Monday, June 2, 2014

Christ, the Law and the Covenants

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 10: Christ, the Law and the Covenants
The truth of the everlasting covenant, uncovered by the 1888 messengers, is the third angel's message in verity. God's covenant promise supplies the dynamic so essential for a joyous productive Christian life.
God's promises to Abraham are "the new covenant." Paul tells us that God's "covenant" with Abraham was His "promise" to him. "Thecovenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ," is "thepromise. ..." (Gal. 3:17).
We read those promises in Genesis: "[1] I will make you a great nation; [2] I will bless you [3] and make your name great; [4] and you shall be a blessing. [5] I will bless those who bless you, [6] and I will curse him who curses you; and [7] in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:2, 3).
God never asked Abraham to make any promise in return! Abraham did the only right thing he could do when he responded with faith: "He believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). That is all that God has asked us to do.
God's covenant is always a one-sided promise on His part, because He knows that our nature is so weak and sinful that we cannot keep our promises to Him. The old covenant "gives birth to bondage," says Paul (Gal. 4:24). Some people in church even give up in despair, and many go through their so-called "Christian experience" under a constant cloud of discouragement.
But the confusion about the two covenants can be resolved very simply. The problem concerns "the law" that was given at Mt. Sinai; does that law alter the "new covenant" that was the straightforward promise of God to Abraham and thus to us?
In several simple steps in Galatians Paul clarifies the confusion: A "will" or covenant that anyone makes (even God's!) cannot be annulled or added to once the testator dies (Gal. 3:15). In God's "will" or "covenant" He promised (and then swore to it with a solemn oath) to give Abraham the whole earth "for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8). Since only "righteousness" can "dwell" in the "new earth" (2 Peter 3:13), the promise had to include making righteous those who believe God's promise. Therefore the new covenant has to be the essence of righteousness by faith.
When humans make a covenant, it is always a contract. You do so-and-so, and then I will do so-and-so. But God never makes such bargains with us. His new covenant is always an out-and-out promise on His part.
God explicitly said that His promise was made to Abraham's descendant (singular, "Seed") "who is Christ." We are not left out, but we come into the picture only as being "in Christ" by adoption through faith (vs. 16).
Since God made His solemn promise to Abraham (which He sealed with an oath), nothing under heaven could change an iota so that the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai 430 years after Abraham's time could not be an extra feature put into the "new covenant" (Gal. 3:17).
Then Paul asks the logical question: why then did God speak the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai? It was a terror-inducing demonstration with lightning, an earthquake, fire, and a death boundary (vs. 19). God didn't need to frighten Abraham out of his wits like that! All He had to do for Abraham was to write the Ten Commandments upon his heart as being so much good news; then Abraham found his greatest joy in obedience. Why not do the same for Israel when they were gathered at Mt. Sinai on their way to the Promised Land?
Paul explains the reason why the law had to be written in stone: "the law ... was added because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). But what were the "transgressions" that made this new "emphasizing" or "underlining" necessary?
The forming of the old covenant is the answer. When the people gathered at Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to renew to them the same "new covenant" promises He had made to their father Abraham: "If you will indeed obey [listen to] My voice and keep [cherish] My covenant [with Abraham], then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5).
Thus the Lord said to Israel, "If you will listen to My voice and treasure the promise I made to your father Abraham, you will be a special treasure to Me above all people." You will be the head and not the tail; there will be no need for great world empires to oppress you.
But Israel did not understand. They made a vain promise, something that God never asked Abraham to do. "All that the Lord has spokenwe will do" (Ex. 19:8). Thus they formed the old covenant.
What could God do? If they will not keep step with Him, He must humble Himself to keep step with them. A long detour now becomes inevitable.
"Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). Paul saw the old covenant that the people voluntarily put themselves under as functioning like a stern disciplinarian, a policeman, keeping the people of Israel under custody until such time as they could find their freedom again in the kind of justification by faith which their father Abraham enjoyed.
The difference between the new covenant and the old covenant is simply "who makes the promise." In the new covenant, it's God; in the old covenant, it's the people. And the keeping of the promise depends entirely on who makes it.
The "tutor" or "jailer" of the old covenant drove Israel through the centuries on a relentless history of ups and downs from Sinai all the way to their crucifixion of their Messiah. But their revivals always were frustrated by the old covenant mentality that produced backsliding and apostasy.
What do the two covenants mean to us today? The two covenants are not hemmed in by matters of time, as though people living anciently were automatically under the old and we today are automatically under the new. There were people in Old Testament times who lived under the new covenant (Abraham, Moses, David); and we today can be living under the old covenant if we don't clearly understand and believe the freedom-giving gospel.
Even a tiny amount of old covenant ideas mixed in with otherwise gospel concepts can paralyze a healthy spiritual experience and produce the lukewarmness that so characterizes the church in these last days. Lukewarmness in His people is a mixture of hot and cold that produces the nausea that Jesus says makes Him so sick at His stomach that He feels like throwing up (Rev. 3:17, 18). The healing can come only through a full recovery of the new covenant "truth of the gospel."
Correctly understood, the message of the new covenant is part of the light which is yet to "lighten the earth with glory" in the closing hours of this world's history (Rev. 18:1-4). Many, when they hear its good news will awaken as from a dream. All of God's biddings will become enablings, and the Ten Commandments will become to them ten precious statements of good news.
--Paul E. Penno
Note: “Sabbath School Today” and Pastor Paul Penno’s video of this lesson are on the Internet at:
--------------------------------------------------------Please forward these messages to your friends and encourage them to subscribe. 

To subscribe send an e-mail message with "subscribe" in the body of the message to