What’s the Basic Difference of The New Covenant?
Richard Gaffin and Sinclair Ferguson teach that those in the old covenants were not “united to Christ”. Of course we need to define “union with Christ” and then be consistent to our definition with the rest of what we write. But I am asking now if the most basic difference which the new covenant brings is “regeneration”, which is what many folks tend to think of as “union with Christ”. Of course some would define “union with Christ” as the indwelling of the Person of Christ in us.
But if regeneration is not the most basic change brought by the new covenant, what is the most important distinctive of the new covenant. My answer would be about Christ having satisfied all the terms of the new covenant.
1 Corinthians 11:25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Hebrews 9:15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
Hebrews 12:24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Josh Moody, pastor of Wheaton College Church , No Other Gospel, Crossway, p 170–” trying to live under Moses, when Christ has arrived, is legalism…. Christ now says, ‘with me you can’ and we find that by His Spirit we do and we want to do.”
Part of the problem here is using a word like “legalism” which can mean almost anything. Moody says that in the Old Covenant there were godly folks who did not live “legalistically”, even though “the operation of” justification by faith had not been revealed. If Moody wants to say that new revelation has now (potentially) released the justified elect from “legalism”, how does he think that the justified elect in the old covenant were also free from “legalism”?
In Galatians 3, when Paul is writing about “before faith came, the law was our cop”, he was not only revealing a change in covenants in redemptive history. In these same verses, Paul is concerned with individuals “getting justified” by Christ, concerned about individuals being baptized by God into Christ. Even during the time of the new covenant, there are many non-elect folks for whom Christ never died and who have never been baptized into Christ.
Even though Moody says often that he doesn’t want to assume that everybody is a Christian, he doesn’t seem to be able to keep from telling his readers that God loves them and that Christ died for them. p 42–“Christ was cursed for me and you.” p 100–“The only way to realize that you’re okay is to realize that God loves you and that Christ died for you as you are.” p 160–
Not everybody who talks about Jesus believes in the Jesus revealed in the Bible. I quote Moody: “if I believe something wrong and teach others to believe something wrong, I am under God’s judgment. That is a thought so strange to modern ears that it feels like, with this passage, we are entering an alien world.” (p 39)
Moody rightly asks why the Galatians were tempted to add their works to Christ’s righteousness (which is the object of faith). Moody rightly answers that this temptation does not come from the faith but comes instead from the fear which does not trust the cross to be enough to justify us.
But if it’s a false Jesus who died for everybody, and not everybody is justified, then those who trust this false Jesus should be afraid. They will need to be careful to complete their faith with works, and thus we will need to stress on the “now in the AD we can and want to”.
If you can’t go by train (because the train doesn’t go there), you have to go by car, and you can’t go by train and by car at the same time. If the only kind of atonement revealed in the Bible is definite and effectual (for the sheep, and not for those who will not believe, John 10), then there is no atonement revealed in the Bible for everybody, and you can’t have it both ways, no matter what clergy attempt to say or imply.
You can say all matter of true things about the difference between law and gospel (and I have no doubt that the false teachers in Galatia did so), but you have no legitimate right to say them, if you avoid the offense of the cross being A. for the elect alone and B. being alone effectual, being the difference, since Christ’s death was not for everybody.
And the true things you say about the cross, or about law and gospel, end up not being true things, just like the doctrine of the false teachers in Galatians.
If Christ’s death was the righteousness intended for everybody, then it’s not His death but our faith which must make the difference. And if that is so, we need to be very afraid.
Let me end with one more quotation from Moody: “Nobody comes along and says that you don’t need faith. They just say it’s not faith alone. But if it’s not faith alone, then it is faith plus law; and if it is by law, then it is no longer by promise; then it is no longer by faith. The message of faith and works is really a message of work; it is simply legalism” (p 157)
Let me say something different.
Nobody comes along and says that Jesus didn’t need to die. They just say that Jesus died for everybody but that it doesn’t work unless the Holy Spirit causes you to consent to it. They just say that, even if you are not elect and even if the Spirit doesn’t cause you to consent to it, Jesus loves you and died for you and offers to save you. They say that Christ’s death didn’t take away your guilt and it doesn’t work, because you didn’t have faith in it.
But if Jesus died for everybody, then it is that death PLUS you being changed so that you want to “accept it” which is the real basic difference. And if the only difference of the new covenant is our regeneration, then the promise is not about Christ alone or His death alone.
If the basic new covenant difference is about your being changed (so that grace is not cheap and Jesus is King), then salvation is not by Christ’s death. The message of His death plus your regeneration is really at the end a message about your regeneration.