Thursday, December 28, 2017
Understanding the Holy Spirit's work of salvation in the Old and New Testaments
Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Salvation is identified in both Old and New Testaments (or Old Covenant and New Covenant scriptures) as being "of the Lord". (see Isaiah 43:10; Jonah 2:9; Romans 10:13) The distinctions lie in the level to which the Spirit manifests Himself in the lives of His people. In the Old Testament the Spirit worked "upon" and "with" people; whereas in the New Testament we find the Spirit working "within" and "through" people. (see John 14:17).
The Holy Spirit was already doing a work in human hearts, a precursor to the New Birth called "circumcision of the Heart". (see Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6) Both types of work were needed in order for believers to respond and receive God's well-meant offer of salvation. (see Genesis 15:16; Romans 4:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5; James 1:17-18)
In seeing the Spirit's work in the Old Testament, the time would need to be inaugurated for a new, deeper and more abiding work. Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah gave readers a glimpse into what would be the New Covenant work of the New Birth. In this post today, we want to sketch out the distinctions between what is called "the Old Covenant" and "the New Covenant" as it pertains to the Spirit's work in salvation.
The functions and limits of the Old Covenant
Israel as a nation had failed in her covenant obligations to God that He had outlined for them in Exodus 19-20. Though God had given His promises to His people through the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, it was in the Mosaic Covenant of Exodus 19-20 that God outlined their redemptive identity. The Mosaic Covenant or Sinaitic Covenant (so-called because it was made by God with His people at Mount Sinai), spelled out the type of righteousness God expected if anyone were to have any relationship with Him.
The covenant that God made at Sinai demanded righteousness, but could not deliver it. God knew that the people of Israel would try to get to Him apart from grace through faith, and so He gave the law to show them their inability to do so.
The Covenant of Sinai, also called "The Old Covenant", awaited the day God would reveal a "New Covenant" to His people. Since the people of Israel came to be identified with Moses and the "Old Covenant", the entire age leading up to the cross is called the "Old Covenant" or "Old Testament Age". A " New Covenant" was needed. Hebrews 8:7 states:
"For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second."
The glorious revelation of the New Covenant
When God began to reveal His New Covenant promises to Israel in passages like Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:25-27, He pointed to a future age. That final age will entail Christ's reign on earth - i.e "the Millennium". (see Revelation 20) Israel the nation was promised by God to be restored at Messiah's second coming. The people as a nation would look upon the One whom they had pierced and be saved. (see Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7) What the New Covenant promises were designed for was to give hope to a nation that had been sent to exile in Babylon for 70 years. They would become not only a nation once again, but would end up fulfilling their original calling. (see Genesis 12:1-7; Deuteronomy 7:1-7; Amos 3:1-7).
That time for Israel will come. (see Romans 11:25-26). However, from what we gather in the New Covenant scriptures (another name for the New Testament), these New Covenant promises have been spiritually inaugurated in the life of the Church. Whenever one reads 2 Corinthians 3-5 and Hebrews 8-9, it is discovered that the "Age to Come" is overlapping with this current church age. We as Christians, by way of the New Birth, are partaking spiritually of the promises communicated in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
How the New Covenant exceeds the Old Covenant
When we turn to passages such as Hebrews 8:7-13, we discover just how wonderful our salvation is in light of the fact that we are spiritual partakers of the New Covenant. Let the reader take note:
Old Covenant vs New Covenant
Hebrews 8:10 Hebrews 8:10
-Demands godliness -Delivers godliness
-Principles for holy living -Power for holy living
-God was unapproachable -God is approachable
Hebrews 8:11 Hebrews 8:11
-I know about God -I come to know God
Hebrews 8:12 Hebrews 8:12
-Sin is shown as sin -Sin is forgiven
Hebrews 8:13 Hebrews 8:13
-change is not available -change is expected
As you can see, by gaining an understanding of the New Covenant versus Old Covenant systems, we can better appreciate the background leading up to the work of the New Birth. The Old Testament saints needed to receive the working of the Holy Spirit like New Testament Christians do today - by faith. Such faith is a gift of God that attracts the sinner to respond freely to God's overtures of grace. Such grace was made known in the types an shadows of the Old Testament which were based upon what would be the New Testament coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. (see 1 Peter 1:10-11)
Why understanding the Old and New Covenants matters to you
I hope this brief summary today has shed light and edified your heart dear reader. So why is this important? Make no mistake about it, the New Testament teaching on salvation includes the Old Testament background. The starting point of salvation is the New Birth. Whenever Jesus was teaching Nicodemas in John 3 that one "must be born-again" to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, He assumed Nicodemas, a teacher of Israel, knew about the Old Covenant background. Nicodemas' confusion demonstrated how much he was in need of salvation. He was religious but not right with God. Understanding these truths aid us in seeing the unity of scripture's testimony of how someone is brought into right relationship with God. Furthermore, knowing that the Holy Spirit is vital in salvation leads us to rely upon Him in life that follows from salvation. Unless God in His grace calls us and sustains us, none can be saved and none can live the Christian life. Whether we are talking about Old Testament or New Testament believers - the point is - salvation is of the Lord.