Differences Between the Old and New Covenants

by | Updated November 21st, 2014 | Posted in Theology, Apologetics and Biblical Studies

A friend of mine recently asked if I had any teachings comparing the old covenant to the new covenant. His question stirred my spirit and I began to think about what I had taught on the subject in the past. Below is an outline of the differences between the old and new covenants.

The old covenant. The old covenant was one between God and man. More specifically, between a holy God and sinful man. Was there anything wrong with the first covenant? Of course not, “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 NASB). The problem was man’s inability to keep it – the failure was with man and not with God. As a result of man’s inability to keep his part of the contract, “This commandment (covenant), which was to result in life, proved to result in death” (Romans 7:10 NASB). At the advent of the law 3,000 people died (Exodus 32:28). Death ensued at its arrival.

The new covenant. Man was never going to be able to live up to his side of the old covenant. Therefore, God had plans for a new and better covenant. Jeremiah foretold this, “Behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in 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. But 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 on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man 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 iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB).

The old covenant would serve to show us our need for something better. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor (schoolmaster) to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24 NASB). As we constantly fall short of God’s law or covenant, we see our need for Christ, a new covenant – a new and better way.  The old covenant was one between God and man and man was unable to live up to his side of the contract. The new covenant is between the Father and the Son. In essence, the Father says to the Son, if you will go to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), go to the cross facing death and separation (1 Peter 3:18) for the sins of mankind, then I will forgive the sins of all who place their faith in you (Romans 4:4-5 and 5:1).

Why will this covenant succeed when the first did not? Because this one doesn’t depend on us. This one is a covenant between the Father and the Son. In the first covenant Father God lived up to His side of the contract entirely but we failed to live up to our side of it. This new contract is between the Father and Son and man is left out of the equation completely. Jesus lived up to His side of the covenant by going to the cross in payment for our sins. God the Father lived up to His side of the covenant by forgiving and justifying all who will put their faith in what Jesus did for them. “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 NASB).

The good news! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge (condemn) the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17 NASB). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 KJV). Whereas death ensued at the advent of the first covenant, life ensued at the coming of the new covenant. When the law came 3,000 died (Exodus 32:28). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, setting God’s seal on this new covenant, 3,000 received eternal life. What a glorious contrast.

Four aspects of the new covenant. The new covenant that Jeremiah foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted by the writer of Hebrews in chapters 8:8-12 and 10:16-17. The key word in Hebrews is “better.” Jesus is better than the angels, the high priestly system, Moses, and He brought into place a better covenant. As we look at this as it is quoted in Hebrews 8:10-12 we see four “I wills.” Let’s examine briefly this new and better covenant.

  1. Enlightenment. “I will put My laws in their mind” (Hebrews 8:10 NKJV). There is a fresh enlightenment that is received under this new covenant. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit merely came upon people to perform certain tasks. Under the new covenant we receive the Holy Spirit, who permanently lives within us (Romans 8:9 and 1 Corinthians 3:16), guiding us into all truth (John 16:13) and giving us an understanding that wasn’t experienced under the law.
  2. Desire. “And write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10 NKJV). Under the new covenant it’s not law but God gives a desire to follow in His ways, to do His will and please Him. “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:5-6 NASB).
  3. Relationship. “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10 NKJV). Under the old covenant it seemed that only certain people had a relationship with God. God was referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Under the new covenant He promises to have a relationship with all who trust Christ as Savior. After the resurrection Jesus told Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17 NASB). Christianity is about a relationship not religiosity. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15 KJV). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6 KJV).
  4. Pardon. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12 NKJV). There is a complete pardon of all transgressions under the new covenant. Under the old covenant when they sinned there was immediate judgment. Under the new covenant we are not only forgiven of all our sins but we are justified (Romans 3:26; 4:25-5:1). God sees us through the blood of Christ just as if we had never sinned. We are declared the righteousness of God in Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus took our sin upon Himself and put His righteousness to our account.  Notice three things concerning this pardon.
    1. Freeness of our pardon. “I will be merciful.” It’s mercy not merit. God is a merciful God. “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalms 86:15 KJV). Praise the Lord! Peter thinking of God’s mercy proclaimed, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3 KJV).
    2. Fullness of our pardon. It’s plural. “Their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” All of our sins are under the blood. No matter what we have done, we are forgiven when we come to Jesus. There is no sin that God can’t, won’t or doesn’t forgive once we have trusted Jesus as our only hope of salvation.
    3. Fixedness of our pardon.“I will remember no more.” They are gone forever! God does not ever remember them again. The devil and people will often try to throw our sins back in our face, but Jesus is our great advocate (1 John 2:1) who stands in the devil’s face and declares, “I paid for that – it’s been forgiven forever, get off their back.” “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12 NASB). Praise the Lord – Our pardon is fixed once and forever!

Micah prophesied of this day saying, “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19 NASB). I remember hearing Corrie Ten Boom speak on this verse. She said, “God casts our sins into the sea of His forgetfulness and puts a sign up saying, NO FISHING!” Let’s stop bringing up things that God has cast into the depths of the sea. Stop letting the devil and others throw at us what God has not only covered, but washed away from our lives forever (1 John 1:7; 1:9; Hebrew 10:14; Romans 8:33-34). The accuser of the brethern has been cast down (Revelation 12:10 and Luke 10:17-19).

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