The Holy Spirit and the New Covenant
Old Testament background:
agrees to live as God’s covenant people. Israel
Leviticus 26:9-13: God’s purpose for the covenant with
: He will be their God, and they will be his people. Israel
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Heb. 8:8-12); Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:25-27: Because Israel has repeatedly broken the covenant, God promises a new covenant, a new people of God, with new hearts cleansed from sin, with God’s Spirit living within them to enable and motivate them to please and obey God.
Isaiah 11:1-9: 42:1-6; 49:5-8; 61:1-3 (Lk. 4:18-19): Prophecies about the Spirit-anointed Servant of God, who will bring deliverance and justice not only to
but to all the Gentile nations as well. (Note that the Servant is the covenant in Isa. 42:6; 49:8.) Israel
New Testament fulfillment:
John 1:29-34: John the Baptist prophetically announces that Jesus fulfills the OT prophecies:
1) Jesus will take away sin (bring deliverance and forgiveness by his sacrificial death as God’s “Lamb”).
2) The Spirit descends and remains upon Jesus: He is the Spirit-anointed one of whom Isaiah spoke; cf. Luke 4:18-19.
3) Jesus will give the Holy Spirit (the power to make life in the new covenant possible).
John 3:5: Entrance into the new covenant is by the work of the Holy Spirit.
John 7:38-39: Jesus was here, but the new covenant was still to come, since Jesus had not yet died, nor had the Holy Spirit been given.
John 14:16-26; 16:7-16: Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Luke Basis of the new covenant is Jesus’ blood (his sacrificial death for our sins; see also Isaiah 53, 1 Cor. 11:25).
Acts 1:4, 5, 8: Jesus promises the power of the Holy Spirit to enable the disciples to perform the tasks given to them.
Acts 2: The disciples receive the power promised by Jesus (and promised earlier in OT).
Romans 8:9-17: The Spirit’s presence is evidence of participation in the new covenant, as seen by the personal awareness of relationship with God (Rom. ; also Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24: 4:13).
1 Corinthians 12:3: Only the Holy Spirit enables one truly to confess Jesus as Lord (the most fundamental confession of the Christian faith, Rom. 10:9-10).
2 Corinthians 3:6: The power of the new covenant is the Holy Spirit within us.
Hebrews 9:11-15: The new covenant is established through Jesus’ sacrifice.
Hebrews 10:19-22: This opens the way for our direct fellowship with God—we can enter the holy place, into the presence of God.
To summarize the most important points:
The Basis of the new covenant is forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial death of the “Lamb of God” (John ; Isaiah 53; Exodus 12).
The Power of the new covenant is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit within the believer, the one who has confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord.
John the Baptist announces that Jesus will provide both the basis and the power of the new covenant (John 1:29, 33).
Further definitions, explanations, and comparisons:
The new covenant = the new relationship between God and humans in which the believer has direct, personal fellowship with God the Father and Jesus the Son through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is present, the believer participates in the new covenant. To the extent that we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us, we enjoy the privileges and fulfill the responsibilities of the new covenant.
Presence of the Holy Spirit—participation in the covenant
Work of the Holy Spirit—providing power to
1) enjoy the privileges of the covenant:
a. access to God (Heb. 10:19-22; Eph. 2:18)
b. awareness of relationship (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6)
c. glorifying God through productive, victorious living (John 15;
2) fulfill the responsibilities of the covenant:
a. witnessing about Jesus (Acts 1:8)
b. fruit of the Spirit (Gal. -23—becoming like Jesus; holiness)
c. building up the Body of Christ by mutual ministry
through the Spirit’s gifts (Rom. 12:4ff; 1 Cor. 12:4ff; Eph. 4:1-16)
The presence of the Holy Spirit begins through the new birth, when we become Christians.
Understood sacramentally, the Holy Spirit makes baptism effective.
Understood experientially, the Holy Spirit enables us to repent of our sins and have personal faith in Christ.
The work of the Holy Spirit never ends;
should always be increasing in our lives;
depends on our yielded wills;
will be complete only when the whole church, every Christian,
reflects Jesus' character (Eph. );
may or may not be dramatically promoted by a memorable
experience, which some people refer to as “baptism in/with
the Holy Spirit,” but others refer to as “being filled with the
Spirit” (Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-6: Eph. );
may be promoted by less dramatic, unnamed experiences
of Jesus being real to you.
Not everyone’s experience will be the same, but all can grow in openness and usefulness to the Spirit. Everyone should seek to be filled with the Spirit continually (Eph. ).
John 1:29-34 refers to this entire reality.
“Baptism in the Holy Spirit” (as referred to in John 1) includes the total reality of the new covenant: the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian—a reality prophesied in the OT and actualized in the NT through Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and spiritual presence in the life of believers through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Arden C. Autry, PhD
Scholar in Residence
First United Methodist Church