When God announced the New Covenant through Jeremiah, He said “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it” (Jer. 31:33). Well, it seems some Christians take those words to mean God puts His Holy Spirit within us so we can now keep all 613 commands of the Old Covenant.
In short, they see the New Covenant as simply a renewal of the Mt. Sinai contract. Although they acknowledge that a few commandments, those pertaining to animal sacrifice, stoning, banishment, circumcision etc., are outdated and should be understood spiritually now. They accept all this even though God specifically said the New Covenant is “NOT LIKE THE COVENANT which I made with the fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke” (Jer. 31:31).
So is the New Covenant just a renewal of the Old Covenant? Or is this movement just a renewal of the legalism that Paul continually waged war against in his epistles? Surely it’s the latter. For the writer of Hebrews couldn’t have made God’s intentions any clearer concerning the passing away of the Old Covenant: “When He said a new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old, is ready to disappear” (Heb. 8:13).
For centuries the issue of the Law lay dormant following the expulsion of the Jews by Rome. The entire temple complex had been destroyed and the Levitical priesthood ceased to function. What’s more, the center of Christianity had shifted from Jerusalem to Rome, so there was no longer a Pharisaic authority to try and impose the Mosaic Law upon “Gentile” believers. Or intimidate Jewish believers into going back to their divinely-given religion of types and shadows.
But with Israel’s rebirth the whole confusion has come roaring back to life. Many believers, in their excitement upon discovering the Hebraic roots of their faith, have started to live what they call a “Torah-observant lifestyle.” Some see it as a way to more fully embrace their heritage and draw closer to the Jewish people. Others embrace it as a fitting religious replacement for a Christianity they now see as a corruption of the faith preached by the apostles.
The result is a rapidly growing hybrid religion that could be termed ‘New Covenant Judaism’ (as distinct from Rabbinic Judaism, the other hybrid version of the Mosaic Law that the Jewish community has practiced since the destruction of the temple).
Of course, this blending of covenant practices is no less devastating to our life in Messiah now then in the First Century when Paul warned: “Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?…If righteousness comes through [practicing] the Law, then Messiah died needlessly” (Gal. 3:3; 2:21).
The New Covenant cannot be a renewal of the Mosaic religion because it’s not a religion. Instead it provides a new relationship with God based on our faith. And we know “the Law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12). And that’s just for openers. The New Covenant gives us eternal life. The Old Covenant was “a ministry of death” (2 Cor. 3:7). The New Covenant responds in love. The Old Covenant demanded an eye for an eye. The New Covenant gives us power over sin. The Old Covenant gave sin power over us (Rom. 5:20). The New Covenant makes us saints. The Old Covenant made us sinners. The New Covenant declares us righteous. The Old Covenant brought us into judgment. The New Covenant makes us sons of God and heirs. The Old Covenant left us slaves and outcasts from the promises (Galatians 4:21-31).
What many believers fail to grasp is that the Mosaic Law was never God’s main covenant with Israel. God’s main covenant was the one He made with Abraham based on a promise.
In Galatians, Paul gives a short lesson on covenant contracts, reminding us that when one is ratified “no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.” Therefore, the Law which came 430 years later did not replace, set aside or modify that original covenant promise to Abraham. If it had, the inheritance would now be based on Israel’s obedience to the Law – not on God’s promise. “But God gave it to Abraham by means of a promise” (Gal 4:15-18).
“Why the Law then?” Paul asks. “It was added because of transgressions, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made” (Gal. 3:18,19). “It was “added…until” Messiah because Israel had an underlying sin problem that needed to be revealed. The Law was in essence a temporary measure to show we had a congenital obedience problem and needed a savior.
With Yeshua’s death, Israel received a new covenant in his blood. The Old Covenant, having served its purpose, was retired. Yeshua had fulfilled all the types and shadows that had pointed to him. He had redeemed God’s people from the curse we’d incurred for failure to keep the Law. And he’d put a new spirit within us so we could love God and our neighbor from the heart – which was the whole intent of the Law.
For believers seeking to keep Yahweh’s Torah commandment today, here it is: “It was for freedom that Messiah set us free [from the Mosaic Law]; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples