Everybody on planet Earth is born in covenant with God. When Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, he broke the covenant God made with humanity. And since Adam represented every human being, we’re all born under this broken covenant. It’s sometimes called the covenant of works. Adam was called to serve and obey God as his covenant Lord, and his disobedience brought guilt and sin to us all (Rom. 5:12ff.).
So God entered into other covenants to bring us back to him. Not every biblical covenant is redemptive, through. In God’s covenant with Noah and all creation (Gen. 8:20–9:17), for example, God only promised to sustain the world. He promised not to flood the world and destroy it again. He would uphold all things by his providence until the very end of time. Everybody, and all of creation, is still under the Noahic covenant, but we’re not saved by this covenant.
In his covenant with Israel, often called the Mosaic Covenant or Old Covenant or the Law, God set aside a particular ethnic group to be his holy nation. The apostle Paul says this covenant served a purpose, but it was always meant to pass away. He writes, “Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone (the Mosaic Covenant), came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it” (2 Cor.s 3:7–10).
In other words, the Mosaic Covenant was glorious, but it has been replaced by the “ministry of the Spirit”: the New Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant had a built-in obsolescence. It existed for a time, specifically for Israel.
Why did God make this covenant through Moses if it was going to be set aside? Paul says it “was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). So we’re no longer under the Law. Under the New Covenant, we receive the free forgiveness of our sins, on the basis of faith alone. Because we’re free from condemnation, we’re empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit to obey God with joy.
It’s important for us to see that God administers his rule differently in these various covenants. If you don’t get that, you’re going to put yourself back under the Law. You’re going to try to justify yourself on the basis of of deeds. Paul says, “No, don’t do that.” Jesus has established a new covenant for us, through his body and blood.
Dig deeper with these free resources from Core Christianity:
These clear and concise PDFs answer some of your toughest questions about the Christian faith:
How Do Christians Relate to the Law?, Why Do You Talk About the Difference Between Law and Gospel?, Why Did the Sabbath Change to Sunday?