Essay / Theology

The New Covenant: A Father, His Son, and Their Spirit

The gospel is good news because it is saving. Judgment day didn’t have to be good news, it could be very bad news for you. But it’s good because it brings three important things. Here’s a little Trinitarian sub-outline of the gospel:

A. It brings God as our Father. Not just God as the creator, or the generating matrix of all things that exist; that’s not what the New Testament means when it says he is the Father of believers. He is, in Christ, the Father who has adopted us and made us his own, who took us from not being his children to being his children in Christ, by a sovereign act of adoption.

B. The gospel brings forth the Son of God as our savior: It tells us that in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, and that the Word who was in the beginning with the Father became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.

C. The gospel brings the Spirit in our hearts. The Holy Spirit of God has now taken up residence within us, and that we, followers of Christ, are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

This is the new covenant that Jeremiah would glimpse in the Old Testament, and tell us about beforehand. Or that Isaiah talked about, in Isaiah 59:21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.” There’s that note of finality again, and the salvation of God giving us his Spirit and his word.

The newness of the new covenant and its blessings (the indwelling Spirit, the law written on our hearts, and free access to God): that’s what’s new in the good news.

Notice, however, that what’s new in the new covenant is not necessarily a direct element of our experience. When we look at what’s new in this new life, it’s tempting to point to things like being born again, having a new heart, right doctrine, new ethical norms, new standards that I hold to, new emotions, new standards of conduct, new experiences and a new relationship to God, new habits. It’s tempting to go straight to those.

But we have to put those off a little bit, and say that those things flow from a prior newness: the newness of the Son of God being among us, and the newness of the Spirit being poured out. First and foremost the really new thing is the Son and Spirit in the gospel. Those will yield things like new ideas, new emotional responses, new behavior. You might make new friends, take on new patterns of behavior, and have your mind and your thinking renewed by this new thing that has come to you. But those are a result of thee divinely initiated newness of the new covenant. The gospel itself doesn’t consist of those, but it will always give birth to those in the renewal of the Christian life.

This good news of the saving gospel is an insider’s perspective on God, as God has chosen to make known to us something previously known only to himself. And that opens up a wide field of insight: that the gospel which is final and saving is something from God’s own heart.

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