Pristine Grace

The New Covenant
Essay 03
Jesus Christ: The End of Works to Gain Blessing
by Bob Higby

The New Covenant

And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, "Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: `Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel." And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do." And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD. (Exodus 19:3-8)

And the law is not of faith, but "The man who doeth them shall live in them." (Galatians 3:12)

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide, neither will He keep His anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. (Psalms 103:8-14)

"Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honor Me, the dragons and the owls, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise. But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought Me the lambs or kids of thy burnt offerings, neither hast thou honored Me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense. Thou hast bought Me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled Me with the fat of thy sacrifices. But thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins; thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities. I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." (Isaiah 43:18-25)

"Behold, the days come," saith the LORD, "that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that 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 unto them," saith the LORD. "But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days," saith the LORD, "I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD.' For they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them," saith the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham: that He would grant unto us that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on High hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:68-79)

Now to him that worketh, his reward is reckoned not according to grace, but according to debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth in Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Romans 4:4-8)

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not by works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath beforehand ordained, that we should walk in them. Therefore, remember that ye, being in times past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by those who are called the Circumcision in the flesh so made by hands. Remember that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and being without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, ye who once were far off have been brought nigh by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that He might make in Himself one new man out of the two, so making peace, and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were nigh; for through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Ephesians 2:4-18).

     Eight negatives that will come out of the remaining essays in this series may be summarized as follows:

  1. The New Covenant is not Sabbatarian.
     
  2. The New Covenant ends the covenant of circumcision.
     
  3. The New Covenant has no earthly tabernacle.
     
  4. The New Covenant has no earthly priesthood.
     
  5. The New Covenant has no tithe.
     
  6. The New Covenant has no continuing sacrifice.
     
  7. The New Covenant has no sacraments.
     
  8. The New Covenant has no sacred times.

     Without a doubt, most Christian denominations teach that the New Covenant entails some, many, or all of the above! We are supposedly obligated to:

  1. Keep the Sunday Sabbath as the 4th commandment. Sunday breaking is as serious as worshipping other gods, idolatry, swearing, contempt of parents, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and coveting.
     
  2. Receive water baptism as the primary seal of the covenant of grace and insure that this seal is imprinted upon our children. God's wrath is upon is if we don't!
     
  3. Support the 'Lord's house' with our generous offerings--in addition to the 'tithe.' How can we do less than the Jews in building a house for God? Pay no attention to those opportunists who want a new building to advance their worldly promotional methods. We must show the local community how much God has blessed us! (Does this remind some of the Wizard of Oz--'Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain'?!)
     
  4. Respect the elders of the church as having the keys of salvation or damnation (see the Westminster Confession). Never challenge the pastor or elders on anything--period! Keep any spiritual wisdom that the Lord has given you to yourself--on matters that threaten the earthly 'kingdom' established by the session.
     
  5. Pay 10% of your gross income (whatever that is for independent businessmen) to the local church. Otherwise--you are robbing God, insulting him, and endangering your salvation.
     
  6. Engage in the 'politically correct' spiritual disciplines in order to be holy. God forbid that you should 'believe in Jesus and do as you please.' Know all of the steps to holiness. Fall in line with evangelicalism, confessionalism, the 'new wine' movement, the shepherding movement, the men's movement, women's movement, third wave gifts, reconstructionism, ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together), or whatever popular program is currently dominating the scene. Never challenge the 'elders' who promote these movements. Otherwise you are resisting the spirit of God and working contrary to the great 'revival' at the present time!
     
  7. Receive and believe in the communication of grace available in the sacraments. Otherwise, your spiritual growth or even salvation itself is in jeapordy!
     
  8. Acknowledge that the most sacred time in history since the apostles was the birth of whatever denomination is affirmed to have 'the truth.' It was the climax of the reformation, beyond which no major additional truth on the doctrines of scripture can be discovered!

     Why would someone introduce a study about Grace with the title: 'The New Covenant Has No Works to Gain Blessing?' It is because truth must be contrasted with error. The gospel will continue to be light only if the darkness is extinguished. Some in this age would have us proclaim the truth and refrain from condemning error. None of the prophets and apostles chosen by God in the past followed that strange and fatal prescription. The test of whether someone really believes the gospel is whether that person unreservedly condemns all doctrine opposed to the gospel. Paul did it (Gal. 1:8,9).

     Most of those who are Christians have heard the gospel of Grace preached many times. The current author cannot 'outperform' those who have preached the gospel in the past. However, the same gospel will be magnified beyond measure if it is contrasted to everything that opposes it. That is the work God is calling his people to engage in these critical times. Christians can only pray earnestly that many will begin to accept it as their calling.

     The Old Covenant definitely consisted of works to gain blessing! Read Exodus 19 and Galatians 3:12 above. It is critical to realize that the former covenant was not one of eternal salvation. None of the blessings associated with it would indicate that such an interpretation is legitimate. It was a covenant of continued blessing on earth in this life. While the judgments executed on those who disobeyed were a type of the judgment to come (1 Cor. 10:11), the consequences experienced were related to the curses of the law-covenant. They were not absolutely related to eternal judgment. Most who were cut off in judgment were reprobate--but not necessarily all without exception.

     It is entirely possible that some who died under the law-covenant (Uzzah--who touched the ark in respect for it and died, for example) will be saved under the grace covenant. In contrast, not everyone who deserved to die under the former covenant was killed! God made an example of certain offenses, at certain times, to bring glory and honor to his Word. But temporal mercy was often exercised--benefiting the recipients in this life only. The temporal patience of God with Israel is a type of the unlimited patience of God exercised in the grace of the New Covenant.

     The good news in passages such as Psalm 103 and Isaiah 43 anticipate the grace of the New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31. God promises to remove the guilt of sin eternally and remember it no more. This blessing cannot possibly be of works, since all persons on this earth have sinned and continue to sin. The law does not rest on faith or grace.

     The song of Zechariah in Luke 1 is one of the most covenant-oriented passages of scripture. It highlights the fulfillment of the 3 major grace covenants: the Davidic (vs. 68-71), the Abrahamic (vs. 72-75), and the New Covenant (vs. 76-79). It is important to focus on that phrase: "serve him without fear in holiness."

     It is impossible to serve God without fear unless we have a firm realization of his grace. This can happen only with the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit. As stated in Ephesians 2, the Spirit only comes to us in opposition to the principle of boasting in works. Works to gain temporal blessing and works to gain eternal blessing are identical delusions. God has no covenant in effect today that depends on works to gain blessing--period.

     Many acknowledge (especially Protestants) that works of law cannot save eternally. However, as with Israel under the Torah, they insist that our obedience to God's commands will determine the receipt of temporal blessings in this life. Does that notion harmonize with the scriptures that we have been contemplating? Absolutely not! How can we serve God without fear--if we are constantly worried that our sins are depriving us of temporal blessing?

     God accounts righteousness by faith apart from works of law (Romans 4, cited above). The faith that he gives us is not of ourselves, it is his gift (Eph. 2:8). The works that follow are predestined--in the same sense that our faith was predestined from the beginning (Eph. 2:10, Acts 13:48). According to Acts 13:48, it is only those who are appointed to eternal life that believe. The revelation of this truth destroys forever the notion that receiving the New Covenant is 'conditional' upon faith. Faith (belief and confidence in the person and work of Christ for salvation--as revealed in scripture) is the only requirement of God for justification unto life. However, this commandment of God is 'written on the heart' by the Holy Spirit. It will infallibly come to fruition in those that are appointed unto eternal life.

     The New Covenant is wholly promissory. It has no conditions imposed upon humans that threaten its fulfillment. Those who are chosen by God from eternity in Christ (Eph. 1:4) will inevitably experience all of the promises outlined in Jeremiah 31.

     A final issue to be addressed is whether we can serve God without fear if we think that our works determine blessing after salvation. The history of Protestantism is laden with the notion that although we cannot merit eternal life by personal obedience, we will experience temporal blessing or judgment on the basis of obedience to the known will of God. Wow, the devil has seemingly gained a victory here! Not a real victory, of course, for Christ has been given the authority over history and the keys of life and death. Our sins after conversion do not determine judgment or blessing. How can we possibly be a witness for the gospel if we believe that? A settled belief in the notion of good performance = blessing and bad performance = judgment will only serve to impair our witness for Christ. Can we passionately share the gospel right after we have 'blown it?' We should be able to--if we bow to the Lordship of Christ. If we know the gospel of the New Testament, our temporal sin does not cancel either temporal or eternal blessing from God.

     God disciplines all sons that he loves. However, this discipline is not a pound-for-pound judgment on temporal sin. What a horrible concept that is! If Grace does not enable us to get past our temporal goof-ups, how can it benefit us in this life?

     Do we really believe that God has eternally removed our sins from us--past, present, and future? Has he elected to forget our sins forever--past, present, and future? The answers to these questions will determine our comfort in the gospel and the boldness of our witness for Christ.