What is the difference between the Old and New Covenants?

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Two covenants

A covenant is an agreement between two parties based upon mutual promises. In the Bible, there were a number of covenants made, yet the most obvious or spoken of are the Old and the New Covenants. Hebrews 8:7, 10 describe these two, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. In that he saith, a new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”

The Old Covenant was an agreement between God and Israel in which God promised to bless Israel upon condition of obedience to Him. The Lord said, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:5, 6).  The Ten Commandments were the basis of the covenant. “And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exodus 34:28b).

The weakness of the Old Covenant

The Lord wished to have His Ten Commandments written in the hearts of the people who in turn promised that they would do that themselves. They promised, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Thus, the people relied on their own works instead of letting God do the work in them. Here, lies the premise of the weakness of the Old Covenant in that it was dependent on the promises of people.

This weakness of the Old Covenant was not in the commandments over which it was made, nor in God’s part of the agreement, but in the human element “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah . . . For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; And I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Hebrews 8: 8, 10).

Why do we need the New Covenant?

In the New Covenant, God makes the promises instead of the people. God does that which men tried and failed to do in the Old Covenant. Human weakness did not allow them to keep their promise of obedience to God’s holy commandments. Falling short under the Old Covenant, the New Covenant was made in which God promises to live in our hearts and supply us with the strength and grace to obey. Therefore, in the New Covenant it is not the works of the flesh, but “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

The Old Covenant was by works, sacrifices, and ordinances. The New Covenant is by faith in the promises of God. This fact does not mean that the New Covenant cancels out obedience to God’s word and commandments but rather it makes it possible for us to keep them through Christ dwelling in our hearts. The apostle Paul declared, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Paul summed up the matter by saying, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). And Jesus taught, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love should be the motive for obedience. Therefore, obedience that comes from force or fear is not the ideal kind of obedience.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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