Two Aspects of The New Covenant
One of the aspects of the new covenant that make it superior to the old covenant is that God puts his laws on our hearts and writes the on our minds. This is a reference to Jeremiah 31:33. This is the second time he has quoted this passage, having quoted it in great length in chapter 8. He gives us the ability to live for him. Paul wrote “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Roman 6:17-18) We now want to live in a way that pleases him and reflects his holiness. We are not able to do this perfectly, but we strive to please God and bring glory to him.
I do not believe in the concept that you can become completely sin free in this life. People who believe they lose their salvation when they sin are inclined to believe they can become perfect and not sin. But, 1 John 1:8 says “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
But, God intends for us to make progress. We are to constantly move away from the life of sin to the life of Christ. The theological term for this is “sanctification”. We strive to be like Christ. Romans 8:29 says “for those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son...”.
Romans 6:6-11 says it this way:
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. or one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
So, we constantly turn away from sin and place ourselves at the disposal of God, not our flesh. Flesh means our sinful nature and desires. We do this, not counting on our own strength, but in God’s purpose for us and his work in us. What is God’s purpose for us? Ephesians 1 tells us. He chose us in christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4) We are blameless because Christ paid for our sins. We are holy because we are set apart for him and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we live in a holy fashion.
God works in us through the Holy Spirit to make us holy. Paul wrote “and I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) God began a good work in each of us when he brought us to salvation. He will continue the work of making us more like Christ until the last day, the day Christ returns for us.
God’s plan for you life is not that you will say some magic words just right, receive a get out of hell free card, and resume your normal life. No, God intends a transformation that leads to greater and greater sanctification. In other words, you become more and more like Christ as you mature in the faith.
The second aspect of the new covenant is expressed in verse 17: he will remember our sins no more. Once for all, all of our sins are forgiven, past, present and future. No additional sacrifice is needed. We have true salvation. The old covenant could not offer accomplish this. Now, we are blameless in his sight.
Notice again that the writer puts these words of Jeremiah in the mouth of the Holy Spirit. Yet again, he shows that Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
This is the beginning of a new section that goes to 12:29. Remember that the chapter breaks are for reference only, they do not mean that a passage begins or ends with the beginning or ending of a chapter.
Here, the writer of Hebrews stops his theological explanation and he moves to exhortation. In effect, he said, I have told you these theological truths. On the basis of these truths, you should do the following things.
In 19-25, he says, in essence, since we have a great high priest and a mediator, let us draw near to God, hold fast to our confession and encourage each other.
As high priest, Jesus led us into the presence of God, the holy places. He did this by his blood, his death. He also sits at God’s right hand while he continues to serve as our high priest. So, we can approach God, or draw near to him in full assurance of faith. (22) We have confidence to approach him. (19)
In the Old Covenant, the high priest went into God’s presence on the behalf of Israel. But the men and women stayed outside. But in the New Covenant, Christ led the way and we followed into the presence of God. We have the right as God’s children, redeemed by his Son, to come into the presence of God and seek his help. This is such an awesome privilege. The Creator of the universe allows us to come into his presence and petition him directly. What a privilege! We do not have to go through a priest, or a saint or the savior’s mom to get to the Father. Jesus has paved the way for us and we may now go there because we are in him (Christ).
This verse harkens back to 4:16: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” God welcomes our approach to him because Christ has opened the way.
Let’s think about how we got to this point of drawing near. Adam and Eve were near to God before they sinned. They lived in the garden God made for them. They lived in his presence and had access to God. When Adam sinned, God thrust him from his presence. Adam and his descendants were far off from God.
God redeemed Israel and brought them to himself. He gave them a land or garden. He dwelt among them in the Tabernacle and Temple. They lived in his presence. Israel, as a nation, was near to God. But they broke the covenant. God thrust them from his presence. They were not near, but far off.
The Gentiles stayed far off all through that time. There were some who came into Israel, but the nations were far off. Christ came to fix that. In Isaiah 56, God speaks to “foreigners” and tells them they have a place in his house when they join themselves to him. In Isaiah 57:19, God said “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near”.
In Zechariah 6:15, the Lord spoke through Zechariah and said “and those who are far off shall come and help to build the temple of the Lord”. When Christ came, the body of Christ became the temple of the Lord. Christ built it out of Jews and Gentiles both and continues to do so.
Although he came principally to the Jews, he reminded them that the Father wanted to gather the nations to worship him. He spoke of lost sheep, lost coins and a lost son. He healed a Gentile woman, he raised the daughter of a Gentile man, he preached to Samaritans, and he told a parable of a great wedding feast where those who were near refused to come, so he went and invited those who were far off. (Matthew 22)
Peter picked up the theme in his first sermon, recorded in Acts 2. He said “for the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)
Paul wrote “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ”. (Ephesians 2:13)
So, we see the use of the word “near” is not casual or accidental, but conveys great historical and theological meaning.
And we should draw near with a full assurance of faith. We should not doubt God. We believe God wants to work all things to our good. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Now, I will say that our “good” may not be our wealth or success, although he often grants those. It is likely our sanctification. He seeks always to make us like Christ, which is for our good. He may use trials or temptations or deprivations as well as success and abundance to sanctify us.
Let me give you a personal example. I had a little success in the mid-1980s. I made some money, accomplished some things and acquired some assets. I prayed then that I would do anything for God and that I depended on him. But, underneath that was a little pride that I did this on my own and I was not given anything. And, God took all of that away from me. He took my business, my fancy car, my pride, my self sufficiency and my assets. He left me with my family and my faith. And in that painful process, I learned that all I have comes from him, that he directs my paths, and that I could trust him to take care of me. I learned to be humble.
It was stressful. It was painful. It was scary. But it was good for me. I love God more. I trust Him more. He worked betrayal and dishonesty of others to my good, just like he said in Romans 8.
I learned also to draw near to Him. I cried out to him when I was scared. I begged him for money. I pleaded with him to take care of my wife and children. And he answered all those prayers and kept his word. And in the process, he increased my sanctification. The only thing I did in that process was to trust him and to draw near to him in full assurance. I told him I would not fall, I would not give up my faith. He took care of me.
So, this new relationship between God and believers, made possible by Christ, is characterized by prayer. This is another reason we should not neglect it.
There is also a greater sphere of “drawing near”. It may not mean just prayer, but worship in general. The believer, and the whole body of believers, draws near to God in worship.
In all things, we should hold fast the confession of our hope. Our hope is our belief in our future deliverance into God’s presence for eternity. And “hope” in Hebrews does not mean a wish, but a certainty of belief and expectation. In fact, Hebrews 1:1 defines it for us. It says “Now faith s the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We do not waiver in proclaiming and believing that Jesus is the Son of God who lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay for our sins, was buried and raised on the third day. He ascended to heaven and sits at God’s right hand. He will come and take us to be with him. No matter what happens to us, that is our confession.
I know you are assailed on all sides by non-believers and doubters. They question the authenticity of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the exclusiveness of Christ’s salvation and the sovereignty of God. Do not waiver. Hold fast. (23) We do not do this because we are strong. We do it because God is faithful. It is not about the strength we have, but the faithfulness he has. He will do what he promised.
Once, I had to jump off the roof of our house and let my father catch me. I was afraid of heights and falling. I had no confidence in my ability to jump to him. But I jumped because I trusted him to catch me. I jumped and he caught me and it was alright.
Not only do we draw near to God in faith, we encourage each other. (24) He says consider how to stir up each other for love and good works. That is what I am doing when I push you to love and serve. We all need a little push sometimes. So, do not gossip and criticize. Instead, encourage. We the conversation turns bad, do not join in. Instead, say “let’s find a way to love this person. Let’s extend grace to them. Let’s do something good for somebody.” This love and good works set us apart from the rest of the world. It defines us as the body of Christ.
We have rejoiced together in happy moments, cried together in disappointments and losses. We have sat together in funerals and weddings. We have consoled each other, counseled each other, encouraged each other, instructed, rebuked, hugged, patted, and most of all, prayed with and for each other. That is what the writer is writing about. May we do it more and more. We can say we love each other, but good works are the tangible expressions of such love.