So there is nothing wrong with God’s law, but there is something deeply wrong with us. The word used by Scripture to describe our fundamental brokenness is “sin,” and “sin” is simply defined as “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV), and the law is “love” (Romans 13:10). So to say we are “sinners” is to say that we are bent away from love toward selfishness. We are in a condition that Martin Luther described as, “homo incurvatus in se,” Latin for, “man curved inward toward self.” Our self-serving inclination is so strong that Paul employs the language of slavery: we are “sold under sin,” he says. Left to ourselves, no matter how hard we try, we find it impossible to live in harmony with God’s perfect law of love. We are bankrupt of moral power. We need something more than a self-help book, a religious practice, a medication, or a boost of good old-fashioned willpower.
We need a Savior.
The New Covenant: Inside-Out Obedience
Through Jesus Christ God has provided a salvation arrangement the Bible calls, “righteousness by faith” (Galatians 5:5).
In two messianic prophecies, Jeremiah ascribed a revealing title to the coming Savior: “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16). Here is the idea of righteousness being provided as a gift from an outside source, as opposed to the human being having to manufacture righteousness for himself within himself. It is the Lord’s righteousness and, yet, it is ours. He, Himself, is “OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
When we come to the New Testament, the apostle Paul expands this magnificent idea. He teaches that God saves sinners by attributing to them the righteousness of Christ. By virtue of the righteous life and atoning death of Christ, God does something remarkable for sinners: He “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). God relates to us as if we were righteous even though we are not, as if we have never sinned even though we have, as if we were innocent even though we are guilty.
Paul calls this unilateral divine action “the free gift,” and “the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ,” and “the gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:15, 17). Then he summarizes the idea like this:
“For as by one man’s disobedience (Adam’s sin) many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
In other words, the obedience of Jesus to God’s law is a representative obedience given as a free gift to sinners. And yet, God does not relate to us as righteous in order to confirm us in our unrighteousness, but rather for the purpose of lifting from our hearts all sense of condemnation and the anxiety of trying to earn salvation, persuading us of His unconditional love for us, showing His vision for us, and arousing faith in us. Then, once the relationship with God has been restored on the premise of His grace—His unmerited favor—obedience to God’s law begins to spring forth from the inside out. It is faith responding to faith, love responding to love.
Which brings us to the new covenant.
When God gave Israel His law at Mount Sinai, the people miscalculated their own moral condition and made the self-confident promise to God, “All that the Lord has said we will do and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7). What followed was a long history of disobedience, rebellion, and sin of every description, punctuated with repeated promises to obey God’s law. This became known as the “first” or “old” covenant (Hebrews 8:7, 13). But God had something else in mind all along, which became known as the new covenant, which is based on God’s promise to forgive sins and write His law in our hearts.
Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:7-12 and discuss the specifics of the new covenant.