October 29th, 2020

Mediating a new covenant, not based on our good works

By Submitted Article on December 21, 2019.

For this Christ came

Last of four parts

Jacob M. Van Zyl

The writer of the Hebrew letter argues that if the blood of animals cleansed those who were deemed impure, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God. For this reason, Christ is the Mediator of a new covenant” (Heb. 9:14-15).

For this he came: to mediate a new covenant. Jeremiah spoke about the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) which consisted of new hearts and new minds to do God’s will. Christ instituted Holy Communion with these words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

The old covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Israel (at Mt. Sinai) were based on works: if they did God’s will, he would bless them. They failed.

The new covenant in Christ is not based on our good works, but on his. As the incarnated Son of God, he remained sinless (2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:15, 1 John 3:5). He lived an unblemished life in our place – what Adam, Noah, Abraham and Israel could not do.

Furthermore, he took our sin-debt on himself and thus paid the ransom to God for our forgiveness and reconciliation. He paid it in full, proclaiming on the cross: “It is accomplished!” The veil in the temple, separating the Holy from the Most Holy, was torn from top to bottom, showing that God had removed the separation between him and believers.

This was and is a unique event in the history of religions: God becoming man, suffering for man, paying man’s debt, and opening a way of reconciliation with God that is not dependent on our good works.

This peace with God is grace-based, not work-based; it is initiated by God, not man; it is free for believers, but it cost God a big price. The new covenant is a free gift; we receive it in faith and gratitude.

Here is the catch: as people saved by grace alone (without merit on our side), we are obliged to react with gratitude by keeping the law of love for God and neighbour. By his indwelling Spirit, God enables us to live by the law of love.

This is grace indeed: God saves us by grace, empowers us by grace, and then rewards us for doing what he helped us to do. Example: he inspires us to pray and then rewards us for praying. Likewise, we help toddlers and pets to do what we want them to do, and then we reward them for succeeding.

Let us celebrate this Christmas the new covenant that Jesus established.

Jacob Van Zyl of Lethbridge is a retired counsellor and the author of several faith-based books.

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