Our spiritual life changes, I believe, when we go from believing that Christianity is a series “of rules and laws that I must do,” to understanding that true spirituality revolves around, “what Christ has done.” When we think about it the difference between my doing and what Christ has done is as far apart as the east is from the west.
“But now He 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; Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all will know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:6-13
As Christians we don’t spend as much time in Hebrews as we should and the result is we miss a great deal of exciting insights into grace and our relationship with God. Notice, the new covenant is a better covenant because it is based on better promises. The old covenant was flawed because the people didn’t keep it nor continue in it even though God led them by the hand to take them out of captivity and bring them to safety.
God, therefore, gives a new covenant in which He will, “Put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (v. 10b) So, here is the big question that we must all ask ourselves; what are the laws that are written on the heart? Our first response might be to say, the Ten Commandments, but is God really putting the letter of the Law into our minds when we have failed so miserably to keep it?
Whatever God means when He says I will write the law in their hearts we can be sure of one thing, the law written in the heart doesn’t lead to perfection or absolute obedience. Notice the last lines of our text, “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (v. 13) If having the law written in the heart meant never sinning again then there would be no need to be merciful to our iniquities nor any reason to remember our sins no more.
By the way, this is amazing good news for people who think their sins are piling up in Heaven or being held in some special reserve of God’s mind in order to condemn them if they aren’t good enough. No, our sins are remembered no more when we are in Christ Jesus. But that is another topic for another blog.
I should say before we go any further that in the Old Testament there are also numerous texts based on the law being written in the heart. For example:
He said to them, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 32:46)
“With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:10-11)
“The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip.” (Psalm 37:31)
“I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:8) (italics in these texts supplied)
If the law was to be written in the hearts of the people of Judah and Israel then why does God say that we need a new covenant where the law is written in the heart? The answer is that we enter into the new birth through Jesus Christ and the spirit of the law becomes written in our hearts through the grace of God. Let my explain.
Hebrews 8:6-13 is based upon the promise of the new covenant as found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 but the new covenant in both texts is not a simple reworking of the old covenant. It is a better covenant built upon better promises. Also we need to ask ourselves, is the law that is written in the Old Testament the same as the law that is written in the heart under the new covenant? Let’s look at a couple of texts that reflect the teachings of Jesus in regards to the new covenant.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. (Matthew 5:27-28)
Jesus quotes one of the Ten Commandments but He has moved from the letter of the law to an eternal moral principle that is behind the letter of the law. Jesus is confronting the attitudes of our heart here and is taking the commandment to be much more than a simple rule you follow.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the Supreme Court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell”. (Matthew 5:21-22)
Thou shall not murder is one of the commandments but Jesus has taken the activity of murder and moved it into the area of moral principle. Anger is a condition or attitude of the heart and it is from that condition that people are able to carry out the activity of murder.
So what is Jesus getting at in these verses? Simply put He is telling us that because of the condition of our heart we don’t keep the law. No matter how much we try or think we are keeping the law we are really failing because our hearts are sinful and our activities (law keeping) stem from the heart. He is not focusing upon our outward responses to law keeping but digging into our souls to reveal to us exactly how sinful we are and how sin lays in our attitudes not simply in our actions.
Now here is something that is important in our discussion. When Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40)
The law that Jesus is talking about that is written in the heart in the new covenant is not the letter of the law but the law of love. When we understand this principle then everything regarding the law and gospel begin to fall into place. The new covenant takes us way beyond simply conforming to outward laws, but instead becomes a change of heart. In our next post we will pick up the thread and see what John, Paul and Peter have to say about the law and whether or not they agree with Jesus. Let me leave you with this teaser.
“ ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10)
* Please remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are subjected to persecution for their faith in Christ our Lord and Saviour. Go to http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ for more on the persecuted church