34. Jeremiah: The New Covenant
This lesson is the third of three that highlight the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. The order of the lessons is chronological and thematic. The first covered Jeremiah’s word about the coming judgment of the Lord against Judah and Jerusalem. The second covered the fall of Jerusalem and the Book of Lamentations. This lesson returns to Jeremiah to look at his teaching of the New Covenant.
As the first lesson on the Book of Jeremiah showed, Jeremiah spoke of the coming judgment of God at great length. It was a difficult and joyless message to carry, but carry it he did for over 40 years. Jeremiah’s letters of hope to the exiles may have been a welcome relief to his message, but such relief could only be mixed; he was writing to banished people. I have described Jeremiah as a soldier obediently standing his post, with no compensation but having done the will of God. That assessment is mostly true, but the Lord did bring a word of hope to Jeremiah: The restoration of the people to the land and the New Covenant to come. One might even be so bold as to say that these two promises alone are sufficient for the author of Lamentations to have found hope in the truth, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness”321 (Lamentations 3:22; 23).
As with Jeremiah, so it is with us. In this lesson, we can move away from terrors and horrors and see the good things that Lord has done for us. Unlike Jeremiah, who could only hope, we live in the day of the New Covenant and, indeed, have great cause to rejoice.
In this lesson, I will look at the Old Covenant and tell why it failed. I will then look at the Lord’s plan to bless His people in spite of their apostasy. After that, I will describe the New Covenant as promised and as delivered. I will conclude this series with a retrospective of the whole.
The Old Covenant was presented and ratified by the children of Israel during the days of Moses. The covenant was a good covenant. It was fair. It faithfully laid out the duties of each side. It said that the Lord God would bless His people if they obeyed the Law and that He would curse the people if they disobeyed. Of course, when you distill the essence of the covenant in such terse terms, it sounds awful. The actual reading and meditation of the Old Covenant is enjoyable and uplifting, because one can sense the underlying principles and know that it speaks of relationship, truth, justice, and goodness. After all, it is the Old Covenant that the Psalmist refers to when he says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105).
No matter how light giving the potential of the Old Covenant, the fact was that in Jeremiah’s day, it was time for the “curses” to kick in:
The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Hear the words of this covenant, and speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Cursed is the man who does not heed the words of this covenant which I commanded your forefathers in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, ‘Listen to My voice, and do according to all which I command you; so you shall be My people, and I will be your God,’ in order to confirm the oath which I swore to your forefathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day.” ‘ “ Then I said, “Amen, O Lord.”
And the Lord said to me, “Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Hear the words of this covenant and do them. ‘For I solemnly warned your fathers in the day that I brought them up from the land of Egypt, even to this day, warning persistently, saying, “Listen to My voice.” ‘Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked, each one, in the stubbornness of his evil heart; therefore I brought on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not’” (Jeremiah 11:1-8).
I believe that in this section Jeremiah based his argument on Deuteronomy 28. There, Moses describes the blessings that would come upon the nation if they obeyed all the words of the covenant. One could group the blessings as providing prosperity, health, and safety. On the other hand, in the same chapter, Moses put forth the curses that would follow disobedience. In a nutshell, instead of prosperity, health, and safety, there would be poverty, sickness, and terror. Certainly there was motivation to obey, and yet the Israelites failed over and over again to appropriate the blessings until, in Jeremiah’s day, the full force of the curses fell on them. Judah and Israel received what their forefathers agreed to. No one can bring a charge of unfairness to the Lord. Instead, one can see His sustained mercy through the centuries until the point where not bringing judgment would, itself, be fatal to His people and their destiny. As the following table shows, to read Deuteronomy 28:49-68 is to read Lamentations. The one looks forward and the one looks backward, but they see the same curses.
49-52: A foreign nation with an unknown language will come against you and destroy the walls of your city.
2:8, 9a – The Lord determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. He has stretched out a line, He has not restrained His hand from destroying, and he has caused rampart and wall to lament; they have languished together. Her gates have sunk into the ground, He has destroyed and broken her bars.
53-57: Men and women will fight over and eat their own children.
2:20 – See, O Lord, and Look! With whom have you dealt thus? Should women eat their own offspring? The little ones who were born healthy?
60-62: Sickness and plague
3:4 – He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away, he has broken my bones.
63-65: Scattered to the nations
1:3 – Judah has gone into exile under affliction and harsh servitude; she dwells among the nations, but she has found no rest; all her pursuers have overtaken her in the midst of distress.
66-68: Depression and despair of soul
3:17-20 – My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, “My strength is gone, and so has my hope from the Lord.” Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and s bowed down within me.
With such great blessings for obedience and such horrible curses for disobedience, why could not the nations of Israel and Judah choose rightly? Why did they come to receive the curses instead of the blessings? The answer lies in the ineffectiveness of the Covenant of Law.
The Law is ineffective because the heart (mind, will, and emotions) is defective. The heart of man does not naturally lean towards the Lord and His ways, but rather is full of self-interest. Jeremiah wrote:
The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds (Jeremiah 17:9, 10).
In other words, the heart leads the man against the things of God. It is dishonest and sick.
The Law is ineffective because the heart is unmoved by it. The Law can reveal lawless behavior, but it is usually ineffective in changing behavior. I may find myself wanting something my neighbor has. If I have the means, I may get one for myself. If I do not have the means, I may stew and fret over my misfortune. I may secretly hope that my neighbor loses his possession or breaks it or tires of it. The point is, I am in a mental and emotional state. Its origins are within myself, because of the deceitfulness of my heart. When the Law comes along and says, “Do not covet,” what am I to do? Often, I am in the same mental and emotional state with the addition of the Law’s condemnation. The Law typically does not correct my heart; it only condemns my heart. I can read the command and know that I am a man who covets. The command does not lead me to seek my neighbor’s good.
One could say that Paul’s words in Romans 7 are all about the defectiveness of the heart and the ineffectiveness of the Law to correct it:
What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (Romans 7:7-25).
The Law is ineffective because the heart gravitates to legalism and defeats the intent of the Law. We have a sick heart and a law that shows its sickness. At the same time, we might acknowledge that the Law is good and marvel at our inability to meet its standards. One scheme that the heart, in its deceitfulness, has for self-justification is legalism. Legalism focuses on what is measurable in the Law. Meeting the requirements of such laws requires discipline and character, and in the meeting of the measure, the heart contents itself. The misfortune is that laws of measure do not get the heart right with God.
Here is a maxim well worth understanding: “Legalism likes the tithe and hates the corners of the field.” The tithe, Deuteronomy 14:22, is a gift of 10% of your income. The corners of your field (Leviticus 19:9) are what you leave unharvested for the sake of the poor. One can know when he or she has met the tithe standard, but when have you left enough of your field behind? Can you count what you leave behind in your field as part of your tithe? The questions can go on and on. In the asking of the questions, the weightier issues of generosity and compassion are lost, and yet it is generosity and compassion that both the tithe and the corners of the field would like to promote.
This is why the Jewish leadership could reject Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. The Oral Law, later codified in the Talmud, defined the details of “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Under the Oral Law, keeping the Sabbath was “measurable” like the tithe. Jesus went beyond the measure and, therefore, was guilty of breaking the Oral Law. Jesus saw the Sabbath as an opportunity to demonstrate compassion and to do good to others, but he broke a legal standard. The deceived heart behind the legal standard would rather see a man or woman sick and suffering until sundown. The intent of the Sabbath in the Old Covenant was thereby defeated.
The Law is ineffective because the heart misuses the redemptive provisions in the Covenant of Law. The blessings in the Old Covenant of Law did not demand perfect obedience. Instead, an entire system of blood sacrifice and offerings was erected to provide a covering for sin. So there were Guilt Offerings, Sin Offerings, etc. Once a year, the high priest would take blood into the Holy of Holies to provide redemption for national guilt. In other words, the Law never required perfect obedience. However, the provision for covering tends to promote more sin. What God intended as a vehicle for His mercy, man distorts as a palliative for a guilty conscience. The Lord, through Jeremiah, expressed this well:
“‘Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, “We are delivered!” — that you may do all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 7:9-11).
The Law is ineffective because the heart’s deception and wickedness does not seek God by faith. Faith is not a New Testament concept. Genesis 15:6 and Habakkuk 2:4 both underpin the role of faith in establishing righteousness in a man or woman. However, the heart’s gravitation to legalism subverts the formation of faith.
In short: The Law reveals sin, but it does not impart righteousness. Ask yourself this question, “When is a thief not a thief?” You might answer, “When he is not stealing.” That is wrong; a thief not stealing is a thief out of work. When is an adulterer not an adulterer? You cannot say, “When he is not with his mistress,” because his mind is full of lust and memories and the schedule for the next encounter. Once more we see the commandments “Do not steal” and “Do not commit adultery” provide a diagnosis of sin, without imparting righteousness. You can see, in part, that this is because the Law identifies sin, but not righteousness. Righteousness is more of a “corners of the field” issue. It always moves outside of self-interest and engages in the interests of others. Thus, in answer to “When is a thief not a thief” one could do better with the answer in Ephesians 4:28:
“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”
A person who works to have things to give to others in need is not a thief.
What should be apparent, from the above discussion, is that the Old Covenant, although good and right, was doomed to fail. In the days of Jeremiah, all that remained of the Covenant was the execution of the curses. Through Jeremiah, the Lord diagnoses the condition of the people and gives His prognosis of the outcome, “For thus says the Lord, ‘Your wound is incurable and your injury is serious. There is no one to plead your cause; no healing for you sore, no recovery for you’” (Jeremiah 30:12, 13). The disease is terminal. There seems to be no hope. The children of Israel must be, it seems, no more.
But like a cancer patient who is told that there is no hope, but only certain death, so it is with God’s people. We can always turn and seek the power and mercy of God. Some people diagnosed with a fatal injury or sicknesses are healed. I do not know of a single believer who will not pray for the healing of someone he or she loves. And so, even though the prognosis for Jerusalem and Judah is not good, we find that the Lord revealed to Jeremiah His plans to heal and restore His people, “‘For I will restore you to health and I will heal you of your wounds,’ declares the Lord, ‘Because they have called you an outcast, saying: “It is Zion; no one cares for her”‘” (Jeremiah 30:17). Again the Lord tells Jeremiah, “Behold, I will bring it to health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth” (Jeremiah 33:6).
A different path to righteousness is needed to accomplish this healing, however. The Covenant of Law could not bring righteousness, but perhaps there could be another way. Through Jeremiah, the Lord says, “In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16). Here is a recognition that the deceitful heart of man could never stand in its own righteousness, but that perhaps the Lord, Himself, could supply or be the required righteousness. I cannot help quoting Romans 8:3, 4 here, although it might logically be better placed elsewhere in this lesson:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did; sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Clearly, Jesus our Messiah has accomplished for us what the Law failed to do. However, this thought really is where the lesson is moving. We are not there yet.
Besides health, healing, and righteousness, the Lord promises His people through Jeremiah that He will restore all things:
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwelling places; and the city will be rebuilt on its ruin, and the palace will stand on its rightful place. From them will proceed thanksgiving and the voice of those who celebrate; and I will multiply them and they will not be diminished; I will also honor them and they will not be insignificant. Their children also will be as formerly, and their congregation shall be established before Me; and I will punish all their oppressors. Their leader shall be one of them, and their ruler shall come forth from their midst; and I will bring him near and he shall approach Me; for who would dare to risk his life to approach Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘You shall be My people, and I will be your God’” (Jeremiah 30:18-22).
Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.” For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the hand of him who was stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord— over the grain and the new wine and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; and their life will be like a watered garden, and they will never languish again. Then the virgin will rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old, together, for I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow. I will fill the soul of the priests with abundance, and My people will be satisfied with My goodness,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 31:10-14).
Thus says the Lord, “Yet again there will be heard in this place, of which you say, ‘It is a waste, without man and without beast,’ that is, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting’; and of those who bring a thank offering into the house of the Lord. For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were at first,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 33:10; 11).
And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, “Have you not observed what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the Lord chose, He has rejected them’? Thus they despise My people, no longer are they as a nation in their sight. Thus says the Lord, ‘If My covenant for day and night stand not, and the fixed patterns of heaven and earth I have not established,
then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and David My servant, not taking from his descendants rulers over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them’” (Jeremiah 33:23-26).
And so you can see the complete restoration of all things: kings, priests, prosperity, health, and safety. This is what the Lord intends to do. But how can such things really be? The heart of man is still the heart of man. What is to prevent a recurrence of apostasy?
It is the heart of man that preempts the blessings intended by Old Covenant Law. That is why the Law convicts of sin. For the Lord to bring healing, something fundamental must happen to the heart. It is not surprising, then, when Jeremiah writes down the words of the New Covenant to come, that it involves the heart:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when 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, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
“I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it.” The houses of Judah and Israel broke the Old Covenant. The first tenet of the New Covenant is that the Law would be within the people of God and that it would be written on their hearts. The Law would not be on tablets of stone or on the leather pages of a scroll. It will instead be an operating principle in the heart. This is indeed new! Under the Old Covenant the forefathers forgot the Lord, but in the new, “they will all know me.” Under the Old Covenant, sin was remembered, but in the new, “I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.”
On our side of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, we see that the New Covenant is operational. We should be able to examine Jeremiah’s text and see its fulfillment in the New Testament. So let us take these three components of the New Covenant:
1. We will all know God;
2. Our sin will be forgiven and forgotten; and
3. The Law will be within us and written on our hearts.
Let us look at some New Covenant Scriptures that illustrate how all these components are part of the righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus the Messiah.
“They will all know me.” The presence of Jesus the Messiah on the earth revealed the Father and made Him known in an intimate way. For us to know Jesus is to know God. Note these two passages from several in the New Testament:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3).
“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him” (John 14:7).
The writer to the first century Jewish believers tells us that God has spoken to us in His Son and that the Son was an “exact representation” of His nature. And Jesus’ own words tell us that to know Him is to know the Father.
“I will forgive their iniquity and their sin I will remember no more.” The single most complete treatment of this aspect of the New Covenant is presented in Hebrews, chapters 8 through 10. In chapter 8, the writer clearly connects Jesus as the high priest and mediator of Jeremiah’s New Covenant. In chapter 9, he tells us how Jesus took His own blood into the holy place that is in heaven to provide an “eternal redemption.” Chapter 10 contrasts the work of the Aaronic priesthood with the priesthood of Jesus. Throughout this section in Hebrews, the superiority of Jesus sacrifice for sin is put forth.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? For this reason He 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 (Hebrews 9:11-15).
“I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it.” The first two parts of the New Covenant are well understood by all believers. They form the basis of the gospel message preached today. We all speak of salvation in terms of “knowing Christ” and “forgiveness of sin.” What is not so well understood, because of a widespread misunderstanding of the place of Law in the New Covenant, is having the Law “within us” and “written on our hearts.”
Let me first talk about the misunderstanding of the place of Law in the New Covenant. The way some Christians talk, one gets the idea that the Law is bad. Such a notion does not stand the test of New Testament Scriptures. In the first place, Paul used Law to argue his points. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4 to establish the right of a minister of the gospel to make a living from the gospel. In the second place, Paul spells out the place that Law has in the life of faith:
But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
According to Paul, the Law still serves to identify sin. A person who is righteous has no need for the Law, but who is righteous? The point is that Jesus Christ did not do away with God’s standards of righteousness. It is still there, it still gives light, and it is still useful. Paul’s admonition to the Galatian churches was that they do not bind themselves to the Old Covenant to seek its blessings, because that path can only bring the curses. Instead they were to “walk by the Spirit.”
According to Jeremiah, and also the teaching of Paul as we shall see, Law has a place in the New Covenant. But the placement of the Law changes from stone and parchment to the heart of man. Perhaps the best way to understand what it means for Law to be “written on our hearts” is to examine Mount Sinai (Exodus 19, 20) and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). This might seem strange to you, because very few Gentiles know that Pentecost is the day when the Jews celebrate the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai.322 So you can see that this day commemorates both the beginning of the Old and the New Covenants. Therefore, it would seem worth our while to compare the two events.
Here is a very brief summary of the flow of events when the Law came forth from Mount Sinai. The Lord tells Moses that He desires to have a “nation of priests” (Exodus 19:6). A few days later, the Lord descends on Mount Sinai with fire, smoke, the sound of a trumpet, and other manifestations (Exodus 19:16-25). On the mount, the Lord speaks, out loud, the ten commandments to the people (Exodus 20:1-17). The people respond by drawing back and asking Moses to be a mediator. In the end, the people do not become a nation of priests. Rather, that responsibility falls to the descendants of Aaron.
Let’s compare these events with the Day of Pentecost. Whereas a single fire descended and landed on the top of the mountain and before a barrier keeping the people away, when the Holy Spirit came, the fire separated and alighted on individual believers. This is an incredible statement of the new access to the Father in the New Covenant. The presence of God no longer must be remote and terrifying, but is now individual and within. Whereas the Lord spoke from Mount Sinai, it is the believers, filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, who speak. Whereas the ancient Israelites withdrew, on the Day of Pentecost, the people came close and 3,000 were saved. Indeed, all became priests (Revelation 5:9, 10). When Jesus died and took His own blood into the Holy Place in heaven, He established the New Covenant. Because the hearts of men could now be cleansed and healed, the Holy Spirit could now indwell every believer.
I will say this strongly. It is the Holy Spirit who is the key distinctive of the New Covenant over the Old. You might say that we are saved by faith. That is not new, because Abraham is the father of justification by faith (Genesis 15:6). Blood has provided a covering for sin since the Lord clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. The Lord’s lovingkindness and mercy are expressions of His grace. Faith, blood, and grace are active principles in the Old Covenant. The new thing in Acts 2 is the indwelling, sanctifying, and empowering effect of the Holy Spirit made possible by the cleansing blood of Jesus the Messiah. From this base, we can comprehend what Jeremiah meant by the Law written on out hearts:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:1-11).
Notice Paul’s words “that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). One can begin to see the dynamics of the Lord’s words through Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it” (Jeremiah 31:33b). As we walk according to the Spirit, we begin to manifest a godliness that emanates from within.
This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:2-5)
When Paul says, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3b), does he not imply that there is a “being perfected” by the Spirit? The doctrine of sanctification recognizes this principle that the Holy Spirit sanctifies the believer by conforming him or her into the image of Jesus Christ. This transformation is the work of the Lord putting His Law within us and writing it on our hearts.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now 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. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:16-26).
Think of all that this lesson has discussed concerning the heart, and the Old and New Covenants, and you will find expression in these few verses. Paul’s words here tell of the propensity of the heart to deceit and sin. It hints that there are laws against the expressions of the flesh. It puts forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit as He operates in the lives of believers and does the work of writing Law in the heart. The work of the Holy Spirit is the work of generating righteous self-giving behavior. We must understand that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is not that I receive, from the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, and so forth. Rather it is that I, by the Holy Spirit, will be a source of love, joy, peace, and so forth. A tree does not eat its own fruit. The fruit is for those who come to the tree hungry.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit, in concept, is like the “corners of the field.” When do I show enough love, bring enough joy, broker enough peace, and have a character as kind, good, faithful, gentle, and under control as can be? Through the Holy Spirit, I can increase in such things every day of my life. Not only that, but I need the discernment of the Holy Spirit to know when the loving thing is to be close or to be far away.
So the New Covenant is the basis by which the Lord can fully restore all things. His Son came to earth, lived, died, and rose from the dead. His death enabled the cleansing of our hearts from sin so that the Holy Spirit could indwell, empower, and sanctify us. In this way, we have forgiveness of sin, the knowledge of God, and the Law within us. It is for these reasons that the New Covenant will succeed where the Old Covenant failed. Does this mean that we will find perfection in this life? No! Even Paul near the end of his life refers to himself as the “foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15, 16). The writing of the Law on our hearts is a process, which is why Jeremiah’s New Covenant also tells us that the Lord will forgive our sin and remember it no more. How good it is to be in this age!
Retrospective on Jeremiah and Lamentations
And so we come to the end of these lessons on Jeremiah and Lamentations. In them, we saw how Jeremiah announced and oversaw the failure of the Old Covenant; how he saw and grieved over the destruction of Jerusalem; and how he saw and announced the day of a New Covenant. Through all of this, I believe that we can come away with these fundamental lessons:
1. It is God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness that are everlasting. Since to know Jesus is to know the Father, we need only look at His life on the earth to see the Father’s heart. Jesus was always quick to show mercy over judgment.
2. His discipline, the tribulations He brings our way, and even the wrath that He pours out are momentary, and work to establish His lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness!
ADONAI TZIDKENU: The Lord is our Righteousness.
320 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Donald E. Curtis at Community Bible Chapel, on October 7, 2001. Don is an elder at Cobb Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Kennesaw, Georgia. You can e-mail comments and questions to /email.asp?email=curtis
321 All Scripture is taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE.
Related Topics: Dispensational / Covenantal Theology