A New Law

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
New laws and systems of law occur regularly, maybe almost daily worldwide. How often do those new laws really change the conditions in which people live and their behavior? Though change does occur sometimes, it is by no means guaranteed by a change of constitution or statute.
Bangladesh, for example, went from being a part of India, to being a part of Pakistan, to being an independent nation, in less than twenty-five years. In its thirty-plus years of independence it has had several changes of government, from those elected by democratic process, to military dictatorships, and back. In all those changes neither the conditions of the majority’s lives, nor their behavior, have shown much real difference. Similar examples could be noted on virtually all continents and eras of world history.
Yet, sometimes new laws and governments make real changes in circumstance and behavior. Most historians would note the Constitution of the United States as such a difference-making document and would credit much of the prosperity and happiness of the American people to it. Other countries and populations may also be able to make similar claims for their laws.
Why do these systems work when others do not? Why do some people react positively to democracy, for instance, whereas it fails miserably in other places? Is it a matter of the wisdom and skill of those who wrote the laws? Is it that some constitutions are written more perfectly than others, or that only certain ones have sufficient safeguards built in? Sometimes we seem to think that it is all dependent upon the system. If we get the law just perfect, then it will have to work.
In the ancient state of Judah, the prophet Jeremiah admits the failure of a system of law, even though that law was of divine origin. How can one question the wisdom or skill of the writer of the Law of Moses? How can one doubt the adequacy of its provisions? God himself authored them. His omniscience devised all the statutes. Yet he sees need of a change. He promises a new covenant, “not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers.” This, according to Hebrews 8:7-13, is the covenant given and administered through Jesus, called elsewhere “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).
Jeremiah gives us reasons why the new covenant would succeed where the old one failed. Those reasons are not completely concerned with the nature of the law. Rather they address the relationship of the governed to the law. “I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” The old law was written upon stone tablets and read to the people. The new law would be instilled within them. This implies both agreement with the law and commitment to it on the part of those governed by it. It is not only “God?s law” — it is “our law,” one to which we are devoted.
Someone has said that democracy can succeed only so long as the people act responsibly. Christianity is not a democracy, yet God devised its laws with the same principle in mind. Those who trust in Christ commit to following his laws. They willingly submit, making them part of their very nature. When this happens an amazing thing follows. Obedience is simplified — one does what one really wants to do, which is to please Christ. This means that his law frees us from “outside” constraints. It is written on our minds and in our hearts. It is much more akin to self-discipline than to coercion or governance from an outside source. That is why it may be termed a “law of liberty.”
Any Christianity which does not produce changes in behavior is suspect. We are called out of the world to be separate (2 Corinthians 6:17). We are charged to be transformed (Romans 12:1). The new covenant in Christ Jesus contains the power to accomplish those changes. Our task is to trust Christ and to submit to his covenant.

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