The New Covenant Life
This quarter has been a study on the covenant, which (to pare it down to its simplest, purest form) is, basically, God saying, This is how I will save you from sin, period.
Though the outcome, the grand finale, of the covenant promise is, of course, eternal life in a world made new, we do not have to wait until that time to enjoy the covenant blessings today. The Lord cares about our lives now; He wants the best for us now. The covenant is not some deal where you do this and this and this and then, a long way off, you will get your reward. The rewards, the gifts—they are blessings that those who by faith enter into the covenant relation can enjoy here and now.
This week’s lesson, the final in our series on the covenant, looks at some of these immediate blessings, some of the promises that come from God’s grace shed into our hearts because, having heard Him knock, we have opened the door. Of course, there are more blessings than what we can touch on this week. It is just a start, the start of something that will, indeed, never end.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 26.
Look at what John wrote here. In a few simple words, he expresses what should be one of the great advantages we, as covenant people, have—and that is the promise of joy.
As Christians, we are often told not to go by feeling, that faith is not feeling, and that we need to get beyond our feelings, all of which is true. But at the same time, we would not be human beings if we were not creatures of feelings, emotions, and moods. We cannot deny our feelings; what we need to do is understand them, give them their proper role, and, as much as possible, keep them under control. But to deny them is to deny what it means to be human (we might as well tell a circle not to be round). Indeed, as this verse says, not only should we have feelings (in this case joy), but they also should be full. It hardly sounds as if feelings are to be denied, does it?
John was one of the original Twelve. He was there, almost from the start of Christ’s three-and-a-half-year ministry, a witness to some of the most amazing events of Jesus’ life. (John was there at the cross, at Gethsemane, and at the Transfiguration, as well). Thus, as an eyewitness, he was certainly well-qualified to talk about this subject.
Yet, notice, too, that the emphasis is not on himself; it is on what Jesus had done for the disciples so they can now have fellowship not only with each other but also with God Himself. Jesus has opened the way for us to enter into this close relationship with the Lord; and one result of this fellowship—this relationship—is joy. John wants them to know that what they have heard about Jesus is true (he saw, touched, felt, and heard Him), and thus they, too, can enter in a joyful relationship with their heavenly Father, who loves them and gave Himself through His Son for them.
A young woman had been brutally murdered, her killer unknown. The police, setting a trap, placed a hidden microphone in her grave. One evening, many months after her death, a young man approached the grave and, kneeling and weeping, begged the woman for forgiveness. The police, of course, monitoring his words, nabbed him for the crime. What drove the man to the grave? It was guilt.
Of course, though none of us (we hope) has ever done anything as bad as what that young man did, we all are guilty; we all have done things we are ashamed of, things that we wish we could undo but cannot.
Thanks to Jesus and the blood of the new covenant, none of us has to live under the stigma of guilt. According to the text for today, there is no condemnation against us. The ultimate Judge counts us as not guilty, counts us as if we have not done the things we feel guilty about.
One of the great promises of living in a covenant relationship with the Lord is that we no longer have to live under the burden of guilt. Because of the blood of the covenant, we—who choose to enter into that covenant relationship with God, who choose to abide by the conditions of faith, repentance, obedience—can have the burden of guilt lifted. When Satan seeks to whisper in our ears that we are evil, that we are bad, that we are too sinful to be accepted by God, we can do what Jesus did when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness: we can quote Scripture, and one of the best of all verses to quote is Romans 8:1. This does not mean denying the reality of sin in our lives; it means, instead, because of the covenant relationship we have with the Lord, we no longer live under the condemnation of that sin. Jesus paid the penalty for us, and He now stands in the presence of the Father pleading His own blood on our behalf, presenting His own righteousness instead of our sins.
As earlier studies this quarter showed, the new covenant is one in which the Lord puts the law in our hearts (Jer. 31:31–33). Not only is the law there, but also according to the texts for today, Christ is as well, which, of course, makes good sense, for Christ and His law are closely connected. Thus, with Christ’s law in our hearts, and with Christ dwelling there too (the Greek word translated in the above text as dwell also means “to settle in,” giving the idea of permanency), we come to another one of the great covenant benefits—a new heart.
Read again the text for today. Notice that Paul stresses the element of love, saying that we must be “rooted and grounded” in it. These words imply stability, firmness, and permanency in the foundation of love. Our faith means nothing if it is not rooted in love for God and love for others (Matt. 22:37–39, 1 Corinthians 13). This love does not come in a vacuum. On the contrary, it comes because we get a glimpse of God’s love for us (a love that “passeth understanding”) as manifested through Jesus. As a result, by Him working in us, our lives are changed, our hearts are changed, and we become new people with new thoughts, new desires, and new goals. Our reaction to God’s love for us enables Him to change our hearts and instill in us love for others. Perhaps this is what Paul means, at least partially, when he talks about us being filled with “the fulness of God.”
There are two dimensions to eternal life. The present dimension brings to the believer an experience of the abundant life now (John 10:10), which includes the many promises that we have been given for our lives now.
The future dimension is, of course, eternal life—the promise of the resurrection of the body (John 5:28, 29; John 6:39). Though still in the future, that is the one event that makes everything else worth it, the one event that caps all our hopes as Christians.
Of course, we all die, but according to Jesus, this death is only a sleep, a temporary hiatus that—for those who believe in Him—will end in the resurrection of life. When Christ returns, the dead in Christ will rise immortal, and the living followers of Christ will, in the twinkling of an eye, be changed into immortality. Both the dead and the living who are Christ’s will possess the same kind of resurrection body. Immortality begins at that time for God’s people.
What a great joy to know now that our end is not in the grave but that there is no end, that we will have a new life that lasts forever.
“Christ became one flesh with us, in order that we might become one spirit with Him. It is by virtue of this union that we are to come forth from the grave—not merely as a manifestation of the power of Christ, but because, through faith, His life has become ours. Those who see Christ in His true character, and receive Him into the heart, have everlasting life. It is through the Spirit that Christ dwells in us; and the Spirit of God, received into the heart by faith, is the beginning of the life eternal.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 388.
All over the world, people often struggle with what South African writer Laurens Van Der Post called “the burden of meaninglessness.” People find themselves with the gift of life, yet they do not know what to do with it, do not know what the purpose of this gift is, and do not know how to use it. It is like giving someone a library filled with rare books, only to have the person not read the books but use them to build fires. What a terrible waste of something so precious!
For the new covenant Christian, however, that problem is not one they need to struggle with. On the contrary, those who know (and have personally experienced) the wonderful news of a crucified and risen Savior, who died for the sins of every human being everywhere that they all might have eternal life, know joy. Considering the unequivocal call in Matthew 28:19, 20, the believer certainly has a mission and purpose in life, and that is to spread to the world the wonderful truth he or she has personally experienced in Christ Jesus. What a privilege! Almost anything else we do in this world will end when this world does. But spreading the gospel to others is a work that will make an imprint on eternity. Talk about a sense of mission and purpose!
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “God’s People Delivered,” pp. 635–645, in The Great Controversy; “Rejoicing in the Lord,” pp. 115–126, in Steps to Christ.
“The holy Son of God had no sins or griefs of his own to bear: he was bearing the griefs of others; for on him was laid the iniquity of us all. Through divine sympathy he connects himself with man, and as the representative of the race he submits to be treated as a transgressor. He looks into the abyss of woe opened for us by our sins, and proposes to bridge the gulf of man’s separation from God.”—Ellen G. White, Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 1, 1892.
“Come, my brother, come just as you are, sinful and polluted. Lay your burden of guilt on Jesus, and by faith claim His merits. Come now, while mercy lingers; come with confession, come with contrition of soul, and God will abundantly pardon. Do not dare to slight another opportunity. Listen to the voice of mercy that now pleads with you to arise from the dead that Christ may give you light. Every moment now seems to connect itself directly with the destinies of the unseen world. Then let not your pride and unbelief lead you to still further reject offered mercy. If you do you will be left to lament at the last: ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ ”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 353.
Summary: The covenant is not just some deep theological concept; instead, it defines the parameters of our saving relationship with Christ, a relationship that reaps us wonderful benefits now and at His return.