(Jer 31:31-34 ESV) 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
This new covenant includes as an essential element God writing his law on the hearts of his people — fulfilling the promise of Deut 30:6.
The “new covenant” is, of course, what we call Christianity. It’s the new relationship with God made available through Jesus. (And when we ignore the role of the Spirit, we ignore large pieces of the Old Testament’s prophecies about the Kingdom — revealing ourselves to be oblivious to God’s plans for us.)
(2Co 3:5-6 ESV) 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The new covenant is “of the Spirit,” which gives life (as promised by Deut 30:6). Of course, the reference to “new covenant” also refers to the forgiveness of sins promised by Jeremiah in chapter 31. Paul pulls the passages together, declaring that this new relationship with the Spirit supersedes “the letter” –
(2Co 3:16-18 ESV) 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
– resulting in “freedom” as we’re transformed more and more into the image of Jesus. Hence, a circumcised heart, which allows us to love God with all our hearts, also transforms us into the image of Jesus.
In other words, the “law” written on our hearts is Jesus, the very image of God. When we become more like Jesus, we become more like God — and therefore live more in accordance with his will — that is, his law.
(Eze 36:26-27 ESV) 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
While Jeremiah was prophesying in Judea, Ezekiel had been taken captive in Babylon, where he prophesied for the benefit of the Jewish captives there. This promise was fulfilled, of course, at Pentecost … and every time someone is baptized into Jesus.
God poured out his Spirit at Pentecost and promised the same Spirit to all who repent and are baptized in the name of Jesus. The indwelling Spirit then begins the transformative work described in 2 Cor 3.
What does this Spirit do? The Spirit will ”cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules,” that is, to no longer be stubborn and to instead live. In short, the Spirit produces not perfection or sinlessness but submissive, penitent hearts that love with something approaching the intensity of God’s own love –
(Rom 5:5 ESV) 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Isa 44:3 ESV) 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
When did God pour his Spirit on the descendants of Israel? At Pentecost –
(Act 2:33 ESV) 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.
The Jews were a desert people. After a drought, the land would be barren and ugly, virtually dead for all purposes. But after a rain, the land would immediately blossom. Leaves would turn green and long-dormant plants would blossom literally overnight.
Just so, the Spirit takes virtually dead people and brings them alive, causing them to blossom as their true natures are revealed and as they grow into the image of Jesus.
(Eze 37:1-14 NIV) The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”
4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD. ‘”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’”
10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.‘”
We are all transformed from dead to alive when we are converted. We don’t just pass into the grave with Jesus but we also leave our own graves, being transformed from walking corpses to living embodiments of the Spirit. Our bodies may die, temporarily, but we will live forever.
(Jer 24:7 ESV) 7 I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
In other words, we will enjoy a new relationship with God in which we are submissive and penitent and in which we enjoy a close, intimate relationship with God.
This language echoes such passages as –
(Jer 32:38-41 ESV) 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.
What a beautiful passage — which we never, ever study — because we’ve deluded ourselves into believing that the Old Testament is irrelevant to us. We’re New Testament Christians! A claim that sounds more and more hollow as we learn just how much we’ve been promised in the Old Testament.
I have no desire to reject those promises! I just want to be a Christian.