Christianity According to the Old Testament

31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NIV)

I find this passage fascinating – I can get out of this some interesting aspects of this “New Covenant” from this passage alone.  These thoughts were inspired by a class I was in a couple of years ago, but more recently have been on my mind…

  • God will play an active role in internalizing his nature into the people of this New Covenant (internalize the ‘law’ – the law being a manifestation of his own ways and principles into rules and regulations for how to live).  The mind = the heart.  These are placed in a poetic 2-stanza parallel structure showing they both mean the same thing.  God places a knowledge of his character into the deepest and decision-making part of our being – our hearts (i.e. our minds).
  • Whatever our own intensity is to learn God’s ways and character so we might be more like him, it seems that God is taking the initiative to teach us himself regardless of our level of effort.  He knows how to teach us better than we know how to learn on our own.
  • People in this New Covenant will not have to tell each other to “know” God.  This usage of ‘knowing’ in the Hebrew in this context very likely means to have a personal relationship (see Hebrew and other Semitic/ANE languages word study on “to know” research here).  They won’t have to tell each other – “You must get to know God personally!” (verb is in the command state) – because you aren’t in this New Covenant unless you know him personally already.  This means there are a lot of people that claim to be “Christian” but are really not – they don’t know God even though they live externally religious lives – they say and even do nice religious things.  Jesus makes this point clear in Matt 7:2 (italics added by me):

    21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

  • Knowing God (in a relationship) was not a law in the Old Testament.  It was however a criticism of God’s towards Israel’s religious and political leaders and people (i.e. see Isa 45:4, Jer 2:8, 4:22, 9:3, 9:6, Hosea 4:1, 5:4, 6:6).
  • A relationship with God has nothing to do with social or economic status or even vocation within or outside of religious ministry – everyone will know God.  The level of the relationship is up to the individual and God.  Talk to him more = a closer relationship.
  • This New Covenant is for people who are sinners but still desire a relationship with God.  If you’re a sinner – you’re a candidate!  If you aren’t a sinner, or don’t think you are, this is not for you.
  • The Hebrew word “remember” used here does carry the English meaning that something was forgotten and now recalled, but rather means that something is actively focused on.  So God will no longer “focus” on your sin, which probably means that it is not something that is in the forefront of his mind when dealing with a person in this New Covenant, rather he is focused on “putting his law into our minds” (v.33a) and being in a relationship with us (v.34a).  Whereas people who don’ t have a relationship with him still interact with him in the following ways:
    • Experience his judgement (he has to judge – it’s his job as the ruler of the world)
    • Experience his activity drawing them to himself to have a relationship (Luke 14:23, John 3:16, 12:32)
    • Uses them to further his purposes on Earth. (i.e. Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh)

    5 Responses to “Christianity According to the Old Testament”

    1. Elise
      1

      This part

      A relationship with God has nothing to do with social or economic status or even vocation within or outside of religious ministry – everyone will know God. The level of the relationship is up to the individual and God. Talk to him more = a closer relationship.

      is especially interesting to me. Where I live (south Orange County, CA) there are a lot of religious people, namely conservative Christians. I find it difficult to avoid getting caught up in the “prosperity gospel” that a lot of people embrace, whether intentionally or unknowingly, in my neighborhood. The idea that if you have a relationship with God, it will be manifest in a certain type of family image, a certain level of wealth, etc. The idea seems to be that if you have a relationship with God, he will “provide” – and “provide” here seems to oftentimes be understood to mean a spouse and good-looking, intelligent, talented kids; an SUV; a nice, modern home with coordinating decor….i.e., “provide” is taken way beyond the fed-with-shelter-when-it-rains necessity level. While there isn’t anything wrong with having more than is needed inherently, the flip side of the “prosperity gospel” I sense here is that if you are struggling financially, or don’t want to have kids, or are in your 40s and single, or don’t have the newest-and-greatest, there is something wrong. That maybe if you would pray harder, you’d have more.

      I think this puts a lot of pressure, especially, on men. To have the right vocation that can provide excessively for a family. Since having kids, my husband and I have talked a lot about the pressures that society puts on fathers and mothers separately. We’ve decided that if our family was in need, more judgement would be cast upon him (for not providing enough) rather than me (even though there is scriptural support for me contributing to our income). Also, that very few people seem to consider whether Christains are being good stewards of what they have been given. Everyone wants to be the one given ten talents, rather than wanting to be good stewards of the one or two they might have been given.

      Anyhow, I’m rambling and off on a tangent. But I appreciate the idea that knowing God has nothing to do with economic status or vocation.

      Reply to this comment.
    2. Jonathan
      2
      Author Comment

      Good to hear from you again Elise! My prayers go out to you and your husband with your twins!! Yes – I really dislike the concept of the prosperity gospel – although oddly I’ve never lived in a place where it was prevalent, so I only dislike it intellectually rather than from experience :). Our pastor really hates it- he is always debunking it if it comes up in a sermon.

      Around here most of the people in our church are either retired or have lost their jobs and are taking whatever temporary job they can get. So it’s just not a reality to believe that kind of thing anyway – so I guess we are fortunate 🙂 There is absolutely no pressure on anyone – except possibly to find a good job that allows you to be home with your family.

      I sure am glad that God doesn’t think that way. I’ve been reading through the New Testament recently – and it has a lot of warnings and criticism for the rich and a lot of hope and support for the poor. It seems that being underprivileged is a spiritual blessing that makes us rely on God more, and thus leads us to more opportunities to interact with him (I think that’s my understanding).

      The other thing that has really been impressed upon me over the past 5 or 6 years since I’ve began writing and commenting on the internet – is that the “Christianity” and the “Christian” community is filled with people who aren’t even Christian as defined by the verses above in Jeremiah. They believe in God (which doesn’t matter) and they talk religiously and don’t do really bad things, but they don’t know God.

      Not knowing God will cause people to struggle with greed and fail – but they are committed to the Christian culture, so they will try to incorporate it into their doctrine. Out of every church and every Christian neighborhood or community, only a percentage really are in a relationship with God – the rest are just part of the religious culture and don’t really care about God at all – the way people have been dealing with gods and religion ever since the beginning. Put in your time, appease the deity on Sunday, but live your own life M-F.

      Reply to this comment.
    3. Elise
      3

      I read your response quite some time ago and have been thinking on it every so often ever since. Especially raising kids now, I’m even more sensitive to the ways I get “caught up” in the very wealthy culture we live in here in Southern California. My husband and I already talk about ways we can expose our kids, when they are a little earlier, to a more “real” view of the world. We recently made the tough decision to go back to a UCC church we attended for a while before we had kids. The congregation is older, there are less programs for youth (Sunday School program doesn’t even start until 3 or 4, while the “mainstreem” church we have been attending for the past 2 years has childcare starting as young as 6 months – appealing to exhausted parents!). We switched back for a couple of reasons, one being that the people there strike us as more down to earth, less concerned with “stuff” – less trendy, less consumer-driven, less concerned with the worldly things.

      The difficult thing about the “non-Christian Christians” you are describing is that in my experience, they are usually trendy and socially appealing. Especially to youth. Isn’t it fun to go to a church with cute trendy teens, amazing media-based worship, expensive drumsets and guitars for the worship band….it’s snazzy, and it’s appealing.

      I can see why Jesus taught that it’s difficult for rich people to truly be saved.

      Reply to this comment.
    4. Sarah
      4

      Jon, I really appreciated this post of yours. What an awesome big brother I have! I’ve recently felt a little discouraged with how hard life is right now (in some ways). Studying (or rather, trying to study) for my comp exams has made feel like a huge failure– I’m terribly behind, and I get depressed about it all the time. Then I look at friends our age at our church who are having families and have jobs and houses, have money, and I think– what on earth are we doing? But how delightful to think about knowing God as having a relationship rather than having a “good” life. I mean I do have a wonderful life, I’m hugely blessed. But when it’s feeling pretty hard it is a great encouragement to think that I do believe I know God and that God knows, and continues to guide and teach me within that relationship, even when I’m screwing up. Anyway, thanks for the post!!
      your sis (:

      Reply to this comment.
    5. Jonathan
      5
      Author Comment

      Sarah! It’s awesome to hear from you! You are doing such a hard thing – I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do what you’re doing – finishing up your PhD work… You are right – it’s good to know that God doesn’t guarantee an easy life, but one with a relationship with him. So true.

      Coming from the side of having a family and a house – I need to know that too – life is so overwhelming at times with sleep deprivation, kid troubles at school, work instability, etc. Through it all I know I have, and experience, a relationship with God, the most important thing of all – which makes everything else bearable.

      Reply to this comment.

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