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Components of the New Covenant

laws written on our hearts

by Dennis Pollock

The Book of Hebrews is unique among the New Testament epistles. It really is more of a theological treatise than it is a letter. Some have assumed it was written by Paul, but if so, it certainly bears an entirely different form than Paul’s other epistles. The book begins with this powerful declaration:

God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son… (Hebrews 1:1, 2).

The writer (whoever he was) goes on to declare, through many different ways and using many different arguments, the superiority of Jesus Christ and His New Covenant over Moses and the Old Covenant. He seems concerned that some Jewish believers are being drawn back into a dependence on their Judaism and forsaking their exclusive dependence upon Jesus Christ. He gives some of the most severe warnings found in the New Testament, aimed at those who have professed Jesus and then drawn back from a total confidence in Him. In one such warning he declares:

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end (Hebrews 3:12-14).

In saying that we partake of Christ if we hold fast our confidence to the end, he strongly implies that if we do not hold that confidence to the end, we are not partakers of Jesus. Theologians may argue whether this means one loses their salvation or whether it simply proves they were never saved in the first place, but one way or the other, if you stop trusting in and depending on Christ, you are in big trouble. The book was written primarily for Jews, but the Holy Spirit clearly intended that these truths be made clear to all who profess the Savior. After all, the tendency to draw away from Christ after eagerly embracing Him is not merely a Jewish problem; it is a human problem. In generations past it used to be called backsliding. You don’t hear the term much anymore, but we surely see the concept lived out in the lives of many who slowly evolved from red-hot to lukewarm to ice-cold in the things relating to Jesus Christ.

A New, Superior Covenant

The writer is not only eager to impress Jesus upon his readers; he also makes much about the covenant which He establishes with those who believe on Him. In the midst of his marvelous essay he shares a wonderful description of the nature of that covenant. He is comparing this covenant to the Mosaic covenant, so his target audience is the Jews, but his description of the New Covenant applies to every believer, Jew or Gentile.

His concise and beautiful portrayal of the New Covenant is found in the eighth chapter. He begins by announcing that there was a problem with that first covenant which made it necessary for God to establish a New Covenant:

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 (Hebrews 8:7, 8).

That Old Covenant should have and would have worked beautifully – if it were not for the flawed, selfish nature of those with whom it was made. And of course, those Old Testament Jews were a symbol for every one of us. The problem was us: sinful, lustful, greedy, selfish, independent, rebellious humanity. We simply didn’t have it in us to follow God’s laws and ways and earn His favor. Whether God had chosen Jews or Americans or Russians, or Nigerians, the result of that first covenant would have been exactly the same. We all would have failed and ended up bringing a curse upon ourselves rather than a blessing.

Here’s a news flash: God wasn’t the least bit surprised when the Jews failed to live up to their end of the covenant. He knew this would be the case! He never intended that this covenant be a means of establishing a holy people for Himself. It was simply a cosmic demonstration of the failure of human willpower, human initiative, and human goodness to fulfill the laws of God. God gave the Jewish “students” in this laboratory a big fat F for failure. And though we Gentiles do not have the law as our test, we, too receive an F for failing to follow the laws of conscience, the laws of decency and goodness and kindness. We all fail miserably.

And this failure brought about the necessity of the New Covenant, which is infinitely superior and enables us, with all our flaws and failures, to receive not just a passing grade, but an A+, given as a benefit of the cross and righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are told that: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let’s take a closer look at this New Covenant.

Components of the New Covenant

Component # 1: God’s Laws in Our Hearts In the eighth chapter of Hebrews the writer gives us three main components of the New Covenant which make it work and succeed where the Old Testament failed. The first has to do with the placement of God’s laws and ways:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts (Hebrews 8:10).

Where was God’s law to be found under the Old Covenant? It started out on stone tablets, written by the hand of God. Later those original ten commandments plus many other commandments given to Moses were copied onto scrolls and carefully copied and recopied onto other scrolls by men who made it their life work to copy every single word and letter precisely as they were in the original. These men were called scribes and were considered very holy and very privileged men to be able to have such constant access to the laws and words of God. The average Jew would have had almost no contact with the Scriptures, save that which he or she was taught by the priests.

Somehow having God’s holy laws written on stone and scrolls had never really worked. The problem was that the hearts of men and women were not changed. They could hear the laws and perhaps even appreciate them and declare them righteous. They just couldn’t consistently follow them. Although it was not expressed in such terms, their problem was an indwelling sin nature that dominated them. Much later on, Paul would describe this nature as “the flesh.” It rules to such a degree that good intentions and noble aspirations become impotent and futile. In Romans, Paul writes:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin… For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find (Romans 7: 14, 18).

That was the old way. But now in Hebrews we find that the law of God is written not merely on stone or paper, but on our hearts. This is referring to the indwelling Holy Spirit who is given to every child of God. And when He comes in, He comes complete with all the ways, desires, laws, and passions of God – for He is God. The ways and laws of God are no longer something we read about; they are imprinted on our hearts, living and pulsing within us day and night. And they bring far more than just a mental knowledge of what God wants for us. They bring the power and presence of God which make it possible for us to actually do what He wants. We receive both the knowledge of God’s ways and the motivation to keep those ways. The Scriptures tell us: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

The Old Covenant motivation was the whip and the carrot: “Obey Me and I will bless you like crazy; disobey Me and I will curse everything you touch.” One would think that this might work, but in fact it was a dismal failure. The New Covenant which would replace it was foreseen by the prophet Ezekiel, who wrote:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).

Notice: “You will keep My judgments…” Not “You might keep them,” or “You’d better keep them,” but “You will keep them.” God’s indwelling Spirit, given exclusively to New Covenant believers in Jesus, makes this a reality.

Component # 2: All Shall Know Me Under the Old Covenant there were always a select few who experienced God in an intimate way: Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and other prophets and people (usually men) especially anointed for specific tasks. But the average Israelite had almost no personal knowledge of God. A very few really knew Him; most did not. Even in the matter of offering sacrifices the common people required a priest to “make atonement for them.” But under the New Covenant it is different. In Hebrews we read:

And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them (Hebrews 8:10, 11).

God declares that through the New Covenant based on the blood of His Son, every last believer shall have a personal relationship with Him. We need no special priest or holy man to go to God on our behalf. We can all enjoy fellowship with God, we can all be filled with the Holy Spirit, we can all hear the voice of God. Jesus declared, “My sheep hear my voice,” not “my pastors hear my voice,” or “My bishops hear my voice” or “My holy, praying, fasting, super-saints hear My voice.” Just “My sheep” – common everyday people: plumbers and department store clerks, mechanics and computer experts, doctors and dentists, and all the rest that make up the great big, disparate body of Christ. It is our heritage through the everlasting covenant of Jesus Christ to hear God’s voice, to experience His Holy Spirit touching our hearts, and to sense that quiet witness within us, telling us that we are the children of God.

Component # 3: Forgiveness of Sins In the third component the writer is reminding us of the one prerequisite which makes all the benefits of the New Covenant possible, the forgiveness of our sins. He writes:

For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more (Hebrews 8:12).

In the act of the new birth, three great events are intermingling to such a degree that it is impossible to say where one begins and the other ends. Those three events are: repentance, faith, and forgiveness. Like a three-legged stool, remove any one of them and the others cannot stand. But where genuine repentance and faith in Jesus are present, the forgiveness of sins is certain to be found. And this forgiveness, resulting in a permanent state called justification, is at the heart of this New Covenant which is so infinitely superior to the Old one. Guilt, condemnation, a lawless past, a history of shame, a reputation of wickedness… all are wiped away in a moment through the power of the cross, the blood, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Heart of It All

These three components make up the essence of what Jesus came to this earth to accomplish in the lives of men and women. God’s great desire for every human on our planet is that we might know Him, be indwelt by Him, and live in a state of forgiveness and justification. It is a glorious inheritance, courtesy of our Savior. May we never shrink back, but keep on believing, keep on trusting, keep on depending on Jesus until that Day when we see Him face to face!


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