Centuries before the New Testament was written, God declared the need for a new covenant. According to the book of Jeremiah, this new covenant was needed because the old covenant had been broken through the spiritual unfaithfulness of Israel.
Jeremiah 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers … my covenant that they broke… ESV
The first covenant was a covenant based upon man’s ability to perform. “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” (Ex 19:5) In the first covenant, God promised to bless them – ‘IF’ – they faithfully obeyed His commands. Scripture teaches us that the Jews failed to fulfill their part of the covenant and therefore the first covenant was broken.
At this point, God could have cast them off forever. He could have turned His back on them and even destroyed them. Yet He chose instead to love them. God said: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3) But how could God continue to love Israel, when Israel had broken the covenant? God declared His everlasting love by establishing a new covenant; a covenant based not upon man’s ability to perform, but upon God’s willingness to be gracious.
Jeremiah 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD, ‘for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” ESV
The new covenant does many wonderful things that the old covenant could never do. For instance:
The old covenant had the Law of God written on tablets of stone
The new covenant has the Law of God written upon the heart
The old covenant tried to conform us from the ‘outside in’
The new covenant transforms us from the ‘inside out’
The old covenant declared us guilty whenever we failed to act according to the standard (the Law)
The new covenant declares our sins to be forgiven and forgotten forever
The old covenant was based upon man’s ability to do what was right
The new covenant is based the Spirit working in our lives (see Ezek 36:27)
The new covenant is almost too good to be true and it is for that reason that many struggle with living under it. Even though they say they are saved by grace, they continue to think that they must somehow earn Gods’ favor and love. Yet in their effort to please God, they fail to realize that the new covenant is a covenant of grace.
Why would God establish such a wondrous covenant? Scripture says that He has done so to the ‘praise of the glory of His grace.’ (Ephesians 1:6) God has made a new and everlasting covenant so that we might praise Him forever for being so merciful and gracious.