Sunday, June 05, 2011

What Good Is It?

The doctrine of justification by faith alone is arguably the central teaching of the Christian faith. It is the principal theme in most of the Apostle Paul's writings, especially the book of Romans and Galatians. Jesus taught extensively on faith, which culminated in his declaration to Peter that He would build His church upon the profession of faith in Matthew 16:15-18:

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Yet despite of all the careful attention given to the doctrine of justification by the Biblical authors, as well as the monolithic collection of writings dedicated to the subject that have been penned since the Protestant Reformation, there remains profound divisions within Christian orthodoxy on the doctrine itself and the details thereof.

One of those differences, I believe, stems from what seems to be contradictory teachings between Paul (the Pauline epistles) and the Apostle James. I have heard it said by many people things like, "I agree with Paul, not James on justification", or vice-versa. Ironically, even the great Reformer, Martin Luther, called the book of James "an epistle of straw", and didn't even consider it Scripture until late in his life. He was certain it couldn't be reconciled with Paul's doctrine.

I plan on spending some time going through the book of James and posting my thoughts here on the blog. The first thing I wanted to write about (the reason I brought up the subject tonight) is in regard to what James says in chapter 2 verse 14 and tying it back to what Jesus taught.

James wrote:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

Compared with Jesus' concept in Luke 5:23-24:

Which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the man who was paralyzed--"I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home."

Now, we see the question that Jesus posed to his accusers and the dilemma he created for them. The Jews knew full well that the two options were things only God could do. So how could they choose either? The reality was that it was much easier for him to say, "Your sins are forgiven", because they were supposedly just words flowing off of his tongue. Anybody could say those words (although it is blasphemous to do so), but there was no way to prove the pronouncement of forgiveness actually effected forgiveness. There could be no tangible proof that any sins were actually forgiven, because that is not the nature of forgiveness. Therefore, his accusers had every right to be skeptical. Yet, Jesus establishes the reality of his authority to forgive sins (the 'easier' thing to say, even if blasphemous) by healing the paralytic on the spot (which only God has the power to do).

The same principal is used by James when discussing faith in James 2:14. He asks a rhetorical question about a certain type of faith. Notice that he doesn't ask, "What if a brother has true faith but doesn't have works--can that faith save him?" No, he's attacking a false understanding of faith--dead faith--because it is worthless. He does so on the grounds that true faith has something that backs it up and establishes it. So just like Jesus' authority to forgive sin was established by his healing of the paralytic, true faith is established by our works.

"But..", you may ask, "doesn't that prove James is contradicting Paul?!?"

No. And I will show you why in my next post.

Friday, June 03, 2011


Recently, a used bookstore opened up near my home. Being someone who loves to find books at reasonable prices, I stopped in during my lunch break. After browsing for a few minutes (actually it was more like an hour), I purchased a copy of Heaven by Randy Alcorn and went on my way.

I haven't had a lot of time to really sit down and dig through it yet, but in the first few chapters I have found a great deal to reflect upon. One profound topic Alcorn has touched upon briefly is the nature of Heaven, what it is, and what it is not. That's what I want to write about today.

Often we do not think of Heaven. Perhaps it comes up in conversation as the setting for jokes about lawyers and priests, or maybe we see it caricatured on television as a cartoonish place where fat cherubs with halos recline on clouds while playing harps and whistling lullabies. But what is the real Heaven like--and more pertinent to our lives--what connection do we have to that place? These are questions that I do not intend to answer in this post, but they have sparked a fresh inquiry for me into the nature of resurrection and eternal life in Heaven.

As a Christian, I am ashamed to a degree that I haven't considered Heaven, the ultimate and eternal destination and home for all who believe upon Jesus Christ, more often and more profoundly than I have. Why this is, I do not know. Scripture cannot be blamed, for it certainly speaks a great deal about it. I suspect it has something to do with the rampant naturalism and materialism that permeates our culture, but that is not a reasonable excuse. We can think and speak of Heaven more, and we ought to. To set our minds and conversation on Heaven is to set them on nothing less than Christ Himself. Framed in that perspective, Heaven ought to fill our days with hope and the "eager anticipation" to see the Lord that Paul spoke of.

To conclude today's thoughts, consider the first human being God created, Adam. God created Adam, and declared him to be very good. God created him from the dust of the Earth, and made him to consist of flesh, and bone, and blood. God breathed His spirit into Adam, and he became a living being. Adam was both a physical and a spiritual being, without sin. In a sense, he lived in Heaven. Flesh. Blood. Bones. Not just some spiritual being with a spiritual body, but a real body, just like yours and mine. So it will be for us who know Christ as Lord and Savior. In Heaven, we will not have quasi-physical bodies, but real, resurrected flesh and bone bodies just like we have now. Just like Adam had before the Fall when he walked with God in the Garden of Eden. We, too, shall walk with Jesus on the New Earth, side by side, in the rich culture of the redeemed located in the New Jerusalem. To that eternal day, I fix my gaze and set my hope.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Back to Blogging

After spending some time sweeping out the cobwebs and moving some furniture around, I've decided to start blogging again. I hope to get all 5 of my readers back in the process.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Oh, how quick Christians are to criticize any and all Christian leaders with whom they may disagree. As defenders of truth, it is certainly understandable and I am guilty of participating in such activity myself (for example I was very critical of Rick Warren's evangelism methods as outlined in his book The Purpose Driven Life). Certainly, there is a time and place for rebuke and exhortation of fellow believers. No doubt we are all called into the realm of apologetics in one form or another. However, I am convicted from my own experience that in my desire to defend the gospel from distortions and heresy, I have rarely done so in gentleness and respect. That is, it has rarely been "wrapped in love", by the power of the Spirit, as Paul so carefully instructed us to do.

So, my question is simple. What would happen if King David were alive today and one of our leaders? Or on the flip side, what would happen if all Christians were living back in his time and place. What would be said about him, really?? I do wonder how many of us, myself included, would be quick to condemn him for many of the things he did, of which we do not approve.

What about his adultery with Bathsheba? (2 Samuel 11)

Or orchestrating the murder of her husband Uriah? (2 Samuel 11)

Or how about the ecclesiastical no-no when he and his men went into the sanctuary and fed on the showbread? (1 Samuel 21)

We can understand these things in hindsight, but what if they happened before our eyes? Just something to consider and apply to the here and now.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A Reformed Baptist Manifesto--Chapter Three

Chapter Three: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Arminianism

We have compared Divine covenants to the Constitutions of nations. Yet in one respect at least they are very different. With human Constitutions, the nation already exists, and it creates by its action its own Constitution. 1987 was, for instance, the 200th anniversary of how the 13 original colonies created the Constitution of the United States of America. Even with a human Constitution, of course, there is a sense in which the 13 colonies created a new nation by their action.

With the New Covenant, it is true that it creates the nation it regulates. It is clear from the very terms of that covenant as stated in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that it is God who, by making this covenant, brings into existence the New Israel of God.

The point being addressed in speaking of the origination, building, or source of the Church is that God is, through the instrument of the New Covenant, the sole and sovereign builder, originator, and author of the Church as a whole, and of its individual members. This becomes clear through three matters clearly taught in the Bible and suggested in the passage under consideration (Jer. 31:31-34). These three points will form the outline for this chapter. They are: The Sovereign Determination Behind the New Covenant; The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant; and The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant.

The Sovereign Determination Behind the New Covenant

The mere reading of verses 31-34 of Jeremiah 31 makes a tremendous impression of Jehovah's sovereign resolve in making the New Covenant. But that element of sovereign purpose and unalterable determination will be even better appreciated if we come at it by way of the very contrast suggested in our passage, the contrast between the Old and the New Covenants. In Exodus 19:4-6, the terms of the Old Covenant are stated.
'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you are to speak to the sons of Israel. (Exo. 19:4-6)

With those words ringing in our minds, take note of the contrast in Jeremiah 31. In striking contrast to Exodus 9:4-6, there are no "ifs' or "maybes" in these four verses. Rather, ten times Jehovah says, "I will" or "they shall".

These verses resound with the tone of Divine certainty and sovereign determination. This tone is only strengthened by the verses that immediately follow.
Thus says the LORD
Who gives the sun for light by day,
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for
light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The LORD of hosts is His name;
"If this fixed order departs
From before Me," declares the LORD,
"Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease
From being a nation before Me forever."
Thus says the LORD,
"If the heavens above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth searched out
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done," declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:35-37)
Jehovah makes this covenant with a sovereign determination backed by all the almighty and infinite resources of His own being. He is absolutely and wholeheartedly determined that it shall result in the salvation of His people. This is further strengthened by Jeremiah 32:40, 41. We will turn to this passage again because it supplements the predictions of Jeremiah 31 with regard to the New Covenant. But now, notice how these verses conclude these additional predictions with regard to the New Covenant. Jehovah says:
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. And I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul. (Jer. 32:40, 41)

The Unbreakable Character of the New Covenant

Clearly, the New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, and the point at which the difference is most plainly manifested is that the Old Covenant could be and was broken (Deut. 29:25-28; Psa. 78:10, 11; Jer. 11:9, 10; 22:6-9; 34:13, 14; Eze. 44:6-8). Note verses 31 and 32 of Jeremiah 31:
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day 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 to them," declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:31, 32).
The Old Covenant did not insure that those with whom it was made would finally gain the blessing it promised. The law written on stone could be and was broken. The Old Covenant was broken first in the sin of the golden calf. It was broken by the first generation with whom it was made at Kadesh Barnea. The whole first generation of Israel with whom that covenant was made failed to attain its blessings with the tiny exceptions of Joshua and Caleb.
But in striking contrast with a law written on stone, the writing of the law on the heart assures the keeping of the covenant and the certain attainment of the covenant blessings.
"But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. "And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jer. 31:33, 34)
Note how this is repeatedly sounded in parallel passages.
And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. (Jer. 32:40)
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,
Notice the hint in Hebrews 8:8 that the problem with the first covenant was really and ultimately a problem with the people with whom it was made. The Old Covenant did not secure the covenant keeping of those with whom it was made. That was its fault. Its fault was simply that it did not enable those with whom it was made to comply with its conditions.

The purpose of Jehovah expressed in the New Covenant cannot be thwarted. It is a sovereign determination. The New Covenant cannot be broken. It is of unbreakable character. Does this mean, however, that it is unconditional? Perhaps it does, as some people define unconditional. There is an "if" in Exodus 19, but none in Jeremiah 31. But if we describe the New Covenant as unconditional, we must be very careful. The New Covenant is not unconditional in the sense that Jehovah has decided not to insist on His people fearing Him and loving His law. That is clearly just as necessary under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant. It might be better to say that the New Covenant is still conditional, but with a difference. In it, God has determined so to put forth His almighty power in the hearts of His covenant people that they shall fulfill the conditions of His covenant and be the kind of men who do not break His covenant. All that the New Covenant demands it supplies.

But a question still remains. How can God simply sweep aside the demands of His own justice and make a New Covenant like this with the house of Israel after their sins have brought upon them the fierce overflowing wrath of God? Even then, in Jeremiah's day, the wrath of God was sweeping over them. How can the demands of God's holiness and justice permit Him to give such blessings as those promised in the New Covenant to men? What about their sins and iniquities. What about HIs justice and righteousness? This is the great barrier between men and salvation. These questions are answered in our third heading.

The Mediatorial Guarantee of the New Covenant

Jeremiah 31:34 clearly promises that God will forget the sins of His people and forgive their iniquity, but does not tell us how a holy God can do this. We do have, however, only two chapters later in Jeremiah the seed of an answer to this problem.
'Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall exedute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the Lord is our righteousness.' (Jer. 33:14-16)
The Book of Hebrews brings to fruition the answer planted in Jeremiah. It enlarges on how Jesus Christ as both priest and sacrifice of the New Covenant insures and secures the establishment of the New Covenant and the impartation of its blessings to God's Israel. Note especially Hebrews 7:22, which says, "so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant." As the Melchezedekian priest-king Jesus is the guarantee or surety of a better covenant. This is the only place in the New Testament where the word translated "guarantee" occurs. According to Moulton and Milligan, "[It] is common in legal and other documents." It means a security, or a surety. It was even used of bailing someone out of prison. In one document there is this statement: "the father assents to the marriage and is surety for the payment of the aforesaid dowry." Another such statement is: "I hold your surety, until you pay me the value of the claims." The use of this word in the Septuagint confirms its common meaning in the world of the New Testament. Proverbs 6:1 says, "My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor,...." and 17:18 says, "A man lacking in sense pledges, And becomes surety in the presence of his neighbor."

The meaning of this word should now be clear. The modern legal equivalent is what we know as a consigner for a loan. Suppose a young person has landed his first good job. Now he wants to have his own car, but when he goes to the bank for a loan, he has no credit record, and the bank will not advance the money. But along comes good old dad. He has good credit, and he becomes surety by co-signing for the loan. Now what has he done by doing this? The very same thing that the surety or guarantor of Proverbs and Hebrews did. He committed himself to pay what was owed if the other person defaulted.

That is exactly what Jesus Christ did. By His blood and righteousness, He paid the debt to the justice and law of God upon which His people had defaulted. He owed nothing for Himself, but by His death He paid to the justice of God and by His life He paid to the law of God what His people owed. Because this debt is paid, the blessings of the New Covenant become a reality. Just as that shiny new car on the show room floor which the young person possessed only in his dreams became a reality in his driveway through the co-signing of this father, even so the blessings of the New Covenant become a reality to the people of God through the suretyship, the substitutionary curse-bearing, of Jesus Christ. All this is expounded in detail in Hebrews 10:10-19. Jesus' priestly sacrifice of Himself, once-for-all, finally, and efficaciously fulfills the demands of God's law and assures the forgiveness of sins for all who are part of the New Covenant people of God.

Concluding Lessons

We learn the truth of the doctrines of grace and the falsehood of Arminianism

Arminianism is the system which teaches that man's free will is sovereign in salvation. The first Arminians summarized their system in five points. The idea of having a five-point summary of a doctrinal system did not begin with Calvinism.

So you will appreciate the relevance of the New Covenant to Arminianism, let's look at what it's five points are.
(1) God has chosen to save those who believe in Christ and persevere in obedience to Him to the end.
(2) Christ died for each and every man, but only those who believe benefit from His death.
(3) In order for men to believe in Christ, God must work by His grace in their heart.
(4) Though this grace is the source of all good in men, yet they may resist this grace and not be saved by it.
(5) Though God will provide everything that men need to persevere to the end, it is not certain that once a man believes in Christ unto salvation, he will persevere to the end and finally be saved.

Most Evangelicals hold to most, if not all, of these five points. They simply assume that in them the gospel itself is summarized. According to the New Covenant, however, not one of them is true. Rather, the five doctrines of grace (i.e., the Five Points of Calvinism) are, instead, the doctrine of the Bible. Let's briefly discuss them one at a time.

Total Depravity

We see the truth of total depravity in the contrast with the Old Covenant mentioned in our passage. What the Old Covenant demanded was simply faith and obedience. God had provided everything Israel could possibly need by way of external inducement to believe in Him and obey His laws, but Israel miserably failed. Israel, however, was no different than any other people. They were simply the test nation. The lesson, which the New Testament draws from the experience of Israel, is that all men are totally depraved. Romans 3:10-12, for instance, says, "There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one." Every faculty of man's soul is polluted with sin. All men are unable to do anything of any spiritual good. Even repentance and faith are impossible due to this total depravity and total inability.

Unconditional Election

God's covenant is not made with a nation that has proved itself worthy of His choice. Rather, God, with sovereign, unchangeable purpose has chosen through the New Covenant to make them worthy of His choice. The Arminian idea that God chooses men, because He foresees their faith and they first choose Him, is absolutely foreign to the New Covenant. Many passages teach eternal, unconditional election (Acts 13:48, Rom. 9:14-18, Eph. 1:4, 2 Tim. 1:9).

Limited Atonement

The place at which Arminianism has most fiercely attacked the doctrines of grace concerns the atonement of Jesus Christ. Arminianism of every stripe has always claimed that Christ died for the sins of each and every man. This claim is also falsified by our study of the New Covenant.

Why do we claim that the New Covenant teaches the doctrine of limited atonement? The New Covenant is clearly the context or framework of the work of Jesus Christ. The work of Jesus Christ has no saving power divorced from the New Covenant. If anything should be clear from our studies of the New Covenant, it is that there is no salvation in any other Divine constitution or arrangement. If men are to be saved, they must be saved through the New Covenant.

(To be continued)

A Reformed Baptist Manifesto--Chapter Two

Chapter Two: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Antinomianism

In this chapter, we will be looking at the New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Antinomianism. The word antinomian simply means against law. There are various types of Antinomians, but in some way or another, all Antinomians deny that the Ten Commandments as a unit are a rule of life for the Christian. Historically, Antinomians have been labeled differently, depending on the type of Antinomianism to which they adhere. Practical Antinomians not only teach against law in the Christian life, they often advocate lawless living. Doctrinal or Moderate Antinomians, however, do not advocate lawless living, but they deny the third use of the law (i.e., the Ten Commandments as a rule for Christian living) or, at best, advocate it but redefine what law means. 1 The movement within Calvinistic Baptist circles called New Covenant Theology (NCT), for instance, fits within Doctrinal or Moderate Antinomianism. 2 NCT denies the perpetuity of the Decalogue as a unit under the New Covenant and its function as the epitome of the Moral Law throughout redemptive history. NCT as a movement, however, does abominate Practical Antinomianism, and rightly so. The Ten Commandments function as the epitome of the Moral Law in the Bible, as we will see. Many in our day deny this crucial fact. Many Christians in our day are, therefore, Antinomian in some sense.

This Chapter will concentrate on an exposition and application of Jeremiah 31:33. The words, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it," will be the focus of our attention. We will learn of the place of the Ten Commandments and, thus, the Moral Law under the New Covenant. We will also expose the error of Antinomianism in its various forms. Once again, the terms of the Constitution of the Church, the New Covenant, are sufficient to both confirm us in the truth and expose error. We will ask and answer three questions: About what law is verse 33 speaking?; What is meant by the writing of that law on the heart?; What is the reason that the law is written on the heart?

About what law is verse 33 speaking? 3

The clue for resolving this question is found in the contrast and parallel between the Old and New Covenants stated in these verses (cf. vv. 32, 33a, "not like the covenant which I made with their fathers ...But this is the covenant which I will make..."). Clearly, there is a contrast in these verses between the Old and New Covenants. But that very contrast assumes and implies a parallel. Let me state the contrast clearly. The Old Covenant was broken because God wrote His law on stone and not on all the hearts of His people. The New Covenant will not be broken, because God will write His law on the hearts of all His covenant people.

The clear contrast here is the place where the law is written. In the Old Covenant, the place is on the stone tablets. In the New, it is the fleshy heart. But in this contrast there is also clearly a parallel. In both covenants, God writes His law. The contrast clearly assumes and implies this parallel. The contrast in where the law is written, however, assumes that the law under discussion still has a vital place to play in God's New Covenant.

In light of this clear parallel, we may return to our question with a better understanding of its answer. About what law is verse 33 speaking? Two things clearly identify this law.

First, it is the law written by God Himself and by His own finger. This is clear from verse 33, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it..." But the only law so written was the Moral Law of God as summarized in the Ten Commandments. It is the Ten Commandments, and those Ten Commandments alone, which were written by God Himself and with His own finger.
Now the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction." (Exo. 24:12)

And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. (Exo. 31:18)

And the tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing engraved on the tablets. (Exo. 32:16)

Now the LORD said to Moses, "Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered." (Exo. 34:1)

At that time the LORD said to me, "Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark." (Deut. 10:1,2)

And He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. (Deut. 10:4)

Other aspects of the Old Covenant law, the Judicial and Ceremonial, were written, not by God Himself, but by Moses. "And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD" (Exo. 24:4; cf. 34:10-27).
Second, it is the law written on stone that is rewritten in the New Covenant on the heart of all covenant participants. 4 The emphasis on the place where God's law is written in Jeremiah 31:33 plainly suggests this thought. This is confirmed by the references of the Apostle Paul to this verse in 2 Corinthians 3:1-8. Here Paul uses the very words to speak of the stone tablets in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures [LXX]) of Exodus 31:18 and 34:4. The Judicial Law of Israel was not written on stone, but in a book (Exo. 24:3, 4, 7; contrast these verses with v. 12). The Ceremonial Law of Israel was not written on the heart. Only the Moral Law, as epitomized and summarily contained in the Ten Commandments, was written on stone.


The law being spoken of in Jeremiah 31:33 is obviously and clearly the Moral Law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, and not the Judicial, nor the Ceremonial Law. It is this law that was written on stone. It is the same law, therefore, that is written on the hearts of all New Covenant believers. It is this law alone that was written by God's own finger on the tablets of stone. Thus, it must be this law alone that is written on the hearts of believers under the New Covenant. Another thought which further confirms the identity of this law is found in Romans 2:14, 15. There is an allusion to Exodus 20 and Jeremiah 31 in the phrase, "the work of the Law written in the hearts" (v. 15). According to this passage, it is in substance the law written on stone in the Old Covenant which at the beginning by creation was written on the heart and conscience of Adam. 5 Where it is not perverted and suppressed, it still expresses itself in the conscience of every child of Adam.

Before we move on, there is one issue that we cannot pass by without addressing. The key to understanding the assertion of Jeremiah 31:33 and, indeed, on of the keys to understading the whole biblical doctrine of God's law is the distinction asserted in the 2nd LCF. This distinction is found in almost identical language in both the Presbyterian (Westminster Confession of Faith) and Baptist versions of that Confession. Chapter 19 paragraphs 2-5 state this important distinction this way:
2 The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.
3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.
4 To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that instruction; their general equity only being of moral use.
5 The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

Many in our day deny this distinction. Both Dispensationalism and some professedly Reformed theologians want us to think that no Israelite could have seen the difference between moral laws on the one hand, and ceremonial-judicial laws on the other. Now, of course, it is true that the Law of Moses was not color-coded in its original edition with blue for moral laws, yellow for ceremonial laws, and green for judicial laws. Yet, as we have seen, God in other ways made clear that there was a big difference between the Moral Law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, and the rest of the law of Israel. Passages like the ones quoted above, and many others, make clear that godly Israelites were able to distinguish the Moral from the Ceremonial in Israel's law. One great safeguard against the extremist and imbalanced views on God's law, which abound on every side in our day, is a solid grasp on the biblical and confessional distinction between moral, judicial, and ceremonial laws. It is only when we, understanding the Constitution of Christ's Church, realize that we are also to be guided by what was Moral in the law of Moses, especially the Ten Commandments, that we will have a complete and un-mutilated guide for the Christian life and the Christian Church.

What is meant by the writing of that law on the heart?

The key to understanding this concept is the biblical meaning of the heart. This is an important and broad subject. Two important points about the heart will serve our purposes at this point.

The heart is, first of all, the seat and center of our convictions and affections. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life" (cf. Deut. 6:4-7; Prov. 27:19; Matt. 15:18, 19; Rom. 5:5; 9:2; 10:9, 10).

As such, secondly, the heart is the source and spring of our words and actions (Prov. 4:21-23; Matt. 15:18, 19; Lk. 6:44, 45). The heart controls and is inevitably manifested by our words and actions.


What is it, then, to have the law written on our hearts? It is to have God's law installed in us as the ruling power of our convictions, affections, words, and actions. It is, therefore, to be convinced of its holiness and authority, delighted by its justice and goodness, and controlled by its wisdom and instruction. That, and nothing less that that, is having God's law written on our hearts.

Take the father charged with assembling a bicycle. If he is truly convinced of his need for the words, diagrams, and pictures of the instruction manual, what will he do? He will not try to put the bicycle together without consulting it. He will have a conviction that he needs it. He will be grateful when he finds the instruction manual in the box and as its instructions guide him in the assembly of the bicycle. He will carefully follow its instructions as he goes about the task of constructing the bicycle. It is even so with the man in whose heart is written the law of God. "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Eze. 36:26, 27). 6

What is the reason that the law is written on the heart?

Why is this writing of the law on the heart the very first act of God mentioned in the record of the New Covenant? The answer to this question is contained verse 33 itself. ""But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people"" (Jer. 31:33).

Notice, first, the preceding phrase. After speaking of the broken Old Covenant (v. 32, "My covenant which they broke"), Jehovah returns to speaking of the New Covenant. He says, "But this is the covenant ...I will put..." There is no covenant with God where His law is not written on the heart. The covenant is, first of all, the writing of the law on the heart. There is no participation in the New Covenant without the writing of the law in the heart. There is no knowing God, no forgiveness of sin, where there is no law written on the heart (v. 34).

Notice, second, the following phrase, "...and I will be their God ..." (v. 33). Pay close attention to the connecting word, "and". The promise, "I will be their God," is the essential promise of all the unfolding covenant dealings of God in the Bible. It is the promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:8). It is the promise that comes to glad fruition in the eternal state. To the son of God, it is said, "I will be his God" (Rev. 21:7). The critical point is that God's law must be written on the heart if this fundamental and all-inclusive promise is to be ours. Without the writing of His law upon our hearts, God is not our God, and we are not His people.

Practical Implications

The first and central practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said is this: We learn the delusion and danger of divorcing law and grace. Law and grace must be distinguished, but they must never be divorced.

Not a few in the history of the Church have been guilty of divorcing law and grace and setting them at odds with one another. But in the last century and a half in Britain and America not a little of the blame for this problem must be laid at the feet of Classic Dispensationalism. It is a necessary and very logical outworking of that system. As we noticed in chapter one, it divides Israel and the Church and sunders the Old and New Testament. Thus, it is no surprise that many Classic Dispensationalists divorce law and grace.

This is a serious charge. Let me substantiate it. Matthew 6:12 contains the petition of the Lord's Prayer, which goes, "And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." Here is the comment of the old Scofield Reference Bible: "This is legal ground. Cf. Eph. 4:32, which is grace. Under law forgiveness is conditioned upon a like spirit in us; under grace we are forgiven for Christ's sake, and exhorted to forgive because we have been forgiven." 7 Such divorcing of law and grace is a frontal assault on the very Constitution of the Church of Christ. As we have seen, the very terms of the New Covenant require the implantation of the Divine law. The first and crucial operation of grace mentioned in the account of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 is the writing of the law of God in the heart. Without this, there is and there can be no grace. First Corinthians 7:19 gives us Paul's version of the same truth. "Circumcision" is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is, keeping the commandments of God."

The divorcing of law and grace is a frontal assault on the very terms of the New Covenant. In light of this, several practical warnings are appropriate for us to consider.

Beware of divorcing law and grace in conversion.

Grace is perverted when it is set over against, or made the opposite of obedience to commands. Faith both rests in Christ and works through love. Though faith does not justify through its obedience to God's law, it is a kind of obedience and leads to obedience (Rom. 1:5; Gal. 5:6). When it is tarught that men may be saved without confessing and submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord, that is a dangerous divorcing of law and grace in conversion. Sad to say, such teaching is not uncommon among many Evangelicals. Speaking of Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well, one such Evangelical says:
It must be emphasized that there is no call here for surrender, submission, acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship, or anything else of this kind. A gift is being offered to one totally unworthy of God's favor. And to get it, the woman is required to make no spiritual commitment whatsoever. She is merely invited to ask. 8

With such teaching so prevalent, it is no wonder that we hear over and over again in Evangelical testimony meetings, "I received Jesus as my Savior first, then several years later, I received Him as my Lord." Those who think this way have divorced grace and faith from having anything to do with practical submission to the laws of Christ, the Lord. They will even tell you that to insist on such submission for salvation is legalism and even heresy. Such teaching is a twisting of Scripture and a turning of the grace of God into a license for sin. It is clearly Antinomianism.

Beware of divorcing law and grace in the regulations of your life.

This happens when men refuse to govern their lives by anything in the Old Testament las. This refusal is often justified by a false understanding of Paul's assertion that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14). Such a divorce of law and grace manifests ignorance of two vital and basic Gospel distinctions. First, we are not under the law as a way of justification, but as a rule of life (Rom. 10:4). Second, we are not under the Ceremonial and Judicial Law as a rule of life, but only the Moral Law (Jer. 31:33; Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 6:1-4; Jam. 2:8-11).

The tragic thing about the neglect of the Moral Law as revealed in the Old Testament and the Gospels is that the mass of biblical teaching on right conduct is found in those parts of the Bible. No wonder the lives of so many Christians manifest so much folly, sin, and misery when modern teachers have so mutilated God's instruction manual for the Christian life.

Beware of divorcing law and grace in the motivation of the Christian life.

People sometimes say, "I want to be motivated by grace and not by the law." They think, therefore, of duty and keeping commandments as fleshly and legalistic. They believe that the only worthy reason to do God's will is because they want to or feel like it. They want to be motivated by love, not law.

There is so much wrong with such thinking that it is hard to know where to start. But certainly one thing that is wrong with such thinking is that it divorces law and grace, duty and love, and duty and desire. These things are friends, not enemies. Though God's law is written in our hearts, it is still law, torah (i.e. authoritative instruction). The words of the wisdom of God are to this effect: "The wise in heart will receive commands." "He who keeps the commandments keeps his soul."

Some think that it is ungodly, carnal, and legalistic to obey God just because He says you should, and it is your duty. The opposite is the case. Romans 8:7 says that it is the mind set on the flesh that does not subject itself to the law of God. The fact is that he who obeys just because he wants to may not be obeying God truly at all, but simply his own desires. The next time Satan comes and says to you, "You are only doing that because it is your duty," you tell him, "That's right! And I love God and my neighbor enough to do what I know I should even though I don't feel like it at times."

Beware of divorcing law and grace in dealing with the reality of sin.

The mentality here is something like this: "I don't want to live according to the law, but according to grace. So when the law reveals my sin, I will just think of God's grace and ignore it. To give way to conviction of sin is legalistic." Even if we don't say it, or think it, sometimes we respond this way to the work of the law. But this is wrong. The heart in which God's law is written must wince at the trasgression of it and will not rest short of confession of sin. Thus, the experience of the ongoing confession of sin called for in 1 John 1:9 is the experience of every believer. If it is not yours, you have reason to question if God's law has ever been written in your heart.

A second practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said comes to us in the form of another warning. Beware of exalting law over grace. Law and grace, as stated above, must be distinguished, but law must never be set over grace. They go together. They complement each other in the Christian life. Law directs but grace empowers and impels the soul to keep the law. There are some tendencies that often accompany thsoe who exalt law at the epense of grace that we must take note of and avoid.

Avoid settling for heartless obedience.

One damaging tendency among some Reformed Christians is to settle for external conformity alone. This distortion of biblical sanctification often settles for a cold, heartless approach to living the Christian life. Externals are promoted at the expense of the internal climate of the soul. Avoid settling for heartless obedience at all costs. It does not adorn the gospel. It sends the wrong message to the lost. It does not please God. It often comes when knowledge is not properly assimilated into the soul and implemented in life. It also comes when the soul loses sense of the constant necessity of the grace of Jesus Christ for daily living. Not only do lost souls need Jesus, but saved ones do as well! Remember Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 3:18. "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." Keep Christ at the center of your daily life and the soul will not go long in heartless obedience.

Avoid imposing on yourself or others more law than God has.

This is another damaging tendency in those who have exalted law over grace. We must stand for and approve of all the law God has for His children. We must not, however, fall into the trap of imposing upon others or ourselves more law than God has for us. This tendency, often coming from good intentions, actually does harm instead of good. It binds consciences where God does not. It often produces pride and a condescending spirit toward others. It produces pseudo guilt. Those who fall into this way of thinking often confuse God's law with things indifferent. Sometimes this is done due to the pressures of cultural norms and expectations, personal preferences, slippery slope argumentation, or long chains of logical inference from texts that do not speak to the issue being applied. Either way, it is a recipe for disaster. It does not honor God. It makes us proud; and God is opposed to the proud.

Avoid confusing law and gospel.

Those who fall into the trap of exalting law over grace often fall into another very serious error -- confusing law and gospel. This happens when the Christian begins to live as if his obedience to God's law is the ground of his acceptance with God. This, in effect, turns the law into another gospel and is a practical repudiation of the work of Christ. It dishonors Christ, is a practical denial of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, cripples the soul and destroys assurance. In our zeal to uphold the law of God, we must never allow obedience to it to become our basis for initial or subsequent acceptance with God. The Lord accepts us in His beloved Son based on what He did for us and not on what we do for Him.

If God's law has been written on our heart, we will be humble. We will walk in a manner that properly balances law and grace. And when we don't, we will go to the God of the law and the God of all grace for pardon and help in our time of need.

1. See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsberg, PA: P & R Publishing, 1994), II:141ff., where he discusses the fact that Antinomians deny the third use of the law. See Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976, second printing, February 1983), 22 (n. 32), 24, 25, for evidence that those who denied the perpetuity of the Decalogue and hence, the third use of the law, were labeled as moderately antinomian or doctrinally antinomian, even though considered otherwise virtuous.
2. See Jonathan F. Bayes, The Weakness of the Law (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 44-46, where he discusses John G. Reisinger (NCT advocate) in the context of doctrinal antinomianism; Richard C. Barcellos, "The Death of the Decalogue," Tabletalk, September 2002, which is a brief discussion of the doctrinal antinomianism of NCT; Richard C. Barcellos, "John Owen and New Covenant Theology", Reformed Baptist Theological Review, I:2 (July 2004), 43,44; and Ian McNaughton, "Antinomianism in Historical Perspective" and James M. Renihan, "Caterpillars and Butterflies," Reformation Today September-October 2003, No. 195, 9-16 and 23-36.
3. See Richard C. Barcellos, In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress Publishing), 16-22 and Fred A. Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2003), 92, 93 for similar treatments of this crucial verse.
4. See Psa. 37:31 and Is. 51:7 for evidence that the law was on the heart of at least some Old Covenant citizens. What the New Covenant promises is the law written on the hearts of all its citizens.
5. NCT denies these crucial points. See the appendix by Richard C. Barcellos, a review of the book New Covenant Theology, for further discussion and Richard C. Barcellos, "John Owen and New Covenant Theology", RBTR, I:2 (July 2004), 24-30 for evidence that Witsius, Owen, Turretin, and Boston reference Jer. 31:33 in contexts arguing for the perpetuity of the entire Decalogue under the New Covenant. This proves that our exegesis of this text is not novel in the history of Reformed interpretation.
6. Note that the promise of the New Covenant includes the sanctification and obedience of all its recipients. Thus, apostasy for New Covenant benefeciaries is impossible (cf. Jer. 32:40).
7. The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 1002, 1003.
8. Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981), 14.

Authors-- Samuel E. Waldron and Richard C. Barcellos
Publisher-- Reformed Baptist Academic Press
To order this book-- Please visit Solid Ground Books
Reformed Baptist Theological Review--To Subscribe or order back issues, please visit RBTR

A Reformed Baptist Manifesto--Chapter One

Chapter One: The New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Dispensationalism

It first must be established that the New Covenant is, indeed, the Constitution of the Church, especially since some have denied it such relevance. In this chapter, we will be laying much of the foundation upon which is built the rest of this study.
In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we read:
"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day 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 to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their hearts I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD', for they shall all know Me, from the least of them ot the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

The question we must answer at this point is: Does, in fact, this passage have anything to do with the Church? Is the New Covenant really the Constitution of the Church? This question is particularly crucial because, as hinted above, it is denied by an important segment of Evangelical Christianity. The approach at this point will be to open up the validity of the premise (i.e., the New Covenant is the Constitution of the Church) under three headings: Its Denial; Its Defense; and Its Difficulty.

Its Denial: The promise of the New Covenant does not apply to the Church

The denial that the New Covenant is strictly relevant to the Church comes from a movement that dominates much of American Christianity. that movement or system of interpretation is commonly known as Dispensationalism. It is, perhaps, most well known as that system of interpretation popularized by The Scofield Reference Bible.

This system, in its classic statement, denies that the New Covenant is fulfilled in (or is the Constitution of) the Church. Before this assertion is proven, it needs to be briefly clarified. This must be done because there may be a few who complain that, by claiming Dispensationalism denies the New Covenant is fulfilled in the Church, it is being misrepresented.

In recent years, different versions of what is called Progressive Dispensationalism have been put forth. Not a few Evangelical scholars are keenly aware of the biblical inadequacies of Classic Dispensationalism. These scholars, rather than admit the inadequacy of Dispensationalism per se, have attempted to re-define it. Having re-defined it, they can continue to claim allegiance to their revered system.

There is, however, a problem with those who object that Dispensationalism is being misrepresented. If scholars are allowed to define Dispensationalism any way they please, then it can become anything they want it to be. Some modern dispensationalists re-define their system so that those who are not dispensational may be categorized as dispensational. There is something wrong with your definition when it can turn anti-Dispensationalism into Dispensationalism. When one's definition of an apple is so broad that by that definition tomatoes are apples, there is something inadequate about that definition. One wonders if what constitutes Dispensationalism today will be what constitutes Dispensationalism tomorrow.

These scholars may be compared to an antique car buff that has the rusty old frame and body of a Model T sitting in his back lot. He drops a Mitsubishi four cylinder engine into it, a Mercedes transmission, Porsche wheels, and Michelin tires. In general, he so overhauls the thing that, when he is finished, the only item made before 1990 in that automobile is the frame and part of the body. Then he comes to you and claims to own a Model T Ford. What's the problem? He owns a Model T Ford only in a highly qualified sense of the word. Much of contemporary Dispensationalism is so but only in a highly qualified sense of the word.

A second response to those worried that Dispensationalism is being misrepresented is that, however they may define it in the atmosphere of academia, it is not the kind of Dispensationalism believed in the pews of churches across America and the world. What is being spoken of primarily is the Classic Dispensationalism commonly believed in America. 1

It can be proven that Classic Dispensationalism denies the New Covenant is fulfilled in the Church by quoting some of the most well known teachers of this system of thought. J. Dwight Pentecost, in his classic treatise on dispensational eschatology entitled Things to Come, says the following, "...the new covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 must band can be fulfilled only by the nation Israel and not by the Church ....the covenant stands as yet unfulfilled and awaits a future, literal fulfillment." 2 Another former professor of Dallas Theological Seminary, Charles C. Ryrie, succinctly states his view this way: "The New Covenant is not only future, but millennial." 3 A third major exponent and well-known teacher of Classic Dispensationalism reiterates this point. John Walvoord asserts, "...the premillennial position is that the new covenant is with Israel and the fulfillment in the millennial kingdom after the second coming of Christ." 4

This denial is neither incidental, nor unimportant for Classic Dispensational Premillenialism. Ryrie asserts that Dispensationalism has three essentials. According to Ryrie, one of those essentials is, "A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct ...a man who fails to distinguish Israel and the Church will inevitably not hod to dispensational distinctions." 5 Elsewhere he says, "If the Church is fulfilling Israel's promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then premillennialism is condemned.". 6 In a context assuming the Church fulfills the New Covenant, Pentecost acknowledges, "IF the Church fulfills this covenant, she may also fulfill the other covenants made with Israel and there is no need for an earthly millenium." 7

Not only does Classic Dispensational Premillenialism deny that the Church fulfills the New Covenant, it must deny this or utterly collapse. This conclusion is obvious, even to adherents of that system. Classic Dispensationalism cannot admit that the church fulfills the New Covenant made with Israel. This would constitute a failure to keep Israel and the Church distinct and seperate. It would be to admit that Israel and the Church are in some sense one and the same. According to ryrie and Pentecost, this would destroy Premillennialism (and all forms of Dispensationalism). They are, of course, absolutely correct.

Its Defense: The promise of the New Covenant does apply to the Church

The defense of our premise that the New Covenant is fulfilled by the Church is neither hard nor complicated. We will simply look at the use that the New Testament makes of Jeremiah 31:31-34 and seek to answer this question: What does the New Testament teach about the fulfillment of the New Covenant? We will examine seven passages to obtain the answer.

Luke 22:20

In Luke 22:20, Jesus said, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood." This is the last supper eaten by Jesus and the Apostles in which the Lord's Supper was instituted. The Apostles were, according to Ephesians 2:20, the foundation of the Church. Jesus speaks of the cup He shares with His Apostles as "the new covenant in My blood." That is to say, the cup was the outward symbol of the New Covenant. Their drinking of the cup clearly symbolizes their having a part in Christ's blood and the blessings it procures.

1 Corinthians 11:25

In 1 Corinthians 11:25, Paul says to the Corinthian church, "In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."" This is the definitive passage on the subject of the Lord's Supper in the New Testament. It demonstrates that the events of Luke 22:20 were intended to institute a continuing ordinance for the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17-22 and 1:1, 2). That being the case, every time a Christian takes the cup which Christ Himself identified as "the new covenant in My blood," he is saying, "I have a part in the New Covenant, in its blessings, in its rules, in it as the Constitution of Christ's Church."

2 Corinthians 3:6

Paul says:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor 3:6)

The reference of this passage to Jeremiah 31:31-34 cannot be evaded. In Jeremiah 31:33 we read of God writing His law on the hearts of His people, just as we do in this context. In 2 Corinthians 3:3, we read, "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, writtennot with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts." Gentile Corinthians, believers and churchmembers, had, therefore, the blessings promised in the New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31.

But verse 6 is even more significant. Paul identifies himself, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the Apostle of the Church, as a servant of "a new covenant." Now the question must be pressed: How could the Apostle to the Gentiles be a servant or minister of the New Covenant if that covenant is not fulfilled in the Church, but is "future and millennial"?


The New Covenant and Jeremiah 31 have their most concentrated New Testament exposition in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It has been argued that this letter and its references to the New Covenant are irrelevant for the Church of the Gentiles. Wasn't Hebrews written, it is asked, to Jews?

It may be that most of those to whom Hebrews was originally addressed were, as to their national origin, significance of this letter for the Christian Church and the issues before us. This is true for at least three reasons. First, since Hebrews is part of the New Testament and was written after the close of the Old Testament dispensation, the privileges it bestows and the duties it lays upon Christian Jews cannot be limited to Jews. This would be to re-erect the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile that, by His cross, Christ has torn down. This point will become even more evident as we begin to look at the actual passages in Hebrews. Second, this is underscored by the fact that Hebrews was written mainly to Christian Jews. These Christian Jews were being exhorted not to apostatize back into Judaism. Third, those being addressed were members of Christian Churches. They are, for instance, warned not to forsake their assembling together (Heb. 10:25) and exhorted to "Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls" (Heb. 13:17). This is plainly a reference to the elders of those Christian Churches of which, it is assumed, they are members.

Hebrews 8:1, 6-13

Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Heb. 8:1)

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as he is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,

When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Heb. 8:6-13)

The writer here quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 as speaking of that better covenant of which our high priest is the minister and mediator. This certainly implies that the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah was inaugurated by Christ and is currently being fulfilled.8

Hebrews 9:14,15 much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb. 9:14,15)

Here Jesus is presented as the mediator of the New Covenant that conveys to its recipients cleansing and redemption from sin. These recipients are described as "those who have been called" (v. 15). The New Testament teaches that God is calling both Jews and Gentiles to the promise of the eternal inheritance (Rom. 9:24). If you have been called, then Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant for you, and you partake in the New Covenant and its blessings.

Hebrews 10:10-19

By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, (Heb. 10:10-19)

The promise of the New Covenant that God will remember our sins and iniquities no more (Jer. 31:34) is here seen as fulfilled through the sacrifice of Christ. Because of that promise, we as Christians "have confidence to enter the holy place" (v. 19). Thus, every Christian, Jew or Gentile, who enters the holy place in private prayer or in public worship by the blood of Christ, does so because he has been made a partaker of the New Covenant and its blessings.

Hebrews 12:22-24

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. (Heb. 12:22-24)

In coming to Mount Zion, we have also come to the "Church of the first-born" (v. 23). These blessings are, however, conveyed to us in and throught the things to which we have come named in verse 24. The things mentioned in verse 24 occupy a climactic place in the passage because it is by means of them that all the other blessings are conveyed. In other words, it is through Jesus, the mediator of the New Covenant and the sprinkled blood, that such as we are may come to Mount Zion and the Church of the firstborn. Thus, a place in the Church is possessed in virtue of a relationship with the mediator of the New Covenant.


Every New Testament use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 relates it to a present fulfillment in the Church. Conversely, there is no justification anywhere in the New Testament for seeing its fulfillment as future and millennial (either in whole or in part). There is, on the other hand, every reason to see it as the Constitution of the Church in the present age. Just remind yourself of what we have seen. The Savior of the Church is the mediator of the New Covenant. The Apostle of the Church is a servant of the New Covenant. The origin of the Church is owed to the blessings of the New Covenant. The very ordinances of the Church are signs of the New Covenant. Thus, we must conclude, the New Covenant is the Constitution of the Church.

Its Difficulty: The difficulty of applying the New Covenant to the Church

Despite the clarity of the witness of the New Testament on this subject, a problem may remain in the mind of the reader. Despite all this evidence, there may be for some a nagging doubt. You may be asking: Does not Jeremiah 31 say that the New Covenant was to be made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah? How can it be, then, that the New Covenant is fulfilled in the mainly Gentile Church?
The simple answer to that question is that the Church is Israel. Or, to state it more precisely, if the New Covenant is currently being fulfilled, it must be made with and constitute a New Israel. Far from Classic Dispensationalism's severing of the Church and Israel, the Bible teaches that the Church is the continuation of Israel in a new form in the new age. There is much evidence for this assertion, but we will examine only the three most important passages in the New Testament which prove that the Church is the New Israel. This is contrary to all forms of Dispensationalis, as we shall see.9

Galatians 3:29

Paul says, "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspriing, heirs according to promise." Paul climaxes his argument in chapter three of Galatians with the assertion that the true seed of Abraham, the true Son of God, was Jesus the Christ (Gal. 3:16). But that is not all he says. Thsoe who are in Christ, united to Him by faith, are also Abraham's seed and, thus, spiritual Jews and true Israelites.

All of this may seem like spiritualizing to some. It must be pointed out, therefore, that the Church is the seed of Abraham and the Israel of God only because it is, as Galatians 3:29 plainly says, in union with One who was truly the physical seed of Abraham.

Roamns 11:16-24
And if the first piece of dough be holy, the lump is also; and if the root be holy, the branches are too. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partakers with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you , God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? (Rom. 11:16-24)

Here Paul likens the people of God to an olive tree. The root of the olive tree is the covenant promise made to the Jewish patriarchs. The natural branches are the Jews. Now what happens when Christ comes? Does God uproot the old olive tree? Does He plant a new fig tree beside the old olive tree? Does He perhaps plant a second olive tree? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no. This passage plainly teaches that the same olive tree continued, but its unbelieving Jewish branches were broken off and new branches, believing Gentiles, were grafted in. What's the point? Classic Dispensationalism teaches that the Church and Israel are distinct, separate, two different peoples of God. The Bible's viewpoint is in stark contrast. It teaches that the Church is not a new olive tree. It is the old olive tree, but with new, believing branches. It is Israel, New Israel. Paul appears completely insensitive to "dispensational distinctions" in this passage.

Ephesians 2:11-13

Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called "Uncircumcision" by the so-called "Circumcision," which is performed in the flesh by human hands--remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerely were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:11-13)

There is a crucial question raised by verse 13. Unto what have the Gentiles been brought near? The answer to this obvious question is also equally obvious. Two consideration put the answer beyond all doubt.

First, they are clearly brought near to those things from which verse 12 says they were previously excluded. What are those things? Among other things, it is, "the commonwealth of Israel."

Second, the transition from being excluded to being included is repeated in Pul's conclusion to this passage in verse 19. Note the "so then" with which verse 19 begins. "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens" (Eph. 2:19). The Gentile fellow-believers are now said to be "fellow-citizens with the saints" (Eph. 2:19). Clearly, the "saints" here mentioned are the Jewish saints. Even more significant is the fact that the word translated "fellow-citizens" is derived from the same root translated "commonwealth" in verse 12. Paul's point is abundantly clear. Believing Gentiles are now, by the work of Christ, full citizens of the nation of Israel.


The New Covenant can be fulfilled in the Church because it is the New Israel of God. And, it must be emphasized, this is not spiritualizing. The head of the Church, the root of the Church, the apostolic foundation of the Church, even all the original members of the Church were Jews.

A radio preacher once asserted that a certain chapter of Acts was "Jewish" ground. There is, however, much more "Jewish" ground in the book of Acts than one chapter. Indeed, the whole New Testament is "Jewish" ground, because the Church itself is in its whole origin "Jewish".

Practical Implications

We have established the validity of our premise that the New Covenant is fulfilled in the Church and is its Constitution. In the process, the Classic Dispensational system of Bible interpretation has been weighed in the balance of Scripture and found wanting. We quoted, you remember, a representative spokesman of this system who said, "He who does not keep the Church and Israel distinct will inevitably not hold to dispensational distinctions. ...If the Church is fulfilling Israel's promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then premillennialism is condemned."

But the Bible itself refuses to keep Israel and the Church distinct as all forms of Dispensationalism do. We have already seen the position of Classic Dispensationalism on this issue. Now listen to what Robert L. Saucy presents as the view of Progressive Dispensationalism.

The biblical teaching about the roles of Israel and the Church in history reveals that although they have much in common, they remain distinctively different. Believing Israel and the members of the Church are one in their participation in the eschatological salvation of the new covenant. Because of the relationship to God that this entails, they are equally and together "the people of God." ...In both Testaments, the identity of "Israel" is always the historical people descended from Abraham through Jacob that became a nation. Israel was called to witness God's salvation to the other nations as a nation among nations. The Church, by contrast, is identified in the New Testament as a people called out of all nations. In distinction to Israel in her being and witness as a "nation," the Church is called to proclaim the kingdom salvation as individuals and as a community living is the midst of the nations, but not yet in the totality of a "nation".10

Jesus, however, said to the Pharisees, "therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it" (Matt. 21:43). Peter calls the Christians he addressed in 1 Peter "A HOLY NATION" (1 Peter 2:9). From the Bible's perspective, therefore, the Church is the exchatological nation of Israel, reconstituted according to the terms of the New Covenant. Thus, the Bible itself demands that we reject all forms of Dispensationalism at this point. This is, we realize, a blunt assertion. No offense is intended. We are not denying that many sincere and godly Christians have held and still hold to this system. We are not saying that such Christians have not taught many important biblical truths. We are simply asserting that the dispensational system with its peculiar views about the Church and Israel and prophecy is wrong.

There may be some who have never even heard of Dispensationalism, or for whome it is not an issue. What has all of this to say to you? You may be deeply influenced by an error without realizing it or even knowing its name. A warning against an error that our discussion has exposed and one not by any means restricted to dispensationalist is appropriate at this time. Beware of minimizing the importance of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Many things in Dispensationalism conspire to minimize or depreciate the importance of the Church in the plan of God. The simple fact that the Church becomes, in older Dispensationalism, one of two distinct peoples of God depreciates its importance. The fact that the really exciting prophetic events have to do with Israel deepens the problem. The great prophecies of the Old Testament are not for the Church, but for Israel, according to Dispensationalism.11 We in the Church age live in a great parenthesis in history when the prophetic clock has stopped ticking. The dispensation of the Church is doomed like all the others to end in abject failure. The visible Church is corrupt, apostate, bound to get worse, and sure to fail. The conclusion of one Classic Dispensational teacher is surely correct if such teaching is true. He said "Don't polish the brass on a sinking ship!" No wonder many professing Christians regard the Church and local Church membership as an optional or secondary part of their Christian lives. After all, isn't membership in the spiritual, invisible Church sufficient?

We must set over against all such attitudes the teaching of the Bible. The Church is the New Israel. She is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. God has no other age, no other plan, and no other organization through which His kingdom is to be peopled with the nations of the earth. The Church, says Paul, is that people "upon whom the ends of the ages has come" (1 Cor.10:11). The Church is the fruition of God's "eternal purpose which He carried out in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Eph. 3:11). Thus, Paul cries out, "to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 3:21).

Be solemnly admonished, therefore, not to minimize the importance of the Church. Here are some ways the Church is minimized:
(1)By thinking of it as a mere human institution. The Church is both Divinely originated and Divinely regulated by the New Covenant. Christ established no other institution to carry on His work in the world. There are no other biblically warranted visible manifestations of that institution in the world than local churches.

(2)By sinfully neglecting membership in it. Jesus founded the Church as His New Israel. He expects His people to seek formal citizenship in it. Could it be that the casual attitude of some about Church membership is rooted in a minimizing of the Church of Christ?

(3)By resentment of its authority. Such resentment of biblical accountability to a local Church and its appointed representatives is a form of lawlessness, if the Church is, indeed, at the heart of God's plan for the ages.

(4)By vision-less stagnation in our hopes for it. It is the Church that must evangelize the lost. It is the Church that must plant other churches. It is the Church that must engage in foreign missions. It is the Church that ought to spread the Word through literature, publishing, and bookstores. It is the Church that must prepare men for the Gospel ministry. There are great things to be done, and it is the Church that must do them.

(5)By pessimistic prayerlessness for its prosperity. The Church is the appointed manifestation of the people of God, the inheritance of God, the Israel of God. It is the apple of God's eye. It is the focus of the labors of our ascended Lord. Remember Christ's words, "...I will build My Church..." (Matt. 16:18). Churches ought to pray, labor, and hope as the triumphant Israel of God.

Read Chapter 2: Antinomianism

1. It will be pointed-out below that even Progressive Dispensationalism fails to adequately deal with the promise of the New Covenant and its fulfillment in and application to the Church.
2. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1964, 1979), 124, 125.
3. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillenial Faith (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1975), 112.
4. John Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom (Findlay, OH: Dunham, 1958), 209.
5. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chigago: Moody Press, 1965), 44-48.
6. Ryrie, Premillenial Faith, 105, 106, 111. There are other reasons for the "condemnation" of Premillenialism. See the author's The End Times Made Simple (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2003).
7. Pentecost, Things to Come, 116.
8. Classic Dispensationalism argued that the writer of Hebrews never intended to teach that Israel's New Covenant was now operative. Pentecost says, "Thus, in Hebrews 8 the promise of Jeremiah is quoted only to prove that the old covenant, that is the Mosaic, was temporary from its inception, and Israel never could trust in that which was temporary, but had to look forward to that which was eternal. Here, as in Hebrews 10:16, the passage from Jeremiah is quoted, not to state that what is promised there is now operative or effectual, but rather that the old covenant was temporary and ineffectual and anticipatory of a new covenant that would be permanent and effectual in its working. It is a misrepresentation of the thinking of the writer to the Hebrews to affirm that he teaches that Israel's new covenant is now operative with the Church" (Pentecost, Things to Come, 125, 126). Pentecost does say that the New Covenant was instituted by Christ's blood, but that "these {ethnic Israelites} to whom it was primarily and originally made will not receive its fulfillment nor its blessings until it is confirmed and made actual to them at the second advent of Christ ...There certainly is a difference between the institution of the covenant and the realization of the benefits of it" (Pentecost, Things to Come, 126, 127).
9. Though Progressive Dispensationalism sees the New Covenant fulfilled in the Church, it still demands a future millenium for many prophecies of the Old Testament to find their fulfillment. This does not deal adequately with the fact that the Israel of Old Testament prophecy is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Since the promise of the New Covenant in Jeremiah applies to the Church, then all other Old Testament prophecies apply to the Church (cf. 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1 where Old Testament prophecies of the New and Davidic Covenants [see also Lk. 1:54, 55, and 72, 73] where promises relating to the Abrahamic Covenant are applied to the Church). No future millennium is needed. All Old Testament prophecies concerning the future of Israel on this earth are being and will be fulfilled by the Church, whether in this age or in the age to come.
10. Robert L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), 218.
11. Both Classic and Progressive Dispensationalism teach that the great prophecies of the Old Testament are for Israel in a future millenium (cf. Saucy, Progressive Dispensationalism, 221ff.). Once it is acknowledged that the Church is the Israel of Old Testament prophecy, however, there becomes no need for a future millenium for the fulfillment of these prophecies. This is further strengthened by the fact that the New Testament constantly focuses upon the second coming of Christ, the general resurrection, the final judgment, and the New Heavens and the New Earth as the next great prophetic and eschatological events, not the millenium. See the author's The End Times Made Simple.

Authors-- Samuel E. Waldron and Richard C. Barcellos
Publisher-- Reformed Baptist Academic Press
To order this book-- Please visit Solid Ground Books
Reformed Baptist Theological ReviewTo Subscribe or order back issues, please visit RBTR

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