Spirit and Covenant
In the Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul links the “Promise of the Spirit” to the “blessing of Abraham,” the covenant promise that God would bless the Gentile nations in the Patriarch, namely, the Gift of the Spirit received by the Galatians “through a hearing of faith” rather than “from the works of the Torah.” Thus, the bestowal of the Baptism of the Spirit is in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
When concluding his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter also connected the Gift to the “blessing” of all the nations promised to Abraham – “For 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 2:38-39).
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Hence, the outpouring of the Spirit on the 120 disciples gathered in prayer on that day in Jerusalem was in fulfillment of what God had promised to Abraham - (Genesis 12:1-3, 17:7, Acts 2:1-4).
However, Israel failed to live up to the requirements of the covenant. Though the nation swore to keep “all the words which Yahweh has spoken,” history attests to its failure to do so, though the Israelites could not meet its righteous requirements since they did not possess the Spirit - (Exodus 24:1-8, Numbers 11:1-15).
The Mosaic legislation anticipated Israel’s failure and the need for something more. After predicting the dispersal of the nation, Yahweh promised that after Israel truly repented, she would “return to me and obey my voice with all your heart and soul.”
On that glorious day, He would gather the people from all nations and “circumcise their heart and the heart of their seed to love Yahweh your God with all their heart” - (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).
The themes of renewal and the 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,” But NOT a covenant like the one He made with the nation’s forefathers – (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
He would provide the New Covenant in which His Spirit would write His laws on the hearts of His people. Thus, the circumcision of the heart foreseen by Moses would be actualized in the “New Covenant” prophesied in the Book of Jeremiah.
The New Testament applies this promise to the covenant inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Likewise, the prophet Ezekiel employed the same theme, but he added the essential element of the Spirit - (Hebrews 8:6-12):
- (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 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.”
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The Book of Ezekiel combines the promises of the New Covenant, the Spirit, and the circumcised heart. Centuries later, Paul applied these same promises to the Assembly in Corinth:
- (2 Corinthians 3:1-6) – “You are our letter, 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 the new covenant, not of the letter, but of the spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.”
The prophecies in Jeremiah and Ezekiel pointed to the centrality of the Spirit in the New Covenant community. With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the long-awaited New Covenant and the Gift of the Spirit arrived among God’s people.
Moreover, especially in Paul’s letters, the connection of the Spirit to the Abrahamic covenant and the “New Covenant” illustrates the continuity of what God is doing in His Church and among the nations with His promises to Abraham, and with His redemptive purposes for the nation of Israel.
Thus, the founding of the Church and the Gift of the Spirit were not unforeseen interim stages or necessary detours in the redemptive plan of God, but vital parts of His covenant from the very beginning.
The Abrahamic covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth and the new people of God founded by him, a community composed of Jewish and Gentile believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit.