Sunday, June 27, 2021

New Covenant – individual walk and corporate responsibility

I've been traveling for work, so I've been a little distanced from the blog. We got back safe and sound, so I'm trying to get back to "real life."

Scripture tells us that God's purpose is to head up all things "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). While that includes individuals who are saved and brought into eternal blessing, it also includes groups of individuals. When we examine individual salvation in the Old Testament (Romans 4:1–8), we find that David and Abraham were both justified by faith without works. Abraham was a man before the Law (Galatians 3:15–18), David was a man under the Law. But both were justified the same way, and both are held up as models for us. God only justifies on the principle of faith without works. God has only ever justified sinners one way: by grace through faith. There is no difference between a man without Law and a man with Law. There is no difference between Gentiles and Jewish people, between men and women, between wicked sinners and respectable members of society. All need God's righteousness, and He only gives it to those who do not work, but believe (Romans 4:5).

But God is at work not only with individuals, but with the world as a whole. So while David and Abraham were justified the same way, they were under different earthly responsibilities. David was a sinner who needed God's righteous. Abraham was a sinner who needed God's righteousness. On the individual level, there is no difference. But from a dispensational perspective (if I can use that expression), there is tremendous difference. David was a member of the nation of Israel, given the Mosaic (Old) Covenant. There is responsibility there that the patriarchs just did not have.

And don't let's forget that David had a much more complete revelation from God than Abraham had.

There is now a different responsibility than even David had: there is now the assembly on earth. In Abraham's time, there was no house of God on earth. The house of God is mentioned first by Jacob (Genesis 28:17), then by Moses (Exodus 15:17). This isn't something Abraham had, but it's something David had (1 Chronicles 6:31), and it's something we now have (Ephesians 2:19–22).

As an aside, it's worth reading Darby's commentary on Exodus 15 with respect to the dwelling of God on earth.

Now the assembly is the "habitation of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). And this carries earthly (dispensational) responsibility. We are individually justified by God freely through faith, but as a group, there is responsibility for the assembly of God on earth. This is precisely the point of Revelation 2 and 3. We have two chapters of the Lord's assessment of that responsibility, and it's clear, complete, and scathing. To put it bluntly, the assembly of God has failed just as completely as Israel did before us.

Let me pause here for a moment... I am sure that when the Lord judges the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, He's not limiting His judgment to those who are born again. There are false professors, as well as genuine children of God in those churches. But He treats them all as "the church" in the context of dispensational responsibility. We see the same thing in Jude 1:4, there are certain men who have crept in "unnoticed" – they blend in with the real believers, but they're not real believers. 2 Peter 2:1–3 says the same thing: they're among us. And the Lord doesn't give the true believers a pass when He judges the seven churches in Asia, He judges the church because they have false teachers there (Revelation 2:14–15, 2:20). 

So judgment begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), and we as the assembly aren't an exception. The house of God is a very real responsibility on the earth. This isn't an eternal thing, and it's not an individual thing: it's the corporate responsibility of the church of God on earth.

Again, let's try and be clear that we're not talking about individual salvation: that's not what the house of God is about. This is about God's having a place on this earth that is His. His name is there, His reputation is tied to it. In the Old Testament, that was in Israel. It was first in Shiloh, then in Jerusalem (Psalm 78:60–72). And I have no doubt that Psalm 132:14–18 looks forward to a time when the house of God will be established in Jerusalem again, then the Lord Himself is there. But that hasn't happened yet.

Now here's where we get back to the New Covenant: the New Covenant promises "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:6–12). On an individual level, that has always been true – God does not at all reckon sin to the one who is justified by faith without works (Psalm 32:1–2, Romans 4:6–8). But on a corporate level, that is not true even in the church! Revelation 2 and 3 make it very clear that the Lord sees our [corporate] failures, and He even holds them against us (Revelation 2:4, etc.) 1 Peter 4:17 isn't a meaningless side note: judgment begins in the house of God. Paul says the same thing with regard to the assembly, "let each see how he builds upon it" (1 Corinthians 3:10).

So there is at least one sense in which the New Covenant is better than the present state of the church.

Now, it's very true that the New Testament speaks of the assembly in more than one sense. There is the sense that the assembly is the house of God – and there is responsibility and judgment associated with that – there is also the sense that the assembly is the body of Christ, which is a different thing. The house of God may include false professors, but the body of Christ cannot. Still, the body of Christ is a temporal, earthly thing. When we look outside of our time on this earth, we see not the body of Christ, but the bride of Christ. That is an eternal thing, and certainly no false professor has a part in that.

So to bring this all back: God's saving individuals by grace through faith without works is universal: from Adam until the last day, God only ever saves individuals one way. The Law added nothing to that, and takes nothing away from it. God only saves sinners one way.

But when it comes to responsibility before God in the earthly responsibility that He has given us, that has changed many times. Abraham and David – both justified by faith without works – had very different responsibilities before God on earth. And our responsibilities are different even from theirs. But I am convinced that the Mosaic (Old) and New Covenants are given in that context: the context of corporate responsibility, not individual walk.

I didn't mean to go on like that. Maybe it's best to end this here and we can go on with the New Covenant next time.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The New Covenant – Covenants

It seems to me that "covenant" is a popular word among Christians right now. It was in the last five years I noticed that the new Christian phrase was "covenant marriage," and while not as ubiquitous as it was five years ago, it's still pretty widely used.

I have no idea what people mean by "covenant marriage." I've heard sermons on it, and I still don't know. My suspicion is that Christians just add the "covenant" qualifier to Christianize things. The Catholic idea of the sacrament of marriage might be closer to Scripture, but I digress.

As far as I can tell, we are under the Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9:1–7). This is the main reason I eat meat, but do not eat blood (Genesis 9:4). It seems to me that I, as a Gentile, am definitely a descendant of  Noah, and bound by that covenant.

As an aside, I don't think that means it's a sin if we ever ingest a single corpuscle of blood, but that we make a good faith effort to bleed out an animal before we eat it. I'm certain there are traces of blood in any meat we eat. The times I have personally killed an animal to eat it, I have done my best to bleed it out, treating the blood as though it's not mine, but God's. I think that is what Genesis 9 is calling us to do (cf. Leviticus 17:13–14).

I know some Reformed folks who don't share my convictions about eating blood. As I understand it, their argument centers on Mark 7:19 (ESV), "Thus he declared all foods clean," I don't find that compelling, given the Apostles' prohibition on eating blood in Acts 15:22–29. It seems to me that the Lord's declaration that all foods are clean didn't include things which were never given to us as food. Of course our Reformed friends should eat what they feel free before the Lord to eat, giving thanks to the Father through Christ, just like I should eat what I feel free before the Lord to eat, giving thanks to the Father through Christ.

Back to the covenants...

The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 15:13–21) is a little more difficult to place in context for believers. As far as I can tell, I am from entirely Gentile stock. I am unaware of any trace of Abrahamic ancestry. So in that regard, the Abrahamic Covenant doesn't apply to me. 

It doesn't seem to me that the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 22:15–18 are properly part of the Abrahamic Covenant, but I'm sure many Christians disagree (more on that another time). Those promises are certainly given to Christ (Galatians 3:13–16), and through Him to the Gentiles. Notice the parallel here to Genesis 22:18 – it was always God's plan and His promise to bless "all the nations" through Abraham, through Christ.

So my understanding is that the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 15:13–21 is distinct from the promises He made in Genesis 22:15–18. Galatians quotes only the latter (Galatians 3:13–16), not the former, as being given to the nations through Christ. That seems consistent with the text of Genesis 15, which contains no "and thy seed" clause. And notice, Genesis 22 doesn't say anything about the land of Canaan.

We've discussed the Mosaic ("Old") and New Covenants in detail, so we needn't discuss them here. The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:8–17) lies historically between them. Here again, there is no direct application to the Church: it's a covenant God made with David, effectively promising him a dynasty – a kingdom for his descendants to inherit.

So I believe we are directly under the Noahic Covenant. As a Gentile, that's where it ends for me... well, that's the end of the direct connections. When we look at those covenants through the lens of our role as Asenath, we find things look a bit different.

Ultimately, all those covenants center on Christ. Galatians 3:13–16 makes that explicit about the promises made to Abraham, Hebrews 1:5 quotes the Davidic Covenant as applying to Christ. And certainly we don't have to look hard to see the connections between Him and the Mosaic Covenant, nor for the New Covenant. 

So when we see ourselves as united with Christ: when we see that we have died with Him (Romans 6:2, Galatians 2:19–20, Colossians 3:3), have been buried with Him (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:11–12), have risen with Him ( Romans 6:5, Ephesians 2:5–6, Colossians 2:13, 3:1), and are seated in heavenly places with Him (Ephesians 2:6)... when we realize that He is our life (Colossians 3:4)... then we begin to take a deep interest in those covenants. Not because they have anything to do with me, but because they have everything to do with Him (2 Corinthians 1:18–22).

We'll discuss the New Covenant in more detail another time, but for now let's just say this: we don't need to gain any benefits from any of the covenants. We have Christ, "who has been made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and holiness, and redemption; that according as it is written, He that boasts, let him boast in [the] Lord" (1 Corinthians 1:30–31).


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

New Covenant (again)

Over the past few years I've heard several statements about the New Covenant that made me stop and say, "Wait... what?" It seems to me that people use the term "New Covenant" in a vague way that's foreign to Scripture, resulting in a whole lot of confusion and inconsistency.

So let's examine the New Covenant in detail.

The New Covenant is given explicitly in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 31:31–34. We notice promises in Isaiah 61:6–9, Jeremiah 32:36–41, and  Ezekiel 37:21–28 of an "everlasting covenant," which I take to be the same New Covenant given in Jeremiah 31, but they're not explicit about the terms.  

The New Covenant is mentioned in Hebrews 8 & 9 (Hebrews 8:8–12 introduces the New Covenant by quoting Jeremiah 31) and 2 Corinthians 3:1–6.  It is also mentioned in connection with the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25.

Hebrews 13:20 refers to the "eternal covenant," which I take to be the New Covenant. There are some  I deeply respect who think Hebrews 13:20 is referring to a covenant made in eternity past between the Father and the Son, but I disagree. I think it is a reference to Ezekiel 37:26. The difficulty is that Ezekiel talks about the everlasting covenant, while Hebrews refers to the eternal covenant. I'm no scholar, but Ezekiel 37:26 in the Septuagint reads identically to Hebrews 13:20. In other words, I think the difference between "eternal" and "everlasting" is merely an indication of the LXX rendering of Ezekiel.

 So what are the terms of the New Covenant? Jeremiah 31:31–34 (NASB) reads:

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.”

This is the most explicit statement we have in Scripture about the New Covenant. Hebrews 8:7–13 quotes this passage as the definitive statement.

I've stated before that I take Darby's view, that the New Covenant doesn't apply to the Church: it's a covenant with "the house of Israel and the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 31:31). See "The Covenants" (Collected Writings, Volume 3, pp. 44–56). I think William Kelly is even more explicit in his denial that the Church is connected with the New Covenant. From An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Chapter 8, his comments on Hebrews 8:8–9:

Equally vain is the dream that the church, or the Christian, is here contemplated. On every sound principle of interpretation the same people, and in its divided houses, is reserved for future blessing, whose iniquities the prophet bewailed and denounced. The truth always suffers by tampering with its integrity or by ignorance. Israel only had the first covenant; Israel by grace will have the second. Israel lost their privileges and land under the old; Israel will be restored and blessed more than ever and for ever in their land under the new covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31 gives the New Covenant as a Covenant between God and "the house of Israel and the house of Judah." If we read the verse out of context, we miss an important detail here: it's given in the context of a reunited Israel – Israel and Judah reunited into a single nation.

If we remember our Old Testament history, we recall that Jeremiah is in the last days of the kingdom of Judah – the southern kingdom – he is there at the start of the Babylonian Captivity.  Let's not forget that Jeremiah is actually a couple generations after the Assyrian Captivity: the kingdom of Israel – the northern kingdom – no longer exists by Jeremiah's time. There is only "the house of Judah," there is no longer a "house of Israel." 

Jeremiah 31:16–20 foretells the restoration of Ephraim. When the prophets speak about Ephraim they almost always mean the northern kingdom. It's synecdoche: Ephraim means the northern kingdom, just like Judah means the southern kingdom. Maybe we should discuss Ephraim in more detail another time.

So Jeremiah 31:16–34 gives the New Covenant in the context of a repentant Ephraim and a reunited nation: all twelve tribes gathered back together. Notice this is exactly paralleled in Ezekiel 37:15–28, vv. 15–22 foretell the reunification of Judah and Ephraim into one nation, vv. 23–28 foretell the "everlasting" covenant God will make with them when they are reunited into the land (Ezekiel 37:25).

So both Jeremiah and Ezekiel specify that the New Covenant will be given after all twelve tribes are brought back into the land as a single nation. Hosea 14:1–9 foretells the repentance of Ephraim as the triggering event for the millennial kingdom. Hosea doesn't mention the New Covenant, but we see that it foretells the same event as Ezekiel 37:15–22 and Jeremiah 31:16–20. So the New Covenant is made at the start of the millennial kingdom.

Notice Jeremiah 31:32 contrasts the New Covenant with the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai. Hebrews 8:6–13 elaborates on this, referring to the Mosaic Covenant as the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:13). In other words, Hebrews 8–9 presents the New Covenant in contrast to the Mosaic Covenant (the "Old Covenant"). 

We might ask the question, was Abraham under the New Covenant or the Old Covenant? The answer is, neither. Abraham was under neither the Old Covenant nor the New Covenant, as Galatians 3:15–19 shows. Galatians develops its doctrine from the fact that the Law was given 430 years after Abraham. In other words, Abraham was not under the Old Covenant (which Jeremiah 31:32 tells us was made "in the day of my taking them by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt").  He certainly isn't under the New, if he predates the Old.

The patriarchs predate the Old Covenant as well as the New Covenant.

Romans 4:1–13 develops the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone based on the lives of Abraham and David. Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised (Romans 4:10–12), centuries before the Old Covenant was given (Galatians 3:15–19). On the other hand, David was justified by faith as a man who was circumcised, a man under the law. But he, too, was justified by faith without works (Romans 4:6–8). 

Notice the Romans 4:7–8 quotes Psalm 32:1–2, "blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not at all reckon sin." In other words, a person who is justified by faith alone – without works (Romans 4:6) – is a man whose sins God does not count. And notice David makes this statement centuries before Jeremiah promises the New Covenant, including "their sin will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). That seems like a contradiction, doesn't it?

The New Covenant isn't individual. It's national, just like the Old Covenant before it. God doesn't justify sinners based on the covenants, but based on His sovereign grace, based on the blood of Christ (Romans 3:21–26). God has only ever justified sinners on the basis of faith, on the basis of the blood of Christ. It doesn't matter whether we're discussing Abraham (before the Old Covenant was given) or David (a man under the Law), God only ever justifies sinners one way. 

Someone once shared with me a quote from (I think) Charles Ryrie. It was something to the effect that Dispensationalism recognizes God has purposes both in individual salvation and in His government on earth. They are both true, but they are not the same thing. The Covenants apply to the latter (God's government on earth), not the former (the eternal salvation of individuals). We tend to miss this if we're not careful: when we think of dispensations, we're really thinking about God's government over the earth, not His work in eternal salvation.

So when Jeremiah 31:34 promises a Covenant under which God no longer remembers sins, it's not talking about individual justification, but about national sins. That's starting to sound a lot like Acts 2:38, isn't it?

I feel like there's more to say, but we can perhaps say it another time. My entire point is not to convince people that the New Covenant has no bearing on the Church (which might not actually be a true statement, despite everything I said here), but to point out that it is so frequently misreferenced and misquoted that people seem entirely unaware what Scripture actually says about it. If we stick to what Scripture actually says about the New Covenant, we find something very, very different from what most Christians seem to think. It's funny how much of what we say and think and believe seems entirely divorced from what Scripture actually says.