GOD'S UNFOLDING PLAN
Copyright © 1990 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
God never changes. The Scriptures teach and we Christians acknowledge that God never changes. But there is pressure on us to accept that the “God of the Old Testament” was different somehow from the “God of today.” The truth is, He was not different. The living God does not change. It is true also that God’s plan for man, including man’s obedience to the eternal moral law, his acquiring righteousness by faith, the Divine insistence on purity of heart, meekness, and a number of other conditions and relationships, has not changed from the time of Adam and Eve and never shall change.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
“For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
God never changes. The Scriptures teach and we Christians acknowledge that God never changes. But there is much pressure on us to accept that the “God of the Old Testament” was different somehow from the “God of today.”
The truth is, He was not different. God does not change.
The complete satisfaction of the Divine justice executed on the cross of Calvary has made certain things possible that were not possible before Christ made the great atonement. But the goodness and severity of God were magnified, not changed, by what took place in Gethsemane and on the cross.
God’s plan for man, including man’s obedience to the eternal moral law, his acquiring righteousness by faith, the Divine insistence on purity of heart, meekness, and a number of other conditions and relationships, has not changed from the time of Adam and Eve and never shall change.
The saints of all ages have more in common than they have differences. This is why the Spirit of God, in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, uses Old Testament personalities, beginning with the second son of Adam, to teach Christians the meaning of “the just shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:388 and 11:4).
All the heroes of faith to the present hour have had and do have much in common. The meek always have inherited and always will inherit the earth (not Heaven, as our tradition mistakenly teaches).
The willing and obedient always have eaten and always will eat of the good of the land. Perfect peace always has been and always will be the possession of those who love the law of the Lord. No good thing ever has been or ever will be withheld from him who walks uprightly.
The Divine principles will always be in effect. A million years from now, when the saints of the new Jerusalem are governing the nations of saved peoples of the earth, the righteous still will be living by faith. God does not spend our lifetime teaching us His ways because He intends to abandon them in the future. The Lord God of Heaven always and forever will bless those who walk uprightly before Him, while those who refuse and rebel will find themselves in dry places indeed. Heaven and earth will pass away but the Word of God shall never be changed in any manner.
Much attention has been given by theologians to the study of the Divine “covenants,” and perhaps the investigation of this scriptural concept has brought understanding to us.
In addition, some scholars have presented the concept of the “dispensation.” We personally have not found this to be a helpful model, particularly since Dispensationalism separates physical Israel from the Christian Church. We think the concept of the “Gentile Church” has destroyed our ability to understand the Prophets of the Old Testament. Wrong goals and an incorrect view of Christ’s return have resulted.
The study of covenants and of “dispensations” may tend to fragment God’s intention toward His children. However, God’s desire for us never has changed and never will change.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Micah 6:8 applies to Adam and Eve, to Enoch, to Noah, to Job, to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to Paul, to Peter, to you, to me, and to all other persons—past, present, and future—forever.
The entire Scriptures have one subject—righteousness; not a righteousness we hope to achieve by our own dead works but the true righteousness derived from placing our hope and trust in God. Righteousness is the Presence of God in Christ.
No person ever at any time has been found righteous (justified) on any basis other than hope and trust in God. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews teaches us that Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and the rest of God’s worthies were justified by faith. That faith was—as it always must be—expressed in their behavior.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews reveals to us the unity, the sameness of God’s relationship with all of His children.
Why, then, does the Scripture appear to teach that God keeps changing His relationship with us? It is because there is a progressive unfolding of the unbelievably marvelous aspects of the Kingdom of God, of the Divine plan to reveal the Father through Christ and Christ through the members of the Body of Christ.
That God did not explain the whole scope of His plan to Adam and Eve does not mean He desired one thing for them and then changed His mind and desires something else for you and me. The concept of foreknowledge and predestination prevents the conclusion that God keeps changing His mind.
We can think of God’s working in terms of the curriculum of a school that begins with kindergarten and is completed with graduation from a university.
How would it be if we considered progression from the kindergarten to the first grade to be a change of covenant or a different dispensation? Would the “graduate” to the first grade look with pity on those of the kindergarten who were laboring under a lesser covenant, a different dispensation?
The Book of Hebrews does teach that there has been a change of covenant and that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant, and so our analogy of the school curriculum is not completely fitting. Nevertheless, the change of covenant does not signify a changing of God’s mind or Nature. Rather, it is a more complete step toward the same purpose that existed at the time of Eden.
Have not all the covenants been for the purpose of bringing Micah 6:8 to pass throughout the earth?
We think the concept of a comprehensive, unified working of God with man is helpful in understanding what has happened, is happening now, and will yet take place in the Kingdom of God.
The concept prevailing today is that God has changed His expectations concerning man. An even worse idea is that God somehow has “grown up”; that working with people has “educated” God. Will the pride of men never cease?
Another aspect of current thinking is that the Christian Church has become Israel and the Divine blessing no longer applies to the physical land and people of Israel. God has not forgotten His chosen people. His gifts and calling are without repentance. The names of the sons of Jacob are engraved forever on the gates of the new Jerusalem.
The Scriptures do teach there has been a change of covenant:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.
Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— (Hebrews 8:7,8)
But we must balance this against another teaching of the Scriptures:
“Known to God from eternity are all His works. (Acts 15:18)
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, (Ephesians 1:4)
The fact that God knew the history of mankind in advance of its creation, that the elect were chosen from the beginning, that Christ was slain before Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, leads to but one conclusion: the dealings of God with man are not a series of starts and stops based on man’s response to several different plans God has tried to see if they would work.
God’s working with man composes a progressive, ever-unfolding revelation of the Divine declaration announced at the outset: let us make man in our image; let us make man male and female; let us make him fruitful; let us give him dominion over the works of our hands.
There have been some changes in the Divine provisions, requirements, and opportunities so that spiritually enlightened man can proceed toward the fullness of what God always has intended for His sons and heirs; but there has been no change in the goals or plans.
The concept of God continually altering His expectations and tactics (as distinguished from the concept of a unified, progressive plan) has produced serious misunderstandings concerning God’s intentions. Men are able to interpret God’s covenants to mean something other than Micah 6:8. The Jews did this (Romans 2:17-29), and we Christians are doing the same thing. We are perceiving justification by grace through faith as the Divinely-ordained means of circumventing Micah 6:8. We are claiming that believing in Christ relieves us of the necessity for godly behavior. Are we not teaching “the just shall live by faith” means the most important action of a person is a profession of belief in Christ, and after his profession Divine grace excuses his conduct? We have made the Word of God of no effect by our traditions. Christ has become the justifier of an unholy, unrighteous, disobedient, self-centered, pleasure-loving, spiritually careless, worldly “church.”
The current definition of the term “grace,” along with the start-stop-change conception of God’s relationship with His children, has caused us to misunderstand the process and goal of the new covenant.
Precisely what is Divine grace, especially as the term is used in describing the new covenant?
Grace has been defined as unmerited favor. This is a true definition as far as it goes but it is misleading because of its incompleteness.
Grace has been defined as God’s riches at Christ’s expense. This also is an incomplete definition, but it is a definition compatible with twentieth century Christian traditions, such as the “rapture.” The concept here is, Christ suffered the agonies of Hell so we who are God’s favored will never be required to suffer. A beginner’s knowledge of the Scriptures and of Church history (past and contemporary) soon puts the knife through this self-centered expression of pampered believers.
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, (I Peter 4:1)
While we do not suffer to make an atonement for sins, we certainly do suffer as Christians. Christ paid a terrible price for our redemption. All those who would be victorious saints must understand they too will suffer, they will share Christ’s sufferings. We are required to love not our lives to the death (Revelation 12:11).
Divine grace is galactically more than “unmerited favor.”
Divine grace is profoundly more than “God’s riches at Christ’s expense,” no matter how much this definition may appeal to our self-love.
We have stated that the saints of all ages have far more in common than they do not have in common. Grace must be understood in the context of the common requirement for doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our Father in Heaven.
If the saints of the Old Testament were justified (declared to be righteous) by faith (worked out in obedience to God, according to the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews), what then is grace under the new covenant?
First of all, grace is not a new method for achieving sainthood. New-covenant grace is not a method of making saints by using Christ’s righteousness instead of ours. It is not true that we can substitute a belief in Christ for the obedience of Abraham, the meekness of Moses, the consecration of Daniel, the holiness of Elijah. Grace is not a device for calling sinners saints. If it is, God has defeated Himself.
If God’s eternal purpose is to make man in His own image, to have him walk in righteousness, in compassion, and in humility with God, to prepare him to rule all the works of God’s hands, and then issues a covenant that removes the need for man to be fashioned in God’s image, the need for man to walk in righteousness, in compassion, and in humility with God, and the need to develop the character a ruler of nations must have, it can be seen that God has defeated His own intentions.
If such is the case, the old covenant is superior to the new covenant. The old covenant brought forth some outstanding saints, such as Daniel, Ezra, and the mother and father of John the Baptist. But the new covenant creates failures. The creatures of the new covenant only are termed saints. They only are saints on paper. They actually are not saints at all.
One may say, there have been outstanding saints under the new covenant, such as Peter, Paul, and Andrew Murray of South Africa. True. But these men actually were saints, not because they were justified by imputed (ascribed) righteousness but because they demonstrated in their personalities the same qualities of sainthood that were true of the saints of the old covenant. Saints are never saints by imputation (assigned righteousness), only by practicing righteousness, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
Christ is perfect in all the attributes God desires for man (and no one can deny that). But so often the impression is given that the Christians, the disciples of Christ, the brothers of Christ can continue in indecision, lukewarmness, refusal to do God’s will, self-centeredness, foolishness, prayerlessness, and still be approved of God, still be brothers of the Lord. Their behavior does not matter because Christ’s righteousness is imputed (ascribed) to them.
If this were the case, God would be building for Himself a very flimsy house. There would be little substance to it. It would be righteous and holy in name only.
It is taught commonly that God will return to the old covenant to obtain His two witnesses (Revelation, Chapter 11). This conveys the idea that the new covenant is unable to produce the saintly character brought forth under the old covenant. It is interesting that Christian scholars would go back to the old covenant to obtain the most powerful witnesses of the Christian Era.
The believers of today have developed a pre-tribulation “rapture” so they may be carried off to Heaven in order to escape the great tribulation and the reign of Antichrist. We do not think Elijah or Elisha would have any need to escape from either tribulation or the Antichrist. They were accustomed to living by a miracle and to exercising vengeance on their enemies. Yet, they served God under a lesser covenant, not even having been born again.
But doesn’t the New Testament teach that Christ is our righteousness and our sanctification and that we cannot save ourselves by works of righteousness? Yes, it surely does. But our conclusion from this, that there is no need to walk in righteousness and holiness, to be godly as were Abraham and Moses, is erroneous. It is not the conclusion of Paul or of the other writers. Paul warns us again and again that if we continue in our old ways we will die spiritually; we never will inherit the Kingdom of God (Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5).
There have been, and yet are, many distinguished saints who have served God as diligently under the new covenant as did any man or woman under the old. In fact, the new covenant is designed to make us more righteous (in reality, not by ascribed righteousness), not less righteous in personality and behavior, than the saints of the old covenant.
“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
If the new covenant is designed to make us more righteous, more holy, more obedient to God, more compassionate, than was true of the old, and if God’s grace is the most important aspect of this superior covenant, what, then, is grace?
Grace, under the new covenant, includes the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul placed emphasis on the imputed righteousness aspect of new-covenant grace because he was resisting the teaching of the Jewish instructors. Paul was showing that we are saved, not by the works of the Law of Moses but by the grace of God, by the gift of righteousness that comes only through the blood of Christ.
But new-covenant grace includes infinitely more than imputed righteousness, as essential to our redemption as such ascribed righteousness is.
New-covenant grace includes the body and blood of Christ, the born-again experience, the dwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, the writing of God’s laws in our minds and hearts, the forming of Christ in us, and the coming of the Father and the Son to dwell in us.
By grace we have been called, justified, and glorified, and God’s grace now is fashioning righteousness, holiness, and obedience in us. God’s grace has given to us the writings of the New Testament and the power of the Spirit to practice what is written. Also, God has given us the power to bear witness of the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of Christ.
Through God’s grace we are being created in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
None of the above was given to the saints of the old covenant, and yet the Holy Spirit employs them as models for us—models of what it means to be justified by faith (Hebrews 10:388 and 11:7).
The total authority and power of God Almighty are available to enable us to serve God excellently in the world. The blood has opened the veil so our prayers are heard by the Father in order that we may receive whatever mercy and grace we need to help us to practice righteousness, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
Much more has been given to us than was given to the saints of the old covenant. Much more is required of us than was required of the saints of the old covenant.
Our actual righteousness of behavior must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. He that is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than any of the prophets. They without us cannot be made perfect. Many who are last in time will be first in the Kingdom of God.
The new covenant contains so much more grace than was given to any of the patriarchs and prophets that God expects us to come much closer than they to the ideal of Micah 6:8. God fully expects kings and priests to be formed by the operations of the new covenant. Divinely-imparted grace working through our living faith will bring forth the royal priesthood, the Wife of the Lamb, the Body of Christ, the eternal tabernacle of God, which is the center of government of the Kingdom of God.
There is a common faith that exists among all the saints of God no matter under what covenant they learn to walk with God. All of them were and are declared to be righteous because of their trust in the Lord, their hope of a better world wherein dwells righteousness, and their continual seeking of the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, of a city that has foundations.
There is a Divine purpose, an eternal plan and goal, that has guided all that has transpired on the earth. The entrance of sin into the garden was not a breach in the Divine plan, it was the calculated means of creating eternal immunity against sin in the heirs of the Kingdom.
God did not cause man to sin nor did He tempt man. However, nothing ever takes God by surprise.
There are some factors that do change from time to time as God moves us toward the image of Christ, toward perfect union with Himself through Christ, toward dominion over all the works of God’s hands, and toward great fruitfulness—the filling of the whole universe and its creatures with the Person and image of Christ.
We have selected four factors that undergo change from time to time as God pursues His eternal purpose:
- The Divine gifts and provisions—that which God gives to man. This is what grace is. Life itself is a grace God has given to us (I Peter 3:7).
- God’s requirement concerning what man must become and do. During one period the Law of Moses was a large part of the Divine requirement.
- The opportunities and rewards that are available. The consequences of living the victorious life, mentioned in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation, are examples of the opportunities and rewards available to the saints of the new covenant.
- The punishments that are inflicted when people do not respond to God’s provisions and requirements. God punishes people when they transgress His will. Punishment can take place in the physical realm and also in the spiritual Hell and Lake of Fire.
God’s provisions, requirements, opportunities, and punishments have undergone some changes as God’s plan has unfolded.
During any given period of history the four factors of the particular age are not applied to all men with equal vigor and exactness. It is obvious that predestination and election seek out chosen individuals from the whole of mankind. Abraham, the nation of Israel, and the Christian Church are examples of those to whom much Divine favor has been shown and of whom much therefore is required.
There is no middle ground for those who have been chosen to be part of Israel, God’s “firstborn.” If the person selected meets the requirements he is blessed exceedingly. If he does not, he is punished severely. He either is given more talents or cast into outer darkness. He gains dominion over all things or courts destruction.
Being called to be a saint carries dreadful responsibility.
We should mention in addition that the opportunities are for “whoever will.” If a person’s heart stirs him up to seek God, and he does what God directs him to do, God will not reject him.
We shall turn now to the Divine gifts, requirements, opportunities, and punishments as they were applied to Adam, the patriarchs, Noah, Abraham, and Israel, and as they now are applied to the believer who worships God under the new covenant.
It is difficult for those of us who are following Christ to comprehend the application of the four factors to Adam and Eve. We who are required to hate our own life, to offer our body as a whole burnt offering to God, are astonished at the minimal demands made on the first man and his wife.
God gave to Adam and Eve a beautiful Paradise in which to live. It is likely they were blessed with strong, healthy bodies and minds with which to enjoy the pleasures that abounded on every hand. This was the grace, the favor of God, that freely was given to them.
God asked them to work in the garden and take care of it. Also, they were commanded not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The opportunities that lay before them were to be in the image of God their Father, to be in union with one another, to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with people, and to have dominion over the creatures of the earth.
The punishment for eating of the forbidden tree was loss of the Presence of God, slavery to sin, pain in childbirth, the dominance of the man over his wife, and wearying labor on a cursed earth.
The grace of God was bountiful toward Adam and Eve. The requirements were minimal. The opportunities were rich and kingly. The punishment was the devastating loss of Paradise and immortality.
From Adam to Noah, people were given the grace of life. They had physical bodies with which to enjoy life on the earth. Although abiding under the Divine curse, the earth was luxuriant and beautiful to the eye.
The only requirement up to the time of Noah seems to have been that of conscience. In fact, conscience has directed people of all ages to practice righteousness, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. Also, the members of mankind have had the opportunity to be in the image of God and to call on God as His children, to be in union as husband and wife, to have children and grandchildren, and to exercise dominion over nature.
The punishments that followed the transgression of the laws of conscience until the days of Noah are not stated clearly. But then the flood came. We know that Christ preached to the disobedient people of Noah’s day when He descended into the spirit realm, immediately after His crucifixion (I Peter 3:19,20). According to the Scripture, the dead live according to God in the spirit realm but are judged according to people who are alive on the earth (I Peter 4:6).
God gave to Noah the special grace of warning him of the destruction to come. God termed Noah righteous and showed him how to preserve his family and himself during the months of devastation.
The Divine stipulation was that Noah continue to walk in righteousness, according to his conscience and that he build the ark. Also, Noah was required to obey specific directives that came from the Lord.
Noah had the opportunity to save his family and himself, and then to become the founder of a new world. Had Noah disobeyed God, he and his family would have drowned in the flood. Mankind would have perished.
Abraham had all the blessings and provisions given so freely to human beings. But in addition he was given the special grace of being called to be the father of the Church. God appeared to Abraham and spoke to him on several occasions.
God required of Abraham that he believe the magnificent promises given to him, that he walk before God with a perfect conscience, and that he surrender his son, Isaac, to God. As far as we know, these demands were more difficult by far than those placed on any other individual from the time man was created.
To Abraham it was given to bring forth the Seed in which all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
Much grace was given to Abraham, severe demands were made on him, and his opportunity for glory was very great.
Had Abraham refused to believe God, to walk in hope-deferred righteousness, or to offer up Isaac, there is no doubt he would have suffered incalculable loss as well as stern punishment.
The Israelites were heirs of the grace of physical life, as is true of all the peoples of the earth. But special grace was given to the descendants of Jacob. They were called to be God’s priests among the nations of the earth. To them were given the special leadings of the Lord Himself, the revelation of His Person and will.
The requirements of the Law and ordinances of Moses were placed on the Israelites. These statutes are strict and govern every aspect of human behavior. Along with the ordinances the prophets explained the higher principles of conduct. They spoke of the need for uprightness and compassion, for walking in true faith before God, for loving God and one’s neighbor.
The Israelites were given the opportunity to know the God of the whole earth, to be His representatives among mankind. This never has been true of any other race of people.
The disobedient Jew was punished by lashes, by being cut off from his people, or by being stoned to death. In addition there have been the national calamities that have come upon the nation of Israel.
The people of Israel were given much grace, and special opportunities for knowing God and fellowshiping with Him. Their obedience to God brought many material blessings. Their disobedience to God resulted in the grievous desolations described in the Book of Lamentations.
Because the Jews have been blessed of God more than any other race they have suffered throughout history when they have not served God. But God never breaks His covenants. In the last days the Jews once again will be visited with the Glory of the Lord.
We come now to the new covenant, to the application of the four factors to those who rest their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The grace given under the new covenant is incomparably greater than the grace of any other time. The requirements placed on the participants are vastly more demanding. The rewards and opportunities for glory truly are staggering. The punishments for not meeting the requirements are as severe or more severe than those suffered under the prior dealings of God.
The grace given to us (to the Jew first and also to the Gentile) under the new covenant includes the covering of the blood as our protection against the wrath of God, the authority of the blood to forgive our sins, the power of the blood to purge our sins, the body and blood of the Communion Table, the dwelling of the Spirit of God in us forever, the dwelling of the Father and the Son in us, the conception and forming of Christ in us, the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit, the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to bear witness of the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Presence of Christ with us to the end of the age, and the assurance in writing that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ.
In addition we have the Gospel accounts and the writings of the Apostles to guide and instruct us.
We can see at a glance that the grace that has been given to us under the new covenant is infinitely more complete, infinitely greater, than that of any past era.
The current definition of grace is woefully lacking. Grace is being presented as a lifelong waiver of all the laws of righteousness, holiness, and obedience to God. It is as though God’s plan for bringing forth righteousness and praise before the nations (Isaiah 61:11) has suddenly been abandoned in favor of excusing the conduct of a special group of Gentiles and carrying them away to Heaven to live in mansions. This doctrine is incorrect. It is not scriptural.
Notice the presentation of the new covenant in the Book of Hebrews:
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Hebrews 8:10)
The new covenant does include grace for removing our sins from God’s memory (Hebrews 8:12). But the forgiveness of our sins is not the most important feature of grace under the new covenant. The most important feature is the Divine writing that takes place in our minds and in our hearts. God puts His laws in our minds. God writes His laws in our hearts.
Under the new covenant, grace is not primarily the forgiveness of our sins. Grace includes the forgiving of our sins but primarily is the authority, virtue, wisdom, and energy to make a new creation. Sins were forgiven under the old covenant (Leviticus 5:13). The difference in the two covenants is that sins are not merely forgiven under the new covenant, they are removed from our personality and Divine Virtue takes their place.
Under the new covenant, God not only forgives our sins but by His power He removes the presence of sin from us, creates Christ in us, and fills us with His Presence. This is grace. This is redemption. This is salvation. This is deliverance. This is glory.
In the second chapter of Galatians, Paul discusses the inappropriateness of mixing circumcision with the Gospel of Christ.
Then Paul goes to the heart of the new covenant:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Crucifixion and resurrection are the fundamental nature of the new covenant. They are grace, under the new covenant. This is how God writes His laws in our minds and in our hearts.
The emphasis is not on God forgiving our sins, although the forgiveness of sins is an important part of new-covenant grace. The emphasis of the new covenant is on the forming and abiding of Christ in us so the Life of the Son of God becomes our life. It is God working in us both to create the desire and to fulfill the desire of His good pleasure in us (Philippians 2:13).
Under the new covenant we learn to do what Christ and His Apostles have commanded. After a while the new creation being developed in us causes us to walk in righteousness by nature. We were faithful to keep the Word and now the Word is keeping us. Christ is the Word made flesh; we are the flesh being made the Word—command upon command, rule upon rule. We are being made living epistles. Because Christ is in us we are the new covenant, the light of the world (Isaiah 42:6).
The new covenant is nothing less than the removal of our adamic nature and the creation of a new personality—a personality filled with all the fullness of God. The sin and rebellion of our first personality are destroyed. Our soul is filled with the Life of Christ, formed in the image of God, transformed from what is mere flesh and blood to what is of God’s Person. Our spirit is eternally in the heavens with the Lord. Our body will be raised from the dead and filled with the incorruptible Spirit of God.
God was not pleased with the results of the old covenant. Many people living under it did not practice righteousness, love mercy, or walk humbly with God. The Law of Moses is perfect. It is spiritual. The problem is, our sinful nature prevents us from fulfilling it.
God always is seeking a righteous, holy, and obedient people. The results of the provisions (grace) made prior to the new covenant have not met God’s standard for human behavior. God knew his standard would not be met by the Law. He gave the Law to point out to man his sin until the time arrived for the Redeemer to come.
The new covenant contains grace of such Divine Virtue, of such power and breadth, that righteous conduct is made possible. In fact, a whole new creation is brought into being.
The result of the grace given under the new covenant is described as follows:
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 by the Spirit of the Lord. (II Corinthians 3:18)
Such is grace under the new covenant.
Under the new covenant, God Himself has become our salvation.
God Himself has come down from Heaven to earth, not only to forgive us but to deliver us from the power and the effects of sin, to form us in His image, to bring us into oneness with Himself and with other saints, to make us very fruitful in multiplying the image of Christ in the universe, and to remove from us every authority and power other than the Presence of God through Christ.
The only manner in which any human being can become truly righteous, holy, and sternly obedient to God, in fulfillment of God’s standard of conduct, is by having Christ Himself formed and abiding in him.
The purpose of freeing us from the requirements of the Law of Moses is to bring us into total, complete union with Christ in order that we may bring forth to God the fruit of righteous behavior (Romans 7:4).
As it is true that the grace given under the new covenant is incomparably greater than what has been given at any other time, so it is true also that the requirements placed on the participants are much more demanding.
knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. (Romans 6:6)
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1)
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26,27)
and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. (II Corinthians 5:15)
We can see at once that Christ, under the new covenant, is demanding our entire personality.
Never before has the Lord God issued grace of such abundance. Never before has the Lord God placed such requirements on people.
By definition, a Christian is a disciple of Christ (Acts 11:26).
- To be a Christian, to come under the new covenant, we must count ourselves as dead. We must present our body a whole burnt offering to God. We must keep our mind fixed on Christ who is at the right hand of God. We must keep our relationships with people, even with the members of our immediate family, so subordinate to our love for Christ that in comparison it is as though we hated them.
- To be a Christian, to come under the new covenant, we must take up our cross of self-denial and follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
- To be a Christian, to come under the new covenant, we must live no longer for our own pleasures and ambitions but for Christ. Christ, having died in our place, owns us. We are His bondslaves.
Therefore, the tradition that Christ came down from Heaven primarily to forgive us in our sins and to bring us back to Heaven to live in beautiful mansions is but a faint and distorted glimmer of the spiritual realities. Divine grace is stupendously more than the forgiveness of sins. Divine grace is the wisdom and power of God in Christ that delivers people from the guilt, power, and effects of sin and then brings them into total, restful union with the Godhead.
We have seen, therefore, that the grace of God given under the new covenant greatly exceeds in glory the provisions given by the Lord to men under any former set of relationships. We have observed also that the accompanying requirements greatly exceed the former. Truly, much has been given to us. Truly, much is being required of us.
It is a mystery how devout scholars, after studying the Scriptures, ever came to the conclusion that new-covenant grace primarily is an unconditional forgiveness of those who make a profession of belief in Christ and then live careless, lustful, self-centered lives.
If the grace given and the participation expected are so total, so utter, so demanding on God and men, are the opportunities for blessing and glory correspondingly great? Yes, they are.
What rewards and opportunities are available to the participant in the new covenant? The second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation set forth the consequences of overcoming the world, Satan, and our lusts and self-will; of living a victorious Christian life.
By living a victorious Christian life we mean the believer avails himself by faith of the fullness of the Divine grace being offered, and that he gives himself to Christ according to the requirements of the new covenant. Through the grace of the Lord Jesus he overcomes all that is of sin and self-will. When he stumbles and falls he rises again, in the Lord, and continues in the warfare according to the ability God gives. This is what it means to be a true Christian, a true saint, a true member of the Body of Christ, of the Wife of the Lamb, of the new Jerusalem.
We have described in other writings the rewards to the overcomer. The receiving of these rewards is not restricted to the time after we die physically. The rewards of the second and third chapters of Revelation are increments of life, of power, of authority, of Divine Substance being added to us as we conquer and that aid us in gaining still further victories.
When we consider Adam, the patriarchs, Noah, the Israelites, we realize immediately that the grace given to them and the demands made on them did not approach what has been assigned to us and what is being required of us.
There have been exceptions. The requirement to offer Isaac as a burnt offering equaled or surpassed the demands of personal crucifixion placed on many believers under the new covenant. The sufferings of Job have a familiar ring to many Christians. The crying out of Jeremiah, “Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth!” (Jeremiah 15:10) may be heard from a perplexed saint of our own day.
When we examine the rewards being offered to us we can appreciate the superiority of the new covenant. We can see that the new covenant towers above all prior relationships in the opportunities presented to the believer.
What did Adam know about the crown of life? What did Noah understand of the concept of governing the nations with a rod of iron? What did Elijah know about becoming a pillar in the eternal tabernacle of God, of having the name of God’s city written on him, of sitting in the throne with Christ?
These men died in faith, looking for the city having foundations. But we Christians have the substance. Ours is the fullness, the perfection. Apart from us none of the patriarchs and prophets can be made perfect.
As a participant in the new covenant we have the opportunity to become a son of God, to become changed into the image of Christ, to become a brother of Christ, to rule the nations of the earth with a rod of iron, to behold the Face of the Father and to serve Him throughout eternity, to become an eternal part of the new Jerusalem, to become a member of the Body of Christ, of the Body of the Servant of the Lord who will bring justice to the nations, to become a soldier in Christ’s army, to become a priest and judge of God, representing Him among His creatures, to become the covenant of God with people.
Truly, many who are last (in history) will be first (in the Kingdom of God).
The opportunities and rewards are exalted, sublime, marvelous beyond all conception. Christ has called us up to sit with Him in His throne. What else can He offer us? He has given to us all He Himself is. He demands our all. He is holding out to us the throne of the universe.
There is one opportunity and reward that overshadows the other rewards until they become pale in comparison. It is the opportunity to become one with God through Christ.
“that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me. (John 17:21)
To enter total, complete union with Christ in God with all true saints is the greatest of all opportunities. The God of creation is asking for our hand in marriage. This is holy ground and we need “to take our shoes off.” This is holy beyond all holiness.
We cannot conceive of such a marvel. Words cannot describe the glory of union with God through Christ, they only can tell us God has ordained it.
There is one element in man that can comprehend this opportunity of the new covenant. It is the element of love. Somehow we understand that God loves us enough to desire that we be part of Himself for eternity. At the same time we sense the smallness and immaturity of our own personality.
We know our love is not up to the Divine level. We trust that in the future we shall learn to love God. But it surely will require an eternity of eternities before we gain some small idea of the greatness of God’s love for us.
We are unable in the present hour to do more than acknowledge God’s intention and to respond as well as we can.
Under the new covenant, God and Christ have given us Themselves. We can state this but we cannot describe it. They are giving to us more than Their things, They are giving us what They are.
Christ Himself is the Grace given under the new covenant. The gift of Jesus is the gift of God’s Heart.
The Lord requires a like response from us. He is not asking merely for our things, our time, our efforts. God is asking for our heart. He has given all; He is requiring all. God has withheld nothing from us. He will accept nothing less than all we are, all we have, all we do.
The person who does not forsake father, mother, children, the world, and his own life to follow Christ is not worthy of Christ. The believer who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.
God has given all. He expects to receive all in return.
It is impossible to receive the fullness of the grace of the new covenant, or to enter the opportunities and rewards of the new covenant, until we make up our mind to give all we are to Christ. Until we are determined to die in Christ and to live in Christ we cannot participate fully in the new covenant.
- No previous covenant has included the giving of the fullness of God Himself.
- No previous covenant has required that a human being give up his or her own life in its entirety.
- No previous covenant has offered the smallest fraction of the glory available to the participant in the new covenant.
But what about the accompanying punishments for those of the elect who are not willing to devote their whole lives to the pursuit of the Kingdom of God and His righteousness?
As we mentioned before, there is no middle ground. Either we give all we are to God or else we will be chastened severely. The punishments set forth by the Lord Jesus when speaking of sinful, lazy servants are assignment to outer darkness, lashes, and banishment from His Presence. There is weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth in extreme pain of mind and spirit.
There are many references in the New Testament to the fate of the careless, the disobedient, the sinful. They do not paint a pleasant picture. We are exhorted to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
The Kingdom law is as follows: those who know the Master’s will and do not perform it will be beaten with many lashes, while those who do not know the Master’s will and yet do things worthy of lashes will be beaten with few lashes.
The Christian doctrine of today often states the opposite. The teaching is that those who know the Master’s will and do not perform it will be brought by grace to a mansion of gold. Those who do not know His will, who have never heard the Gospel, will be placed in the Lake of Fire for eternity.
It is true rather that to whom much is given, much will be required.
The text of the Book of Hebrews implies that the experienced saints to whom the book is addressed had become complacent. They understood the beginning principles of salvation and had served the Lord joyfully, even when they had their property confiscated. But they were not pressing forward to the rest of God, to perfection.
One would suppose God would remind them that if they did not persevere to the end with the same fervency they had displayed at the time of their conversion they would not receive the fullness of what was being offered.
But God did not speak of diminishing or limiting their inheritance. He warned of destruction!
how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, (Hebrews 2:3)
but if it bears thorns and briars [neglectful Christians], it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:8)
Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition [destruction], but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:38,39)
Either we press through to the fullness of the covenant or else we will be punished more severely than those who know nothing of the covenant.
The punishment of Jesus’ servants who do not serve Him well will be to be thrown into outer darkness.
Note the Kingdom principle of extreme consequences:
‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. (Matthew 25:29)
There is no middle ground here. We finish either as kings or as miserable paupers.
One of the Lord’s servants did not exercise diligence in that which had been given to him. He did not use his grace well, we might say.
Did the Lord Jesus excuse his conduct because he was timid?
‘And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:30)
Because of our traditions, particularly our definitions of faith and grace, the Word of God has been made of no effect. We have presented the new covenant as requiring virtually nothing except our expression of belief that Christ is God’s Son and that He died for our sins on the cross of Calvary.
The result of our neglect of the whole counsel of God is that our preaching is bringing forth self-centered believers who view God and Christ as their servants. The concept of the Gospel of the Kingdom as being a worldwide hope for the future has been impaired greatly. Christ is seen as the present means of enabling us to lose weight; helping us to become a more effective salesman; directing us in acquiring wealth.
Because of the lack of vitality of the present-day Gospel, the concepts and values of humanism are able to alter and color the preaching of the Divine witness.
It is true that if we will acknowledge Christ in all our ways He will guide us in every area of our pilgrimage on the earth, and that we can come to know Christ better through the various aspects of our life on the earth. But such daily help is not the main emphasis of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Rather, it is loving support given to us during the present distress.
Divine grace must never be defined as the removal of the demand for righteous, holy, and obedient behavior on the part of the disciples of the Lord Jesus, or presented as the means of enabling us to obtain self-fulfillment or success in the present world.
The Day of the Lord, the hour when the Lord Jesus descends from Heaven with His “mighty men of valor” to assume His rightful place as King of all the kingdoms of the earth, has been corrupted into an evacuation of a weak “bride.” The bride, because of a “grace” that makes no demands, is unable to do more than to call Jesus “Lord”—and that not from the heart!
Gone is the thunder of the prophets of Israel. Gone is the vision of the Holy One coming from Mount Paran with the horns of irresistible power coming out of His hand. In its place there is the removal to a place of safety of a child-bride before Satan’s forces crush her like the marshmallow she is. She hardly is “terrible as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:10)!
If Christ holds to His Word, the majority of the Christians of our day will be sent into outer darkness, if not into something worse, because of their refusal to accept the lordship of Christ over their lives. Those who have taught these unscriptural concepts will be cast out with them. The teachers who worship their own bellies have changed the sayings of the Book of Revelation.
Perhaps God has winked at the ignorance of the past. But now He is commanding us all to repent.
If we do not repent, turning to Christ with all our heart, we certainly will become an eternal part of Babylon, the false Christian church. We will serve Antichrist. We will drink of the wine of the wrath of God. We will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb.
We have seen, then, that God’s program has not changed from the creation of the world. God always is seeking a creation filled with righteousness and praise in which Christ is the Center and Circumference of every creature and every thing.
Micah 6:8 always has been true. Habakkuk 2:4 always has been true, as the eleventh chapter of Hebrews points out. Second Chronicles 7:14 always has been true.
From Abel through Enoch to the present hour, God is seeking men and women, boys and girls, who will behave righteously, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
There have been saints of every era who have received with thanksgiving the grace given during their day, and then have used that grace to press through to the heart of God.
Then there have been others who, because of the hardness of their heart, have resisted the Holy Spirit. They observed the letter of the covenant and then missed God’s desire entirely.
It is God’s intention that the new covenant produce saints who are superior in faith, in practicing righteousness, in loving mercy, in walking humbly with God, to the saints of every other period of God’s working. The least member of the Kingdom of God is greater than any of the prophets.
But what we are producing today because of our traditions are saints in name only—paper saints!
God is not seeking saints in name only, legal saints, saints by imputation (ascribed righteousness). The Lord wants real, godly, faithful men and women.
Peter and Paul are not saints by imputation. They are examples of the godliness and glory that can be achieved under the new covenant. They need not be ashamed in the company of Enoch, of Daniel, of Elijah, of John the Baptist, of Jesus Himself.
But God is not finished. At the end of the present age, God will bring forth the fullness of redemption. When Jesus comes, the saints of all ages will be raised from the dead. Then all who have loved and served the Lord in truth will be caught up together to receive the fullness of salvation at the hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. We all shall be made perfect together.
Under the new covenant the Lord God of Heaven has given to us All He Himself Is.
Can we offer in return anything less than all that we are?
(“God’s Unfolding Plan”, 3395-1)