Reread the title again. Let those words burn into your memory like a branding iron. The New Covenant (NC) that our LORD Jesus Christ inaugurated with his own blood (Hebrews 9:14-15) is unmixed, unbreakable, and unconditional. For some, this may seem obvious. But for the many, perhaps these words have yet to be considered in their full depth. The purpose and nature of the NC is indeed an all-encompassing doctrine that has a domino effect upon the whole of one’s systematic theology, as well as one’s view of the atonement of Christ.
So here are some questions: Is it possible that unbelievers can be members of the NC? Can someone who professes to be a Christian break it by falling away? And if we can break it by falling away, does that make the NC a conditional covenant? Depending on how you answer these not only determines how you view the NC, but ultimately determines whether you view the NC biblically.
The Nature and Purpose of the New Covenant
Before we describe how the New Covenant (NC) is unmixed, unbreakable, and unconditional, we must turn to the passages that make these truth the most explicit. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, we have our precious NC prophesied to Israel concerning the nature of this covenant:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant (New Covenant) that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (emphasis mine)
Jeremiah reiterates the prediction of this glorious covenant in chapter 32:36-41. And verses 38-40 says:
“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (emphasis mine)
Finally, Hebrews Chapters 8 & 9 reaffirms, with explicit revelation, the prophetic fulfillment of the NC, which was inaugurated and accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection. Aside from the “they shall be my people, and I will be their God” phrase, which is pregnant with meaning, there are three things to take notice here concerning the nature and purpose of the NC.
- Only those whose sins are forgiven and regenerated will be members of it (Unmixed)
- It is not like the Old Covenant(s) which was/were broken by disobedience (Unbreakable)
- And it follows that if it is unbreakable, then it is also unconditional. This further solidified by #3
- Those who are in this covenant will never fall away or be lost because it is God who keeps it (Unconditional)
An Unmixed Covenant
An unmixed covenant simply means that only those who are saved are members of it. In every sense then, when we discuss the blood of the New Covenant (NC), and who are members of it, we are inevitably overlapping into the question of, “For whom did Christ die?” It is a popular belief that Christ paid for the sins of every single person that ever lived, without exception. And that his sacrifice will only be applied to the soul of a sinner when they believe. While I don’t disagree with the last sentence, others like myself believe that the intention of Christ’s atonement was only for those who believe. And while redemption was accomplished for all ethnicities of the world without distinction, only those who Christ intended to save will be saved. In other words, the elect of the Father, chosen and foreknown before the foundation of the world.
But even if we disagree with one another, one central point holds true: Only those who believe have eternal life! And those that possess eternal life are not only regenerated, justified, and sanctified by our LORD Jesus Christ, but are the true and only members of the NC. And it is the promise and nature of the NC that makes this truth evident.
Not Everyone Agrees on the Nature of the New Covenant
Not surprisingly, this is not a unanimous belief. Though there are many who do not understand the nature and purpose of the NC, even more misunderstand it how it applies. Some of our Arminian friends, though they rightly believe that only those who believe are members of the NC, they still inconsistently believe that the blood of this NC pays for the sins of every single person that has ever lived. Not only that, they believe that one can break the NC when they fall away and be ultimately lost. Thus making it a conditional covenant that we must ultimately keep.
But our Arminian friends are not alone. Sadly, some of our Presbyterian brethren say similar things, albeit for different reasons, on a narrower and reformed scale. For instance, some say that unregenerate sinners can be external members of the NC. And this occurs by baptism in the same way our Old Covenant brethren became members of that covenant through circumcision. Fortunately, some of them still affirm that unless those external members are truly born again, they will never receive the internal/eternal benefits of Christ’s atonement on their behalf. But unfortunately, however, they still tragically believe the NC is a mixed covenant, consisting of believers and unbelievers.
Also, what many don’t realize is that not only do our Presbyterian brethren believe that the NC is a mixed covenant, consisting of both lost and saved, but some of them, just like our Arminian friends, believe that these external members can also break the NC when they fall away. Thus, they too make it a conditional covenant, although unintentionally. And even though they are not like the Arminians in saying that someone who is truly born again can be ultimately lost, they are similar in believing that a “member” of the NC can break it if they fall away. And although they don’t believe that the blood of the NC applies to every single person that has ever lived, they still affirm that unbelievers can become members of it (i.e. infant baptism).
Who Are The Unmixed Members?
According to Jeremiah and Hebrews, here are several covenant promises that help us identify to whom the blood of the NC applies.
- They will know God. Not in the sense where we know about God, or that he exists. But in an intimate, salvific sense, which is only for believers. Prefaced to this idea is that we no longer have to be taught to know the LORD. In John 6, where we enjoy our greatest scriptural proof that only those who are drawn by the Father will come to Christ, it says that they will be “taught of God” (verse 45). And that it is only those who have heard and learned from the Father, come to Christ (cf. John 6:63-65; John 14;26; Ephesians 4:20-24). And this is fulfilled when we hear the gospel, are born again, and drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit.
- They will have God’s laws written in their hearts. Just like the previous point, God will put his laws in the hearts of those who are redeemed, not unbelievers. This is not in a Romans 1 sense, but in a regenerative sense where we love God’s law and love to obey him (cf. Ezekiel 36:27; Romans 8:5-9; 1 John 3:1-10). And it is the blood of the New Covenant, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that believers are able to do this in the new nature given to them (Hebrews 9:11-14; Ephesians 4:20-24). This also strongly indicates that it takes something more than baptism to become a legitimate member of the NC.
- They will have their sins forgiven and remembered no more. If you need the greatest proof that the NC is an unmixed covenant, this is it! Only believers have their sins forgiven and remembered by God no more, forever. Since the NC is the fulfillment and substance of the Covenant of Grace, there has never been a time in history where someone was not saved by the efficacy and power of the NC. The Old Testament saints looked forward to the promise of Christ and his covenant, being saved by grace through faith. Meanwhile, we NC saints look back at the revelation of Christ’s fulfillment through the death and resurrection, also being saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:15-22). There is no unbeliever, or apostate, that has ever experienced this truth.
- They will never fall away. This part will rub Arminians and some of my Presbyterian brethren the wrong way, but Jeremiah 32:38-40 states that those are who members of the NC will not fall away (cf. John 6:39; 1 Peter 1:2-5; Hebrews 10:39; 1 John 2:19). Not only does this debunk the idea that true believers can fall away (Arminianism), but that there is no such thing as a NC covenant member (external or otherwise) that can “break” the covenant (Presbyterianism). This has the doctrine of the Preservation/Perseverance written all over it! And if we believe that God fulfills his promise to his saints (Hebrews 6:13-20), and that when he saves them, they shall know him, have his laws written on their hearts, and have their sins forgiven and remembered no more, surely we would believe that God will finish the work by preserving his people (Philippians 1:6), and giving them the strength to persevere (Luke 22:32; Philippians 2:12-13), wouldn’t we? If not, wouldn’t this, then, make Christ’s precious covenant conditional and breakable by our actions?
In Part 2, we will explore the Unbreakable and Unconditional nature of the NC. And we will look at other Old Covenants that are not like the NC, and why it matters in light of the atonement.
-Until we go home
Thank you for writing this article, both parts. I attend a reformed Presbyterian church with mixed membership, that is, a mixture of Presbyterian and Baptists. The idea of the NC being a mixed multitude is central to their doctrine of pedobaptism, and it also ends up leading to the conclusion that the NC is breakable. This article is helpful in giving answers and solidifying what I already knew but wasn’t able to articulate.