Discipline For New Covenant Believers
The New Covenant is a better covenant built on better promises as the writer of Hebrews declares: “But now He [Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.” (Hebrews 8:6) Key among the better promises of the New Covenant is freedom from the curses of the Law.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [we were once slaves to sin, and as a result, under the bondage of its curse]. (Galatians 5:1)
The freedom spoken of in the above verse is not freedom to choose the type of car you drive, or the city in which you live, or the clothes you wear. Rather, the freedom spoken of in Galatians 5:1 is freedom from the curses of the covenant to which every New Covenant believer was once bound and enslaved. This verse is telling us to remember that we are free from the curse, and that we should not return again to that previous bondage.
The curses of the covenant are a condemnation from God. Deuteronomy 28:20, 24, 45, 48, 51, and 61 (previously quoted in Curses, Blessings & Discipline — Part II) state that the object of the curses is the destruction of those who violate the covenant. They are a condemnation of death. However, New Covenant believers are completely removed from the oppressive weight of this condemnation.
Therefore there is now [in the New Covenant] NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in [covenant with] Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
“No condemnation,” actually means no condemnation. That means none, not any, not even a spec of condemnation remains. It signifies that all believers (everyone who has repented and entered the covenant with Jesus Christ) are exempt from all of the curses of the covenant. It also means that all believers have become the recipients of all of the blessings of the covenant.
The assertions of Galatians 5:1 and Romans 8:1 are but two of the better promises of the New Covenant. Freedom from condemnation does not mean freedom from consequences, however. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he writes about judging or examining ourselves before taking the cup and the bread of the Lord’s supper. In this discourse he states:
27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.
[Unworthy means in an improper manner or a manner not corresponding to the solemnness of the body and blood of Jesus, the body and blood of the New Covenant.]
28 But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body [his or her own body] rightly.
30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.
[In the above verse, weak means without strength or energy, while sick refers to being sick at heart or sick in spirit. Hence, Paul is not making a reference to the sicknesses and diseases of the curse.]
31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.
[Or, if we examined ourselves and made a proper determination, we would not be weak and sick at heart.]
32 But when we are judged [God certainly does judge every believer’s behavior], we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)
Paul reaffirms the promise of Romans 8:1 in verse 32 by declaring that a believer’s judgment is not condemnation as it is with those in the world, but our judgment comes in the form of discipline. This is yet another of the better promises belonging to every New Covenant believer.
This is truly good news. All believers are free from the condemnation of the curses of the Old Covenant. Rather than falling prey to the curses, the purpose of which is destruction, disciples of Jesus Christ are disciplined.
The writer of Hebrews had the following to say about God’s discipline.
4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;
5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons [God’s covenant partners are called sons], “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM.
6 FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”
[“Those whom the Lord loves” is a reference to those who are in covenant with Him, as is the reference to “every son.”]
7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son [one who is in the covenant] is there whom his father does not discipline?
8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers [all new covenant believers are disciplined not condemned], then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live [God’s discipline results in life not death]?
10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.
11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it [God’s discipline] yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,
13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.
14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:4-14)
The believer’s walk of sanctification is the pathway to heaven. When we are denying the flesh by putting to death the deeds of the body (this is the way of sanctification), we are receiving God’s discipline, because the denial and sacrifice of fleshly lusts is in itself a form of discipline. At the same time, we are avoiding the additional discipline which we would have received had we given in to the flesh and fallen into disobedience.
All is not, however, lollipops and roses. The sad news, or the really great news, depending on your point of view, is that all believers are going to stumble and be the recipients of God’s discipline. I believe this is actually very good news, because it is in this way we are:
- Disciplined for our good.
- Sharers of His holiness.
- Recipients of the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Therefore, the temptation of the flesh, while unpleasant and annoying, is actually an opportunity for us to become more holy, more Christlike. Denying fleshly temptations is the way Christ is formed in us who believe and walk the faith walk of sanctification.
Paul had this to say about the ability of the flesh to deceive us when he reveals his own weakness with this inner conflict of two natures, flesh and Spirit.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.
15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate [in other words, Paul, the believer, is sinning].
16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.
[Paul is in covenant with Jesus Christ, and therefore in total agreement with the Law. Yet, his behavior is not always in agreement with the Law. He hates this behavior, and therefore concludes that he is not responsible for it. In other words, he does not will to do those things he hates. His conclusion is that the cause of this behavior is sin that is still within him.]
17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members [the flesh].
24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
25 Thanks be to God through [covenant with] Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25)
Paul asserts in verses seventeen and twenty that sin dwells in him. By this, does he mean that sin actually continues to reside somewhere within him? The widely held answer to that question is, “Yes.” However, we should not be so quick to make such an assertion. This idea has led to the erroneous doctrine of carnal Christianity. A carnal Christian is thought to be a born again believer with a remnant of the old sin nature continuing to live within. This sin nature is so powerful that it continues to call the shots. Under this doctrine, believers are thought to be in a place of having to gain dominion over this sin nature. The process of doing this is said to be the process of renewing one’s mind. This is based on Romans 12:2a that says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase ?
2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? [Those who are in covenant with Jesus Christ have died to sin.]
3 Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
[The baptism spoken of here is the complete submersion into Jesus Christ in the making of a blood covenant. When one gives his or her all to Jesus in entering the covenant, it is a death to all he or she is or ever will be. The making of a blood covenant with Jesus Christ is indeed a baptism into Christ Jesus.]
4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
[A blood covenant requires that the parties of the covenant be dead (Hebrews 9:16-17), but the promise of a new life following one’s death is also a condition of blood covenant.]
5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
6 knowing this, that our old self [our old sin nature] was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin [we are free from condemnation through covenant with Jesus];
7 for he who has died [made covenant with Jesus] is freed from sin. (Romans 6:1-7)
Further, Paul makes the following declarations.
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
The flesh, along with its passions and desires, is dead in every believer, because every believer is in covenant with Jesus Christ. That which is dead cannot also be alive. When we enter covenant with Jesus, the old self dies and a new person is born.
Therefore if anyone is in [covenant with] Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
How can the above verse be reconciled with Paul’s claim that sin continues to dwell in him when he has also claimed that he has crucified the flesh, has died and been buried with Christ, and has newness of life in the likeness of Christ’s own resurrection? We can gain some insight from an interesting observation a dairy farmer once made about cows. He told me, “Cows don’t remember, but they never forget.” A herd of cows can be contained in a field with a couple of strands of orange wire. The wire is electrified, and the cows receive a shock if they touch it. Needless to say, they only touch it once. They don’t go around remembering the shock from the wire, worrying about it, and becoming more and more fearful of it until they stay further and further from it. Instead they will get very close to the wire and appear to not even know it is there. They don’t remember it, but they also never forget there is a shock if they touch it. They don’t remember having been shocked, but they never forget the unpleasantness of the shock itself.
When a person crucifies their old sin nature by making covenant with Christ, it is no longer part of them, and it is not the focus of their attention. They just aren’t worried about it any more. They don’t remember it since it is no longer a part of their make up. But just as it is with cows, the believer never forgets the perceived pleasure of their former lusts and passions. Just a little prodding and a believer can act out in ways similar to the time of their past life in sin.
It is indisputable that a person cannot be partially dead. So when a person makes covenant with Jesus, they must be completely dead or they are not dead at all. It follows if they are not dead, they are not in covenant. We must die as completely as Jesus did if we want to receive His new life. Jesus died a covenant-making death, and when we do the same, we join Him, not only in His death, but in His resurrection to His eternal life. And that eternal life has no sin in it. That is what it is to be born again. There is nothing in this salvation that even makes the slightest suggestion that a born again person is to remain in bondage to sin. “Sin shall not be master over you,” said Paul in Romans 6:14. If a person claims to be a believer in, and follower of, Jesus Christ, yet still has sin as a master, that person is not born again. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters. That is to say, we cannot be in two opposing covenants at the same time.
When we are born again, we are made new … completely new. The one thing that is not lost is our memory of how great a love we had for the so-called pleasures of sin. If we did not remember, we would be unable to recognize the greatness of our salvation, or even that we had been saved at all. This is a good thing, but it is also the source of a problem.
Satan believes he can use our memory of past sinful pleasures to trick us into sinning. Thus, he tempts us with the things that had formerly ensnared us … things we thought we enjoyed. And sometimes we are tricked by this strategy. Things like anger, sexual prowess, greed and control are just too familiar to us. Often before we can stop it, we might lash out with angry words against a coworker, or check out that old pornography site we used to look at, but these are failings not our state of being. Paul confesses of being plagued by this very thing in Romans 7:14-25 as quoted above.
It is interesting to note that Paul writes of his failing to resist the flesh immediately before he declares that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) He realized that he was no longer under the condemnation of the world, because his covenant with Jesus Christ had set him free from the law of sin and death. He knew that in place of a condemnation of death he now enjoyed an ever-increasing fulness of life through the discipline of the believer.
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Discipline is God’s way of training believers in the ways of the kingdom. It is indeed an honor to be on the receiving end of God’s discipline as He molds and shapes us more and more into the likeness of His Son.
Curses, blessings and discipline. These make up the system of consequences related to mankind’s reaction to Jesus Christ and the New Covenant era inaugurated by His resurrection. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, and He holds and exercises all authority. We choose our fate, whether it be the curses for rejecting His covenant, or blessings and discipline if we choose to enter covenant with Him and dedicate our lives to walking in obedience to the commandments, laws, statutes and ordinances of the covenant. The obvious better choice of joining the covenant and entering into eternal life seems to be a no brainer, but sadly, there are multitudes of people who choose to reject Jesus and His covenant. I pray you are not one of them.