Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

The spiritual does not come first, but the physical and then the spiritual. (1 Corinthians 15:46 ISV)

It is in this context, "first. . . the natural . . . then the spiritual," that we now want to consider the New Covenant. The old covenant was a shadow of good things to come. Even the law possessed only a shadow. The old Covenant dealt with natural and physical manifestations of a spiritual reality in the heavens. It had a physical tabernacle, priesthood, vestments and a special tribe of chosen people who lived in a specific nation on this earth. It dealt entirely with the natural things of this earth, complete with sights, smells, tastes, sounds and all things needed to titillate the senses of the worshipers. It appealed to the carnal aspects of the natural man.

The New and Lasting Covenant of the New Testament has spiritual counterparts to everything that is in the old. The New Covenant requires faith, which is the evidence of things not seen. To take part in this covenant God requires us to grow up. He has replaced all the physical aspects of the Old Covenant with the spiritual counterparts that they represented. Instead of a tabernacle made of stones and wood, He has made one of living stones, surrounding Himself with men and women who love Him with all their hearts, minds and souls, making them His holy habitation. Instead of a special priest cast to work in that temple, He has made all who believe in Christ a kingdom of priests. Instead of putting on special garments as the Levitical priesthood did, these priests put on Christ Himself.

The first covenant was a natural covenant with natural Israel that He used to point the way to the One to come. The New Covenant is the spiritual realization of all that the Old Covenant merely foreshadowed, a spiritual covenant with a spiritual Israel (Romans 2:29). The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone for a people with stony hearts. The New Covenant is written on hearts of flesh by the very Spirit of God.

God started to tip His hand, so to speak, through Old Testament prophets. They were allowed to foresee a change that was coming, one that would replace the covenant that Israel broke. Jeremiah spoke of this radical new covenant that was to come.

Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that 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 unto them, says the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34 KJ2000)

Ezekiel also saw this quantum shift that was coming.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 KJ2000)

And in Isaiah we read:

They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:9-10 RSVA)
All your sons shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the prosperity of your sons. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. (Isaiah 54:13-14 RSVA)

Habakkuk also prophesied of this New Covenant.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14 RSVA)

These passages from the Old Testament prophets were fulfilled in Christ. The New Covenant is nothing like the covenant that God made with Israel when He brought them out of Egypt. The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone, to be read, memorized and obeyed-cold stony tablets for cold stony hearts. No understanding was required to obey the letter. All they needed to remember was, "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not." In this they were really no different than a mule that has no understanding and must be controlled with bit and bridle under the penalty of pain. The Lord has always wanted a people after His own heart that He could share His passion and vision with-a people that He could guide with His eye (Psalms 32:8-9), who know not only His works but His also His ways (Psalms 103:7).

The bit and bridle of legalism was never His ultimate aim. He wants to give us new hearts that are after His heart -- the goal of the New Covenant. This New Covenant requires a radical inner working of God's Spirit. It is within-written in the heart-taught by God Himself. The first words of Ezekiel's prophecy are critical, "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them." The one heart and the new spirit are inseparable. One heart means unity. One spirit is the ground of that unity among the saints. The new covenant implants the very nature of God in man-written upon hearts of flesh. This inward writing of God's Spirit in the hearing hearts of His people is the new order of things. They live in one heart, the heart of their Father and one accord, the mind of Christ. The love of God constrains us as the Spirit of God guides us.

There is no room for the pride of man here. God's New Covenant promise is this, "I will make . . .I will put. . . I will write it. . . I will forgive... I will not remember... I will put a new Spirit within you." This covenant is totally up to God and His righteousness operating in us. Paul wrote, "Therefore, my beloved... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13 RSVA). The only "I will" that is valid in the economy of God's kingdom is His. It is God who wills and works good in us according to His designs, not ours.

Men can't even teach righteousness without Him. God is our Teacher by His Spirit within our hearts. The writer of the book of Hebrews picked up on this theme. "And they shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." The old covenant is obsolete. "And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:11-13 RSVA emphasis added).

The Old Law-Covenant was given to prove to sinful man that he is bankrupt and totally unable to please God. Though the Children of Israel pledged to obey, they found no power within them to do so (Acts 15:10-11). Paul observed in himself, "the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me... For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:10, 11, 19 and 24 RSVA)

In the midst of this frustration, God sent His Son to be the Mediator of a better covenant-a wonderful New Covenant that is totally empowered by His Spirit. The wretchedness of man under the law was answered, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:1-4 ESV).

In the New Covenant God has provided everything that pertains to life and godliness. He writes a new commandment in our new hearts, that we should love one another even as Jesus loves us (John 13:34 and 1 John 4:21). He has put His Spirit within us to lead us and teach us all things pertaining to His kingdom, so much so that we behold Him as our Teacher, the only Teacher we need (1 John 2:20 and 26-28) to keep us from being deceived.

Man is not the teacher in this new dispensation, but His abiding anointing is. Man is a container or he is nothing at all. It is the Spirit within him that leads into all truth. God writes His passion upon the supple hearts of yielded vessels.

In this New Covenant we have not come to a mountain that may be touched that burned with fire and where the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words were so terrifying that even Moses said, "I am exceedingly afraid and trembling." No, we "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel" (See Hebrews 12:18-24 NKJV).

We no longer congregate at the mount of trembling (an earthly geographical place) but in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (John 4:21-24 and Ephesians 2:5-6). Our physical senses are of no use here, for we touch, taste, smell, hear and see those things that cannot be discerned by natural faculties. Faith looks at things that are not seen (Hebrews 11:1). We hear His non-audible voice from behind with spiritual ears, "This is the way, walk in it. Turn neither to the left or the right." We are no longer dependent on dark sayings and hidden speeches of the prophets, but we speak with him as a man face to face like Moses (Numbers 12:6-8). With spiritual eyes we behold our Teacher who is no longer hidden from us (Isaiah 30:20-21).

The battle for faith is waged on this ground. Only the victors have eyes to see beyond the natural to the spiritual. To those who walk by faith, the heavenly Jerusalem is more real than the earthly Jerusalem with all its commercialism, religious clap trap and gaudy shrines. To them the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven are more real than any local church with its mixture of carnal agendas. Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, is more real than the most charismatic clergyman on earth.

We choose our reality. We will look with natural eyes on material things and demand empirical proof before we believe, or we will look with spiritual eyes beyond this natural realm to that city whose builder and maker is God. A man with 20/20 spiritual sight described it this way, "while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18 NKJV). Will we focus on temporary or eternal things? We focus on the one that is more real (and more important) to us and that guides the life we live. Faith is not proven or verified by empirical evidence. It is the substance of things not seen with natural sight. It is time we who believe in Christ realize that we are not natural beings having a spiritual experience, but rather spirit beings having an experience in the natural world!

"We habitually think of the visible world as real and doubt the reality of any other. We do not deny the existence of the spiritual world but we doubt that it is real in the accepted meaning of the word. The world of sense intrudes upon our attention day and night for the whole of our lifetime. It is clamorous, insistent and self-demonstrating. It does not appeal to our faith; it is here, assaulting our five senses, demanding to be accepted as real and final. But sin has so clouded the lenses of our hearts that we cannot see that other reality, the City of God, shining around us. The world of senses triumphs. The visible becomes the enemy of the invisible; the temporal, of the eternal. That is the curse inherited by every member of Adam's tragic race" (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit Of God).
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6 RSVA)

When those eternal things that are seen by faith become more substantive, more real, than the earth under our feet, then we are walking by faith. This is how it should be for those who walk by faith and not by sight, yet much of what is called "Christianity" around us today sells itself to our physical senses and denies a true exercise of our faith. Religious man loves those things that can be seen, touched, heard, smelled, and tasted in his services; the smells, the bells and all that sells.

When John saw the New Zion in his Revelation vision he reported, "And I saw no temple in it: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it" (Revelation 21:22 KJ2000). With this being true, why are so many Christians all excited about the prospect of a new temple being built in old Jerusalem? Shouldn't we be citizens of the city where the Lamb is our Light and like Abraham, look for that city that has foundations whose builder and maker is God?

The New Covenant began in the Spirit and it is lived and completed in the Spirit. Jesus is not only the Alpha, but He is the Omega. Paul wrote, "Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 ESV- emphasis added)

The Seal of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit poured out on the Feast of First Fruits, Pentecost, was and is a guarantee of our redemption to come (Romans 8:23). The Spirit is the New Covenant seal and earnest pledge from God, "who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 1:22 NKJV). A man's seal--an imprint made by his signet ring in the hot wax poured on the flap of the envelope--was considered his signature. His seal guaranteed a document was genuine and had not been tampered with. We are sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit. This seal and guarantee are given "that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14 NKJV).

The Spirit was the promise and the Spirit is the guarantee. Jesus spoke of this to His disciples. "If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:10-13 NKJV).Everything that the heavenly Father wants to give to His children comes in the form of one gift-the good gift-the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the bread, fish and egg-the full-meal-deal. He is the seal and guarantee and the One who delivers us to the desired destination. Paul even went so far as to say, "But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." (Romans 8:9 RSVA - emphasis added).

Just before Jesus was carried up into heaven, He said to His disciples, "Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49 NKJV). Luke continued, "And, [Jesus] being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, said he, you have heard of me... you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now"(Acts 1:4-5 KJ2000). After the Spirit was poured out Peter went on to speak of this promise. "Therefore [Jesus] being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33 NKJV).The New Covenant is based on the promise of the Father and the seal of the Spirit Who is to manifest in each of us as He wills.

With the Spirit comes life, light and righteousness. The kingdom of God comes in each life when the Father's gift is received by faith in His Son. His kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17). There is no kingdom, no righteousness, no peace and no joy without the Holy Spirit. This is what makes the New Covenant so much better. It is through His Spirit that Christ is made all in all. In the Old Covenant, man worked for righteousness. In the New Covenant righteousness is found by dwelling in the Holy Spirit. In the Old Covenant, peace with God depended on perfect compliance to the law, but in the New Covenant our peace is found as we abide in the Spirit of the Prince of Peace.

Paul wrote, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things" (Galatians 5:22-23 ISV). All of these things are the fruit of the Spirit and are present in a Spirit filled life. We do not need love or patience or any of the other gifts as if they were commodities in and of themselves. We need the Good Gift. We don't need joy, we need the Gift. We don't need peace; we need the Gift of the Father. Peace is a byproduct of a life in which the Spirit reigns. We can't be faithful without the Gift that was promised to the descendants of faithful Abraham. God is love. When we are filled with the fullness of God, we are filled with His love. This is the kingdom that is in the Holy Spirit.

Paul wrote about the freedom of the New Covenant in the Spirit. "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:6 NKJV) "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2 RSVA)." For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by which we cry, Abba, Father" (Romans 8:15 KJ2000). "Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Corinthians 3:17 KJ2000). As you can see, we who have the Spirit are free from the law, free from condemnation, free from the dictates of our flesh and free to boldly come into the very presence of God and call Him "Daddy."

Paul continues, "[God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the ministry of death, written and engraved on stones, was glorious... how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness exceeds much more in glory" (2 Corinthians 3:6-9 NKJV). If we as His ministers are ministering condemnation, we are of the wrong covenant.

The Old and New Covenants are as different as death and life. As servants of a New Covenant, we are not servants of the letter but of the Spirit. Under the old letter-covenant, we must read, memorize and strive to obey. Our sufficiency to do so is from us. In the New Covenant, the source of all our strength and power is the Spirit of God. Satan entices believers to abandon God's sufficiency, the ministry of the Spirit, and return to the ministry of the letter, the ministry of death. This is the foolishness of legalism. Whether we strive by the flesh to do good or strive by the flesh to do evil, it is still a work of the flesh and we are still eating from the wrong tree. Like Jesus told the disciples, "The flesh profits nothing." Why would a sane person choose death over life? Yet, those who have been bewitched by the deceiver do just that (Galatians 3:1-3).

The Foolishness of Legalism

Paul prophesied that the church would fall away (Gr. apostocia) from the Spirit-dependent state (2 Thessalonians 2:3) and would manifest "a form of godliness" without power (2 Timothy 3:5). Some believe the gospel of John, written toward the end of the first century. was a response to this apostasy. The freedom of Christ was slowly being eroded away in the early church. They were slowly being dragged back into bondage by "the caprice and cunning of men" (Ephesians 4:14 Darby New Testament). Soon, things were not as God meant them to be. The heavenly order was forsaken and the heavenly nature was forfeited as men set out to prefect in the flesh what Christ started in the Spirit. It soon became a systematized deception, filled with man-made sacraments, boundaries, structures and rules. True life in the Spirit was slowly lost and the glory was departing. As men rose up, the Spirit's leadership and presence were quenched and the world was plunged into the Dark Ages.

The greatest danger to the Christian faith is not hedonism, but religion. The foolishness of legalism is far and away the greatest insult to the blood bought grace of God. Paul asks, "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3 NKJV). The Galatian believers were drifting away from the ministry of life and turning back to the ministry of death. They were returning to the works of the law and, as a result, were being cut off from the supply of the Spirit.

To help them see their error, Paul asked them the following question, "Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Galatians 3:5 NKJV). In this verse we see both the New Covenant Minister and ministry. Jesus is the one who supplies the Spirit. He does the work of ministry. Jesus is the New Covenant Minister as our High Priest, the one Mediator between God and man. We simply believe and trust in Him who supplies and works. When we return to the law (or any of the works of the flesh) we come back under the curse and the supply of the Spirit is cut off and the miracles cease (Galatians 3:10-11).

What does it mean for Christ to be the Minister? How is this realized in His body? Does it involve the showmanship we see on elevated platforms and pulpits today? Jesus doesn't want "faith-healers," He wants vessels He can minister to the sick through. He wants men and women who speak and act in such a way that even their lives are a testimony of His power. Peter wrote, "As every man has received a gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man ministers, let him do it as of the ability which God gives: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:10-11 KJ2000).

"Every man has received a gift" and each one is to "minister one to another," doing so with "the ability that God gives" that God might be glorified, not men. When prominent charismatic figures draw all attention to themselves, the lowly believer feels that what the Spirit has given him is not worthy to be manifest in the body of Christ. Thus he goes off like the man in the parable and buries his talent in the dirt. Brothers, it should not be this way. We should each be making room for the weaker brethren to move among us by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:23-25) instead of drawing attention to ourselves.

After the lame beggar was healed by the gate of the temple Peter said, "Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" (Acts 3:12-16). On the next day the rulers, elders, and scribes demanded, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole" (Acts 4:5-10 NKJV - emphasis added).

How much of what calls itself "ministry" today is actually Christ ministering? How much of what calls itself ministry today is done by the Spirit? Do we see the lowly Carpenter or King Herod in all his fine robes? Do we see Jesus or men so lacking in humility that they dare to call themselves "faith healers" and imply that healing comes by their own power or godliness? Like the lyrics of a country song go, "Would He wear a pinky ring, would he drive a fancy car... Would Jesus wear a Rolex on his television show?" Christ will not compete with such pomposity. Where is the humility that recognizes that the Minister is Christ and insists that only He receives the glory?

Don't Turn Back

The believers the letter of Hebrews was written to were facing a very serious spiritual crisis. In chapter two we read this warning, "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it" (Hebrews 2:1 ESV). This is the theme of the book. Our Hebrew brothers and sisters were in danger of drifting away or falling away from the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and all that He is. The test before them was whether or not they were going to go on into the full possession of all that Christ had given them or turn back to he old religious order.

This letter was written around 60AD. By 70AD Israel and Jerusalem were completely sacked and the people were either killed, scattered or had been taken as slaves by the Romans. Their temple and synagogues were completely shattered. All the external trappings of their religion they depended on were no more. This letter was clearly written to prepare them for this coming disaster. The author, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote, "In that he says, A new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13 KJ2000 - emphasis added). He repeatedly exhorted them in this letter to go on, leaving the shadows of the old religious order and to fully taste the heavenly gift and share in the Holy Spirit (6:1). These believing Jews had answered the heavenly call and started upon the heavenly way but now they were tempted to turn back to the old Jewish temple system. They started to return to the camp of the old religious order and God slammed the door by calling them to go to Him outside the camp. "We have an altar, of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle" (Chapter 13:10).

T. Austin Sparks aptly described this crisis in his message, "Let Us Go On."

"That, I think mainly, if not entirely, is a matter of contrasts. Contrasts... a new era had come in. A new economy or order had been introduced with Christ and now, the changeover was the change, the tremendous change, from the earthly to the heavenly. With the Son of God from heaven, there had come in the heavenly order and from that time onward, the old earthly order of the things of God, as we have in the old economy of the Old Testament, ceased. . ..

Everything now is heavenly; it's passed from earth. But what a testing position is a heavenly position! It's a crisis! It creates a crisis, it's the very essence of a crisis: "Pull that down to earth, have something here, something on this earth, have something here, abandon that heavenly position, (that heavenliness by which those who so speak, mean that which is so abstract and unreal), let's get down to earth, to reality!" That was the nature of this crisis: the contrast between the heavenly and the earthly, and they were at the point of leaving the heavenly for the earthly. Great warnings are connected with that and all the exhortations, "let us go on, let us go on"... The contrast between the tangible and the spiritual. The soul wants something that it can take hold of, can manipulate, can grasp! That is the soul, to have something tangible... and all this talk about the spiritual and spirituality, how "unreal" it is... That's the crisis, isn't it? They in the old dispensation had it all visibly, they had an earthly tabernacle and priesthood and all that belonged to them, but now, the reality is in heaven, it's not seen! That was but a shadow, the reality is unseen, but it's far more real! But it's unseen, and that's the test of the soul. I'm sure you'll know the meaning of this."

The Hebrew believers longed for the earthly, touchable expression of religion. Are we any different today? The crisis point lies between the temporal and the eternal-the earthly and the heavenly-between faith and disobedience. It is in this context that we understand chapter six of Hebrews.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:1-6 ESV)

We must come to understand apostasy (falling away) in these terms. The book of Hebrews was not written to hedonists or people sliding back into the overt sins of the world, but to an extremely religious people. It is not warning against returning to smoking, chewing and going with girls who do. It is not a warning against drinking or using drugs. It is a warning against returning to the old law-based religious order!

To go back to the old sacrifices and the old priesthood and the old temple system of the old covenant is to crucify Christ afresh and put Him to an open shame. To do this is to count the blood of Christ a profane thing. To taste the heavenly gift and know the power of the age to come, God's Holy Spirit, and turn back to the weak and beggarly elements of the old religious order is a far worse sin than adultery. The adulterer, after all, is not trying to substitute lesser sacrifices for the once-for-all sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God. The adulterer is not thumbing his nose at the blood of Christ by substituting the works and sacrifices of the law for righteousness. It is spiritual adultery that God is concerned with where men turn from Christ and seek to replace a living relationship with dead religion.

We crucify Christ afresh when we stop trusting in His finished work and the efficacious power of His blood and turn back to the works and merit-based righteousness of the old religious order. There is no more sacrifice for sins other than the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. It is human nature to want to pay sin's debt by extraordinary obedience or to apologize to God for bad behavior by offering Him a greater measure of good deeds-two pounds of good for a pound of sin. This is why the temptation to return to law-keeping is so strong. The flesh yearns to manifest, to justify itself and boast in its doings. To return to law-keeping for righteousness is a denial of the righteousness of God in Christ.

Paul longed to "be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. . ." (Philippians 3:9 NKJV). Paul also wrote about Israel, who preferred their own righteousness to the righteousness of God. "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:3-4 NKJV). Those who return to a law-based righteousness prefer their own righteousness to the righteousness of God in Christ, and as a result, have fallen from grace. "You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4 NKJV).

More than this, anyone who tries to keep the law has not just fallen from grace but has come back under the curse. "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them'" (Galatians 3:10 NKJV). You can not pick and choose which old covenant laws you want to incorporate into New Testament living. You are either under grace or you are accountable to keep the whole book of the law perfectly. There is no middle ground. To come back under the law is to reject Christ's grace and redemption completely. Why choose death when you can have life?

Paul's word's to Peter, "For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor," show us the danger of returning to the law for righteousness. It is not a simple or harmless mistake. It is a grievous transgression. Paul explained further. "For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Jesus filled up the requirements and need for the law and He no longer is subject to the law, and neither are we who are abiding in Him and His righteousness.

Alive to the Law or Alive to Christ

In Christ we died to the law. We cannot be alive to the law and at the same time be alive to Christ. Or as Paul put it, we can not be married to both husbands. We will be dead to one or the other. To attempt to do otherwise is spiritual adultery.

Occasionally we have overheard conversations between believers in which the term "spiritual adultery" was used. We have heard the term applied to a wide assortment of activities. What is holy to one is spiritual adultery to another. If the term has any legitimate usage, it is in connection with those who have been freed from the law, espoused to Christ, and returned to the bondage of the law once again. It is in this sense that we use the term.

First let's examine the definition of the word adultery: "voluntary sexual relations between a married person and somebody other than his or her spouse" (The Encarta Dictionary). The same definition applies to spiritual adultery. How is legalism adultery? It is spiritual adultery when those who are betrothed to Christ are romantically engaged with another man-the old husband (the law). There is only one way to have a proper relationship with Christ and that is through dying to the old husband (the law). When you are dead to something you no longer have any relationship with it. You are dead to it and it is dead to you. This is clearly set forth in Romans 7.

Or do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to those who know the law--that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. (Romans 7:1-6 ESV - emphasis added)

If you are a Christian, you have died to the old husband and are married to Another. You have died to the law through Christ's death. You are resurrected in Him and are His, entering intimacy with Christ and bringing forth fruit unto God. We have died to that old demanding husband that held us captive!

What should we call it when we who have died to the old husband and have been betrothed to Christ, sneak around and engage again in intercourse with the old husband? This is the textbook definition of adultery. Or as Paul put it, "she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive." Our relationship to the old husband was all about our works and our righteousness (how well we measured up to his demands). Our relationship to our new husband, Christ, is all about bringing forth His fruit (birthed, nurtured and brought forth by Him) and His righteousness (the fruit of His Spirit within us). We can only have one husband. Which will it be?

To return to the old husband is to set grace aside and crucify Christ afresh. And so Paul concludes, "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (Galatians 2:21 NKJV). May this help us get a true sense of the level of transgression that is reached when we turn back from the heavenly way to the old religious order.

The New Covenant and the Body of Christ

On that day of Pentecost two thousand years ago, a humble band of disciples gathered in an upper room, obediently waiting for the promise of the Father. Suddenly, a sound like a mighty windstorm came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. Tongues like flames of fire rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Devout men from every nation were there in Jerusalem that day. They had come to observe the old covenant Feast of Pentecost, but what they saw and heard went beyond their expectations. Men who had followed Jesus were speaking to the assembled crowd and each of them could hear them in their own native tongue. "We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." They were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" Desperate for a logical answer, some of them even mocked saying, "They are filled with new wine." They had no idea how accurate their words were.

It was then that Peter lifted up his voice and explained what this extraordinary event was all about:

You men of Judea, and all you that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: And I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord comes: And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:14b-21 KJ2000)

What Joel prophesied was something new. Never had the Spirit been poured out on all flesh. Never had everyone who believes in God been given the gift of prophecy, prophetic dreams and heavenly visions. These things had been reserved for a select few in the old covenant, special spiritual leaders for an appointed time. Here we see a third witness to what was prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel regarding the altogether different nature of the New and Lasting Covenant.

Jesus spoke to His disciples in parables regarding the absolute newness of the New Covenant. The old wineskin of religion had to be discarded for the New to take effect (Hebrews 8:13). He also addressed the repercussions of attempting to carry the old covenant over into the new. Jesus warned His disciples and everyone else who will listen of the futility of attempting to patch up the old covenant.

No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, 'The old is good.'" Luke 5:36-39 ESV)

In the early days of the church, Paul and others fought a great spiritual battle to preserve a pure and undiluted gospel. Not only does religious man prefer the old wineskin, but he really prefers the old wine altogether. He tries to put the new wine into his old familiar wineskin! Let us keep Jesus' warning in mind as we consider the utter newness of the New Covenant.

The difference between the Old and the New Covenants centers upon this very issue of the vessel and the wine. God doesn't dump new wine on the ground. Just as a good vintner would, He prepares an appropriate vessel for it. This is what Jesus' earthly ministry was about. The author of the book of Hebrews records Him saying to the Father, "a body you have prepared for me." This was a prophetic statement pertaining both to His natural body and his spiritual body. Just as the Father had prepared a natural body for Him He was preparing a body for Jesus to manifest Himself through here on earth after His death, "the body of Christ," a body of members, enlivened by His Spirit. The body of Christ is the wineskin or vessel of Christ-the fullness of him who fills all things. Just as the man Jesus was the vessel of God so the body of Christ is the vessel of Christ. Individually and collectively, we are His body, the dwelling place of Him who is Himself the New Wine. As this New Wineskin, we are destined to hold what the universe itself cannot contain, "all the fullness of God."

The Spirit that was put upon prophets, kings, and judges, empowering them to do the work of God, is now poured out upon all the members of the body of Christ. Joel foresaw this. "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants (slaves) in those days I will pour out my Spirit" (Joel 2:28-29 ESV). Any covenant that does not include everyone or ascribes greater access to some than to others is not the New Covenant. Even the young, sons and daughters, can be attuned to God's heart and share His burden prophetically. It is not limited to the seminary educated elite, but is poured out on lowly servants and slaves as well. The anointing that was exclusively given to a specific priest cast has come to rest on the whole priesthood of believers. "You also, as living stones, are built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5 KJ2000). Yes, His glory is being poured out on all flesh. As Paul put it, "For you may all prophesy..." (1 Corinthians 14:31).

The fulfillment of Joel's prophecy consists of more than the Spirit resting on all flesh. It speaks directly of God's desire to fill all things. Jesus spoke of this to His disciples, ". . . You know him [the Spirit of truth], for he dwells with you and will be in you" (John 14:16-17). Again we see the vessel and the Wine. The Spirit is no longer poured out on men like the oil that was poured out on Aaron, but now it is placed within those who believe. In this Covenant we are His golden lamps that contain His oil of the Spirit and are perpetually refilled by His golden pipes that bring our oil down from the throne of God (Zechariah 4:1-6). "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord."

Christ is our Teacher

Jesus said, "But you be not called Rabbi: for one is your Teacher, even Christ; and all you are brothers" (Matthew 23:8 KJ2000). Isaiah explained this New Covenant in terms of the direct access and tutelage of God saying, "All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children" (Isaiah 54:13 ESV). Jesus said to the Jews, "No man can come to me, except the Father who has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall be all taught of God.' Every man therefore that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto me'" (John 6:44-45 KJ2000).

John described this in his first epistle. "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things . . . the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him" (1 John 2: 20, 27 NKJV). The All Knowing One can now be known by all without the need for human teachers. Jesus sent His Spirit to His body to lead us into all truth.

But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you. All things that the Father has are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you. (John 16:13-15 KJ2000)

If we walk in the Spirit, we no longer have to go to a special prophet or seer to find out what God has to say to us and has for us. God has shown all things to Christ, Christ is ours, and the Spirit takes those things that are of Christ and shows them to us. We are no longer servants of God as if we were still under the old covenant, but friends! "From now on I call you not servants; for the servant knows not what his lord does: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15 KJ2000 emphasis added). Yes, all things are made known unto us by the Spirit of Christ. This is the privilege of friends. In fact, the word mysteries, so often used by Paul in his epistles, means "the secrets of friends."

There is a vast difference between the Old Covenant and the New and that difference is the Spirit of Christ abiding in our hearts.

Old CovenantNew Covenant
Aaronic Priesthood (Exodus 28:1-3) Priesthood of all Believers (1 Peter 2:9)
Stone Temple made by men (1 Kings 6:7)Temple made of living stones (1 Peter 2:5)
Special priestly garments (Exodus 28:3-8)Believers put on Christ (Romans 13:14)
Priests offer many sacrifices (Leviticus 9:7)Christ offered once for all (Hebrews 7:22-28)
Spirit rested on a few anointed ones(Numbers 11:29)All believers are His anointed; Spirit abides within (1 John 2:27-28; John 14:16-17)
Hearts of stone (Ezekiel 11:19)New hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Dead letters written in stone (Exodus 24:12)Living letters written on the heart (2 Corinthians 3:3)
External law to be obeyed (Leviticus 26:3-6)A new commandment to love (John 13:34)
A covenant for Israel only (Exodus 19:5-6)A covenant for all who believe (Matt. 26:28 and John 3:16)
Under the law of death (Romans 7:5)Led by the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2)
Tabernacle of Herod/Den of Thieves (Mark 11:17)Heavenly tabernacle with Christ our High Priest (Hebrews 9: 22-24)
Veil of separation between God and man (Leviticus 16)Access of God for all (Ephesians 2:13-18 and 2 Corinthians 3:14)
Jew and Gentile separation (Genesis 17:7-8)One new man in Christ (Romans 10:12-13)
Of the first Adam, a living soul (Genesis 2:7) Of the Last Adam, a life giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15:45)
Human teachers of law and prophets ((1 Kings 8:36) Taught by the Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 John 2)
A covenant that was done away with (2 Cor. 3:9-11) An eternal covenant (1 Peter 5:10)
High priests who died (Hebrews 7:23-24)A Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 6:20)
Of the flesh and bondage (Galatians 4:24-25)Of the Spirit and freedom (Galatians 4:26-31)
"Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not" (Exodus 20:1-17) "I will…Iwill…I will." (Jeremiah 31:31-33 and Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Old wineskins with old wine New wineskins with new wine
Circumcision of the flesh (Genesis 17:11)Circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28-29)
Works of the law (Joshua 1:8)Faith in Christ's work (Ephesians 2:5-10)
Mere shadow of things to come (Hebrews 10:1)"But the body is of Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17)
Many fathers (Malachi 4:6) One Father (Matthew 23:9)
Many shepherds (Ezekiel 34)One Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23; Psalm 23:1; John 10:16)
Knowing one another after the flesh (John 8:15)Knowing one another after the Spirit (2 Cor. 5:16)

Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

to top