I have been pondering the New Covenant and what might happen if we were to dwell on it as the New Testament writers do. We’ve thought about the wonder of sins forgiven, the profound work of God in the hearts of believers, and now for the last post . . . God in the hearts of believers. Or to put it another way, fellowship with the Trinity!
There are many New Testament passages that seem to point to the believer being “in Christ” or “abiding in Him” and the indwelling presence of God, by His Spirit, in the believer, causing us to cry out to our Abba. This mutual indwelling motif is not uncommon. Sadly, nor is our tendency to treat these notions as some sort of technical truth, a legal reality, as it were, and then focus our reading or teaching on our self-driven effort to live good lives, as if only marginally connected to God.
If we go back to the promises of the New Covenant, there is plenty to rock the original recipients back on their heels. Ezekiel 11 looks forward to when “they shall be my people and I shall be their God.” Good stuff, but what is key to this reality? “A new spirit I will put within them.” Later, in chapter 36, after references already in the preceding chapters, God gets more overt on the indwelling Spirit theme; “I will put my Spirit within you” – this is not normal fare in Old Testament times! Remember that a key theme of Ezekiel is that of God’s special presence (or absence) from the temple. The stunning hope of the city, is the reality of the New Covenant believer – The LORD is there. (Eze.48:35)
In Jeremiah God looks back to the Old Covenant, which was also marital in nature, but the New Covenant is different. They will be His people, He will be their God. Meaning? Well, they will all know the LORD. (Jer.31:34)
In Isaiah there is already the marital motif, the indwelling Spirit and the close relationship. In Joel we read of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on all flesh, and a mutual calling – the LORD calling the people, and the people calling on His name. In Zephaniah there is the hope of the LORD being in the midst of Zion, exulting over her with loud singing, quietening her with his love. In Malachi we look forward to the coming Lord of the future covenant.
I suspect that if we spent time pondering the New Covenant, both in its predictive descriptions, and with sensitivity to the New Testament texts, we would find ourselves preaching more a message of wonder than a message of pressure. More a message of delightful description, than a message of demanding duty. More a message pointing to God, than a message pounding on us.
Perhaps we are just so familiar with the New Testament texts that we miss what they are saying. Perhaps our theology somehow overrides what our eyes could see if they looked carefully. The Christian life doesn’t just include fellowship, it is fellowship. And that isn’t just with each other, it is profoundly with God, through His Christ, by His Spirit.
6 thoughts on “Preaching New Covenant and Fellowship with the Trinity”
I am trying to understand the distinctions you are making here. I know these comments are meant to “preach” and not necessarily to “teach,” but it seems somewhat that you are setting up a “straw man” of sorts. No doubt there has been abuse on both sides and always will be, but “message of pressure” and “message pounding on us” is not the same in my mind as the thoughtful but confident admonition to loving obedience. Jesus and the NT apostles all gave commandments, precepts, principles, or rules and certainly expected God’s people to follow them. But they did it in a way that does not come across as “message of pressure” or “message pounding.” Seems that our task is not it ignore the commandments of the NT or principles of the entire Word, but communicate them the way the biblical preachers did. For in the end, faithful obedience is one of the characteristics of the NT saints who are described as, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
Thanks Christian. The distinction I am making is one of orientation, and one of longstanding historical interest. Some camps are oriented toward a pressured self-determined effort toward godliness. Other camps are oriented toward an invitation to respond to God’s love in Christ, which will result in personal holiness. This is a significant difference. Some messages use the text, whatever it may be, to urge the listeners toward self improvement. I think this is an abuse of the text. Other messages offer Christ in such a way that listeners are drawn to Him and are motivated from the heart to want to please God.
I agree with what you wrote: Jesus and the NT apostles all gave commandments, precepts, principles, or rules and certainly expected God’s people to follow them. But they did it in a way that does not come across as “message of pressure” or “message pounding.”
That is my point. I am not anti-instruction, but I am disagreeing with what I hear from some that implies life change is about my determination to obey. The Bible offers a message very different from the pounding and pressuring that moralising sermons offer. (Incidentally, you will find the issue of moralising biblical texts in many preaching text books.)
You write: Seems that our task is not it ignore the commandments of the NT or principles of the entire Word, but communicate them the way the biblical preachers did.
Again I agree wholeheartedly. I have never suggested that we should ignore any of the Bible. If you check the site you will find that I have consistently encouraged readers to preach the whole Word of God and to be careful to preach the text, not just use the text in preaching. So, for instance, when we preach the instruction of Ephesians 4-6, we must not divorce it from the theological setup of chapters 1-3. When we jump in and just preach the sections of commands, we may think we are honouring the text, but actually be losing the setting in which it was intended to be presented.
Perhaps you cannot see the distinction I am making because you have never heard moralising preaching that implies the action is to be found in the will of the listeners. I hope this is the case.
Thanks for your interaction with the site.
Perhaps you are right, I am not sure that I have been exposed to the type of ‘moralistic’ preaching you are referring to. My heroes have been men like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spurgeon, Sproul, Packer, and Piper. Like I said, there have been abuses, but sadly, I also think there are real abuses on the other side. I think many today are using things similar to what you are saying, although clearly not your intention, and repeating the old Keswickian errors, namely, that any intentionality is “fleshly,” or that following or intentionally obeying biblical commandments, even those of Christ and his apostles, is ‘moralism.’ And in many cases, it is hard to get young believers to even read their Bibles, in part, because they run into verses everywhere that “tell them what Christ expects them to do.” And even if you instruct them in the importance/priority of motivation and the grounds/purpose of the obedience, it is ignored. And sadly, by denying one of the means that the Spirit use, they miss much of the joy and fruit of the Christian walk (Jn 15:9-11).
You are right, much of the apostles instructions come in the later chapters of their epistles, after laying the groundwork of our sufficiency in Christ. And that should always be the perspective. But increasingly we only have “1st part Churches,” somehow always conveniently or cleverly avoiding the 2nd half of the books that are also inspired by the Holy Spirit. Like you say we just need again “the whole counsel of God.” Somehow we have gotten this notion that we can preach the texts about what Christ has done and is doing in us, and leave off what he has asked us to do, again the old dualistic model of the “carnal Christian theory,” separating Savior and Lord. BTW, I appreciate your thoughtful responses.
Thanks Christian, indeed the whole of Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. I hope this site will encourage preachers to preach what the text actually is saying in its context, and that it will encourage preachers to preach the whole Bible rather than personal proof texts.
Again, Peter, good stuff. I hear ya loud and clear. We must see the supremacy and priority of Christ, even a Christ who indwells his people as the antitype of the Law, etched on our hearts by His Spirit. This is a real and profound game changer, a wonder indeed.
I tried out preaching for response than pressuring responsibility and drew electric results. It works. But resposibility cannot be thrown overboard. A new and creative approach to it is probably the answer. It also does take some doing to centre on the glorious and loving nature of Christ.