Newsletter #6: New Covenant Notes

August 16, 2000

The Peril of Walking in the Flesh: Based on outward appearances, Saul ought to have been a fine first king for ancient Israel. He was handsome and tall, and a skilled military man. But he was soon disqualified from being king because of his incomplete obedience to the Lord. The account is found in 1 Samuel 15.

"[The prophet] Samuel said to Saul, 'The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts, `I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.''" So Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valleyAnd Saul defeated the Amalekites, from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

The word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I repent that I have made Saul king; for he has turned back from following me, and has not performed my commandments." And Samuel was angry; and he cried to the LORD all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning; and it was told Samuel, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned, and passed on, and went down to Gilgal. And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the LORD; I have performed the commandment of the LORD." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice to the LORD your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed." Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the LORD said to me this night." And he said to him, "Say on." And Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, `Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. 'Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the LORD?' And Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, I have gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal." And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king." (1 Samuel 15:1-23)

What makes this incident especially significant for us today is that Amalek was the grandson of Esau (later, Edom) -- and Esau is a type(or illustration) of the flesh. The flesh is that natural self-centered life of Adam in each of us. There is nothing at all in our natural (Adamic) life that can be saved! The "good" and the "bad" in us is all "bad" as far as God is concerned. For us to keep what we think is the "best of the flesh" and then dedicate it to God is unacceptable to our Lord -- God has determined to war against Amalek forever. Thus we have the New Testament admonition, "walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the lawBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." (Galatians 5:16-25)

Saul's failure of incomplete obedience in not coming to a full surrender to God in regard to the flesh explains much of the weakness and failure of professing Christians today. Our "best efforts" on God's behalf are of no value to God. He does not need our help, He can (and does) run things without our assistance, we are not essential to His programs. Only what Jesus Christ does in and through us has lasting value as far as God is concerned. Performance-oriented self-effort for God -- trying harder, doing one's best for God -- are all, in effect, lapses into the old life of the flesh. Today's weak, worldly, ineffective Christian living results from our failure to surrender our whole selves to God, in order that the old life of Adam may be nullified and rendered ineffective by the work of the cross. A. W. Tozer expressed this as follows:

"The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. it struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel."

The Old Covenant and the New: Entering God's Rest and the Exchanged Life. Our Bible is divided into an Old Testament and a New Testament. Our English word "Testament" reminds us that the New Covenant is, in effect the "Last Will and Testament" of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:15ff). The New Covenant rests on better promises, but also on the endless of life of Jesus as Testator, Executor and Guarantor of God's gracious gifts in the present age.

Everything God does with individuals and with nations is done by means of covenants or agreements. ( However, there is a radical difference in God's Old Covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai and the New Covenant promised to the Jews by the prophets (see Jeremiah 31:31ff for a clear statement of this Covenant). This New Covenant was placed into effect by Jesus at the Last Supper,

"Jesus took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, 'Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.' And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after supper, saying, 'This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'" (Luke 22:17-20)

At Pentecost, 54 days later, the disciples were commissioned to become the Apostles of the newly-born church of Jesus Christ. They were instructed to go into all the world inviting Jews and Gentiles alike to become part of God's family under the wonderful terms of the New Covenant. (But, don't forget that all of Israel will still be brought under the terms of the New Covenant when Jesus the Messiah returns to rule the nations of earth from Jerusalem.).

The Law of Moses is, in effect, a statement of God's character. "Do these things and you will live" was the requirement placed on Israel at Mount Sinai if they were to keep company with the Holy One. Naively the people agreed:

"Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.' So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, 'All that the LORD has spoken we will do.'" (Exodus 19:3-9)

Should the people fail the terms of the Old Covenant, a system of sacrifices and a complex (Levitical) priesthood were there in place so that sins could be forgiven and covered (but not removed). Judgment due because of sin was postponed, and a promise was given: In due time Messiah would remove (and forget) sin once and for all. Messiah would finally bring in a new kingdom of God's loving rule among men on earth. So there was much hope even under the Old Covenant. (Many individuals did find the heart of God under this Old Covenant. Read David's confession of faith in Psalm 51 for instance).

The Old Covenant dealt largely with externals, though there was plenty of symbolism in the tabernacle and the priestly rites to point to better, invisible realities. Law itself tends to stir up the flesh in us ­ our natural tendency is to try to live up to what the Law demands to the best of our ability. When moral demands are placed on us, we all tend to slip into performance-oriented living, trying harder, putting forth extra effort, striving to live up to what are actually impossibly high standards. But, the Law actually requires perfect behavior from sinners -- sinners are incapable of this. James said, "For whoever keeps the whole Law but fails in one point is guilty of all." (2:10) The New Testament explains in detail that the purpose of the Law is to prove human failure and reveal our deepest need which is for mercy and grace. Driven to despair by constant failure under the Law, the goal was to cause men to seek God with one's whole heart -- in which case they received immediate Divine help -- then as now.

Using startling language the New Testament contrasts the New Covenant with the Old:

"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, and do them.' Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law; for 'He who through faith is righteous shall live'; but the law does not rest on faith, for 'He who does them shall live by them.' Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us -- for it is written, 'Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree' -- that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3)

"For if that first [Old] covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the [New] covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Hebrews 8:6, 13)

"If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void." (Romans 4:14)

"On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19)

"Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." (Romans 3:19-21)

"For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one; but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the scripture consigned all things to sin, that what was promised to faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:18-29)

Covenants require the consent of both parties. The New Covenant requires a response from all of us to whom it has been offered. This part is frequently misunderstood in our day ­ we are not inclined to take any contracts or covenants very seriously. Under the New Covenant God offers to renew our minds and change our hearts -- then He agrees to empower us in the inner man with His Spirit. On our part, our consent to the Lordship of Christ means we become identified with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection. God then removes our sins (once and for all) and forgets them forever. He gives us a new heart and identity.

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:14-19)

Usually upon coming to know the Lord Jesus in a personal way, we will give up fairly soon certain those bad habits that are not socially acceptable in the Christian community. But the flesh in us has a more sinister side and will do anything to avoid the death sentence of the Cross. Thus, as King Saul did, we tend to keep "the best of the flesh" ­ and then naively proceed to dedicate it to God. The flesh loves to sing in the choir, the flesh becomes skilled at preaching and teaching and in imitating Christian living through good works and polite behavior. But in reality all that counts as far as God is concerned is what Christ accomplishes through us ­ works for which we get no credit at all! God wants us to surrender fully to Him so that His life and light can be made known through us:

"For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." (2 Corinthians 4:5-7)

In consenting to the terms of the New Covenant every Christian is asked to agree with God about the complete end of his or her natural self-centered old life inherited from Adam. Paul says, "For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (Galatians 2:19-21)

Chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews urge us to make certain we have entered into God's "Sabbath Rest." Israel under the Old Covenant repeatedly failed to discover this underlying principle of resting in the sufficiency of an indwelling Lord. (for background see The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that "rest" is ceasing from one's own [self] effort and doing everything by faith and trust in God who resides within us. "Everything coming from God, nothing coming from us," was how the founding fathers at my church (PBC) put this 50 years ago.

The author of Hebrews gives us a clear call to stop "trying" to serve God, and instead to rest in dependence upon Another. "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, that no one fall by the same sort of disobedience." The principle of the Sabbath rest for believers today is key to understanding the New Covenant.

We who follow Christ begin our Christian life by surrendering as much of his person to Jesus as we are aware of. This is how one first enters into what the New Testament calls the Sabbath rest. The principle of rest is not given to us as a one-time surrender, it is something which must be renewed every day. Since we do not know ourselves very well, our motives are frequently mixed. We only learn the deeper things of God through experience, ("solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.") Truth not acted upon is of no value. If we do not first learn to stand, we can not learn to walk, and without knowing how to walk we can not run. We grow in Christ only as we gain confidence in trusting God for everything and setting aside the life of the flesh daily. As we learn by steps of faith and trust -- by activity based on trusting in our indwelling Lord -- we will see the need to make constant "course corrections." Steeping in the Bible allows God to constantly teach us new truth and to shine His light deeper into our hearts and souls.

Immediately after telling us how to "rest" in Christ, the writer of Hebrews continues with an exhortation called attention to the power of the Scriptures to guide us day by day:

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 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." (Hebrews 4:9-16)

The New Covenant asks us to trust God, to walk by faith not by sight. Many Christians only call on God when they are in trouble, or when they can not do something in their own resources. In our affluent society, a lot people don't "need" God very much ­ if at all -- or so they think! Many churches these days apparently run on auto-pilot. Their trained professional staff members are so skilled they really don't need to trust God for anything important. (Of course, God's blessing is invoked before the service starts. His presence as a Guest is invited -- after all it is His church). All this deception about ourselves places us in deadly peril with God. The real problem would seem to be that many believers today have not been taught to discern the flesh from the spirit, nor to appreciate the radical nature of the New Covenant. Real faith means trusting God precisely for those things which we can not bring about by self-effort. Self-effort (of any kind) means the flesh is at work and "those who are [acting] in the [energy of the] flesh can not please God." (Romans 8:8) At the end of our lives all that is not of God in our lives is burned up. All that will survive is what we have allowed Christ to do through us. (2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15) For many Christians this will mean a scanty reward in heaven, though they may have enjoyed success, power and prominence in this present life.

Our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew tells us plainly how to find the true Sabbath Rest: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (11:28-29)

The authentic Christian life has often been called "the Exchanged Life" -- because we grant Jesus permission to live His self-giving life in and through us. Norman Grubb used to say, "In a sense 'Christ in you' is the real new you." The Apostle Paul writes, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (Galatians 2:20-21)

Finally, C. S. Lewis put it this way, "Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to the death of your ambitions and your favorite wishes every day, and the death of your whole body in the end, submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look out for yourself and you will find, in the long run, only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him, everything else thrown in."

Activities: This month's newsletter consists of my jumbled notes for two sermons I was invited to give to the congregation at Calvary Crossroads Church in Grants Pass, Oregon July 23 and 30. For those interested, I'll post the actual RealAudio messages on my web site. Once again I recommend Ray Stedman's book "Authentic Christianity" and his commentaries on Hebrews and II Corinthians? (Online at Major Ian Thomas' book "The Saving Life of Christ" is a fine classic on this subject and is still in print, as well as the books of Norman Grubb (see (RealAudio messages on my web site are found at

My current Discovery Center teaching series at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto is the Epistle to the Hebrews and continues through August. The next series, God willing, September 25-December 11, will cover the lives of the Patriarchs from Abraham to Moses, Genesis 12-50. The Wednesday Brothers of Thunder has launched itself into the Proverbs and our Saturday college study is now in First Californians (Corinthians).

Our Israel and Jordan study tour, with Glenn Miller. October 19 through November 2, is essentially full, but if you really want to go, it is possible our ever-helpful travel agent, Dawn McDaniel may be able to squeeze you in.

Sincerely, Lambert Dolphin.
August 16, 2000. Web Archive for these newsletters: