Spirit and Covenant

OVERVIEW - From the very beginning, the Church and the gift of the Spirit have been integral to the redemptive plan of God and the promised New Covenant

River Rapids - Photo by Jade Lee on Unsplash
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul linked the “promise of the Spirit” to the “
blessing of Abraham” that God would bestow on the “Gentiles, through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Thus, at least according to the Apostle to the Gentiles, the gift of the Spirit is part of the covenant promises made by Yahweh to Abraham, and “to his seed.” - [Photo by Jade Lee on Unsplash].

Jesus referred to the Spirit as the “promise of the Father, a gift given freely to everyone who asked, whether Jew or Gentile. Before his ascension, he commanded the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the “promise of the Father,” which was in fulfillment of the prophecy by the prophet Joel - “In the last days, God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh” – (Joel 2:28-32, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, 2:16-21).

On the Day of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit was the first stage in the fulfillment of that prophecy. In his sermon that day, Peter also connected the promise of the Spirit to the covenant “blessing” to all nations “in Abraham”:
  • (Acts 2:38-39) – “The promise is for you, and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” - (Acts 2:1-4, 2:15-22).
  • (Genesis 12:1-3) - “And Yahweh said to Abram… So shall be blessed in you all the clans of the earth.
  • (Genesis 17:7) - “And I will confirm my covenant betwixt me and you, and your seed after you to their generations for an everlasting covenant.”
What was received in Jerusalem was the outworking of the promises made to Abraham. However, the nation of Israel failed to live up to the covenant requirements. Although Israel had sworn to keep “all the words which Yahweh has spoken,” history attests to her failure to live up to her obligations. But her people also lacked the ability to meet its righteous requirements, because they lacked the Spirit - (Exodus 24:1-8, Numbers 11:1-15)?

Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem
From its inception, the Mosaic legislation anticipated the need for something more. After predicting the dispersal of Israel for disobedience, Yahweh promised that after Israel truly repented, she would “return to Yahweh and obey His voice with all your heart and soul.” He would gather the people from all nations and then “circumcise your heart and the heart of your seed to love Yahweh your God with all your heart” - (
Deuteronomy 30:1-6).

The themes of renewal and circumcision of the heart were taken up by the prophet Jeremiah. The day was coming when Yahweh would “make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” However, NOT a covenant according to the one He made with their forefathers:
  • Behold, days are coming, declared Yahweh, when I will solemnize with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, A new covenant: Not like the covenant which I solemnized with their fathers, in the day when I grasped their hand to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt, in that, they broke my covenant, Though I had become a husband to them, declares Yahweh. For this is the covenant which I will solemnize with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh, I will put my law within them, Yea, on their heart will I write it. So will I become their God, and they shall become my people” – (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
God promised to provide a new covenant in which He would write His laws in the hearts of His people. The circumcision-of-the-heart anticipated by Moses would be realized in the New Covenant. The New Testament applies this promise to the church, a covenant inaugurated by the sacrificial death of Jesus:
  • (Hebrews 8:6-12) – “But now, has he attained unto a more distinguished public ministry, by as much as, of a better covenant also he is mediator, which indeed, upon better promises had been legislated. For if that first had been faultless, not, in that case, for a second had there been sought a place. For finding fault with them, he said, Behold, days are coming when I will conclude for the house of Israel and the house of Judah, A COVENANT OF A NEW SORT: Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers… Because this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: GIVING MY LAWS INTO THEIR UNDERSTANDING, UPON THEIR HEARTS, ALSO, WILL I INSCRIBE THEM: AND I WILL BECOME THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BECOME MY PEOPLE.”
The prophet Ezekiel took up this theme, but added the essential element of the Spirit:
  • (Ezekiel 36:24-28) – “Therefore will I take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all the lands, and will bring you upon your own soil… And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh; and MY SPIRIT WILL I PUT WITHIN YOU, and will cause that in my statutes you shall walk, and my regulations you shall observe, and do.”
  • (Ezekiel 37:25-28) – “And they shall dwell upon the land which I gave to my servant Jacob, wherein your fathers dwelt… And I will solemnize to them a covenant of prosperity, a covenant everlasting shall it be with them… And I will become their God, and they shall become my people, so shall the nations know that I, Yahweh, am hallowing Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them, unto times everlasting.
  • For His name’s sake, Yahweh would take pity on Israel and sanctify His name among the nations. Only then, would the Gentiles “know that I am Yahweh.”  He would give Israel a new heart and put “a new spirit within her,” thereby, replacing the stony heart of disobedience with a heart of flesh. Moreover, He would “put His spirit within the Israelites and cause them to walk in His statutes.”

Thus, the book of Ezekiel combines the promises of the New Covenant, the Spirit, and the circumcised heart. The Apostle Paul applied these promises to the congregation at Corinth:

  • (2 Corinthians 3:1-6) – “Our letter ye are, inscribed in our hearts, noted and read by all men, manifesting yourselves that you are a letter of Christ, ministered by us, INSCRIBED, NOT WITH INK, BUT WITH THE SPIRIT OF A LIVING GOD; NOT IN TABLETS OF STONE, BUT IN TABLETS WHICH ARE HEARTS OF FLESH… Not that of our own selves sufficient are we to reckon anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God, who also has made us sufficient to be ministers of A NEW COVENANT, not of letter, but of spirit, for the letter kills, whereas, the Spirit makes alive.

The prophecies of the Hebrew Bible point to the centrality of the Spirit for the New Covenant. With the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, the long-awaited New Covenant, including the gift of the Spirit, has arrived among God’s covenant community, and with it, the time of fulfillment.

Especially in the writings of Paul, the connection of the Spirit to the “promise of the Father” and the Abrahamic covenant, and to the New Covenant, illustrates the continuity of what God is doing in His Church with the covenant with Abraham, and His redemptive purposes for Israel.

Thus, the formation of the Church and the receipt of the Spirit were not unforeseen interim stages or detours in the redemptive plan of God, but integral parts of His covenant with Abraham, and from the very beginning.

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