the Sermon on the Mount to yourself. Remember that Jesus hadn’t died when He spoke those words. He was talking to them, not you. They were a group of people who thought they could gain righteousness by their moral living so Jesus showed them just how impossible that is. He said things like, “If you lust, gouge your eye out. If you steal, cut your hand off.” So here’s the question: Do you really believe that’s what you’re supposed to do? “Of course not!” a critic might respond, “It was obvious He didn’t really mean that!” Wait, a minute. If you claim that we’re supposed to do everything Jesus said, you can’t take that cop-out. The Bible isn’t a menu you can choose from.
The Importance of Rightly Dividing the Covenants
The fact is that if we don’t rightly divide the covenants, we will end up treating the Bible like a buffet where we take the things we like but leave the things we don’t like. That’s no way to treat the Scripture. Better to respect the Scripture enough to accurately interpret it instead. No, Jesus wasn’t telling you to pluck your eye out. He wasn’t even talking to you.
One more example: Jesus said that if we don’t forgive people who have offended us, then God won’t forgive those who don’t forgive. (Matt. 6:14-15) Do you really think that’s for you? Do you honestly believe that it’s possible that you’ve trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, walked with Him, known and loved Him, trusted in His finished work on the cross and now, if it should happen that somebody offends you and you die before you’ve forgiven them that you won’t be forgiven? Anybody who even slightly uses common sense knows that can’t be right!
What’s the answer? The answer is that Jesus spoke those words before the cross – before the inauguration of the New Covenant. Notice how everything changed after the cross.
Eph. 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you”. Notice here that we forgive because we have already been forgiven, not so we can get it.
What does Col. 3:13 teach is our motivation to forgive others? “… bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”
See how everything changes with the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New?
Let’s get our covenants separated. That simple step will make a world of difference in understanding our Bible.