Spirit and Covenant
From the start, the promise of the Spirit has been integral to redemption and the Covenant of God with His people.
In Galatians, Paul links the “promise of the Spirit” to the “blessing of Abraham,” the covenant promise that God will bless the Gentiles in the Patriarch.
And in doing so, he refers to the gift of the Spirit received by the Galatians “through a hearing of faith.” Thus, the gift of the Spirit is one of the covenant promises made to Abraham.
And in his sermon delivered on the Day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter also links the gift of the Spirit to the “blessing” to all nations promised to Abraham - “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).
Thus, the gift received by the 120 disciples on that day was the outworking of what had been promised in the Abrahamic covenant.
- (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 between me and you and your seed after you to their generations for an everlasting covenant.”
However, Israel failed to live up to the covenant requirements. Though the nation swore to keep “all the words which Yahweh has spoken,” history attests to its failure to fulfill its covenant obligations. But in fairness, Israelites lacked the ability to meet its righteous requirements because they did not have the Spirit - (Exodus 24:1-8, Numbers 11:1-15).
FAILURE AND SOLUTION
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 your heart and the heart of your seed to love Yahweh your God with all your heart” - (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).
Later, 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,” But NOT a covenant according to the one He had made with their forefathers:
- “Behold, days are coming, declares 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 the new covenant, one in which He wrote His laws in the hearts of His people. The circumcision of the heart foreseen by Moses is realized in the “new covenant” prophesied by Jeremiah.
The New Testament applies this very promise recorded in Jeremiah to the covenant inaugurated by the death of Jesus - (Hebrews 8:6-12).
Likewise, the prophet Ezekiel employs this same theme, but he adds 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 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.”
Thus, Ezekiel combines the promises of the New Covenant, the Spirit, and the circumcised heart. Centuries later, Paul applied these promises to the congregation 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 point to the centrality of the Spirit for the New Covenant community. With the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the long-awaited New Covenant and the gift of the Spirit arrived among the people of God.
Especially in Paul’s letters, the connection of the gift of the Spirit to the Abrahamic covenant and the “new covenant” illustrate the continuity of what God is doing in His Church with the covenant that he made with Abraham, and with His redemptive purposes for the nation of Israel.
Thus, the Church and the receipt of the Spirit are not unforeseen interim stages or detours in the redemptive plan of God, but integral parts of His covenant from the very beginning. The covenant with Abraham finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and the new people of God comprised of Jewish and Gentile believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit.