It is a glorious truth that the Old Covenant, the Law which God commanded to Moses and by which the Hebrew people sought to maintain their favor with God was a list of commandments and expectations. It’s sole purpose, we learn in the New Testament, was to point forward to Jesus and prove the depravity of man. There is no man who can keep the Law – the holy expectations of God – and make himself acceptable to God (Rom 7). The New Covenant, the provision which God has offered us through the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the relief from that bondage. It had been said that the Old Covenant proclaims, “Do” while the New Covenant proclaims “Done”.
There is no greater gift than grace, the fact that we are incapable of earning God’s favor and yet He loved us enough to punish our sin in Jesus and offer us His righteousness. Since we are incapable of being good enough, He gave us a substitute. Jesus took our punishment and paid our debt. We can be made pure in the eyes of God by being hidden in the blood of Jesus.
When we recognize, however, that Jesus died because of our sin, and when we recognize the weight of the price He paid to free us from the bondage of effort, we learn to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates. We hate our sin. We hate our sin because it cost Jesus His life, because it displeases God and because it dishonors God. If there is any sin in our lives that we love or over which we are not broken, it is very possible that we are not saved.
How can we know that? Simply put, the moment we come to Jesus for salvation – when we recognize our guilt, confess our sins and ask Jesus to cover us by His redemption, we are made Spiritually alive by being given the Holy Spirit to indwell us. The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness:
“And [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
– John 16.8
Therefore, if we are not recognizing our sin, if we are not being convicted of it, and if we are not repenting of it, then we can understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our lives. What should we do if we are in such a state? Confess our sins and ask Jesus for the gift of the Holy Spirit! As we develop the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Scripture and spending time with God, we will know His heart and the Holy Spirit will convict us. We must be on guard against sin – sin is what condemns us before God. We cannot drift and expect to grow Spiritually. We cannot be passive agents in our Spiritual life. We must press into God and the allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.
“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”
– John Bunyan
Does that mean that the New Covenant does not really mean, “Done”? This oversimplification of the two covenants can be extremely helpful and at the same time extremely dangerous. There are different aspects to our salvation, and perhaps the most glorious is justification. Justification is a legal term by which one is declared redeemed. It does not mean “Just as if I had never sinned”, because we are not restored to a place of innocence and our sinful nature removed. It means “punishment paid”. We all deserve the eternal death sentence for our sin, and Jesus paid that for us. This is our legal standing before the Heavenly courtroom in which God is the judge, Jesus is our advocate or lawyer and Satan is the prosecutor. Jesus does not respond to God and try to disprove our guilt when Satan accuses us, He stands there and simply says “time served” for every offense.
In this sense, the New Covenant proclaims “done”. Once we have been justified, all of our sins past, present and future have been covered. We are not declared welcome into eternity because our punishment has been served. However, the ongoing process of sanctification – that change by which we die to our sins and are made more like Jesus – is not completed, and we must be active participants in it. John Owen paraphrased 1 John thus:
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Jesus said that we will be known by our fruit. Paul teach us to work our our salvation with fear and trembling, being diligent to fight against sin. We are not passive in sanctification, we are killing our flesh and pressing on to holiness. In this sense, our salvation is not “done”, but is in process. It does not mean that our justification is capable of being lost, rather we prove our justification by pressing on in our sanctification. We prove that we have confessed our sins and turned to Jesus by hating our sin and ceasing from it. When we are saved, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we love God and we want to honor God, and we understand that our sanctification glorifies God.
– John 15.8
How then do we balance law and grace? Do we do what we want, and hope that it is not sinful? Do we despair when we have to choose to do the right thing even though our hearts are not in it? C.S. Lewis offers us this beautiful help:
“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”
There will be times when our hearts long for revenge, for sinful pleasure, for indulgence or any other worldly sin. Even after we have been saved (justified), and even after we have walked for years down the path of sanctification. Only a perfect man would always long to do what God commands, and we know that we will only be perfected when we shed our Earthly bodies. Until then, we will be left with the dichotomy of flesh and Spirit. We are saved and yet still have our sinful nature. We enjoy the pleasures of sin and the world and yet long for the pleasures of Jesus and eternity. Thus we utilize the commandments of Jesus as a crutch by which we choose to do the right thing, even when we do not desire to do the right thing.
We continue to “Do” even though our salvation has been secured by what Jesus has “Done”. We act out of love for God and thankfulness for His salvation, and at times out of discipline – not to earn God’s favor, but to please the one who gave everything so that we might be saved.