Can you remember what it was like to be a non-Christian? I can. I had a vague feeling that there was probably a God and that God was probably the God the churches were talking about. However, I had no idea how to connect with him. I suspected it had to do with putting on a suit, going to church and trying real hard to be good. It was unbelievably boring and rigid; not appealing in the least. It felt judgmental and harsh. So, I did what I wanted to do. In my case, at 15 years old, that meant chasing girls, drinking alcohol, bitterness, anger, alienation from God … The natural outcome of such a life is not particularly appealing. This is the result of not having a covenantal relationship with a loving, gracious, covenantal God.

But what happens when we, as Christians, try to live according to the wrong covenant? There are natural outcomes to this reality as well. The old covenant of the law had an operating system. God would lay out the information of how he wanted us to live then we would do our best to live like that. Whether we call these spiritual principles, laws, rules, values or biblical guidelines; if we have a set of rules then try real hard to live them, we are functioning in the operating system of the old covenant.

In this operating system, those who are more mature help their less mature brethren by teaching them or helping them recall. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:4-7). The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness (Deut. 6:24-25).

That is the old covenant in a nutshell. It can be better than having no covenant at all and can lead to a better life. But, it is lived in the flesh (human ability) and it naturally devolves to Phariseeism. Jim Petersen and Mike Shamy in their book The Insider (see The Double Gospel of Attraction) speak of the Pharisees this way. “They also made sure everybody around them knew how devout they were. The rest of the society was both intimidated and disgusted by their lives. Jesus was confronting these people because they gave God a bad reputation.”[1]

Is it any wonder that most non-Christians find our churches unappealing? Most of us are living by the wrong operating system. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another (Heb. 8:7). The new covenant also has an operating system. God’s Spirit lives in us and tells us how he wants us to live, then gives us the power and the motivation to do it. He writes his law on our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10). We are deeply, consistently and relationally connected to an active and loving God. The Bible is no longer a rule book, but is very helpful in the process of discernment and confirmation.

The natural outcome of the new covenant is not a Pharisees, it is a disciple. We don’t remind and re-teach. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest (Heb. 8:11). Instead we make disciples. Whose disciples? Jesus’ disciples. His Spirit is already in them teaching them. We just keep helping them recognize and connect with what he is already doing. His laws are written on their hearts and ours; not tablets of stone. The spiritual life is lived in the power of the Spirit, not the power of the flesh. The natural outcome is not only holy living but fruit. Both the fruit of the Spirit listed in Gal. 5:22 and the kingdom fruit that comes from abiding (Jn. 15). 

  • Why do you think that Christians try to live in the old covenant?
  • Does the idea of just listening to Jesus and obeying (a new covenant concept) scare you?
  • Is discipleship as biblical and theological information download old covenant or new covenant behavior?
  • If the new covenant is our foundational operating system within Christianity, why do we hear so little about it?

[1] Jim Peterson and Mike Shamy, The Insider: Bringing the Kingdom of God Into Your Everyday World (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 57.

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