The clearest section of scripture that describes this superiority is 2 Corinthians 3. There Paul lists nine ways the New Covenant is superior to the Old:
1). In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit validates God’s people. In the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirt strove with God’s people, who continually rebelled. But in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the individual members of the church, conforming them to the teaching of the Word. While Moses had an uphill battle with the Israelites, comparatively speaking pastors have it easy—our work is done by the Holy Spirit himself. Paul could even refer to the unruly Corinthians as “a letter of Christ, cared for by us” (vs 3a). If Moses needed a letter of recommendation from the Israelites, he would have remained unemployed. But Paul’s ministry was validated by the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his people.
2). In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit’s law is internal. In the Old Covenant, all the glory of Sinai combined with the inspired work of the Holy Spirit to produce a law written on stone. But in the New Covenant, all the glory of Sinai fades, because God’s Law is now internalized. His moral commands are no longer reduced to ten words, so to speak. Instead, they are spiritually recorded as they are impressed upon human hearts. They are “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (vs. 3b).
3). In the New Covenant we have confidence to draw near to Christ in service of his people. In the Old Covenant, the qualifications for ministry in the temple were largely external, and consisted of various washings and sacrifices—shadows, really. In the New Covenant, the qualifications for spiritual service are raised. While you would think this would make Jesus’ ministers more timid, the opposite is actually true. Because our confidence comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are capable of ministering for the Holy God with assurance. As Paul says, “such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God” (vs 4).
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4). In the New Covenant the church’s deacons don’t serve written rules, but we serve a spiritual reality. The ministers in the Old Covenant were forced to serve shadows and symbols. Granted those symbols pointed forward, but at the end of the era they were just that—arrows pointing. In the church, our servants don’t attend to legal requirements because all such demands have already been met for us in Christ. Thus, “we are deacons of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit” (vs 6a).
5). The New Covenant gives spiritual life, while the Old Covenant revealed spiritual death. When the covenants work properly, and are believed “lawfully,” then the best case scenarios for both are polar opposites. Under the Old Covenant, the most faithful person was exposed as spiritually separated from God. The Law revealed sin, and left the recipient dead. But the New Covenant, when believed, leaves its recipients alive, “for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (vs 6b).
6). The New Covenant reveals God in a more glorious way than the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was not without glory, of course. Moses, who literally wrote the Old Covenant, was left glowing from his encounter with Yahweh. The right take away is not that Moses saw more of God’s glory than we do, but the opposite! If Moses, who wrote letters that kill, saw enough of God to glow on the outside, how much more must our inside be radiant with the glory of God? While Moses saw God in a limited and external way, the Holy Spirit indwells us. This concept provokes Paul to ask, “How will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (vs. 8).
7). The New Covenant gives righteousness. This is exactly what the Old Covenant could not do. The Old Covenant could in a symbolic way offer forgiveness of sins, but it had no capacity to impart a living righteousness. In retrospect this is obvious—it could only produce failure, and never success. Thus even in the Old Testament righteousness had to come by faith, not by participation in the ministry of death. But the New Covenant abolishes this tension. By participating in the New Covenant, “the ministry of righteousness abounds in glory” (vs 9).
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8). The New Covenant unveils the heart, while the Old Covenant required a veil. Moses physically wore a veil to obscure the reflection of God’s glory. If there ever was a metaphor for the temporary nature of the Old Covenant, this is it. The participants in the Old Covenant were left looking forward, looking for something else, something that would remove the veil. They were looking for the illuminating power that resides in the New Covenant, when “the veil is removed in Christ” (vss 14, 16).
9). The New Covenant sanctifies. The Old Covenant could continually expose, convict, and kill. But the New Covenant continually transforms. This is because in the New Covenant the Holy Spirit indwells us. The reality is that God imparts himself to human hearts in Christ. This causes us to be “transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (vs 18). With the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, progressive sanctification is experienced. Elders are made, the church is sanctified, and the world is impacted for the gospel.
So the next time you feel spiritually discouraged, read through 2 Corinthians 3 and rejoice in these nine ways the Holy Spirit is at work in you through faith in Christ.
This article originally appeared on TheCripplegate.com. Used with permission.
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Jesse Johnson is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master’s Seminary Washington DC location.
Image courtesy: Unsplash.com
Publication date: April 20, 2017