Are Christians Under a Covenant?

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Q. “M. A. W.” You ask for explanation as to the Covenant or Testament (διαθηκη) of Galatians 3:1717And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:17), and Hebrews 8, 9 and if we are under the new covenant, or any covenant at all?
A. In Galatians 3:15-2915Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. 20Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. 21Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:15‑29), we have the relationship between law and promise discussed as to how they stand one to another. Unconditional promise was made of God to Abraham 430 years before the law, and law then coming in with its conditions could not set aside the unconditional promises. Moreover, in the law there were two parties and a mediator; in promise there was but one — God Himself, acting from Himself, and requiring no conditional terms. One was a contract, the other was grace. Read Galatians 3:1616Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Galatians 3:16) thus: “Now to Abraham were the promises made (Gen. 12), and to his seed”; that is, Christ risen, as Isaac, in figure, raised from the dead (Gen. 22); where God ratified the previously-given covenant (Gen. 12; 15), by His oath, to which no conditions were attached whatever. Galatians 3:1717And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. (Galatians 3:17), “And this I say, the covenant previously ratified by God to Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul,” etc. The law was added, “for the sake of transgressions,” but did not disannul the previous purpose of God, while testing man.
There are really but two covenants in Scripture — the old covenant and the new. Still the word covenant is used in several places in connection with the Lord, when it is but the enunciation of certain relationships into which He was pleased to enter with man or the creature (Genesis 9:8-178And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, 9And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. 11And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 12And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: 15And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. 17And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth. (Genesis 9:8‑17), &c.), or to be approached by him, but without conditions. The context must decide the sense.
In Hebrews 8; 9, He shows the setting aside of the old covenant, and the introduction of a second, yet to be made with Judah and Israel. Meanwhile a Mediator is introduced previous to the time when Israel and Judah are again in the land. This Mediator has shed the blood necessary for its establishment, but has not yet established it —the party concerned not yet being under this dealing of God; that is, Israel and Judah. If Jer. 31:31-4031Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: 33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. 35Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: 36If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. 37Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord. 38Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the city shall be built to the Lord from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner. 39And the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goath. 40And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, shall be holy unto the Lord; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever. (Jeremiah 31:31‑40) be read, where the new covenant is enunciated, it will be seen that no mediator is named. Christ having been rejected when He came to fulfill the promises made to the fathers, sheds His blood and goes on high, and all direct dealings with Israel are suspended, while all necessary for its ultimate establishment has been accomplished. In Matthew 26:2828For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28), He says: “This is my blood of the new covenant”; not, This is the new covenant, but the “the blood” of it. The covenant itself has not yet been established.
Hence in Hebrews, while the writer shows the passing away of the old, and introduction of the new, he never shows its application as a present thing. The only two blessings of the new covenant which we get, as Christians, are forgiveness of sins, and direct teaching from God. Christians are not under a covenant in any wise. They have to do with the Mediator of it while hidden in the heavens before He renews His relationship with Judah and Israel, to whom alone the covenant pertains. See Jer. 31:3131Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: (Jeremiah 31:31); Hebrews 8:8-128For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: 9Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. 10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 8:8‑12).
Hence, too, in Hebrews 9:1515And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Hebrews 9:15), he says: “For this cause he is the mediator of the new covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance”; not, the establishment of the new covenant, but “eternal inheritance,” as having to do with the Mediator Himself whose blood had been shed.
It is striking the way the writer avoids the application of the new covenant to Christians while speaking of it with reference to Judah and Israel, and at the same time appropriates to the former the two blessings which flow from it to them.
Hebrews 9:1616For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. (Hebrews 9:16) and 17 are a parenthesis. They show that even in human things a testament has no force as long as the testator lives. Death comes, and then it is valid. It is the same word, but used distinctly in this sense.