HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16,17).
PERSPECTIVES WHEN STUDYING GOD'S WORD
A proper approach to God's Word requires a certain frame of mind. This involves humility, honesty, and fervency--but goes beyond that. Every person is prone to read the Bible through an intellectual filter. For some, it is the particular emphasis of their denomination. For others, it is a private view that reflects personal opinion rather that Divine will. In a sense, God has provided us the templates through which the Word of God is viewed. When read with these realities in mind, the Word of God comes home to our hearts. These templates have been revealed in Scripture, and reveal the thrust of revelation.
Studying the Word with the Covenants in mind
There are two basic covenants in Scripture. Both have to do with God's association with humanity. The first covenant centered around the Law, or ten commandments, and was given to the nation of Israel. That covenant stood for all Divine relationship based upon a code of conduct. As such, the ten commandments were called "the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments" (Ex 34:28). The tablets on which they were written were called "the tablets of the covenant" (Deut 9:9). The summary of that covenant was simply this, "Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD" (Lev 18:5). Paul spoke of this covenant in this way; "For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them" (Rom 10:5). This was a covenant of works, totally dependent upon human accomplishment. If you did everything that was commanded, without a single deviation or flaw, you would have life--earned life. There is no need to comment upon the effectiveness of this covenant. Although it contained good, holy, and spiritual commands, it became weak because of the constituents of the covenant. They were simply not able to do fully what God said to do. In this sense, the Law was "weak through (or because of) the flesh" (Rom 8:3). The Law, as a covenant, brought no life, gave no strength, contained no mercy, and supplied no grace. It did not have provision for mistakes, falling short, or failing to measure up. Thus it "stopped" every mouth, making the "whole world" guilty before God (Rom 3:19). A dramatic comparison is made between the old and new covenants in the Gospel of John. "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). What a remarkable difference! The Law was "given," but was more of an imposition upon recalcitrant people. Grace and truth were not merely "given," they were "realized," or brought into human experience. Viewed from this perspective, Scripture is a record of the futility of law-keeping as a basis of acceptance with God. It also reveals the potency of faith, the exclusive means of receiving the grace of God.
We have a better covenant
This is the bold proclamation of the Spirit. "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" (Heb 8:6). This covenant is "better" in every way. The basis, or foundation, of the covenant is better. The first covenant was based upon works, the second covenant is based upon promises. The first brought no remission, the second does. The first kept the people at a distance from God, the second summons people to God. From every vantage point, the new covenant is "a better covenant!"
The covenant expressed
Through Jeremiah, God declared the coming covenant. It would not be a covenant after the manner of the old man made with Israel. It would be a new one, or a different type of covenant. It is refreshing to renew our acquaintance with that covenant. "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 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 31:31-34). This covenant is the one currently being mediated by the Lord Jesus, as confirmed by Hebrews 8:8-13, where the passage is quoted, and an extended commentary is provided. How superior to the old covenant! Instead of inscribing the law upon stones, or upon parchment, it would be placed within their minds and written upon their hearts. That is another way of saying they would agree with and delight in the law of the Lord. This condition is produced by regeneration, something the Israelites never experienced. Indeed, it was not available to them, because the "blood of bulls and goats" could never take away sin (Heb 10:4)--a requisite for the blessing. The bloody sacrifices of the Law reminded people they had sinned. The sacrifice of Christ, when received, reminds us that our sins are forgiven. Read the Bible with the covenants in mind!
Law and Grace
The two covenants speak of law and grace. Law is imposed, grace is received. Law uncovers sin, grace provides forgiveness. Law is weak through the flesh, grace is strong through the Lord Jesus Christ. How often law and grace are compared. "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). As notable as Moses was, he could not bring the people into the promised land. He could not change the hearts of the people, or empower them to live consistently. However, praise God, Jesus can accomplish these things because He brings "grace and truth" to us! "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!" (Rom 6:14-15). Sin dominated under the first covenant, having dominion over the people. However the new covenant brings a spiritual environment in which sin cannot dominate. The superiority of grace accounts for this glorious liberty. Law was ineffective in resolving the human dilemma, grace is effective! That is a view of the nature of the two covenants. One brings the blessing of God, while the other brought His curse. "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Gal 5:4). Not only do the covenants have differing qualities, they are antithetical to one another. You cannot seek to live under the principle of law without forfeiting the grace of God. O, that professed believers perceived this more clearly. Those attempting to please God and be holy through a system of regimentation only thrust themselves from His presence. God has provided a better way to approach Him, and He will deny anyone that takes another way. Either you come to Him through the "grace of our Lord Jesus Christ," or you will not come. So pivotal is this truth that Paul affirms the individual seeking to gain God's approval by law has already "fallen from grace," having been "severed from Christ." The gravity of those statements ought to challenge the thinking of every one claiming identity with Christ Jesus! They highlight the difference in the two covenants!
Works and Faith
The two covenants provide a contrast between works and faith. It is important to understand that "works" are here viewed as a BASIS of Divine acceptance. Real faith works incessantly and joyfully. James affirms that "faith without works is dead (useless), being alone" (James 2:20). However, James is not speaking of "works" as the foundation of the covenant. Rather, he presents them as the EVIDENCE of true faith. Paul approaches "works" as a means of meriting salvation, contrasting them with faith. "Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith" ( Rom 3:27). Here, the word "law" means principle. Justification, or full exoneration from the guilt of sin, is achieved by means of faith, not achievement. Righteousness, in this case, is not our own. In fact, "His righteousness" is now the basis of our acceptance, and declared to be so (Rom 3:25-26). God Himself is both "Just and the Justifier" of the one that believes in Jesus. Under Law, God would be Justifier if man was just. Under grace, or the new covenant, God is the Just One, as well as the justifier. Our faith appropriates that righteousness, not our works. There are many other expressions of this truth. The following statement provides a good overview of the circumstance. "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal 2:16). The bottom line is this: the old covenant did not, and could not, make men acceptable to God. The new covenant does! Read the Bible with this in mind, and it will come alive in your mind and heart.
Works and Grace
Works and grace are again viewed as the means of becoming acceptable to God, or justified from all sin. You will either be saved because you deserve it, or because God favors you. The first covenant presented an opportunity to achieve Divine favor by yourself. The new covenant announces it may be possessed through the Lord Jesus Christ. By that, I mean it is obtained by your unreserved and hearty acceptance of His vicarious sacrifice. Paul makes a powerful affirmation to the Romans. It is to our advantage take it into our hearts and ponder its implications. "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Rom 11:6). Works and grace cannot mingle as a "basis" of our salvation. Were that possible, the old and new covenants could be blended together. Under the law, or old covenant, you worked to be saved. Under the new covenant you work because you are saved--and there is a vast difference. It is the difference between Law and grace, faith and works, the old and the new. Read the Bible with the covenants in mind.