A New Covenant to Become One

“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— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:31-34 NKJV

Just as God promised Abraham, the people of Israel had to obey God’s word and keep their promise with God. Since they came out of Egypt and made a covenant with God on Mount Sinai, they had an obligation to obey the covenant with God. God did not unilaterally demand them to obey just because He is more powerful; it was an agreement. What was the agreement about? ‘If you obey My words and remain in My covenant, I will be your God, and you will be My people. Thus, you and I will become one.’ If we were to explain this in terms of relationships we have in this world, it would be like that of husband and wife.

But the people of Israel had many affairs from the start and disappointed God. However, for the sake of His promise with them and His own name, God forgave them and gave them a second chance again and again. Not just once or twice, but during their time in the desert, it was already ten times that God gave them another chance. God was going to part ways with them but gave them a second chance, and this repeated ten times. And it continued to happen afterwards. Have a read of Judges. Isn’t that what the whole book is about? They disobeyed and got punished. Then they came back to their senses, and when it got peaceful again, they disobeyed again. They got punished again, came back to their senses and obeyed. Isn’t it so much like our lives? We do not give all our might, we do not pray, we do not rely on God, and then when we get sick, we cry out, “God! God!” After depending on God and recovering from the sickness, we become complacent again and lazy. And when something happens, only then we seek God. When things are okay again, we do not worship God. But when something happens to us, it is then that we seek God. This repeats over and over again.

The people of Israel repeatedly did this and were finally warned of calamity – that if they continued in their ways, they will perish. However, they ignored and even killed the prophets who warned them of their destruction. Ultimately, they perished.

Thus, from God’s point of view, these humans are hopeless. Although He established a covenant with them, He concluded that He could not continue His marriage life with them based on that covenant. He never got to have a proper marriage life with them. He was supposed to be their husband and they His wife; He was supposed to be their King and they His people. But this was never accomplished. They never became one.

Since they were so disobedient and showed their true nature, God could have said, “That’s it! I’m not going to be fooled by those humans. They’ve betrayed Me one too many times. That’s it. I’m done with them!” Instead, He deemed that He would not be able to unite with them in that way and decided to change the covenant. How did He change the covenant? The old covenant was that if they listened to and obeyed His words, He would be one with them. But as He decided to make a new covenant with them, this new covenant was this: “I will remember your sins no more and forgive your iniquities.” God did not say He will be with them only if they did not sin. Rather, since He knows they are sinners, that they cannot help but sin and are disobedient, He decided that He will not remember their sins and through His grace and mercy become one with them. That was the new covenant.

And what was required in order for that covenant to be made? The people did not realize this yet. However, it was grace. They needed to receive grace. They needed grace. It was not possible for the people to keep their promise with God. God had already given up His hopes on them. Therefore, it had to be by grace. How can that grace be received, then? God showed us grace through Jesus Christ, which is received by faith. Up until that time, no one knew how to receive grace. But God had already declared regarding His grace. Be declared to them that it will not be according to the old law but by the law of grace. In other words, He would forgive them. But nobody had any idea how that would be manifested. Nevertheless, God already declared so. He declared that they were hopeless. Yet they did not know why they were hopeless. When Jesus came, He revealed it to them. “You are dead in your spirit. You are rotten. You belong to the devil. Since you are under the devil’s control, you act according to the desires of the devil. Therefore, you are hopeless.” This is what He revealed to them.

He taught them that without grace, they cannot be married to Him. Therefore, this covenant which is established by the law of grace is the new covenant. That is when this term was first used here in the book of Jeremiah. Since there is a new covenant, the first covenant becomes an old covenant. Thus, this is also called the Old Testament and the New Testament. The old covenant was established when the Israelites came out of Egypt. In Exodus 19:5, God promised that if they listened to Him and obeyed His words, He would be their God and make them a kingdom of priests. But later on, when God determined that it was not going to work with those people and would have to resort to the law of grace, it was then that these people finally realized and came to their senses. They said, “We can do it now. We learned our lesson. After suffering in Babylon for 70 years, we learned that it was because of our disobedience. So now we will listen and obey.” But God said, “No, you can’t. I know that you haven’t the love for God in you. I don’t have any expectations of you. I will go by the law of grace.” But still, they insisted, “No, we will be able to keep Your words – will keep the Sabbath and we will tithe properly.”

However, a similar incident occurred in the past also. God told them to go to battle. When He told the people of Israel to defeat and capture the city, the people were afraid and discouraged, saying to Him, “Are you trying to destroy us?” And they refused to go. God was furious with them and told them that His relationship with them was no more, and He would no longer be with them. And when God sent a plague upon them, that is when they turned back and admitted they did wrong and said, “We will now go. We will go to fight. We’ve learned our lesson.” But God told them clearly, “Don’t go. I won’t be with you. Going out to battle now will be useless.” Yet they insisted, “No, we will go.” And they did. They did not go when they were told to and went when they were told not to. So they all died. These people would do it when told not to and not when told to. In the same way, when God told them to keep their promise, they failed to. But when God gave them a new covenant, they decided they will obey. Such people were the Pharisees.

So the law of grace did not just suddenly appear; it was already declared by the prophets that a new covenant had come. But the people who ignored it and tried by their own righteousness brought calamity upon themselves. Look at what God chose. In the moment of decision, He did not decide to throw away the people who deserved to perish. Instead, He decided that He would even change His own covenant (remember that God’s word that comes from His mouth does not change) in order to be with them. That is what He chose to do. Have a think about how fervent He was to be with them and how steadfast His will is.

Though we came to believe in Jesus, the fact we worry about ‘what if God leaves me since I haven’t been praying much these days’ demonstrates our ignorance of God. The fact that we are afraid the Holy Spirit might depart from us because we committed a few sins is evidence of how little we know God! If God went to such lengths to be with us to the point that He made His Son shed His blood, then despite our weaknesses and iniquities, whatever they might be, God is willing to take them and wants to bear them because what He wants most of all is for us to be one with Him. No matter how grave our sins might be. Presently, we might say we are quite mature and that we are doing the Lord’s work, but who is able to do that from the very moment He receives Jesus?

Although people rejoice and feel happy at first when they have faith in Jesus, since some of their old habits still remain and thus sin again and again, the devil attacks them by telling them, “How can someone like you be one with God?” In those times, when they have lost all confidence and feel unworthy, some people do depart from God. Those people say that they will return to God later once they become holy. But they have no idea about what God actually wants. They do not know what great lengths God has gone to in order to be with them, which is why they doubt God. Also, there are people who are doubtful of whether God loves them. These people do not know what God has done. God has done so much to be with the sinners and love them to the end, and yet they simply do not know God. Just because of their weaknesses and faults, they start doubting God’s love for them, despite God’s promise, being baptized in Jesus’ name and receiving the Holy Spirit – God’s seal.

Also, we have many testimonies. But only a week after we share a testimony, we are already doubting if God is really with us or if He pays any attention to us. For example, we went to a church camp the previous year and testified how God was with us. But not even a year later, we start to think that God has not heard our prayers or that He left us because of some hardships we might have faced along the way. How changeful are we humans and how ignorant we are of God!

But think about the work God has been doing for thousands of years. It was to achieve this. Despite humans’ inability to keep it, God went ahead and even changed His own covenant, making every sacrifice for humankind. His changing of His covenant was not to disadvantage man nor pass on something new to man. Instead, it was about God taking it all upon Himself. Although we said He changed the covenant, do not think that this nullified the old one completely. God fulfilled every requirement of the old covenant that man was supposed to obey; He made every sacrifice necessary. In doing so, He gave us a gift that requires nothing from us. Not only that, the word He gives us now is no longer written on stone tablets but on the tablets of our hearts. This means each person does not need to be told to know God anymore because each person will be able to meet God personally.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say somebody came up to me, maybe the Lord’s Day school teacher, and she explains to me about my son as if she knows him better than I do. That would be silly, wouldn’t it? Just because she spent some time with him at the camp, if she comes up to me and tries to tell me about my son and what kind of a person he is, it would be ridiculous wouldn’t it? In the same way, it would also be a ridiculous situation if someone goes to another person and explains who God is. Why? Because each person will experience God. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in each person. If the Holy Spirit dwells within each person, does He need somebody else’s explanation about God and be told to know God? That would be ridiculous. Presently, God dwells inside of us. The name Jesus is within us. We have the definitive proof that God loves us within us. So wouldn’t it be silly to have others tell us and remind us that God loves us? God even gave His name to us already. So isn’t it absurd and nonsensical that we would need somebody else to tell us that God loves us?

In this way, God has clearly poured His love into our hearts, given His words into our hearts and even His name so that God’s will will be done. This was what was promised through the Prophet Jeremiah ahead of time.

To fulfil this, God said He will forgive them their sins. He said He will forgive and that He will remember it no more. He already declared that. Yet people are still struggling on their own, trying not to sin. That is why they get cursed.

Thus, whoever does not acknowledge God’s grace does not acknowledge His love. Whoever acknowledges God’s love must know that God has forgiven his sins, and though it is hard even for himself to accept who he is, he must understand that God accepts him and still wants to be one with him.

If we commit an atrocious sin and we have no boldness to stand before God nor pray, what should we do? If we have committed such a serious sin that we can’t even dare ask God to forgive us, what can we do? The only thing we can do then is to still go before God. And if we call upon the name of the Lord and seek forgiveness, He will surely forgive us, hold us by our hands and be with us. That is what our God wants the most. He does not want sinners to perish; He wants them to know the truth and be with the Lord.

Thus, what is our God’s greatest wish? That we become one with Him. He wants to be one with sinners. It truly is a remarkable wish of God. It did not originate from us, but from God, so we can count on it. Therefore, if we do really know God, there is no way we can doubt Him. We cannot utter words of doubt like, “Does God really love me?” After I came to know this, I have not the slightest doubt about God’s love. All the struggles I went through to check if God loves me or not became meaningless. Because I know now for certain that He loves me, I just want to do any work that He whom I love commands me to do. Yes, it gets hard sometimes. But I am not worried about if God still loves me during those hard times. They are just some challenges I may face as I am doing the works of Him whom I love. They are not the results of Him abandoning me.

Thus, as the people who received grace, we must stand firmly upon the love of God. We should not have the slightest doubt about that. Let us pray that we can abide deeply in the love of God all the days of our lives.

Father God, help us, who have received such great love, to not waver within this love again. Please assist us in remaining steadfast within this firm foundation and making every effort to truly obey Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on November 20, 2012
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team