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Two Covenants
(From the Epistle, 2 Cor. iii.4ff,Trinity XII)

A contrast between the two covenants.

The 'letter” and the “Spirit”.

One kills, the other gives life.

One is a ministration of death, the other a ministration of the Spirit.

One was written by God on tablets of stone, the other on tablets of human hearts by the Holy Spirit.

One brings condemnation, the other righteousness.

It is important that we understand the contrast between the two, because it is very easy for us to bring into the New Covenant all the force and nature of the Old, if we are not careful. It is easy to reimpose the Law, and forget about the Spirit, as we shall see. And the results are disastrous, both in our personal relationships, and in our church life.

We need to remind ourselves always that both covenants have ultimately had only one purpose in mind. Let's go again to the Summary of the Law that we remind ourselves of practically every Sunday as part of our Anglican worship: (BCP p. 69, bottom).

There are only two commandments that Jesus points us two as being of ultimate importance, and both of them are attached to one word, one very important word: Love. It is at once the simplest of all concepts to understand and the very most difficult for us to practice, because it involves maturity, careful thought, responsibility, and reliance upon God. It is exactly the opposite of blind, mechanical, slavish obedience to laws and regulations.

Love is the end result of law. We learn the law so we can learn to love.

I think it will help us to review the two covenants. We will see that there is a process of development. The first covenant of Law had to be introduced in order to prepare us for the second covenant of Grace, whose rule is love. The one is a preparation for the other. We will see that there is no need to return to the first, if we fully understand the implications of the second, although we are constantly tempted to do so. In fact, the mark of our success as New Covenant believers is determined by our refusal to return to the Law.

The Law:

God is who He is, and He cannot misrepresent Himself to mankind. He wished to bring His chosen people Israel, and through them the entire world, into covenant with Himself, and in doing so, He is obligated to be completely open to them about all that is involved. What sort of a marriage would it be if prospective spouses were not as open and candid with one another as they possibly can be? God knows it is best for sinful man to be exposed to His nature in all of its purity, holiness, and righteousness. It is for man's own good.

This is the Law. It tells us how we must live if we are to live in communion with God. It is the key to our happiness, our peace, our eternal life.

But with the inauguration of the Law, note that a system of sacrifices for sin was also put in place, because God, knowing man in his sinfulness, knew that he would continually transgress the Law. And since the Law is unchangeable and its demands cannot be altered, because God in His very nature cannot be changed, a means must be found to deal with man, who is an incurable transgressor of the Law. God presented the Law in all its beauty to the pinnacle of His creation --man-- made in the image of God, but nevertheless destined to be the chief breaker of that Law, the chief despiser of it, the chief transgressor and rejecter or it. Why? Because "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Ro. 3:23).

Man, the victim of his own pride and willfulness, is ruined as far as fulfilling his special place of hoped for relationship with his Creator, unless that Creator should choose to do something about it. The pattern seems clear. Israel's best efforts toward obedience are invariably marred with sin and rebellion. The entire history of Israel is one of abject inability and failure to keep the Law as it was given on Sinai. The nation couldn't even get past the First Commandment: Thou shalt have none other gods but Me. Never mind the other nine commandments, all of which were also continually broken. And so a sacrificial system to atone for those sins is immediately instituted, as well: God's gracious provision.

And so the Law --"holy, just and good" (Ro. 7:12)-- brings death, because it represents unchangeable standards that I am commanded to meet, but due to my sin I am powerless to fulfill. Under the old covenant, I can only try and fail, try and fail, unless God intervenes.

Jeremiah sums up the dilemma in these words (Jer. 30:12-15).

But in the very next chapter, a new and better covenant is foreshadowed: (Jer. 31:31-34).

This is the New Covenant. The Law is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Himself, who places the very nature of God within us. He grants us the power we need to obey His Law. Does this mean that now, as new covenant believers, we must and can perfectly obey? No, it does not, for we cannot. The process of perfection is ongoing with us, and we will not be capable of perfect behavior until we are completely separate from these sinful bodies, which will not happen until the old order of things has been completely replaced. Because of this, He has also provided us with complete provision for our failures: the death of Christ on our behalf. For His death for sin involves all sins --past, present, and future. He is our ongoing assurance of forgiveness. How could our situation be more wonderful, for we not only possess His holy and perfect Law written now upon our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, but we are assured that a precious safety-net of forgiveness and restoration are provided us by Christ's death on the cross.

But now I want to turn a corner. The Law has a very peculiar way of capturing our attention over and over again, and of facilitating us in dropping the most important burden of our lives: to love God and our neighbor. We turn to laws, regulations, and rules that either are imposed upon us by others who feel they know better than we do how we should live, or by ourselves, upon each other, in an effort to “play God” in each other's lives, and keep one another in line. This is a constant temptation.

I don't know about you, but I find it simpler to live life if I have the written assurance of a bunch of do's and don'ts. I mean it's easier to know what you're supposed to do if someone tells you what to do. All of us have known the burden of controlling relationships at some point in our lives: friends, pastors, parents, siblings, spouses, employers who seem to feel obligated to tell us exactly how to live life and what to do at every moment. Let's face it: there's a certain freedom in giving control to others, a certain relaxation in giving others the job of making our decisions for us, whether small or large. That's why some people prefer prison life, and even commit offenses to bring themselves back to jail again-- precisely because they don't want to be responsible.

This kind of control, of the reimposition of law, rule, and command, has been the death of many a church and Christian fellowship. Even in the church's earliest times, there rose up legalists who tried to bring believers under the iron fist of laws and requirements, tying them up in an endless string of rules, bringing those who are supposed to be free in Christ into imprisonment again. Yes, there is a certain miserable security in surrendering oneself to dictates pressed upon us from the outside.

But remember: the goal of our instruction is love. Love sets free. And love requires us to be responsible and mature, in a way that mere obedience to external standards can never do. Love is a new law, and a wonderful law because it brings freedom, not bondage.

Love says, “What must I do that is in the best interest of the object of my love?”

Love is the apex and the most deeply spiritual of all human activity.

Love requires me to cast aside my list of rules and requirements and ask the question: “In the present time I am in, in the very circumstances I find myself, with the people God has placed in my care and within my reach, what does love require of me?”

Love will cause me to pray, to think hard, to carefully weigh all options as I consider how best to respond to each and every soul that makes up my life, whether my contact with them is casual or constant.

This is why as believers we must fight against our temptation to surround ourselves and others with rules, regulations, expectations, and laws. Since only the Spirit is capable of knowing the need of the moment, and what love demands of us at any given time, we must turn again to His presence, in order to fulfill the law of love, which, simply put, is love.

“But I'm tired of loving. I'm tired of having to pay attention and be responsible. I'd rather go on auto-pilot and wrap people up in the Law, and myself as well.” No, that is not possible, if we are to live in love. It is the harder road, but it is the goal God has had in mind all along.

1 Tim. 1:5 "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith."

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Trinity Church, Waterville ME
Ed Kalish, Deacon

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