"For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
This is the glorious truth of the new covenant that God promises and keeps in Christ. This is the same glorious truth that also creates a new people, a new covenant community made up of regenerate, redeemed, repentant sinners; the church.
Let's consider this new covenant promised by God in Jeremiah 31 and how it's reality informs our church covenant .
The New Covenant is Unbreakable, Not Breakable.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD." (Jer. 31:31-32)
A covenant is a way to establish relationship, and in this case, God is speaking of the covenant He made with Moses upon his rescue of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 19:4-6). It was mediated through Moses, with the condition being full obedience. God says through Jeremiah that the people of God broke that covenant.
So, the problem with the first covenant wasn’t in God, but in sinful humanity. We wouldn’t have kept that covenant either. We haven’t. No one has obeyed God fully. The fault was with the people, yet God graciously extends a new covenant! What a gracious God that we have that would continue to seek a way for rebellious people to be reconciled to Him! And this covenant will not be broken like the old one.
But why is this new covenant unbreakable?
The New Covenant is Internal, Not External
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jer. 31:33)
This is the work of regeneration or rebirth. God writes his law, not on tablets of stone, but on hearts of flesh. And with that comes both the new desire and new ability to keep God’s law. Certainly Old Testament saints experienced this grace. However, in the new covenant, every member of the covenant would experience this internal transformation.
The New Covenant is Spiritual, Not Biological
"And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 31:34)
This new covenant creates a covenant people who all know God as Lord. In other words, the new covenant creates a new people; belonging to God and to each other. The covenant that binds us to God is the same covenant that binds us to each other.
The New Covenant Provides Eternal Forgiveness, Not Temporary
“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer. 31:34c)
A feature of the first covenant was animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice was given to the people as a means of temporary relief from God’s judgment against their sin. God appointed priests to make sacrifices for the people over an over as to stay the judgement of God against their sin. And here in Jeremiah, God says in the new covenant that He will forgive their iniquity, not temporarily, but eternally. He will "remember it no more".
So, how does God accomplish this new covenant?
Christ, the Better Mediator of a Better Covenant
Hebrews 9:12 tells us that when Christ appeared, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
In other words, Jesus has gone before God the Father for you, in your place, through his own blood, paying for your sins, “securing an eternal redemption.” That means that Jesus is “the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).
This is what Jesus means when he says at the Last Supper, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
Only Christ has been fully obedient. And he was obedient in our place. And He died as an atoning sacrifice in our place. That's why our greatest need is to be found hidden in Christ through faith. Hebrews 9:28 teaches us that, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Therefore, Christ came and inaugurated the new covenant, died to ratify the new covenant, and will return to consummate the new covenant.
Why a Church Covenant?
Let’s say this: The New Testament is clear that we aren’t the ones mediating the covenant between us and God. Jesus is. That means our relationship with God is mediated through faith in Jesus and his redeeming blood. And it’s the new covenant that creates a new community, made up of regenerate believers.
This is where a church covenant becomes an incredible tool that describes what the commitments of this new covenant look like. So, when people look at our church covenant, they should see plainly the realities and expectation of new covenant Christians.
A church covenant helps internalize the features of the new covenant that we participate in through Christ, so that we might be unified and obedient to the commitments of the new covenant. It helps us rally around the truths of the new covenant and outlines for us who we are what we should pursue now as participants in the new covenant.
So, a church covenant reminds us; commitments and community are two sides of the same coin.