Covenant Confusion

We only have one Bible. Why is it, then, that so many groups teach different things? If they teach conflicting doctrines, they can’t all be accurate...right? Perhaps most false teaching can be attributed to not understanding this one basic Bible fact.

The Law of Christ has Replaced the Law of Moses

After God sent Moses to Egypt to rescue the Israelites, God delivered a Law to the people through Moses.

Deuteronomy 5:1-3Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today."

The passage states that Moses was speaking to the physical nation of Israel on that day. Therefore, when Moses said, "God made a covenant with us at Horeb," we know that we are not included in the "us." It was a covenant that did not exist beforehand, and it was made for the group of people known as the Israelites. This Law was later known as the "Law of Moses" (Malachi 4:4).

From this point in Old Testament history, we see this Law of Moses being the standard of all faithful people. When the nation drifted away from it, God would send prophets to reenforce that Law. One of those prophets was Jeremiah. Through Jeremiah, God promised, "I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (Jeremiah 31:31). God fulfilled that promise through Christ.

Hebrews 8:6-8But now He [Christ] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, "Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect A new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah."

Hebrews 8:13When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Christ brought a new covenant with Him that was open to all nations. The new covenant made the first obsolete, no longer enforced. Moses is not the standard. Christ is. If more people understood this basic principle, there would be less religious confusion today.

Dangers of Confusion

In the first century, after the New Covenant was established, there were some people still teaching justification by the Law of Moses, and those who listened to such teachings were being "bewitched" (Galatians 3). Those who try to bind Old Testament laws today really don't know the dangers in doing so. When such men started teaching circumcision as a means of salvation and entering into a covenant with God (an Old Testament practice), Paul stated the following.

Galatians 5:1-4It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

What's the big deal? If someone binds one part of the Law, he or she is under obligation to keep it all. In order to be consistent, if they were binding circumcision, they should have also been sacrificing bulls and goats for their sins. Of course, to do that means to reject the sacrifice of Christ. Or if a group wants to bind annual feasts (Exodus 23:14-17), he or she must also put rebellious children to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If a group wants to practice seventh-day Sabbath observance (Exodus 20:8-11), burning incense in worship (Malachi 1:11), polygamy (Exodus 21:10), a distinctive priesthood above the rest of the church (Leviticus 40:14-15), refraining from certain meats for religious reasons (Leviticus 11), then they must also circumcise their children as a covenant with God (Leviticus 12:3). "Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you" (Galatians 5:2).

There are those who practice circumcision and refraining from meats today for health or cultural reasons. That's not what we're addressing. It's not inherently going against the covenant of Christ to circumcise your child. However, to teach someone he or she must do so to be right with God is going too far.

Why Do We Still Have It?

Now that we understand that the New Covenant of Christ has made the Old Covenant of Moses obsolete, the next question might be, "Why do we still have the Old Testament in our Bibles?" There are a few good reasons why we still hold on to it.

First, we must understand that the entire section in our Bibles known as "The Old Testament" has not been made obsolete. In fact, it would be impossible to make Genesis 1:1 obsolete, which states, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." We see qualities of God, like His love and mercy, that will transcend all generations. We learn from the history of the nation of Israel that faith and obedience go hand-in-hand. We're also warned that there are consequences to disobedience. It's simply the case the Law of Moses, the Law for the nation of Israel, doesn't apply to us today. 

The Old Testament still offers immense help and hope to the Christian today. Almost every author of the New Testament quotes directly from the Old Testament. The book of Hebrews would not make any sense at all, if we could not read the Old Testament. From the Old Testament history and prophetic books, we learn that God always keeps His promises. Therefore, we have hope when Christ promises salvation to His body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23). When the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied details about Christ (cf. Isaiah 53), and we see it played out perfectly in the New Testament, we know that we serve a God who cannot lie.

Romans 15:4For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Salvation By Christ

It is crucial to our salvation to understand this basic Bible teaching. If we do not understand it, we could easily be lead astray by those who twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). It is also just as important for us to know when the New Covenant replaced the Old.

Hebrews 9:15-17For this reason He [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.

Not only does this passage tell us that Christ's blood is powerful enough to cleanse past sins, it also tells us that the New Covenant of Christ did not come into effect until His death (just like a "last will and testament"). That's important when we note Christ's encounters with salvation-seekers before His death. Christ was a prophet sent from heaven. Every prophet's job is to reenforce and teach the laws of God of their time. Since Christ's ministry took place before the change of Laws, it was Christ's job to teach the Old Law. For instance, when the rich man asked Jesus, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus began His response by quoting the Law of Moses (Mark 10:17-22). However, after His death and resurrection, Jesus said, "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Did Jesus contradict Himself? No, He was just enforcing the Law of the time at each instance.

When discussing baptism with friends, many of them like to use the thief on the cross as an example of someone who received salvation without obeying Christ's commandment of baptism. First, who are we to presume to know that man's entire life? How do we know he wasn't baptized? But more importantly, Christ and His disciples never linked baptism with salvation until after the resurrection. Before the cross, the commandment was, "Repent!" (Matthew 3:2). After the cross, it was, "Repent and be baptized!" (Acts 2:38).

Confusing the covenants can get quite messy. It leads to much religious error. It also leads to a "yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). Instead, simply wear the yoke of Christ.

Matthew 11:28-30Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

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