Introduction

You are invited to an adventurous study with a challenge: the Bible appears to have two opinions of the covenants that seem to contradict each other! On the one hand, it describes God’s “old”/Sinai covenant and law as: “for your good” (Deut. 10:13, NKJV); written by God in the heart (Deut. 30:10–14); “perfect,” “converting the soul” (Ps. 19:7, NKJV); “freedom” (Ps. 119:44, 45, NIV); established by faith (Rom. 3:31); “holy . . . righteous . . . good . . . spiritual” (Rom. 7:12, 14, NIV); a “tutor” that leads people to Christ (Gal. 3:23, 24, NKJV); and so forth.

On the other hand, the covenants are presented as describing a tutor no longer needed once one comes to Christ (Gal. 3:24, 25); of “the flesh,” not the Spirit (Gal. 4:23, 30); keeping people from “shar[ing] in the [eternal] inheritance” (Gal. 4:3, NIV); “a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1, NIV); a “letter [that] kills” (2 Cor. 3:6, NKJV); a “ministry that brought death [and] . . . condemns” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9, NIV); keeping people “under the law,” not “under grace” (Rom. 6:14); something we must die to in order to be married to Christ and receive salvation (Rom. 7:1–4); something that became obsolete once the new covenant had come (Heb. 8:13); and so forth.

Which texts above would you use to build a presentation on the law and its covenant of origin? Which texts would you use in a Bible study about the promises of God? Which texts do you naturally resonate with?

Depending on the degree of your biblical familiarity, you may choose one set over the other. How can the Bible appear to make such strong statements on both sides and make such a confusing presentation about the same divine covenant, created by God for His people, so positively committed to building relationships on every level? Is it as simple as the idea that the Sinai covenant, once life giving, suddenly turned lethal once the new covenant showed up? Or is something deeper going on here? Could it be that a covenant code exists that, once broken, might reveal a more profound truth? Could there be an answer that resolves the apparent contradictions and turns up the volume on an impassioned appeal the Covenant Maker is making to His endangered children?

Welcome to a mystery that has confounded many experts over centuries. In this inVerse Bible study guide, step by patient, deliberate, prayerful step, we will seriously address these issues and seek to “decode the covenants.” The first five lessons in this series will provide a general introduction to the biblical covenants, especially the “old” and “new” covenants, and will identify the issues involved in analyzing the apparently conflicting passages noted above. The next six lessons evaluate these passages from a historical and experiential perspective. The last two lessons focus on applications of God’s covenant(s) to our lives personally. What will emerge is a more confident understanding of the covenants, a clarity over the apparent dissonance and contradiction, and a deeper dependence on Jesus and experience of meeting Him afresh along the way.