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EXPERIENCING CHRIST WITHINPassionately Embracing God's Provisions for Supernatural Living
By DWIGHT EDWARDS
WaterBrook PRESSCopyright © 2002 Dwight Edwards
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWEEK ONE
A Brand-New Arrangement
Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God.
1. (a) As you begin, how would you express your personal goals or expectations for the time you'll spend working through Experiencing Christ Within? Record your thoughts here:
(b) Take a moment to pray and ask God to open your eyes and heart to whatever adjustments He wants to make in your beliefs and daily practices.
From God: Something New and Different
A profoundly interesting word-covenant-is used often in Scripture for God's dealings or arrangements with humanity, such as certain agreements He made with Noah, Abraham, and David. One especially major covenant he made was with Moses and the nation of Israel after they came out of Egypt. This so-called Old Covenant is also known throughout Scripture as "the law."
But later we encounter what God calls "a new covenant," promised through the Old Testament prophets and taught more fully in our New Testament. From the first mention of it, God states that it will be wholly unlike the law.
In this lesson we'll explore the fundamental differences between the Old Covenant and theNew. We'll look also at God's purpose for the Law and at the radical difference the New Covenant makes in our approach to spirituality.
2. With an open and eager mind, read the Lord's words to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 31:31-34. (We'll be coming back often to this foundational New Covenant passage.) In verses 31-32, God emphasizes that the New Covenant will not be like (or "not according to") the older covenant He made with His people after bringing them out of Egypt. In verse 32, what does God point out about their response to the older covenant?
3. Continue your careful study of this important passage in Jeremiah 31 by answering these questions:
(a) What does the Lord promise to do for His people in verse 33?
(b) What further promise from God do you see at the end of verse 34?
(c) What effects of the New Covenant are foretold in verse 34?
4. Now turn to Hebrews 8, and notice (beginning in verse 8) that Jeremiah 31:31-34 is quoted in full-here in the heart of a New Testament book that teaches the exalted supremacy and ministry of Christ. That's how important these New Covenant promises are!
(a) In Hebrews 8:6 (just before the Jeremiah passage is quoted), how is the New Covenant described?
(b) In Hebrews 8:13 (immediately after the Jeremiah quotation), how is the Old Covenant described? And what do you think this means?
5. Another message from God with New Covenant content is found in Ezekiel 36:25-27. What promises from God for His people do you see here? (You'll find a central promise in each of these three verses; each promise is expressed in more than one way.)
The Law-Good or Bad?
6. So was the Old Covenant essentially bad? Was the law itself to blame for the failure by God's people to obey Him? Is the law even to blame for our failure to obey God? How would you answer these questions from what you see in Romans 3:31 and 7:12 and Hebrews 8:7-8?
So Hard to Let Go
The two sharpest distinctives of this liberating New Covenant are its radical difference from the law, and its radical superiority to it.
And why should that concern us?
Because it's harder than most of us think to fully let go of a law-based approach to spirituality. Our flesh naturally gravitates toward legalistic approaches to holiness that encourage at least some reliance on self. A blend of God's helping us and our helping God is both reasonable and enticing to our fallen nature. It enables us to partially share credit with God for any spiritual success. Most of all, it keeps our pride at least somewhat intact.
7. Paul used strong words in talking to the Galatians about this issue of a law-based approach to Christianity. For example, look at his statements to them in Galatians 3:1-3 and 4:8-9. What are the negatives he pointed out for law-based spirituality?
Make a Clean Break
But what's really so wrong about mixing a little Old Covenant into our lives? Won't it cause people to live more fully for God?
The New Testament warns us, however, to give up law-based spirituality or suffer significant spiritual consequences. True spirituality requires an absolutely clean break from the old way of doing things, replacing it with a radically new approach to God-honoring living.
Jesus had this in mind when He said,
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins. (Mark 2:21-22)
Here He makes two highly significant points concerning His relationship with the old system, the law.
First, Jesus did not come to patch up the Old Covenant. He brought in a brand new garment, not a stitch job on an old one.
Second, Jesus did not come writ into the old system, but to cleanly replace it. Like new wine, He is too powerful and vibrant to be confined by the old.
In both cases the message is this: If you mingle these two realities-Old and New Covenants-you end up ruining the whole lot. It's like mixing diesel with regular gas in your car; at best, it will only sputter. The New Covenant doesn't try to salvage what it can from the old but cleanly replaces it with the new.
Is there some sputtering because of a wrong mix in your spiritual engine? Or does your life manifest the supernatural outflow of the indwelling life of Christ, which is the essence of the New Covenant? Let me say it again: The normal Christian life is nothing more or less than the outflowing of the indwelling Christ.
"No Throwing Rocks"
This is why the key to the Christian life is not obedience to God's standards.
That statement may sound like out-and-out heresy to you, so let me hasten to say that obedience to God's standards is a hugely important part of Christian living. One cannot honestly read the New Testament without coming to this conclusion. But in true spirituality, obedience to God's standards is the by-product and inevitable result of something that's centrally more important.
One of the main reasons the obedience demanded by the law could not produce spirituality in God's people is the effect law has on our flesh. Years ago I was camping beside a river. I'd been there only a few minutes when I saw a sign: "No Throwing Rocks into the River." Guess what? Suddenly I was overcome with a tremendous urge to throw at least one rock into the river. It never even occurred to me to throw a rock until I read that sign, but the law of the campsite aroused the rebellion in my flesh. (I'll leave you guessing as to whether I actually threw it.)
When God's standards press down upon us, our flesh inevitably rises up in rebellion. Paul noted that our "sinful passions ... were aroused by the law" (Romans 7:5). Ever since the Fall, our flesh has been hostile to God's rule in our lives. The law cannot change this hostility, but only further aggravates it.
That's a big part of why God had to do something radically new in order to bring about our genuine obedience and spirituality.
Into His Arms
In Hebrews 8:6 (and also in 9:15), Jesus Christ is described as the "Mediator" of the new and better covenant. Back in the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 42:6 and 49:8, the Lord God had promised that He would give Christ "as a covenant to the people"-Christ Himself would be the covenant.
8. To better understand Christ's role in the New Covenant, look up Hebrews 7:22 and Malachi 3:1, which give other titles to Christ in reference to this covenant. "All these names," wrote Andrew Murray, "point to the one truth: that in the New Covenant, Christ is all in all." Record what these titles are, and add your thoughts on the significance of each.
As believers, you and I have been delivered out of the arms of the law and into the arms of Christ. As Paul expressed it, you died to the law "that you may be married to another-to Him who was raised from the dead" (Romans 7:4).
What a wondrous reality! Life is no longer to be lived under a code but through a Person, a breathtakingly glorious Person who is not only the unrivaled Sovereign of the universe but also the supreme Lover of our souls, One who infuses us moment by moment with resurrection power. The Old Covenant provided a code to live under; the New Covenant provides a Person to live through.
God's foremost calling for your life is a passionate and deepening love affair with His Son. When this is in place, God's standards will take care of themselves.
David Brainerd, the young eighteenth-century American missionary to the Delaware and Seneca tribes, discovered this powerfully in his preaching. He wrote, "Ever since my first coming among these Indians" he had been "favored ... in preaching Christ crucified, and making Him the center and mark to which all my discourses among them were directed.... And God was pleased to give these divine truths such a powerful influence ... the precepts of morality, and spending time in repeated harangues upon external duties."
By contrast, being married to the law inevitably leads to despair. It's like living with Mr. Perfect. He never makes a mistake, never has a bad day, never indulges himself, he's always on time and on target in everything he does. Beyond this, he expects exactly the same from you. Perfection is your only acceptable standard, and he lets you know it every time you fail to measure up. If you do nine out of ten things right, you're still a failure.
Moreover, if you dare ask for his help in accomplishing the lists of responsibilities he keeps handing you, he turns a cold shoulder and tells you to try harder. It's all up to you. You feel an abiding sense of hopelessness.
How blessedly different is life married to our Lord! Instead of acceptance conditioned wholly by your performance, He assures you that you can never lose His love and provides you with an eternally significant purpose for living. He actually delights in you, and though He's displeased when you sin, this can never, ever cause Him to reject you. He sympathizes with your weaknesses and picks you up when you fall. Anything He asks you to do for Him, He Himself fully intends to do through you.
As Blaise Pascal expressed it, "The law demands what it cannot give; grace gives all it demands." No longer are we governed externally by a list of moral duties; we're now compelled internally to a lifestyle of radical, holy love because of the Person who's taken up residence within.
Of course many of the things your new Husband requires of you are the same things your former husband (the law) required, but now you do them freely, gladly, and even better than before. Grace always motivates and enables far beyond what law can do.
Location, Location, Location
9. Regarding where God's law is "written," what primary difference do you see between the Old Covenant (look at Exodus 32:15-16) and the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:33)? And what does this difference fully mean for believers today?
Under the law, God's commands were externally imposed-written on tablets of stone and given to Israel with the requirement for wholehearted obedience.
But in the New Covenant, God's commands are now internally implanted-inscribed within us, just as God promised through His prophets: "I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33).
The Desire Is There
What this startling truth means practically is that at the moment of your rebirth, God gave you a new set of godly inclinations, a divinely implanted disposition that always delights in doing His will. There is within you a Spirit-wrought disposition
The New Covenant: For Us or for Israel?
One of the critical issues about such Old Testament passages as Jeremiah 31:31-34 is how this New Covenant applies to the church today. Clearly the promises of the New Covenant were originally addressed to the nation of Israel (to "the house of Israel" and "the house of Judah," as Jeremiah 31:31 says). How then can the church legitimately claim these promises for herself? The issue is complex, and in this brief setting I'll highlight only two significant points in my understanding of it.
(1) The promises of the New Covenant will find their ultimate and complete with the nation of Israel in what is often referred to as the "millennial kingdom." However, the church has entered now into a strong foretaste of the New Covenant's spiritual blessings. Like the kingdom of God, the New Covenant is "now, but not yet."
(2) New Testament authors as well as Jesus Himself provide us more than sufficient warrant for applying to ourselves the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant. In Luke 22:20 we find Christ's unmistakable assertion that the New Covenant was about to be inaugurated through His death; "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you."
Other references in the New Testament that indicate or imply our present participation in the New Covenant include Romans 2:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 and 6:16; Galatians 3:13-14; 5:6; and 6:15; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11-12, Hebrews 7:18-22; 8:6-13; 9:15; 10:9-25; 12:24; and many others.
You Shall vs. I Will
In the Old Covenant. God's people were instructed with the repeated words, "You shall ..." and "You shall not ..."
But in the New Covenant, the watchword is no longer "You shall," but God's "I will": " I will put My law in their minds ... and I will be their God.... I will forgive their inquiry"; "I will cleanse you.... I will give you a new heart.... I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes" (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27)
Nothing is more fundamental to understanding and appreciating the differences between the two covenants than these two phrases.
The Glory of God's Law
"The law of the Lord is perfect ..." (Psalm 19:7). The psalmist rightly understood this perfection and rejoiced in it: "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97).
The same message comes through in the words of Isaiah the prophet: "It pleased the Lord for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious" (Isaiah 42:21, NIV).
The Tragedy of the Old Covenant
The law we find presented in the opening books of the Old Testament is saturated with the concept of "covenant."
The core of what we term the Old Covenant is contained in the Ten Commandments, which are called "words of the covenant" (Exodus 34:28), while the full law given by God at Mount Sinai is called "the Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 24:7).
The tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written were known as the "tablets of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 9:9), and the chest inside the tabernacle (and later in the temple) where these tablets were kept was called the "ark of the covenant" (Hebrews 9:2-4).
As God was preparing to give the Ten Commandments to Moses, He told His people, "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people" (Exodus 19:5). He later made clear that to disobey these laws was to "break My covenant" (Leviticus 26:15).
But even then God warned Moses that the people would fail at this: "They will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.... When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant" (Deuteronomy 31:16-20).
Centuries later, God reminded the prophet Jeremiah of what His people had done through their chronic disobedience: "The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers" (Jeremiah 11:10).
And in Isaiah 24:5, God extended this verdict of covenant-breaking to all mankind: "The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant" (NIV).
Excerpted from EXPERIENCING CHRIST WITHIN by DWIGHT EDWARDS Copyright © 2002 by Dwight Edwards
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.