We will now turn to a second essential characteristic of the New Covenant. Not only is the New Covenant heavenly in nature, as discussed in part one, it is also spiritual in nature. As we shall see, the fundamental character of the Old Covenant was, and is, soulish and external, whereas the New Covenant is essentially spiritual and internal. Or put another way, the former works from the outside in, while the latter works from the inside out. It is vital that we understand this distinction, for it is possible as Christians to be justified according to the provision of the New Covenant, and yet to attempt to work out our sanctification according to the principle of the Old Covenant. The inevitable result is spiritual limitation, frustration and bondage.
It is likewise possible as the church corporately to fall short of a living, spiritual expression of the ekklesia according to the life of the New Covenant and end up living in an outwardly-imposed religious form of the ekklesia according to the deadness of the Old Covenant. Such a thing is not only possible, but the long history of the Church shows that, given enough time, it is all but inevitable. Only a deep revelation in the heart as to the essential nature of the New Covenant can deliver us from the persistent and perilous tendency towards Old Covenant-style personal and corporate religion.
Two Covenants, Two Men
In order to clearly discern the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, it is helpful to first see the fundamental difference between the “first Adam” and the “last Adam”. The nature of these two covenants is inherently bound up with the nature of these two men.
Isaiah tells us that Jehovah’s Servant, the Messiah, will be given “as a covenant to the people.” (Isaiah 42:6) The New Covenant, therefore, is summed up and embodied in Christ. Because He is the covenant, the covenant takes on the character of who He is. Paul gives us insight into the nature of Christ, “the last Adam”, in 1 Corinthians 15:45-46:
“And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.”
Here we see that “the last Adam” is “spiritual”; whereas, “the first man Adam” was “natural”. The last Adam became a “life-giving spirit”; whereas the first Adam became a “living (natural) being”. The nature of the New Covenant, therefore, is essentially spiritual and life-giving according to the nature of Christ; whereas the Old Covenant is essentially natural (soulish), and, therefore, death-producing due to the unregenerate nature of Adam and his descendants to whom it was given.
Two Covenants, Two Trees
To unfold this further, we need to go back to the Garden of Eden, and to the two unique trees that were planted there. Here we see that God created man in His image and placed him in the Garden. In that garden there were three types of trees in all:
“The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:8)
The majority of the trees planted there were of the first type: “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” These were created to feed the physical part of man. Secondly, there was the “tree of life”. This tree was created to feed the spiritual part of man with the uncreated life of God. Thirdly, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was placed there, and if partaken of, would feed the soulish part of man with a self-obtained, self-accountable knowledge of good and evil.
Adam was given a commandment not to eat of this last tree, lest he die. God’s intention was that man would primarily be a spiritual being living in union and inner dependence upon God who is Spirit. Man’s soul (composed of mind, will, and emotions) was created to be in subjection to his spirit, with his body under the control of his soul. This was God’s divine order. Because Adam chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, his soul came out from under the control of his spirit, and rose independently to a place of predominance. As a consequence of this disobedience, God forbade him access to the tree of life. His spirit was thereby cut off from the God-given means of feeding on the life of God, and thereby obtaining eternal life. Having also gained a soulish knowledge of good and evil, he was now personally accountable for the moral awareness he possessed. Any violation of this knowledge would constitute sin for him, for which he would have to give an account. The judgment of death was now deserved and impending.
Through his transgression, therefore, Adam became an independent, soul-centered being, who was cut off from the indwelling life and reality of the spiritual realm. His fallen soul grew and developed in self-awareness, self-importance, and self-interest. He likewise became increasingly enslaved to the senses and desires of his physical body and to the sensual pleasures of the physical world around him.
It was to the fallen children of Adam that the Old Covenant was given. Because of their spiritually unregenerate state, they could only enter into it according to their natural man. God no longer had the avenue of the spiritual senses through which to reveal Himself and His Word, so everything in the Old Covenant had to be external and material. That which was heavenly and spiritual had to be symbolically represented, or physically manifested, so that it was perceptible and understandable to the natural mind through the natural senses.
The Law was written on lifeless tablets of stone, and obedience was a matter of outward works through the self–imposed constraint of one’s own mind and will. In essence, the Old Covenant was a soulish religion that worked to externally reform the natural man, but it lacked the life-giving power to create a spiritual man from the inside out. Like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Law looked good…it tasted good…and it was profitable for gaining wisdom, but in the end it produced death, not life; condemnation, not righteousness. This is why Paul called it a “ministration of death” and a “ministration of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:7-8 KJV).
God’s intention, however, was never to merely reform, refine, or reshape the natural man through the “good side” of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The soul can never become spiritual through its own effort and external input alone. It can only become “religious” and moral. Only the Spirit can make the soul spiritual, and the Lord is ultimately after that which is spiritual, not that which is “religious”. He is out to make a brand new creation, not merely to give the old creation a “make-over”! It must be kept in mind that the “good side” of this tree is just as deadly as the “evil side”!
In order to usher in God’s ultimate intention, therefore, the last Adam had to come and bring an end to all that was associated with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In righteousness, therefore, He fulfilled, summed up in Himself, and nailed to the tree, the Law, “that was against us…and took it out of the way” (Colossians 2:14). Not only so, but He identified with, gathered into Himself, and then crucified, the entirety of the fallen Adamic race that had partaken of its deadly fruit. Finally, as He hung there on the tree, blood dripping from His bruised heal, He forever crushed the ancient Serpent’s head. All that was inherent in, and associated with the Fall, was judged and triumphed over at the cross.
The last Adam thereby conquered death, and through resurrection, became “a life-giving spirit”. Ascending to the Father’s right hand, He sat down as the “Heavenly Man”, the Head of a brand new race. There, as Mediator of the New Covenant, He sprinkled His own blood on the throne of God, and opened up for all “the new and living way” (Hebrews 10:20). The way to the “tree of life” is now no longer blocked by cherubim and flashing sword. We are all bidden to come and freely partake of His gracious gift of life. This gift flows to the spirit of man as he partakes of Christ by faith, bringing life, light, righteousness and power to his entire being and transforming him from the inside out.
The New Covenant, therefore, is a covenant of life and grace. It is according to the nature of the “last Adam”, and of the “tree of life”. It is heavenly and spiritual, rather than natural and soulish. It works from the inside out, restoring God’s original order back to man as to his spirit, soul and body. The laws of God are written on the living tablets of the heart and mind by the Spirit, and obedience becomes a matter of fruit-bearing as the Spirit causes us to walk in His statutes and keep His judgments (Ezekiel 36:27). In this way, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” sets us “free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 12:1-2) Likewise, by this same Spirit, we are transformed into Christ’s image with ever-increasing glory, as we steadfastly behold the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18)
From beginning to end, the New Covenant is spiritual, and it is life-giving.
* * *