Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

The Christian world today is very divided in its interpretation of the Bible. The many different denominations, each proclaiming that its interpretation of the scriptures is the best, give ample evidence of this fact. To join any given denomination or group of believers, you need to agree with its statement of faith or its creeds or whatever. A new denomination comes into being when someone receives some illumination on a certain aspect of truth, and instead of moving on in his journey into more truth, he stops and camps on that aspect of illumination. With that aspect of revelation as the foundation, a community of believers is formed, and often a denomination is built.

In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul encouraged Timothy to handle the word of truth accurately. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." (NASB) Some translations read, "cutting" (Concordant) or "rightly dividing the word of truth." (KJV) What did Paul mean by that statement? Did he mean that Timothy was to make sure that his interpretation of the scriptures was correct, or did he mean that Timothy was to use the word of truth correctly?

To answer our questions we need to understand that God has a specific goal in mind in everything He does - that goal being to transform us into the image of Christ and to subject all things to Himself. He is constantly working toward that goal. He is always SOVEREIGNLY in control of everything as He takes us into perfection! "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." (Heb. 6:1) Dead works belong to the old covenant, for their source is in self-effort.

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) Notice that we, the believers, have been created in Christ Jesus! Therefore we have not been formed of dust, for there is no dust or earthiness in Christ. The serpent was relegated to eat dust all the days of his life; therefore he can only tempt us through the carnal mind that belongs to our physical body. He cannot touch those who are created in Christ, seated with Him in heavenly places and submitted to His rule. The old covenant of sin and death is not for believers because they are created in Christ, and there is no sin and condemnation in Him! God has given them a new heart and a new mind, and a new law of life! Believers are entirely new, for they are a new creation!

In order to divide the word of truth correctly we have to understand the difference between God's firsts and seconds. God does many things in twos. In Heb. 10:9 we read that "He takes away the first to establish the second." The firsts are earthy and temporal, and the seconds are spiritual and eternal. In this study we'll limit our discussion to the old and new covenants, but we'll name a few of the firsts and seconds to help us understand God's reason for doing this.

The following are some of the firsts and seconds:

The first man Adam and the second man Christ
The first Adam and the last Adam (for the first Adam ends in Christ).
The first birth and the second birth
An earthy image and a spiritual image
The first death and the second death
The first law written in stone, and the second law written in our hearts
A first priesthood and the second priesthood
An earthy body and a spiritual body
An earthy understanding and a heavenly or spiritual understanding
A natural kingdom and a spiritual kingdom

The seconds are superior to the firsts; They undo the work of the firsts and make the firsts obsolete. The first man Adam brought us into death and made all men sinners, and the second man Christ brings all into life and righteousness. Christ died to sin, lives to God, and fulfills all righteousness. He is the fulfillment of God's plan and releases us from all the negative aspects that sin brought. He does not nullify the purpose of God’s plan, but brings a much greater glory and victory! He wants us to have the same glory that God gave to Jesus. "The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one." (John 17:22) The first death took away our spiritual understanding, and the second death (our death to sin) restores it. The firsts are types and shadows of the seconds; they are fragmentary, partial and incomplete. (1Cor. 13:9-10) Perfection is found in God’s seconds. These are wonderful contrasts!

Now let's look at the first covenant that God made with Israel. The Israelites carried God's promise to Abraham in their hearts, even while they were living in bondage to the world system of Egypt. Some four hundred years after Abraham received the promise, God led them out of Egypt and made a law covenant with them. (Ex. 19:5-6,8; Lev. 18:3-5) It consisted of a set of laws and Israel's solemn promise to keep every one of them. God promised to bless Israel if they kept these laws, but if they failed to do so, they would be punished. This covenant remained in effect until the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.

This covenant was not to nullify the promise to Abraham, but to convince the Israelites that self-righteousness can never reach the standard inherent in the righteousness that is in God - the righteousness He has for us. Therefore, the only intelligent thing for us to do is to scrap the idea that our righteousness can perform the will of God, and let the One who came to perform it, even Christ, do the performing for us.

What did this law covenant do for Israel? It provided Israel with a set of laws and with a Levitical priesthood that could aid them in their various sacrifices to cover their sins, thus establishing a law relationship with God. But it did not give them any help to overcome their carnal nature that prevented them from doing right. Paul wrote, "For Moses writes that the man who practices righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness." (Rom. 10:5) This was the big problem! They were unable to live according to the requirements of the law. In fact, it is beyond man's ability to keep them. Therefore, instead of bringing them into life, it became a law of condemnation, and brought them into death. Later it was called the law of sin and death.

Since perfection is not found in this covenant, why did God make it with Israel? God had a special purpose for the law: it was to teach humanity that self-effort can never acquire divine life! Ever since the serpent told Adam and Eve that through self-effort and right choices they could become like God, humanity has been practicing that. The number of man is six, and six can never become seven - God's number of perfection! This covenant was necessary for Israel and for all of us so that we would see our need for repentance, and thus lead us to Christ. But laws cannot bring anyone into life! Life is only in Christ; therefore it was only a temporary arrangement. Permanency came in the new covenant!

The first covenant is a shadow and type of the second covenant. A shadow consists of a darkness cast on a surface in the form of something or someone that intercepts the light rays; it is the specific image made by such a body. The shadows and types in the Old Testament represent the realities in the new covenant. Since the Old Testament was written before the New Testament, it would seem that the shadows came before the light. However, we realize that a shadow cannot be cast without light; therefore the spiritual light that Jesus Christ is, must have been there from the beginning. But we see the shadow, types and figures first. When they pass away in the light of the reality of the Spirit, we see that the shadows and figures only represented a spiritual reality. When we know Christ, we can understand what these things were symbolizing, but we cannot study the shadows and discover Christ.

The old covenant was conditional, for it depended upon, and demanded, performance. For example, God would not forgive and bless people if they were not offering their sacrifices according to the law. They would first have to offer their sacrifices according to the old covenant. They were always unsuccessful in their efforts to please God, for they were lured away from God by their natural desires. The more we try to undo our mistakes, do penance or atone for our sins in some way, the worse trouble we get into. I believe we have all experienced this old covenant thinking together with the feelings of guilt they evoke.

In Christ, God made a new covenant. To make sure that this covenant would be perfect and unbroken, He made it with Himself. The old covenant proved that humanity is unreliable and cannot be trusted to keep its promises. So God swore by the unchangeableness of His being and by the unchangeableness of His promises (word) to fulfill His promises. Therefore we know that the fulfillment of this new covenant has nothing to do with self-effort. The new covenant gives a promise together with a guarantee that it will be fulfilled without our help. God Himself has underwritten it, and that leaves us out of the picture.

The new covenant is not a revision of the old covenant. When the new came, the first became old. These two covenants are not to be confused, nor are they are to be combined, for we are not to live partly in the old covenant and partly in the new. After we have been saved by faith, we are not sanctified by self-effort - by trying to keeping the ten commandments and other laws, adhering to dress codes, doing good works, being faithful in our church attendance and ministry. Since Christ has become our sanctification, good works cannot sanctify us. "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30) We have to be careful that we do not drag our old base of operations into the new covenant.

Differences cannot be resolved by arguments and fighting. Differences can only be resolved when both parties are willing to listen to the voice of the Spirit, and willing to obey Him. "Whatever is not from faith is sin." (Rom. 14:23) Everything we do needs to flow out of life - out of the Christ within us! All self-effort belongs to the old covenant! To rightly divide the word of truth we have to make a distinction between these two covenants!

"But now He 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. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second." Heb. 8:6-7) Many people are still serving the shadows - and shadows are no longer valid for they have served their purpose. Every Christian who is living in condemnation, doing penance, observing a certain day as a Sabbath, is still living in the shadows. Any offering made to appease God or to compensate for misdemeanors is unacceptable in the new covenant.

God is the author of the new covenant, and Christ Jesus mediates it to us. It is a better covenant and its fulfillment is sure. It has better promises, and their fulfillment does not depend on our performance. God promises us unending life in Christ. It has a better priesthood - a priesthood that is free from sin and therefore does not have to atone for its own sins. It has a better law - one that brings us into life and perfection. We need to understand that the correct translation of the Hebrew word NEPHESH in Lev. 17:11 and some other passages, is soul - not life. It says that the soul is in the blood. It is the new covenant in the blood of Christ - blood symbolizing His soul - His understanding of God, His mind, His thinking, His desires, His emotions, His will, His sense of being! What a fantastic covenant!

Let's compare the two priesthoods. "Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood…what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek?" (Heb. 7:11) The priesthood of Melchizedek is vastly superior to the Levitical priesthood, represented by Aaron. Aaron was important because he represented the priesthood, but he had to make sacrifices for his own sin, and he died. The order of Melchizedek is important because it pictures the priesthood that comes in Christ, and there is no sin and death in Him. Melchizedek was both priest and king. The priesthood and the kingship were separate entities until Jesus came and united them. Melchizedek didn't have any genealogy; he doesn't die, he does not pass away. Therefore he remains a priest continually. That is why he is a type of Jesus Christ.

The new covenant is eternal and unchangeable because Jesus is the guarantee of this covenant. "So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee (surety or sponsor) of a better covenant. " (Heb. 7:22) His unchanging nature is the guarantee of the new covenant. He cannot be corrupted, and therefore He remains the same, yesterday, today and forever.

Our Lord came out of the tribe of Judah. This is important, for no priest ever came out of the tribe of Judah under the old covenant. (Heb. 7:14) This fact shows us that we now have a new priesthood. Jesus Christ is the minister, the high priest of the new covenant; He is the high priest of a new order. Under Him the priesthood has become a royal priesthood. (1 Peter 2:9)

If it were possible to attain perfection under the old system, a new one would not be necessary. "For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also." (Heb. 7:12) A new priesthood necessitates a new law, for it does not minister the law of the old covenant! "For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, `The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, Thou art a priest forever')." (Heb. 7:18-21)

The old law could not make anything perfect, so a new law had to be inaugurated. Living by the new law means that we don't try to prove things by mental gymnastics, but we let the Holy Spirit of truth lead us into all truth! The new law always ministers an endless life, and this life is Christ! In order to proclaim and manifest Christ in our daily life, we have to proclaim the new covenant. We have to understand the message of the Bible according to New Testament principles - according to its spiritual meaning. We can rejoice that an endless life is ours in Christ! .

In Rom. 8:2 we read, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." No longer do we proclaim the law of sin and death. God has given us a new law - the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus! The penalty comes from obeying another law - the law of sin and death. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them." (2 Cor. 5:19) God is not counting our trespasses (sins) against us! How hard it is for us to really believe this! Remember, Jesus said, "I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world…he who does not believe has been judged already." (John 12:47; 3:18) Christ's ministry rids us of condemnation. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 8:1) Being in Christ is the key to freedom from guilt. To be in Christ means living in the new covenant and under that new law of life.

The new covenant frees us from the first law of sin by giving us a new law, namely, the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It takes us out of the law of sin and death so we can now experience life and peace! This law of life does not refer to natural, physical life. Christ does not minister fleshly things, for they are according to the old law and do not contain life. He ministers spiritual things by this new law. Christ causes us to function in spiritual life and brings about our death to sin. Since there is nothing good in our flesh, eternal life cannot exist in the flesh. Eternal life is in Christ Jesus, and His spiritual life in us will change the way we live our physical life.

"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Heb. 8;10) After we have been born again we are a new creation! We are no longer people with evil hearts because we have been made completely new. When the scriptures are understood spiritually, they will feed the new man. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth! We need to remember that the letter kills; it does not bring us into life. Only Christ through the Holy Spirit can bring us into life, and free us from guilt and condemnation.

Our old heart was evil, for Jesus said all these evil things come from within us. They come out of the heart and defile the man. (Mark 7:21-23) If we think that our new God-given heart is still evil (the same as we had before), then why did we need a new one? Why would we need a new heart if the new heart is also evil? We already had an evil heart. If our new heart is not evil, would it need cleansing, forgiveness, and change? God has given us a new heart and put a new Spirit within us. The fact is that God has made us a new creation in Christ Jesus. He has given us a new heart, and it does not have the same desires the old one had.

However, we still need the outer washing of the word. Jesus told the disciples that they were clean, but their feet (their walk) needed to be cleansed. Let's look at the purpose of the washing with the word. Washing someone who is inherently evil will not make him look better. When the outer veneer of good works and performance is washed off, he looks worse. In contrast, when someone with a good heart is washed with the water of the word, the water takes off the religious traditions, old ideas, old condemnations, unbelief, and all the garbage that has accumulated through the years. This will let the beauty of Christ's workmanship shine forth! We will see someone Christ has made! We are God's workmanship, and we do not take any credit for the work He has done.

The new covenant is not a revision or upgrade of the old covenant. It is different; it is not like the one God made with the fathers. It is better than the old! It is based on the grace of God - what He has done, and NOT on what we have done. The new covenant says that God will bless us, and He wants us to believe Him. Believing God brings us into an intimate relationship with Him. It brings us into a dependence on Him in which we listen to His instructions and only do and say the things He tells us. When we recognize His ability we will no longer try to change people. That is God's responsibility. As we let His love flow through us, we will love people at whatever level they are living. If we depend on our own efforts we are again operating in the old law. Only the things that have their source in God bring glory and credit to Him.

If we do NOT handle the word of truth correctly, we will get the old and the new mixed up. We will institute laws that uphold certain behavior patterns and think that our Christianity depends on observing these laws. We will pick and choose certain laws from the old covenant that have to be observed, and our Christianity takes on the form of an outer observance - faithfully reading the Bible, going to church, working for the church, abstaining from smoking, lying, drinking alcoholic beverages, etc. When we keep these laws we will think we are good, and when we mess up we will think we are sinners. Don't misinterpret what we are saying. These things are all good, but doing them to obtain righteousness is fruitless. We do good works because we are righteous, for Christ has become our righteousness! Jesus said, "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit." (Matt. 7:18) Our good works flow out of the life of Christ within us!

With which covenant do we identify? Our old identification with the old covenant does not want to leave us, so it tries to convince us that we can still make ourselves better by making the right choices. Instead of believing God and recognizing that we are spiritual beings created in Christ Jesus, we believe what we feel and see. We identify with the flesh in which sin dwells and call ourselves sinners. We have a natural tendency to live in our old identity with the old covenant, for it often seems easier to do what seems right to us than to believe God and walk by faith. Even though the flesh nature is not our true nature, we are confident that it is, because we feel it is. So we try to overcome our wrong desires by changing our external behavior patterns, and we get back under the old covenant of guilt and condemnation. We do this even though we have Christ within us.

Our life in the new covenant is one of faith! If we revert to feelings and unbelief we are not embracing the new covenant. God has told us that believers have a new nature that has never sinned. (1 John 3:9) Christ has never sinned, and He has never made you and me sin; He has never produced sin in us. Everything He has produced in us is perfect; it is totally right, clean and without sin. Therefore it is important to identify with our new heart. This identification can only take place through faith in God and His revelation to us of who we are in Christ. Without faith it is impossible to please God!

In the first covenant there was a tabernacle called the tabernacle of Moses. God called Moses to come up the mountain, and there He gave him the exact pattern of the tabernacle that was to be built. In this pattern God was drawing a picture for humanity, but humanity did not understand the picture. It did not see who God is, who Christ is, who the Holy Spirit is, and what redemption is. The tabernacle has three parts. Three is the number of completion, and that is why it is the number of resurrection. This tabernacle was a type or shadow of what we are, for we are built according to the pattern of the tabernacle.

The pattern given us in the tabernacle is now fulfilled in the coming of Christ. In the old covenant God dwelt in the most holy part of the tabernacle. In the new covenant God dwells in a temple not made with hands. Now we are that temple or tabernacle of God. He dwells in the most holy place in us, and this is in our spirit. All these things represented by the tabernacle are in us. We are members of the body of Christ, and partakers of His fullness - of all that He is!

We are thankful for the types and shadows in the Old Testament, for they give us a better understanding of the New Testament. At the same time they can only be understood by the reality that Christ is! The shadow and the reality are not to be combined! God wants us to see the differences, and live in the new covenant! He wants us to live by faith, and draw on all the spiritual riches that are ours in Christ!

If we do not see the difference between these covenants we will marry our idea of God to the law. Since humanity is unable to produce a spiritual concept of God in its mind, it remains in death. We will try to become more spiritual by trying to keep the ten commandments, as well as the many man-made laws and traditions. We will always be trying to have more faith, trying to do more good works, trying to overcome the lusts and temptations of the flesh, instead of letting Christ perform His work in and through us. The old covenant with all its "dos and don'ts", does not belong to believers! God has something better in store for us! The new covenant has come! God has given us Christ, and He is the fulfillment of the new covenant! The Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts, and in Him we have everything Christ is!

May God open our eyes to see the open door through which He desires to lead us to discover the treasures that He has for us! Correctly handling the word of truth and living in the new covenant brings them to us!

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