THE NEW COVENANT– The Law and the Heart: AN EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (PART 4)

Law, Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, Theology, Uncategorized

The Law and the Heart

These next four posts are the most important for getting a handle on the covenant recipients. Though my own views of baptism do not depend upon the answer to this question, this has certainly been a very important question in the baptism debate. Jeremiah (and Hebrews) do not have baptism view, but there is no question that they do have in mind certain recipients of the new covenant. We have seen that these recipients are Christ and, via union with him, his church. Now we want to be more specific regarding the church. For in the (visible) church there are both true and false believers.

We will unfold these four posts by taking a look at the biblical meaning of three positive phrases about the new covenant, each of which is followed by a positive effect. The first involves the law on the heart its effect. The second involves teaching the law and its effect. The third involves breaking the law and its effect. Notice then that law is involved in the new covenant. It isn’t that the new covenant is without law. I would argue that all covenants, by definition, involve law. Law is the “stipulations” of a covenant. Law is what you have to “do” in order to “keep covenant.” Instead of having no law in the new covenant, it is our relationship to the law because of Christ The Law-keeper that now marks the “newness” in this regard. But his law-keeping does something else. It marks a newness in the recipients of the covenant from old to new. This is what we will look at now.

This post and the next are about the law and the heart. The phrase is, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33). Hebrews puts it this way, I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). Hebrews takes Jeremiah’s “law” and makes it plural. Perhaps it does this so that you know it is talking about the actual commandments within the Torah.

Of course, this begs the question, “Which laws?” This is a difficult question to answer. Hebrews clearly has in mind the ceremonial laws, which I believe come via the post-Sinai/Golden-Calf covenant referred to as the Levitical covenant (Neh 13:29; Jer 33:21; Mal 2:4, 8). But would God write ceremonial laws on our hearts when he says that the ceremonials laws like washings and animal sacrifices are done away? A different NT passage talking about the new covenant (2 Corinthians 3) seems to have the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic covenant in mind. In that passage, it talks about the Corinthians as actually being letters written by Christ, not on stone, but on flesh (2Co 3:2-3).[1] Yet, some will make the same charge even about moral law. “We are not under law, but under grace,” as they try to apply this “no law” view even to Moses. “Why would God write these on our hearts now? That would seem to defeat the whole point of not being under law.”

Here is my answer to which laws. First, simply put, it says that God will write the law(s) on our hearts. Jeremiah is talking about some kind of laws in the OT, therefore it has to be some kind of OT laws. A blogger has said, “Anyone claiming to be in covenant with G-d under the New covenant has had the Torah written on their hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-33)! We cannot accept Torah being written on our heart and mind while summarily rejecting Torah as old & nailed to a cross.”[2] Whether this blogger understands how the Torah has been nailed to a cross is one thing, but the point being made is another—and it is correct. New covenant Christians want to keep the law.

As it regards the moral law, I don’t see how you can read 2 Cor 3 and come away with an answer that doesn’t at least include these. The Ten are now written on our hearts. Second, we have to realize that even civil and ceremonial law are kept in the church. But they are kept differently in the church than they were in the OT nation. Paul applies the “do not muzzle the ox” (civil law) passage to paying the pastor. He is taking an eternal moral principle and applying it in the NT economy. Paul also uses all kinds of ceremonial language and applies it to us with perhaps the most well known being, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices…” (Rom 12:1). So it isn’t that all law ceases, it is our stance towards it that is different.

Our stance is now understood through the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. The law demands obedience. Jesus obeyed. The law promises life when there is obedience. Jesus was raised from the dead because he is The Law-Keeper. By his death through faith alone, God pardons our law-breaking because he is pleased with The Son. Therefore, the law no longer condemns us, because Jesus put that work to death on the cross. Now, we are free to obey the law not out of guilt or fear of punishment, but for another reason. But this begs the question of who has the law written on their heart? Everyone in the whole world? Infants born into Christian families? The elect prior to faith? The elect after coming to faith?

What might it mean to have the law written on your heart, and how would this be a new thing? Recall King Josiah of whom it is said that he “turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses” (2Kg 23:35). Or David who says that the law is in his heart (Ps 37:31; 40:8). I see three possible differences in the new covenant from what we see here. One thing that is not different is if someone concluded that Jeremiah is predicting that finally, in the new covenant, people will be saved. No. David and Josiah were saved. They were regenerated by God, justified by faith, and they loved God’s law.

The first difference could be the people in the covenant. No longer is God keeping the writing of the law within the bounds of the nation of Israel and the elect within her (i.e. Josiah and David). No, now he is extending it to Gentiles. Very importantly, the Apostle Paul does say something about the law in relation to Gentiles. He says that they “do what the law requires” even though they do not have the law and this makes them “a law to themselves” (Rom 2:14). He adds, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (15). Critically, Paul’s “work of the law” is different from the law itself. The work of the law is to condemn or show a person to be right in their actions. All men know God’s law. All men have this work of the law already on their hearts. But this is different from personally deeply longing do obey and do God’s law. Gentiles know it and do it because they can’t live with a dirty conscience as it were. But do they love God’s law? If they are in the new covenant they sure do. This is what it means to have the law now written on your heart.

A second difference would be the place where the law was kept. In the OT, the law was “kept” on tablets of stone in a tabernacle of wood and gold. In the new covenant, the law is now “kept” in the people’s hearts. This is part of the implication that believers are God’s “temple.” The Holy Spirit descends on the church at Pentecost, and the “place” of God’s dwelling, and thus the law, thereby changes as well.

A third difference is the percentage of people within the covenant that want to keep the law. If this is correct (and Baptists and Infant Baptists disagree on this point), I believe it is very significant. God seems to be saying that he will write the law on the hearts of 100% of those who are in the new covenant. Not everyone who is in the visible church per se, but everyone who is in the new covenant. The church is the vehicle through which the new covenant is received, but it is not the new covenant itself anymore than Abraham was a covenant. No, he was a person through whom the promises of his covenant came. We will see this better as the next three posts unfold more of the meaning of the language of the promises of the new covenant to us.

— — — —

[1] Is this an interesting allusion to how Christ is the one who originally wrote the letters on the stone on top of the mountain with Moses?

[2] Messianic Jewish Blogger ShaliachShalom, in a comment at: https://standingonshoulders.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/where-did-the-term-old-testament-and-new-testament-come-from/

(by: Doug Van Dorn)

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