Differences Between the Old and New Covenants

by | Updated January 22nd, 2020

Covenants are conditional promises made to humanity by God. There are two distinct covenants mentioned in the Bible – the old (first) covenant and the new covenant. The following is an outline of the differences between the old and new covenants.

The Old Covenant

The first or old covenant was between a holy God and sinful man. Was there anything wrong with the first covenant? Of course not. “The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). The problem was man’s inability to keep it. The failure was with man and not God. The covenant designed to result in life, resulted in death. Paul said, “And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death” (Romans 7:10). With the advent of the law 3,000 people died (Exodus 32:28).

The New 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. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they will 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” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

The old covenant revealed we needed something better. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor (schoolmaster) to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The new covenant is between the Father and the Son. God told Jesus if He would go to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3) and go to the cross for the sins of mankind (1 Peter 3:18), God would forgive the sins of anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 1:12, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 5:1, Romans 10:13).

Why will this covenant succeed when the first one failed? Because the new one doesn’t depend on us. It’s a covenant between the Father and the Son. God lived up to the first contract, but we failed to live up to our part. In the new contract man is left out of the equation. Jesus lived up to the covenant by going to the cross in payment for our sins. God lived up to the covenant by forgiving and justifying all who put their faith in Jesus. “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). This one cannot fail because both parties involved lived up to their side of the contract.

The Good News

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge (condemn) the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The first covenant brought death, but life ensued at the coming of the new covenant. When the law came, 3,000 died (Exodus 32:28). When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, 3,000 received eternal life (Acts 2:41). What a glorious contrast. The new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted by the writer of Hebrews in chapters 8:8-12 and 10:16-17. The key word in Hebrews is “better.” Jesus is better than the angels, the high priestly system, Moses, and He created a better covenant. In Hebrews 8:10-12 we see four “I wills” or benefits of the new covenant.

  1. Enlightenment. “I will put My laws in their mind” (Hebrews 8:10). A fresh enlightenment is received under the new covenant. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit only came upon people to perform certain tasks. Under the new covenant, the Holy Spirit permanently lives within us (Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 3:16) guiding us into all truth (John 16:13) and giving us an understanding that wasn’t available under the law. The light has been turned on!
  2. Desire. “And write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). Under the new covenant it’s not about law, but desire for God. He gives us a desire to follow Him, do His will and please Him. “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:5-6). Under the new covenant, we are given a new founded desire and power to follow Jesus, do what pleases the Father and obey God (2 Peter 1:3-4).
  3. Relationship. “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10). Under the old covenant only certain people had a relationship with God. God was referred to as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Under the new covenant, God promises to have a relationship with anyone who will trust Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. After the resurrection Jesus told Mary, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God” (John 20:17). Christianity is about a relationship, not religiosity. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6).
  4. Pardon. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12). Under the old covenant there was immediate judgment for sin. Under the new covenant, there is complete pardon of all transgressions. Not only are we forgiven, we are also justified (Romans 3:26, Romans 4:25-5:1). God sees us through the blood of Christ just as if we had never sinned. We are declared the righteousness of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 5:21). Below are three benefits of our pardon.
    • Freeness of our pardon. God is a merciful God. “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, long suffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalms 86:15). Praise the Lord! Peter thinking about God’s mercy proclaimed, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
    • Fullness of our pardon. All of our sins are under the blood. No matter what we have done, we are forgiven when we come to Jesus. There is no sin that God won’t forgive when we trust Jesus as our only hope of salvation. Notice the plurality of our sin – “their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” The multiplicity (fullness) of all our sins are all washed away, by the blood of Jesus, under the new covenant. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
    • Fixedness of our pardon. Our sins are gone forever – God does not remember them. People often throw our sins back in our face, but Jesus is our great advocate (1 John 2:1) declares, “I paid for that. It’s been forgiven forever, back off!” “As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12). Our pardon is fixed forever – “I will remember no more.”

Micah prophesied of this, “ He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Corrie Ten Boom used to say that God casts our sins into the sea of His forgetfulness and puts up a sign saying, “NO FISHING!”

Don’t let the devil, others or even yourself bring up what God has washed away from our lives forever (1 John 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Hebrew 10:14, Romans 8:33-34). Remember, the accuser of the brethern has been cast down (Revelation 12:10, Luke 10:17-19).

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