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为何旧约失效了

作者:乔•克鲁斯 牧师日期:2012-07-24 5:6:19浏览数:22710
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为何旧约失效了

前些日子,在一场布道会结束时,我下了讲台,快步走向前门,想要去和大家打招呼。忽然,三个年轻人拦住了我的去路。他们中间的一个人和我说话时嗓门相当大。他说,“乔弟兄,你今天晚上宣讲第七日的安息日,把我们又带回到了旧约之下,我们对你讲的内容很失望。你难道不知道我们现在生活在新约之下,应该遵守星期日、而不是安息日吗?”

那个年轻人的质疑代表了今天许许多多基督徒的心声,他们打心眼儿里相信,由十诫构成的旧约在基督钉十字架时就消失了,因此不再适用于今天靠恩得救的基督徒。这是正确的前提吗?如果是,那我们真的需要弄清楚这个原则,好避免极度律法主义的陷阱。另一方面,如果十诫仍旧有效,那么,贬损这些伟大的道德律例,哪怕只是其中的一条,也是最最不幸的错误。

没有人能够否认旧约圣经中有一些将十诫指作盟约的陈述;然而,我们在这里要表明的是,十条诫命并非是被废除的旧约。

但是,在深入查考这个倍受关注的题目之前,我们需要定义,究竟什么是真正的“约”。约有许多种,形式也各不相同,但最基本的,“约”是指甲乙双方基于互相的承诺而达成的一种协议。历代以来,上帝一直是以约为基础与祂的子民交往。上帝是讲道理的上帝,他对我们说,“你们来,我们彼此辩论。”(以赛亚书1:18)

有的时候,上帝与个人达成协定,比如摩西、亚伯拉罕和大卫;而有时则与以色列通国立约。但是,最伟大、最重要的约却是早在这个世界存在以前就立下的。那是圣父与圣子之间,为可能出现的罪而立定的约。耶稣在万古以先就将自己献上,作为“从创世以来……被杀的羔羊。”(启示录书13:8)倘若亚当和夏娃选择了犯罪,那么祂将甘愿成为代死的牺牲,去拯救人类。

这一永约的内容从未被更改或替代。尽管在历史的长河中立定了许多其它的契约,但是,因信得救的简明条款却永远有效,这约乃是为全人类所预备的。

然而,引起最多误解的约,被希伯来书的作者称为“旧的约”。作者还提到,新约要远胜于旧约。以下是他描述两约的话:“如今耶稣所得的职任是更美的,正如祂作更美之约的中保;这约原是凭更美之应许立的。那前约若没有瑕疵,就无处寻求后约了。所以主指责祂的百姓说:日子将到,我要与以色列家和犹大家另立新约,不像我拉着他们祖宗的手,领他们出埃及的时候,与他们所立的约。因为他们不恒心守我的约,我也不理他们。这是主说的。主又说:那些日子以后,我与以色列家所立的约乃是这样:我要将我的律法放在他们里面,写在他们心上;我要作他们的上帝,他们要作我的子民。……我要宽恕他们的不义,不再记念他们的罪愆。既说新约,就以前约为旧了;但那渐旧渐衰的,就必快归无有了。”(希伯来书8:6-13)

这段描述使我们对旧约的命运,再没有什么疑惑。它被弃置一旁,被“有更美的应许”的新约所取代。很自然地,我们非常有兴趣知道所有关于新约的事,这新约中上帝要将律法放在我们里面、写在我们心上。但我们也需要了解那归于无有的旧约的性质。许多教会教导旧约就是十诫律法。人们夸耀自己已经从律法之下被拯救出来,并且宣称自己已从旧约时代的束缚行为之约,步入了新约时代的荣耀自由之约。

旧约不是十诫

这是圣经上的观点吗?了解旧约不是什么,和了解它是什么一样重要。现在让我们来看三条肯定的证据,即:归于无有的旧约不是十诫。之后,我们要对比经文、以经解经,来认定旧约究竟是什么。

首先,我们注意到,旧约中的应许是不完美的。而新约则是“凭更美之应许立的。” (希伯来书8:6)那么,请告诉我,谁能从十诫中找出一点不完美的应许呢?决不可能。相反,保罗宣称,它们是非常美善的。“你们作儿女的,要在主里听从父母,这是理所当然的。‘要孝敬父母,使你得福,在世长寿。’这是第一条带应许的诫命。”(以弗所书6:1-3)

单这段陈述就足以表明,希伯来书的作者并不是在控诉道德律法的应许中有任何不完美之处。那么旧约,不论它是什么,但决不是指十诫。

有关旧约的第二个问题就是,它是有缺点的。圣经上说,“那前约若没有瑕疵,就无处寻求后约了。”(希伯来书8:7)请问:有谁曾在上帝的手笔中找到过错误或瑕疵呢?作诗的人宣称,“耶和华的律法全备,能苏醒人心。”(诗篇19:7)保罗写到,“这样看来,律法是圣洁的,诫命也是圣洁、公义、良善的。”(罗马书7:12)

这听起来像是不完美、不完全吗?没有律法可以同时既完全又有瑕疵。越来越明显,旧约不可能是十诫。

最后一点,当然,关于旧约,我们读到的最难以理解的一点就是,它被废除了!“既说新约,就以前约为旧了;但那渐旧渐衰的,就必快归无有了。”(希伯来书8:13)现在我们要提出一个严肃的问题,应该能使所有关于这件事的疑惑烟消云散。问题就是:伟大的十诫道德律法废除了吗?任何读过新约圣经的人必定回答,当然没有!关于律法,保罗明确表示,律法不仅没有被废除,他还断言了恰恰相反的事实。他问道,“这样,我们因信废了律法吗?断乎不是!更是坚固律法。”(罗马书3:31)

是圣经本身自相矛盾吗?一样事物能够同时既渐消失又被坚固吗?关于律法,同一位作者会前后两舌吗?可以肯定的是,保罗并没有说,旧约就是律法。把罗马书3章31节中的“律法”换成“旧约”,看看结果是什么:“这样,我们因信废了旧约吗?断乎不是!更是坚固旧约。”

这根本就是无稽之谈,不是吗?旧约已经不存在了,就不能再这样谈坚固。很显然,我们看到,已经终止的约不可能是十诫。

旧约是什么?

知道了旧约并非十诫之后,现在我们准备着手从圣经中具体确认旧约指的到底是什么。要这样做,必须回到圣经的出埃及记。许多人没有看出,西奈山涉及到的其实不止一个约。上帝呼召摩西上山,是在祂赐下律法并在祂和祂百姓之间提议立约之前:“摩西到上帝那里,耶和华从山上呼唤他说:‘你要这样告诉雅各家,晓谕以色列人说:……如今你们若实在听从我的话,遵守我的约,就要在万民中作属我的子民,因为全地都是我的。你们要归我……为圣洁的国民。’这些话你要告诉以色列人。”(出埃及记19:3-6)

请注意上帝是如何要摩西向百姓提出祂的建议的。这里包括了一个正规契约的全部要素。条件和应许两厢立定。以色列人若接受上帝的提议,这约就此建立。那以色列人是如何回应这一神圣建议的呢?“摩西去召了民间的长老来,将耶和华所吩咐他的话都在他们面前陈明。百姓都同声回答说:‘凡耶和华所说的,我们都要遵行。’”(出埃及记19:7,8)

只要这答复一送达上帝那里,旧约的基础就奠定了。但在这约正式实施之前,必须在其上盖一个封印或加以认可使其生效。这仪式性的侍奉包含将一头公牛的血撒在百姓身上,出埃及记24章4至8节如此描述说:“摩西将耶和华的命令都写上。清早起来,在山下筑一座坛,按以色列十二支派立十二根柱子,又打发以色列人中的少年人去……向耶和华献平安祭。摩西将血一半盛在盆中,一半撒在坛上;又将约书念给百姓听。他们说:‘耶和华所吩咐的,我们都必遵行。’摩西将血撒在百姓身上,说:‘你看!这是立约的血,是耶和华按这一切话与你们立约的凭据。’”

我们再次看到,这约不是律法本身,而是“这一切话”的凭据。十诫是这协定的基础。百姓答应要遵守律法,反过来,上帝应许要赐福他们。整个过程中的致命缺陷就在于以色列人答应约定的方式。他们并没有提出,自己不能完全顺从上帝的所有要求;也没有表示自己需要神圣的帮助。而是坚持说,“我们能行。”他们的话充满了自信。“耶和华所吩咐的,我们都必遵行。”

他们能保证信守自己的允诺吗?尽管反复保证了,但很不幸,在摩西还没有带着石版下山之前他们就违背了自己的诺言。看到旧约中之应许的不足了吗?

希伯来书的涵义开始向我们展明。希伯来书中说上帝“指责祂的百姓,”(希伯来书8:8)祂说,“因为他们不恒心守我的约,我也不理他们。”(第9节)在双方的约定中,过错完全在人这一方。因此,可以清楚看明,为何保罗在希伯来书第8章中论到旧约时写下了这样的话。这旧约的确产生了束缚,它被证实是有瑕疵的,它的应许也不完全,并归于无有,所有的一切都是因为百姓没有遵守约定中他们应尽的义务。综上所述,不难看出为何必须要有一个更美的应许。

为什么新约的应许会更美呢?因为新约是上帝立定的,人们遵守新约也是单靠上帝的力量才能确保成功。“我要将我的律法放在他们里面……我要作他们的上帝……我要宽恕他们的不义,不再纪念他的罪愆。”(希伯来书8:10-12)

新约如何生效呢?和旧约正式生效的方式一样——要靠流血。但不是再流公牛的血,上帝无罪的儿子要洒下宝血:“但愿赐平安的上帝,就是那凭永约之血、使群羊的大牧人——我主耶稣从死里复活的上帝,在各样善事上成全你们,叫你们遵行祂的旨意;又藉着耶稣基督在你们心里行祂所喜悦的事。”(希伯来书13:20,21)

这与以色列人在西奈山凭着血气所作的无力的保证是何等的不同啊!不再是百姓的“我们都必遵行,”上帝新约的应许是要“在各样善事上成全你们……在你们心里行(直译为作工)。”它不再凭人的努力,那不是你在行,而是上帝“在你们心里作工。”那么,这种能力如何“凭永约之血”有效呢?就凭耶稣在十字架上所作的。

新约基于转变

这使我们看到了实施新约的核心所在。顺从之所以变得可能,是因为上帝的律法写在了人的心上。通过属灵的重生,人的心思意念转变了。基督切实地进入了信祂之人的生命中,将自己的能力给予他们,使他们能够顺从。最软弱的人类藉着与神圣的性情有份,便开始过耶稣基督那样的生活,彰显祂的胜利,并将肉体钉在十字架上。

保罗用以下的话描述了这种交换。“律法既因肉体软弱,有所不能行的,上帝就差遣自己的儿子,成为罪身的形状,作了赎罪祭,在肉体中定了罪案,使律法的义成就在我们这不随从肉体、只随从圣灵的人身上。”(罗马书8:3,4)

“义”这个字的希腊文是“dikaima”,意思是——律法“公正的要求”。换句话说,正是因为耶稣在肉身无罪的生活,律法的要求才能成就在我们里面。祂以与我们相同的身体战胜了罪恶,因此才能将祂的胜利分赐给我们。如果我们同意,耶稣就能在我们属世的身体上活出祂圣洁的、脱离罪恶的生活。对于所有相信上帝、将自己托付给上帝的孩子来说,这就是新约的应许。并且这是唯一能达到律法要求的方式:“基督在你们心里成了[有]荣耀的盼望。”(歌罗西书1:27)“并且我如今在肉身活着,是因信上帝的儿子而活;祂是爱我,为我舍己。”(加拉太书2:20)

要知道,写在我们心上的新约的律法和刻在石版上的律法是完全相同的,这一点至关重要。那些伟大的属灵原则反映了上帝的品格,构成了祂政权的基础。区别不在于律法本身,而在于律法写在了何处。写在石头上,它只能定罪并致死亡,“原来体贴肉体的……不服上帝的律法。”(罗马书8:7)但这同一律法,被我们接进心中,经基督改变人心的恩典圣化,就成了一种喜乐。蒙爱的约翰宣称,“我们遵守上帝的诫命,这就是爱祂了,并且祂的诫命不是难守的。”(约翰一书5:3)对于那些被上帝圣灵充满的儿女,这律法非但不是难守的,而且他们可以欢喜快乐地顺从这律法。诗人写到,“我的上帝啊,我乐意照祢的旨意行;祢的律法在我心里。”(诗篇40:8)

耶稣被钉之后,新约并无改变

既然新约是以基督的血立定的,那很显然,耶稣死在十字架上之前,它就不能生效。这个关键的事实不应该被忽略。永远的生命或永远的死亡就取决于对这一关键问题是否有正确的理解。保罗写到,“凡有遗命,必须等到留遗命的人死了;因为人死了,遗命才有效力,若留遗命的尚在,那遗命还有用处吗?”(希伯来书9:16,17)“遗命”与“约”在希腊原文中是同一个字。只有当一个人死后,他最后的愿望和遗嘱的条款才能执行。同样,基督的约或遗命乃是当祂在髑髅地死后,才坚定了这约,即开始实施。

另一处经文更加清楚地说明了这个问题:“弟兄们,我且照着人的常话说:虽然是人的文约,若已经立定了,就没有能废弃或加增的。”(加拉太书3:15)保罗是说,一个人死后,他的遗命或约就不能再更改。立遗嘱的人死后就不能再有任何新的附加条款,他的遗嘱就永远不变地确定了。基督死后,在祂拯救人类的条款之上,就再不能作任何改变。这约的条件已藉着流血而盖印立定了。耶稣藉着祂无罪生活的完美榜样,清楚地列出了每一个要求,并且藉着圣灵,将祂所高举之律法的条款也印在每一位信祂之人的心上。

在新约的条款之下,没有任何一个人会被留在绝望中,独自与自身堕落本性中的强烈欲望作战。“罪在哪里显多,恩典就更显多了。”(罗马书5:20)根植于上帝不变本性中的永恒应许会提供给我们能力,去克胜所有先天遗传和后天养成的弱点。难怪圣经要强调这个荣耀之新约中的“更美应许”呢!

现在就容易理解耶稣在临死前所作的一些事了。例如,祂为何要在自己身体遭到残害之前设立圣餐礼。在星期五痛苦地死去之前,也就是星期四的夜里,耶稣在楼上那间屋子里与众门徒相聚。耶稣拿起杯来,说,“这是我立约的血,为多人流出来,使罪得赦。”(马太福音26:28)

基督在流血之前说这些话不是很奇怪吗?祂在为一件还没发生的事命定记念!为什么?因为这礼节必须在祂死前向人讲解明白,为要使其处于新约之下。祂死后就不能增加什么了。

现在,回到这篇小册子开头讲的那个故事。当时,我刚刚在一次布道会上讲完有关安息日的题目。就在我走下讲台和准备离开的人们打招呼时,三个年轻人在过道里拦住了我。他们其中一个人和我说话时,声音大得,足以使听众席前边的五十个人停下脚步并要听听他讲什么。

他说,“乔弟兄,我们对你今天晚上的讲道非常失望,你又把我们放在旧约之下了。难道你不清楚我们现在生活在新约之下、应该遵守星期日,而不是安息日吗?”

尽管大多数听众已经离开了会堂,但靠近前面讲台的人还是围了过来,要听听那几个年轻人说什么。显然,我必须得花时间回答这三个人挑衅性的问题。正当我寻思他们是不是附近圣经学院的在校学生时,他们已经把圣经拿在手里,耀武扬威地等着我的回答。

通常我不愿意在公共场合针对有争议的问题与人辩论,因为我担心这会挑起人本性中好战的性情,但是,据眼前的情况,我无法避免当众回应这些神学院的学生了。不管怎样,他们已经彻底堵住了我的去路,而且围观的听众都在以期待的目光等待我的解释。

“呃,看来你们对两约这个题目已经有很深的研究,”我试探性地问。

“那当然,”他们肯定道,“关于两约所有的东西我们都知道。”

“很好,”我回答道,“那你们一定知道旧约是何时创立的吧?”

“旧约始自西奈山,”他们其中一个抢过我的话头说。

“那它是如何生效的呢?”我问。

“靠撒一头公牛的血,”他们其中一个毫不犹豫地回答。

“很好,”我说,“那么,新约是如何生效的呢?”

“靠耶稣在十字架上的血,”他们三个齐声回答。

我称赞了这几个年轻人对于圣经知识的了解,我请他们用自己的圣经给我读两处圣经章节:希伯来书9章16、17节,还有加拉太书3章15节。他们很高兴地接受了邀请,其中一个开始读经,边读边发表评论。“我们也认为基督若没有死,新约就不能成立,并且我们也知道,祂在十字架上立定这约后,就不能再加增或废弃的了。”他们的发言人插入这段话,三人都使劲儿点头表示赞同。

我说,“现在你们必须再回答我两个问题。第一个,你们一定要仔细思考并告诉我正确的答案:遵守星期日是什么时候开始的?”接下来是令人窒息的沉默,沉默在继续,还是沉默。几个年轻人面面相觑,然后就盯着自己的脚尖看,最后回过头来看我。我温和地鼓励他们,“你们肯定能回答这个问题。刚才那几个问题你们都知道,回答得很好嘛。你们认为什么时候、为什么人们开始遵守星期日呢?”

最后,他们中的一个说道,“我们遵守星期日是为了纪念耶稣的复活。”我说,“现在,请回答我最后一个问题。持守星期日是怎样成为新约的一部分的呢?你们刚刚说过,基督死后,那约就不能再增加什么了。基督死在星期五,星期日复活。如果星期日是在耶稣死后增加的,它根本就不能成为新约的一部分,不是吗?”

三个小伙子在地上蹭着脚,束手无策地看着周围,其中一个说,“我们会再深入研究一下,以后再和您探讨。”然后,他们就飞也似地跑出了礼堂。我还可以保证,他们再也不会回来和我进一步探讨两约的问题了。

事情的真相是,就算遵守星期日是在基督复活的当天开始的,那它也是新约立定三天之后的事了,已经太迟了,不能再算作新约的内容。然而,圣经和历史都证明,使徒时代的教会从未遵守过星期日。遵守星期日是很久以后另加上去的,是从初代教会中就开始的渐行渐远的背道的结果。背道及至公元330年达到顶峰——教会向罗马皇帝君士坦丁作了妥协与让步,接受了异教太阳教的星期日。

几百万现代教会的信徒,都认为星期日是圣日,是用来纪念基督复活的。基督的确是在七日的第一日复活,但圣经中从未吩咐我们尊那日为圣。钉十字架和复活这些事对每个基督徒都意义重大,但圣经中没有任何一处暗示我们当遵守星期五或星期日啊!唯一被吩咐作为每周崇拜日的一天,就是一周的第七日,这安息日是耶稣在七日创造中设立并遵守的,也同样是祂和祂百姓在将来永恒的岁月中要一起遵守的。(创世纪2:1-3;以赛亚书66:22, 23)

拒绝星期日崇拜的最强有力的原因就是,它未包括在由耶稣的死所立定之新约的要求之中。如果基督想要人们通过遵守星期日纪念祂的复活,祂会在那个星期四晚上,最后的晚餐上把它介绍出来。那么,它就会和圣餐礼、洗脚礼一道,成为新约的一部分。耶稣毫不犹豫地命令人们遵守有关祂死的礼节,尽管那事还没有发生。同样,祂当然也可以很容易地命人遵守有关祂复活的礼仪,那也是将来的事,好使其也成为新约的一部分。但祂并没有那样做!在保罗关于自己死后教会将会出现背道的预言开始应验之前,也没有人遵守星期日。(使徒行传20:29,30)保罗还说到,将有离道反教的事发生,并导致敌基督者显露出来。(帖撒罗尼迦后书2:3,4)事情的真相是,圣经中没有任何改变律法的暗示。不变的道德律法作为上帝旨意完全的启示,无论在旧约还是新约,都当被遵守。

以实玛利和以撒代表两约

以此为基础,现在我们准备查考一下加拉太书第4章。对于这个保罗用来说明旧约和新约的比方,许多人不甚明了。以下是保罗写的话:“因为律法上记着,亚伯拉罕有两个儿子,一个是使女生的,一个是自主之妇人生的。然而,那使女所生的是按着血气生的;那自主之妇人所生的是凭着应许生的。这都是比方:那两个妇人就是两约。一约是出于西奈山,生子为奴,乃是夏甲。这夏甲二字是指着阿拉伯的西奈山,与现在的耶路撒冷同类,因耶路撒冷和她的儿女都是为奴的。”(22-25节)

保罗描述亚伯拉罕的两个儿子,以撒和以实玛利为新约和旧约的代表。他明明地说夏甲的儿子以实玛利象征了旧约,而撒拉的儿子以撒则是新约的代表。“弟兄们,我们是凭着应许作儿女,如同以撒一样……弟兄们,这样看来,我们不是使女的儿女,乃是自主妇人的儿女。”(28-31节)

很有意思,那两个妇人的儿子怎能代表两约呢?实际上,就我们目前掌握的知识来看,这真是个最好的举例说明了。上帝应许亚伯拉罕要从他妻子撒拉得一个儿子,但当时撒拉已年近九旬,夫妻俩谁都不相信这事会发生。撒拉知道自己早就过了生养儿女的岁数。因此她建议丈夫娶自己的使女夏甲,从她得个孩子。似乎这是帮助上帝实现这个“不可能的应许”的唯一办法。最终,亚伯拉罕屈从了这个顾全面子的建议,从夏甲得了一个儿子。

这不是很准确地反映了旧约的原则吗?“我们都必遵行。”亚伯拉罕试图按照人的努力和计划、凭着血气做成这事。这个计划的失败,正像旧约应许的失败一样,都是因为没有倚靠神圣的能力。上帝从未承认以实玛利是“应许的后裔”。

而以撒的出生则是神迹,其实是上帝从撒拉不怀孕的腹中创造出了一个新的生命。身体自然法则的不可能屈服于上帝超自然的、创造性的能力。以撒很好地代表了新约的原则,新约的关系乃是基于重生,是一种新生的经验,这种经验在凡相信的人里面生出上帝儿子的生命来。撒拉自然的、属肉体的肚腹根本不可能再怀上孩子。同样,一个罪人自然的、属肉欲的身体和心思根本不能产生顺从的果子。当上帝用祂的大能在撒拉里面创造一个新生命时,不可能的事发生了,她生了一个儿子。当上帝用祂的大能在人里面创造新生命时,奇迹再次发生了,一个人成为了属灵并顺从的人。

以撒不是“按着血气生的,”而是“按着圣灵生的”。(加拉太书4:29)人是属肉体的,且因“肉体软弱”,人就没有能力达到律法的义。他必须按着圣灵而生。任何以旧约中人的努力为基础达到顺从的企图都只能产生为奴之子。律法必须由圣灵写在人的心里并靠“在你里面的基督”使之成就。

夏甲和撒拉的这个比方也澄清了另一个非常重要的真理。旧约之下的人是违背诫命的,而新约之下的人是遵守诫命的。当亚伯拉罕违背上帝娶了夏甲时,就应验了旧约的原理。当他信靠上帝通过撒拉得着一个儿子时,他就顺从了上帝的旨意,因此也恰如其分地代表了新约的基督徒。然而现代的解经家经常混淆这些事实。像那三个年轻的传教士一样,他们指责遵守律法者是处于旧约之下。而事实却恰恰与此相反。除非律法写在转变了的信徒的心里,否则无人能真正遵守律法。到那时,对于按着圣灵生的人,它就成为了他们身份的标志,爱的象征。耶稣说,“你们若爱我,就必遵守我的命令。”(约翰福音14:15)约翰写到,“我们遵守上帝的诫命,这就是爱祂了。”(约翰一书5:3)

真割礼不是属肉体的

你有没有想过,上帝为什么要亚伯拉罕行割礼作为旧约的记号。为了代表这个重要的约定,割礼看起来岂不是很残忍的方式?稍微思考一下就会发现,这还是很有道理的。上帝给亚伯拉罕割礼的记号,是要提醒他自己是如何因倚靠肉体而失败的。整本圣经中,肉体的割礼都是和依靠血气联系在一起的。保罗写到,“因为真受割礼的,乃是我们这以上帝的灵敬拜、在基督耶稣里夸口、不靠着肉体的。”(腓立比书3:3)

保罗将真割礼和“那被称为割礼”的进行比较。肉体上的割礼根本就不是真割礼:“因为外面作犹太人的,不是真犹太人;外面肉身的割礼,也不是真割礼。惟有里面作的,才是真犹太人;真割礼也是心里的,在乎灵,不在乎仪文。”(罗马书2:28,29)请注意,保罗如何从肉体转向了灵。他说真割礼是发生在心里的,它尊荣的是上帝的作为,而不是人的作为。它是通过悔改将肉体的本性割去。真割礼的经验就是新生。

我们在保罗写给歌罗西人的书信中找到了最清晰的解释:“你们在祂里面也受了不是人手所行的割礼,乃是基督使你们脱去肉体情欲的割礼。”(歌罗西书2:11)

此处割礼被称为基督在人心中属灵的工作。它不是人手所行的,表明人的努力不能作这件事。也不是肉体上的割除,而是通过基督住在身内将肉体的本性割去。所有的人都能靠着这同一根基实现这一点:“你们既属乎基督,就是亚伯拉罕的后裔,是照着应许承受产业的了。”(加拉太书3:29)所有接受基督的人都能成为向亚伯拉罕所发一切应许的后裔。那些经历真正心灵割礼的人才是真正的犹太人。

将来任何人不能再夸耀自己属于某个属肉体的世家。再没有犹太人或外邦人、男人或女人。是否能被上帝接纳乃基于个人以耶稣基督为救主的信心。也再没有人能够宣称割除肉体的阳皮会有什么特殊的恩惠。这都是以“我们都必遵行”为基础的人所行的。他们通过肉体的行为寻求称义和救恩。上帝藉着基督(而生效)的新计划不是出于行为,而是因信而得的恩典。

这就意味着行为不再重要了吗?既然律法不能使人称义,信的人就应该把它废弃吗?毫无疑问,从约的原则可以确定:律法无论是在旧约还是在新约都同等重要。只不过,从前刻在石版上,现在刻在人的心里;不是由人来实现,而是由在我们里面的耶稣实现。不是为了得救才遵守律法;遵守律法是因为我们蒙了拯救。同样都有顺从的行为,但顺从的原因不同,动机不同。

有时,我们无意中就会开始倚靠传统宗教的、敬虔的行为,真不应该这样。在信心、爱心和恩典的自由通道中,一定没有任何绩效考核制。彻底的顺从是必要的也是非常重要的,但必须时刻处于正确的位置:顺从要跟着恩典,和爱同行。

实际上,即便在今天,如果我们开始倚靠自己的行为去拯救自己,仍可能会将自己置于旧约之下。正像古代的圣徒靠着接受属灵的重生受了真割礼一样,如果我们依靠血气拯救自己,就退回到了旧约之下。

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英文:

Why the Old Covenant Failed
 
By Joe Crews
 
WHY THE OLD COVENANT FAILED

Some time ago I stepped off the platform at the close of an evangelistic message and hurried toward the front door to greet the people. Suddenly my path was blocked by three young men, one of whom addressed me in quite a loud voice. He said, "Brother Joe, we were disappointed with the way you put us back under the Old Covenant tonight by preaching the seventh-day Sabbath. Don t you realize that we are living under the New Covenant now and should be keeping Sunday instead of the Sabbath?"

That young man was voicing the conviction of many thousands of Christians today who sincerely believe that the Ten Commandments constituted the Old Covenant, which disappeared at the cross and, therefore, has no present application to grace-saved Christians. Is it a true premise? If so, we certainly need to be clearly apprised of the doctrine in order to avoid the pitfall of deadly legalism. On the other hand, if the Ten Commandments are still binding, it would be the most tragic mistake to discount even one of those great moral precepts.

No one can deny that there are Old Testament statements which refer to the Ten Commandments as a covenant; however, it will be our purpose here to show that the Ten-Commandment law was not the Old Covenant which was abolished.

But before we delve into this fascinating subject, we need to define what a covenant really is. There are many types and forms, but basically a covenant is an agreement between two parties based upon mutual promises. All through the centuries Godhas dealt with His people on the basis of covenants. He is a reasonable God, and he invites, "Come now, and let us reason together." Isaiah 1:18.

Sometimes God established pacts with individuals like Moses, Abraham, and David, and sometimes with the nation of Israel. The most important covenant of all was set up long before this world came into existence. It was a covenant between the Father and the Son and had to do with the eventuality of sin. Jesus offered Himself there in the vast eternity of the past as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Revelation 13:8. He agreed to become the atoning sacrifice to redeem man, should Adam and Eve choose to sin.

The terms of that eternal covenant have never been changed or superseded. Although many other covenants have been established through the years, the simple provision of salvation through faith has remained in effect through all ages, for all mankind.

The covenant which has caused the most misunderstanding, though, is designated as "the Old Covenant" by the writer of Hebrews. He also describes the institution of a new covenant which has some very important advantages over the old. Here is how he describes the two: "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith 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 when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: ... For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." Hebrews 8:6-13.

This description leaves no room for doubt concerning the fate of the Old Covenant. It was set aside in favor of a new one which had better promises. Naturally, we are interested to know all about that new covenant which will place God s law in the heart and mind. But we also need to understand the nature of the covenant which disappeared. Millions have been taught that it was the Ten-Commandment law. They boast of being delivered from the law and claim to walk in a glorious freedom from the Old Testament covenant of works.



The Old Covenant -- Not the Ten Commandments

Is this a biblical position? It is just as important to understand what the Old Covenant was not, as to know what it was. Right now, let us look at three absolute proofs that the covenant which disappeared was not the Ten Commandments. Then we will determine by comparing scripture with scripture just what the Old Covenant was.

First of all, we notice that the Old Covenant had some poor promises in it. The New Covenant, we are told, "was established upon better promises." Verse 6. Tell me, has anyone ever been able to point out any poor promises in the Ten Commandments? Never. On the contrary, Paul declares that they were very good. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." Ephesians 6:1-3.

This declaration alone is sufficient to show that the writer of Hebrews was not charging the moral law with any weak promises. The Old Covenant, whatever else it might be, could never be the Ten Commandments.

The second thing wrong with the Old Covenant was that it was faulty. The Bible says, "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second." Hebrews 8:7. Let me ask you a question: Has any man ever been able to find a fault or a flaw in the handwriting of God? The psalmist declared, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." Psalm 19:7. Paul wrote, "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." Romans 7:12.

Does that sound like something weak and imperfect? No law could be perfect and faulty at the same time. It becomes more and more apparent that the Old Covenant could not have been the Ten Commandments.

Finally, though, we read the most dramatic thing about the Old Covenant - it was to be abolished! "In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." Hebrews 8:13. Now we can ask a serious question that should settle every doubt on this matter. Did the great moral law of Ten Commandments vanish away? Anyone who has read the New Testament must answer, Absolutely not. Paul affirms the exact opposite about the law. He asked, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." Romans 3:31.

Does the Bible contradict itself? Can something vanish away and be established at the same time? Did the same writer say opposite things about the same law? Just to be certain that Paul was not saying that the Old Covenant was the law, let us insert the words "Old Covenant" instead of the word "law" into Romans 3:31. "Do we than make void the Old Covenant through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Old Covenant."

That doesn t sound right at all, does it? We know that the Old Covenant had vanished away and could never be spoken of in this way. Very clearly, then, we can see that the covenant which came to an end could not have been the Ten Commandments.



What Was the Old Covenant?

Having found what the Old Covenant was not, we are now ready to identify it specifically from the Word. To do so we must go back in the Bible to the book of Exodus. Many people have failed to see that there was more than one covenant involved at Mt. Sinai. God called Moses up into the mountain before He gave the law and proposed a covenant between Him and His people: "And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; ... 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: And ye shall be unto me ... an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel." Exodus 19:3-6.

Notice how God asked Moses to present His offer to the people. Here are all the elements of a true covenant. Conditions and promises are laid down for both sides. If the children of Israel accept God s proposal, a covenant will be established. How did they respond to the divine offer? "And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord." Exodus 19:7, 8.

Just as soon as that answer went back to God, the basis for the Old Covenant was set up. But before it could go into formal operation there had to be a sealing or ratifying of the pact. This ritualistic service involved the sprinkling of the blood of an ox on the people and is described in Exodus 24:4-8: "And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel which ... sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words."

Again we are reminded that this covenant was not the law itself but was made "concerning all these words." The Ten Commandments were the basis for the agreement. The people promised to keep that law, and God promised to bless them in return. The crucial weakness in the whole arrangement revolved around the way Israel promised. There was no suggestion that they could not fully conform to every requirement of God. Neither was there any application for divine assistance. "We can do it," they insisted. Here is a perfect example of leaning on the flesh and trusting human strength. The words are filled with self-confidence. "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient."

Were they able to keep that promise? In spite of their repeated assurances, they miserably broke their word before Moses could even get off the mountain with the tables of stone. Do we begin to see where the poor promises lay in the Old Covenant?

The book of Hebrews begins to unfold. There God is reported as "finding fault with them." Hebrews 8:8. He said, "Because they continued not in my covenant ... I regarded them not." Verse 9. The blame is placed squarely upon the human side of the mutual pact. Thus, we can see exactly why Paul wrote as he did about this Old Covenant in Hebrews 8. It did gender to bondage, it proved faulty, had poor promises, and vanished away - all because the people failed to obey their part of the agreement. Putting all these things together we can see why a new covenant was desperately needed, which would have better promises.

How were the New Covenant promises better? Because God made them, and they guaranteed successful obedience through His strength alone. "I will put my laws into their mind ... I will be to them a God ... I will be merciful to their unrighteousness and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." Hebrews 8:10-12.

How was the New Covenant ratified? In the same manner that the Old was confirmed - by the shedding of blood. But instead of an ox having to shed its blood, the sinless Son of God would provide the blood of sprinkling: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ." Hebrews 13:20, 21.

What a contrast to the weak promises of the flesh made by Israel at Sinai. Instead of the people s "we will do," God s New Covenant promise is to "make you perfect in every good work ... working in you." It is no longer human effort. It is not so much you working, but Him "working in you." And how is this power made available? "Through the blood of the everlasting covenant." Because of what Jesus did on the cross.



The New Covenant Based on Conversion

This brings us to the very heart of the New Covenant operation. Obedience is made possible by the writing of God s law on the heart. Through spiritual regeneration the mind and heart are transformed. Christ actually enters into the life of the believer and imparts His own strength for obedience. By partaking of the divine nature, the weakest human being begins to live the very life of Jesus Christ, manifesting His victory, and crucifying the flesh.

Paul describes that transaction this way: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Romans 8:3, 4.

The word for righteousness is "dikaima," meaning "just requirement" of the law. In other words, because of Jesus sinless life in the flesh, the requirement of the law can be fulfilled in us. He overcame sin in the same kind of body we have, so that He could impart that victory to us. He will actually live out His own holy life of separation from sin in our earthly bodies if we will permit Him to do so. This is the New Covenant promise for every believing, trusting child of God. And it is absolutely the only way that anyone can meet the requirements of the law: "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27. "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20.

It is most important for us to understand that the New Covenant law written on the heart is exactly the same law that was graven on the stone. Those great spiritual principles reflect the very character of God, and form the basis for His government. The difference is not in the law but in the ministration of the law. Written only upon the tables of stone, they can only condemn and minister death, "because the carnal mind ... is not subject to the law of God." Romans 8:7. Received into the heart which has been spiritualized by the converting grace of Christ, the same law becomes a delight. The beloved John declared, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." 1 John 5:3. Not only is the law not grievous for the Spirit-filled child of God, but obedience becomes a joyful possibility. The psalmist wrote, "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart." Psalms 40:8.



No Change in the New Covenant After Calvary

Since the New Covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ, it obviously could not have gone into effect until after Jesus died on the cross. This crucial fact must not be overlooked. Eternal life or death could hinge upon the proper understanding of this key point. Paul wrote, "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth." Hebrews 9:16, 17. The word "testament" is the same as the word "covenant." Only after a man s last will and testament has been ratified by his death can the provisions be executed. In the same way, Christ s covenant or testament would begin to operate just as soon as He had confirmed the covenant by His death at Calvary.

Another text leaves no question on this issue: "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto." Galatians 3:15. Paul is saying here that after a man s death, his will or covenant cannot be changed. Not one new addition can be made after the death of the testator. The covenant stands forever exactly as it stood when the testator died. After the death of Christ, no change whatsoever could be made in His provisions to save mankind. The conditions were all sealed and ratified by the shedding of blood. Every requirement had been laid down clearly by the perfect pattern of His sinless life and provision had been made for the writing of His magnified law, by the Holy Spirit, upon the mind of each believer.

Under the terms of that New Covenant not one soul would be left to struggle helplessly against the powerful urges of a fallen nature. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Romans 5:20. Eternal promises rooted in the changeless nature of God would provide power to overcome every inherited and cultivated weakness. No wonder the Bible emphasizes the "better promises" of this glorious new agreement!

Now it is easy to understand some of the things Jesus did just before He died. For example, why did He institute the Lord s Supper before His body had been broken? On the Thursday night before His agonizing death on Friday, Jesus met with His disciples in that upper room. Holding the cup in His hands, He said, "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Matthew 26:28.

Isn t it curious that Christ would say those words before His blood had been shed? He was commanding a memorial for an event which had not even happened yet! Why? Because it had to be introduced before His death in order to come under the New Covenant. Nothing could be added after His death.

Now, let me come back to the story I started to tell at the beginning of the book. I had just finished preaching on the subject of the Sabbath in one of my evangelistic crusades. As I stepped off the platform to greet the people as they left, three young men blocked my way in the aisle. One of them addressed me in quite a loud voice - loud enough to cause about fifty people near the front of the auditorium to stop and listen.

"Brother Joe," he said, "we were disappointed tonight with the way you put us back under th

e Old Covenant. Don t you realize that we are living under the New Covenant now, and should keep Sunday instead of the Sabbath?"

Although most of the congregation were leaving the building, the group near the front gathered closer to hear all that the young men were saying. It was obvious that I would have to take the time to answer this trio s challenging question. As I suspected they turned out to be young seminarians in training at a local Bible college. Eagerly they held their Bibles in their hands and waited triumphantly for me to answer.

Usually, I do not like to debate controversial matters in a public forum, for fear of stirring combative natures, but there seemed no way to avoid dealing with these ministerial students. Anyway, they had my path completely blocked, and the circle of listeners looked at me expectantly for some explanation.

"Well, it seems as though you have studied the subject of the covenants quite deeply," I suggested.

"Oh, yes," they affirmed, "we know all about the covenants."

"Good," I replied. "You undoubtedly know when the Old Covenant was instituted." One of them spoke up quickly, "It was started at Mt. Sinai."

"And how was it ratified?" I asked. Without a moment s hesitation one of them answered, "By the sprinkling of the blood of an ox."

"Very good," I commented, "and how was the New Covenant ratified?" All three chorused the answer, "By the blood of Jesus on the cross."

I commended the young men for their knowledge of the Scriptures and asked them to read me two verses out of their own Bibles - Hebrews 9:16, 17 and Galatians 3:15. They responded eagerly to the invitation, and read the verses, commenting on each one after reading. "We agree that the New Covenant did not go into effect until after Christ died, and nothing can be added or taken away after He ratified it on he cross," the spokesman for the group asserted. All three nodded their heads emphatically over this point.

I said, "Now you must answer two more questions for me. Here s the first one, and you must think carefully to give me the correct answer: When did Sunday-keeping begin?" There was a moment of shocked silence, and then another, and another. The boys looked at each other, and then down at their feet, and then back at me. I gently prodded them for the answer, "Surely you can tell me the answer to this question. You have known all the others, and have answered correctly. When and why do you think people began keeping Sunday?"

Finally, one of them said, "We keep Sunday in honor of the resurrection of Jesus." I said, "Then I must ask you my last question. How could Sundaykeeping be a part of the New Covenant? You just stated that nothing could be added after the death of Christ. He died on Friday and was resurrected on Sunday. If Sunday was added after Jesus died, it could never be a part of the New Covenant, could it?"

The three young men shuffled their feet, looked helplessly around, and one of them said, "We ll study into that and talk to you later." Then they fled from that auditorium as fast as they could go. I can assure you, also, that they never returned to talk further about the covenants.

The fact is that Sundaykeeping, even if it had started on the day of the resurrection, would have been three days too late to get into the New Covenant. Both Bible and history prove that Sunday was never observed by the apostolic church. It was added much, much later as a result of the gradual apostasy which developed in the early centuries of the church and which culminated in the pagan accommodation of Constantine in 330 A.D.

Millions of modern church members regard Sunday as a sacred day which memorializes the resurrection of Christ. It is certainly true that Christ arose on the first day of the week, but nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to keep that day holy. Events such as the crucifixion and resurrection should mean much to every Christian, but not one intimation is given in the Bible for observing either Friday or Sunday. The only day ever commanded for weekly worship is the seventh day of the week - the same Sabbath Jesus kept during creation week and the one He will keep with His people throughout all eternity. Genesis 2:1-3; Isaiah 66:22, 23.

The very strongest reason for rejecting Sunday worship is that it was not included in the New Covenant requirements which were ratified by the death of Jesus. If Christ had desired His resurrection to be memori- alized by Sundaykeeping, He could have introduced it on that same Thursday night of the Last Supper. Then it would have become a part of the New Covenant, along with the Communion service and foot-washing. Jesus did not hesitate to command the observance of His death, even though it had not taken place yet. Just as easily He could have commanded the observance of His resurrection, which was still future, in order that it might become a New Covenant requirement. But He did not! And no one else ever did either, until Paul s prophecy began to be fulfilled about an apostasy following his departure. Acts 20:29, 30. He spoke also of a falling away which would lead to the enthronement of Antichrist. 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4. But true it is that no hint of any change of the law is given in the Scriptures. The unchangeable moral law was preserved in both Old and New Covenants as the perfect revelation of God s will.



Ishmael and Isaac Represent Two Covenants

With this background, we are now prepared to examine Galatians 4. Many have been confused over the allegory Paul used to illustrate the Old and New Covenants. Here is the way he wrote about it: "For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a free-woman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children." Verses 22-25.

Paul portrays Isaac and Ishmael, the two sons of Abraham, as representing the Old and New Covenants. He plainly shows that Hagar s son, Ishmael, symbolizes the Old Covenant, and Sarah s son, Isaac, is a type of the New Covenant. "Now we, brethren as Isaac was, are the children of promise. ... So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free." Verses 28-31.

This is interesting. How do those sons of those two women represent the two covenants? Actually, they are a perfect illustration according to everything we have learned so far. God had promised Abraham a son by his wife Sarah, but because she was almost 90 years old, neither of them believed such a thing could happen. Sarah knew that her womb was dead and that she was long past the age for bearing children. So she suggested that her husband take Hagar, her handmaid, and have a child by her. It seemed the only way to rescue God from an impossible promise. In time, Abraham yielded to the face-saving device and had a child by Hagar.

Here is an exact illustration of the Old Covenant principle of "we will do." Abraham tried to work it out in the flesh, according to human effort and planning. The old arrangement failed just as surely as the Old Covenant promises failed, because there was no dependence on divine power. God did not ever recognize Ishmael as the promised seed.

When Isaac was born, it was a miracle. God actually created a new life out of a biologically barren womb. The physical impossibilities yielded to the supernatural, creative power of God. Isaac perfectly represents the principle of the New Covenant relationship based upon regeneration, a new-birth experience, which begets the life of the Son of God in all who believe. The natural, physical womb of Sarah was totally incapable of producing any fruit. In the same way, the natural, carnal body and mind of a sinner cannot bring forth the fruit of obedience. When God used His power to create a new life within Sarah, the impossible happened, and she bore a son. When God uses His power to create new life in the soul, the impossible happens again - a human being becomes spiritual and obedient.

Isaac was not "born after the flesh," but "after the Spirit." Galatians 4:29. Because man is carnal and "weak in the flesh," he has no power to attain to the righteousness of the law. He, too, must be born after the Spirit. Every attempt to obey on the Old-Covenant basis of human effort will produce only children of bondage. The law must be written into the heart by the Holy Spirit and fulfilled by "Christ in you."

This allegory of Hagar and Sarah clears up another very important point of truth. Those who are under the Old Covenant are the commandment breakers, and those under the New Covenant are the commandment keepers. It was only when Abraham disobeyed God by taking Hagar that he fulfilled the principle of the Old Covenant. When he trusted God to give him a son through Sarah, he was being obedient to God s will, and properly represents the New-Covenant Christians. Yet how often do modern interpreters get these facts confused! Like the three young preachers, they accuse law-keepers of being under the Old Covenant. The truth is exactly the opposite. The law is not really kept until it is written on the heart of the transformed believer. Then it becomes the mark of identification - the love symbol - for those who are born of the Spirit. Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15. John wrote, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." 1 John 5:3.



True Circumcision is Not Physical

Have you ever wondered why God gave circumcision to Abraham as a sign of the Old Covenant? Doesn t that seem to be a rather crude way to represent such an important agreement? Think about it for a moment and it might begin to make a lot of sense. God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision to remind him of how he failed by trusting the flesh. All through the Scriptures, physical circumcision is related to dependence on the flesh. Paul wrote, "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Philippians 3:3.

Paul was comparing true circumcision with "that which is called circumcision." The cutting off of the flesh was not true circumcision at all: "For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Romans 2:28, 29. Notice how Paul turns from the flesh to the Spirit. He says real circumcision happens to the heart, and it exalts what God does, and not man. It is the cutting off of the fleshly nature through conversion. The new birth is the true circumcision experience.

The clearest explanation is found in Paul s epistle to the Colossians: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." Colossians 2:11.

Here the spiritual work of Christ on the heart is called circumcision. It is done without hands, indicating that no human effort could perform this act. It is not cutting off the physical flesh, but cutting off the fleshly nature of sin through the indwelling of Christ. It will be available to all on exactly the same basis: "And if ye be Christ s, then are ye Abraham s seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29. All who receive Christ become heirs of all the promises made to Abraham. Those experiencing true heart-circumcision constitute the real Jews.

No longer can anyone boast of belonging to the right physical family. There is no more Jew or Gentile, male or female. Acceptance is based upon personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. Neither can any man claim special favor for cutting off the physical foreskin of flesh. Those things were done by people who based everything on "we will do." They sought justification and salvation through works of the flesh. God s new plan through Christ is not of works, but of grace through faith.

Does this mean that works are no longer important? Since the law cannot justify, should it be abolished by the believer? The doctrine of the covenants establishes beyond any doubt that the law is just as important under the New as under the Old. Instead of being graven on stone, it is written in the heart. Instead of being fulfilled by us, it is fulfilled by Jesus in us. Instead of keeping the law in order to be saved, we keep it because we are saved. The same works of obedience are there, but they are there for a different reason and from a different motive.

Sometimes, without realizing it, we can begin to trust our traditional round of religious exercises far more than we ought. No merit system must clog the free channels of faith, love, and grace. Obedience in its proper position is important and necessary, but it must always be in that position - following grace and accompanied by love.

In fact, it is possible to put ourselves back under the Old Covenant even today if we begin to trust our works to save us. Just as the saints of old could have received true circumcision by accepting spiritual regeneration, we may fall back under the Old Covenant by trusting the flesh to save us.