Atonement: The Covenant Model, Part 3

Romans

Gorman does not deal with Romans because, I suppose, there is no explicit reference to “new covenant” in the epistle. But there are plenty of references to Jeremiah 31 and Deuteronomy 30:6.

I’ve covered these in detail in the recent “Faith that Works” series posts on Romans. I’ll try to be brief.

(Rom 2:14-16 ESV)  14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law[] by nature[,] do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them  16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

As N. T. Wright argues in his commentary on Romans, we have to take “the law is written on their hearts” as an allusion to Jeremiah 31 — which is speaking of saved people. (The “Faith that Works” series makes this argument in detail, and also explains why I relocate the comma in the translation (koine Greek has no commas)).

(Rom 2:28-29 ESV) 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Paul then, in parallel, refers to Deuteronomy 30:6 — God circumcises the hearts of his children — by the Spirit — and the changed heart makes him pleasing to God.

Thus, the new covenant of Jeremiah (and related prophecies) explains how God saves without physical circumcision. It’s about transformed hearts — which is by the Spirit, by God writing his laws on our hearts.

We next turn to –

(Rom 7:6 ESV)  6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Of course, the “new way of the Spirit” is having the law written on our hearts and having our hearts circumcised by the Spirit.

(Rom 8:3-4 ESV)  3 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,  4 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.

Somehow, the cross “condemned sin in the flesh” for the benefit of those who have received the Spirit. Is this Christus Victor? Maybe.

It’s certainly not quite substitutionary atonement. “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” is speaking more of how we actually live than a forensic imputation in which we’re credited with righteousness we don’t really have.

I’m not saying there’s no such imputation, just that this verse, like Rom 2:14-16, speaks of how we actually live as being “righteous” to the extent our lives are prompted by the Spirit.

All this Paul credits to the cross. Somehow, the cross makes this possible. The new covenant is realized by the cross — not just forgiveness but also the Spirit and transformation.

Hebrews

Hebrews 8  – 10 is a commentary on Jeremiah 31′s promise of a new covenant. Indeed, Hebrews 8 quotes the passage in full. The author then draws several conclusions.

(Heb 9:25-28 ESV)  25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own,  26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.  27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

In the context of the new covenant promises of Jeremiah, the author declares that Jesus has “been offered once to bear the sins of many” and “appeared … to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” This is not exactly Christus Victor, as Jesus had to “bear” the sins of the saved, not merely to defeat Satan.

(Heb 10:5-7 ESV)  5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;  6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The author then credits Christ’s obedience with taking away our sins: “I have come to do your will.”

(Heb 10:15-18 ESV)  15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,  16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”  17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”  18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

The author again quotes Jeremiah 31, crediting the new covenant with our forgiveness — and saying that no further sacrifice — beyond the crucifixion — will ever been needed.

The author then announces that those who rebel — who continually deliberately sin — fall away.

(Heb 10:29 ESV) 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

“Blood of the covenant”? This a reference back, surprisingly, to –

(Heb 9:19-20 ESV)  19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people,  20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.”

The author is comparing the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:8 with the blood of Jesus on the cross. You see, both covenants were inaugurated with blood.

(Exo 24:7-11 ESV)  7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”  8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”  9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up,  10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.  11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.

God sealed his covenant with Israel with the blood of animals, and then their leaders ate with God — and “they saw the God of Israel” and yet lived.

Just so, at the Last Supper, the leaders of God’s people ate with Jesus — God in the flesh — and sealed the new covenant with blood — symbolized by the wine but soon poured out in all reality.

And the author of Hebrews declares that for a Christian to continue in deliberate sin is to “profane the blood of the covenant” — to make what is sacred into something meaningless.

In so saying, the author equates the new covenant of Jeremiah 31 with God’s covenant made on the cross and declares that this new covenant compels us to live faithfully — to reject intentional sin on penalty of damnation.

Does the atonement have consequences for Christian ethics? Indeed, it does.

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17 Responses to Atonement: The Covenant Model, Part 3

  1. Tim Archer says:

    You may have mentioned this… in two accounts of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus echoes Moses’ words from Exodus 24: “This is my blood of the covenant…”

    I think we are definitely supposed to connect the two events.

  2. Doug says:

    Jay wrote: “Of course, the “new way of the Spirit” is having the law written on our hearts and having our hearts circumcised by the Spirit.” Flesh Circumcision is a one time event, once you are circumcised, there is no going back.. no becoming uncircumcised. Spiritual circumcision seems to be not as permanent in that even after we accept Jesus as Lord, we will still slip up and sin occasionally… try as we may and even with the Spirit writing the law on our hearts. Somehow, the new covenant must account for this or it would be only marginally better than the old covenant. Is it that the Spirit is embedded within us which makes us acceptable to God or is it the blood of Christ that is infinitely better than the blood of Bulls, Rams, Sheep which allows God to look at us and not cast us out? Or, is there a better explanation as to how this works?

  3. jerry says:

    Doug,

    It is at least some of each. 1 John 1:7 says the blood of Jesus cleanses us as we walk in the light. Then, Galatians 5:22-23 describes the “fruit of the Spirit,” which can also be considered as the life of one who is a new creation in Christ. The body without the Spirit is dead – but our new life is in Christ.

  4. laymond says:

    In my opinion this is one of if not the most stirring pieces of scripture to read.
    And still I hear spme who claim to be Christian say they still delibertly sin, and will be forgiven.
    Hbr 10:17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
    Hbr 10:18 Now where remission of these [is, there is] no more offering for sin.
    ( if we truly repent from our sins we no longer need sin offerings, for sins we no longer committ)
    Hbr 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
    Hbr 10:20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
    Hbr 10:21 And [having] an high priest over the house of God;
    Hbr 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
    Hbr 10:23 Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering; (for he [is] faithful that promised;)
    Hbr 10:24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
    Hbr 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
    Hbr 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
    NLT – Hbr 10:26 – Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.

  5. Price says:

    Wow, I guess I’m just not as smart as everybody else. I read the verses above and see clearly that Jesus made the necessary offering for my sin. There is no other offering to make. And, unless I trample under foot the Son of God..seems more than just an error but a total denial, then His grace is sufficient. That’s fantastic news for me.. I don’t have to follow a code (which history proves no man can do) but rather a Person who loves me and helps me (rather than condemns me) when I fall.

    When I read that I am dead to sin…how much further can a man be separated from sin than when he is dead? Too much law still floating around in the church.. Not enough Spirit. Seems to me the majority of teaching I hear from some groups is on how He, the Spirit, is no longer is around. Should be teaching on how to follow him… How can we be lead by the Spirit if we don’t even think he’s relevant? We’d rather follow a book than God Himself? Silly. Love the Word, but the Word isn’t God.. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples that He would send Paul and that they should read his letters. He said He was sending the Spirit… Come Lord Jesus, Come.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    Price:
    Don’t forget what Paul wrote to Timothy who I am sure had a measure of the Spirit that would have exceeded what you or I have received.
    (2 Tim 2:15 KJV) Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
    (2 Tim 2:15 NIV) Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
    Study what if the Spirit was totally guiding him? There are many places in scripture that admonish us to learn from God’s word, was this not reference to the written word described by:
    (2 Tim 3:14 NIV) But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,
    (2 Tim 3:15 NIV) and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
    (2 Tim 3:16 NIV) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
    (2 Tim 3:17 NIV) so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
    Was this only the Old Testament scriptures? If it was then we would not have any words from Christ that can be studied and agreed or disagree upon, each man would have his own message through the Spirit, then what standard would we use to test the spirits?

  7. laymond says:

    “Wow, I guess I’m just not as smart as everybody else.”
    Well that is always a good place to start.

  8. Larry, it is disingenuous to argue against being taught by the Spirit by inventing and inserting the term “totally guiding him”. This is your own straw man, and you’re the only one putting it out there. Why are you arguing against something no one else has said? Simply because it’s easier than giving real consideration to what IS being said, that’s why. Likewise, it’s misleading to scurry back to the KJV to try to get Paul to tell us to “study the Bible”, when we all know this 17th century term does not match your current use of the word “study”. Most modern translations correct this by updating the language to appropriate 20th century terminology. But, you know this.

    From the text, Paul is clearly referring to the Torah when speaking to Timothy in chapter 3. “The Law and the Prophets” would be the “holy writings” available to Timothy “since infancy”. But please note that Paul does not exclude any later inspired writings, nor does he in any way suggest that such writings would take the place of Jesus’ promised revelation by the Holy Spirit. It is unsupportable to insist that the reader of this passage stretch it to mean revelation later incorporated in the NT canon, but nothing else. I agree with interpreting this passage as a general principle of respecting and knowing that which God has revealed- whether before Christ’s time on earth or after- but whoever later drew the artificial boundary at the end of Revelation needs to show me when God drove that particular stake in the ground.

    Oh, and the “standard” by which we test the spirits is by the Holy Spirit himself. That seems rather obvious to me. Larry, since you claim to be able to judge the measure of the Spirit in Timothy versus that measure which Price experiences, I assumed you must have been able to hear that from the Spirit himself. Otherwise, you would just be talking through your hat, and you wouldn’t do that.

    When John instructed the church to test the spirits, he never mentions using a set of manuscripts. That certainly does not preclude the church from using a written form of inspired revelation, whether writings made before Christ or afterward, but to think that the believers to whom John spoke heard his instructions and immediately whipped out their early New Testaments is just silly. There is nothing in the text to suggest that this is what John was saying.

    I see serious folly among those who would insist upon the Spirit’s inspiration of the scriptures while simultaneously challenging the Spirit’s guidance of men today. It’s certainly not an idea found in scripture, and for good reason. Those who continue to try to make the current leading of the Spirit incongruous with a respect for scripture demonstrate a lack of understanding of both.

  9. Doug says:

    Laymond, so you are the one putting those “Do you believe it’s possible to live without sinning? We do!” signs beside the road. I always wondered who was doing that.

  10. laymond says:

    Ya caught me Doug–:)

  11. laymond says:

    Doug, I don’t believe Jesus would have told us to do something we could not do. Also I believe Hebrews says “sin wilfully’ or “deliberately continue sinning”
    If you know it is a sin against God, and do it anyway.

  12. Laymond, there are those who agree with your view, in an effort to be consistent with the doctrine you propose, these believers actaully tell me that they don’t deliberately sin. And having watched them, I don’t believe them. Not one, so far.

    Nobody has THAT many accidents.

  13. Doug says:

    I have learned that most people do what they REALLY want to do… so I don’t believe that there’s a lot of accidental sin being performed. I take the verses in Hebrews 10 to be saying that God isn’t going to come along with a backup plan to solve man’s sin problem. Jesus is the completion of God’s plans for accomplishing that.

  14. laymond says:

    Charles, if you run your car into a cement wall at 100mph, whether accidental, or deliberate, you are dead either way. If you continually and consistantly sin against God, call it what you wish, you are dead to god.
    If you consistantly drive at 100mph, a few 300 dollar tickets usualy cure you of the habit, the sacrifice is just to high. But if you continually sin against God the price is much higher than money can appease.

  15. laymond says:

    Doug said “God isn’t going to come along with a backup plan” is this really what you think this means?
    Hbr 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
    NLT – Hbr 10:26 – Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.

  16. BeABerean says:

    It is never good to pull verses out of context. To understand what a few verses are saying we should know what was happening, what was being addressed, what were people doing or still doing at that time.

    Hebrews 10 (in context)

    The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.

    But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,

    “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”

    First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses).Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.

    Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins.
    But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.

    And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says,

    “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord:
    I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds.”

    Then he says,

    “I will never again remember
    their sins and lawless deeds.”

    And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.

    And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

    Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
    And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

    Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins.
    There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us. For we know the one who said,

    “I will take revenge.
    I will pay them back.”
    He also said,
    “The Lord will judge his own people.”

    It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
    Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.

    So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

    “For in just a little while,
    the Coming One will come and not delay.
    And my righteous ones will live by faith.
    But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.”

    But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.

  17. Laymond, your description of life under law, and not under grace, is an accurate one. It’s just not where we live.

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