Two Covenants: A Fork in the Road
Driving Eastbound on I-94 in Chicago (it is southbound in Chicago) the road splits. It is what some call a fork in the road. I-94 continues to the left (eastbound), and I-57 continues to the South. Signs are warning of a split in the road a mile or two ahead. They also suggest possible destinations for each route will take. Depending on where you are going you will go right or left. There is no reason why anyone should go in the wrong direction. But, some manage just that. Taking one route means not taking the other. The implication is that if you take the wrong route, you will gradually go farther off your intended destination. The farther you go on the wrong road, it will probably be longer and harder to get back on track.
At Sinai, the Israelites came to a spiritual fork in the road (Exodus 19 and 20). They had had to choose which spiritual road to take. Their issue was not that they did not want to go where God intended to take them. They thought they could get there by going on the road of their choosing and not God's intended way. They sincerely thought their chosen road could take them there. So, they deviated from God's way and took the other.
Abraham had a similar experience of a spiritual fork in the road. Like the Israelites later, it was not that Abraham did not want what God promised him. Abraham thought he could get there following a path of his choosing. Abraham believed that he could fulfill God's promise to him, by performing methods not suggested nor approved by God. Thus, Abraham conceived a child with Hagar (Genesis 16: 4). Once Abraham went down that road, it would take years of hardship to get back on track. God's idea and intention were that Abraham conceived with Sarah (Genesis 17: 16, 19).
According to Paul, this event was symbolic of the Old covenant. When Abraham finally conceived with Sarah, it was the new covenant. Let us read Galatians 4:22-26,
Galatians 4: 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
Galatians 4: 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Galatians 4: 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
Galatians 4: 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
Galatians 4: 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
In this verse, Paul ties Hagar with Sinai. In other words, the Old Covenant that Abraham followed by conceiving with Hagar is what the Israelites followed in Sinai. A covenant the Jews continued to support even on to the day of Paul. While, Abraham eventually, after years of hardship found God's road again, the majority of Israelites and Jews never found God's way again.
What road have we taken: The Old Covenant or the New Covenant? It is important to know that a misunderstanding of the Covenants can lead you to the wrong road. Many Christians have what is called a dispensational view of the Covenants. To them, the Old Covenant is a road that failed to take them to their destination, so then they tried another way, which is the new Covenant. The Covenants to them is a matter of time, not a heart relationship with God. To them from Sinai to Jesus people were saved by keeping the Law and the ceremonies of the Sanctuary. According to this view, this method failed, so God then instituted the new method which is saved by grace. Paul has argued successfully in Galatians that this is not true. Paul's example of Abraham being under both covenants at different times in his life shows us that dispensation is wrong. This is evident when we know what Abraham was going through at each of these stages. Abraham's unbelief led to the Old Covenant. When Abraham finally believed He was under the new covenant.
Paul's argument also stands against Mainline Adventism view in the Covenants. Adventists are not quite dispensational. They believe that it is only one Covenant. To them, the Covenant is one road, which at different points has different scenery and even a different name, but it is the same road, nonetheless. From Sinai to Jesus the covenant was to be understood and practiced through the types, forms, and symbols of the ceremonial law; this is the old covenant. The ceremonial law pointed to Jesus, so when He came, type met antitype, and thus Christ fulfills the ceremonial law. The Old Covenant fulfilled its purpose of showing us the new Covenant, so it is no longer needed. But, how can the Old Covenant be the Sanctuary and its services, if according to Paul 430 years before God enacted the sanctuary service Abraham was under the Old Covenant?
Now, although the Adventist view is different from the dispensational, it is similar in that they both believe the Old Covenant is passed. We need to reiterate, they are two different covenants. And, each covenant is a different method of salvation. Each covenant is a different attitude toward God and the Gospel. As the author of the Lesson tells us, "The two covenants are not matters of time; instead, they are reflective of human attitudes." One of my favorite authors states, "These two covenants exist today. The two covenants are not matters of time, but of condition. Let no one flatter himself that he cannot be bound under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed"
These Covenants are based on a heart relationship with God. The New Covenant is for God to fulfill His promises to us; we are just to receive them humbly and gratefully. In the New Covenant God dwells in our hearts and writes His law in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). In the New Covenant, we abide in Christ and Christ in us (John 5). In the New Covenant, He becomes our God, and we become His people (Ezekiel 37: 23, 27). In the New Covenant, we become His royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). In the New Covenant God bestows on us His inheritance: eternal life in the new earth. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1)!