We read in 2 Peter 1:3-4,
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
To properly understand the promises of God, and their significance to us, we must first look at what God requires of us. We will look at a few passages in the Old Testament first.
And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. Deut 6:5-6
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, to keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good? Deut 10:12-13
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked. Deut 12:16
Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, I house if Israel? Ezekiel 18:31
Under the Old Covenant God required His chosen people, Israel, to fear and obey Him. He gave them the moral law engraved upon two stone tablets, as well as civil laws to govern their daily lives, and the ceremonial laws to govern the way they worshipped God. Provision was made for for the covering of sins committed unintentionally, or in ignorance. This was the sacrificial system found within the ceremonial law.
It is interesting to read that even under the Law, God desired the hearts of his people. He wanted them to love and serve Him with all of their hearts and all of their souls. When they turned from Him, he desired that they would turn and repent, have a change of heart, and come back to Him, and he would pardon.
God’s requirements of us are basically the same today. While the old ceremonial system has been done away with in Christ, He still holds us accountable to the moral standard as found in the Law. A few passages in the New Testament will show this.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one hot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matt 5:17-20
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. Matt 7:12
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matt 22:37-40
The command to love our neighbor is also found in Leviticus 19:18. Paul states that the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8-10). The commandment to be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44), is also repeated in 1Peter 1:13-16. We are called to be holy in every aspect of our lives. There are numerous other scriptures that would serve to show us the same, but these make the point that God holds us to a moral standard that is not an option. A standard that man on his own cannot live up to.
Laws and commands are just that. They point us to what is required, but do not enable the performance of duty. A commandment may come with sanctions for disobedience, yet at best an individual will struggle to obey out of a sense of duty, fearing the penalty of the law, but not actually loving the law giver. In reality this is no obedience at all, as it violates the greatest commandment to love the Lord with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength. The obedience rendered is selfish in it’s motive.
In Hebrews we read that if the first covenant had been faultless there would have been no need for another (Hebrews 8:7-8). The covenant could not ensure obedience because the people were disobedient already. The passage goes on to say that God found fault with the people themselves. Paul agrees with this concept when he states, “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh…” (Romans 8:3). Paul gives us the illustration of the individual struggling under the law in the seventh chapter of Romans. He knew what was right, agreed with what was right, and desired to do what was right. However obedience to the law was another matter. An individual striving to live under the law will meet with failure over and over again, as he is dominated by his sinful nature.The law was a shadow of good things to come, but in itself it could not make the worshippers, that is those offering the sacrifices, perfect (Hebrews 10:1-4).
Now let’s look at some promises that God has made concerning His commandments.
And the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and all thy soul, that thou mayest live. Deut 30:6
And I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, I will cleanse you. A new heart also I will give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements and do them. Ezekiel 36:25-27
Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that 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; which covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it on their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34
In reading these promises we see God promising to enable His people to do what He requires them to do. These promises answer the commands almost word for word in several instances.
These are the promises pointing towards the New Covenant when God would place His Spirit within the hearts of His people. Transforming their rebellious hearts into soft and submissive ones. Instead of a selfish effort at obeying a law written on tablets of stone, the law will now be written upon the heart. Obedience will be given willingly and even joyfully, as it will be given out of love.
These promises given to Israel under the old covenant are for all who surrender their lives to follow Christ under the New Covenant. The passage quoted from Jeremiah is repeated in Hebrews 8:7-13, and 10:16-18, showing the superiority of Christ and the New covenant to that of Moses and the law.
The promise of the Spirit
On the day of Pentecost when the 120 received the Holy Spirit in the upper room Peter rose up and stated that what had just occurred was that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel. That in the last days God would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh with prophecies, dreams and visions, and signs and wonders as the result (Acts 2:16-21; Joel 2:28-32). There are other Old Testament passages promising this as well.
Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful fieldbbe counted for a forest. Then judgement shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever. Isaiah 32:15-17
For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. Isaiah 44:3
And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20
And then we have the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John,
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. ( But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.). John 7:37-39
Jesus had more to say on the coming of the Holy Spirit as recorded in John 14:12-26, 15:26-27, 16:7-15. He would come as a comforter, an abiding presence, as the Spirit of truth, as a teacher, to bear witness of Christ, to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgement, and to glorify Christ.
God desires an obedient people, and more than that, a people who serve Him because they love Him. He has provided everything we need for life and godliness, as we read previously. The law brings a curse. It demands rigid obedience, and we are all guilty of breaking it before we decide we will try to keep it. There is a better way!
Christ hath redeemed us from the course of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Gal 3:13-14
There is hope for those struggling with sin. Victory has been provided through Jesus Christ. We find forgiveness and grace to now live in victory.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Gal 5:16-18
And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Gal 5:24-25
Under the New Covenant we are born of the Spirit (John 3:5-6). It is the Spirit that makes us a new creation (2Cor 5:15; Titus 3:5-6), and sanctifies us (1Peter 1:2). As believers in Christ we are now led by the Spirit into a life of righteousness as He makes us more and more like Christ.