Systematic theologians often include within the category of sanctification the whole process of transformation, growth and maturation in Christ that is God’s promise to us in the New Testament. In popular speech, this is the process of becoming more and more holy. However, a careful examination of the New Testament use of the verb ‘to sanctify” (hagiazein) shows that the focus is on the beginning of the Christian life rather than its progress. Sanctification or consecration is a way of describing how God takes hold of us through conversion and brings us into relationship with himself as the Holy One. As a consequence, we are called ‘the holy ones’ or ‘the saints’ (hoi hagioi). The challenge is to express that holiness in everyday obedience. But how do we make progress in the Christian life and grow to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ? Other terms are used in the New Testament to describe it.
My book Transformed by God: New Covenant Life and Ministry is intended to be a sequel to Possessed by God, looking specifically at the way God transform us as disciples of Christ through his Word and his Spirit. The focus is on the way the promises of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 are alluded to in the New Testament and influence teaching about Christian life and ministry. The contents are as follows.
Chapter 1 The New Covenant in Jeremiah
The New Covenant oracle is examined in the context of Jeremiah’s other messages of hope and parallel predictions by Isaiah and Ezekiel. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between this covenant and previous divine commitments. In addition to the key themes of spiritual renewal and covenant faithfulness, issues such as the reconstitution of Israel, the blessing of the Gentiles, the Davidic hope, and the renewal of worship are examined. The rest of the book shows how these themes are taken up and expounded in different ways by selected New Testament writers.
Chapter 2 Israel and the Nations Renewed
Jesus’ reference to ‘the new covenant in my blood’ (Lk. 22:20), and his commission to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations in his name, beginning from Jerusalem (24:47), is the starting point for examining the way Luke-Acts portrays the fulfilment of Jeremiah’s promises. In particular, the way Israel is renewed and Gentiles come to share in the blessings is the focus of attention.
Chapter 3 The Renewal of Worship
Hebrews sees Jeremiah 31:31-34 fulfilled primarily in the high-priestly work of Jesus the Messiah, making it possible for a new pattern of acceptable worship to be established. Special attention is paid to the way the finished work of Christ is meant to impact the hearts of believers. The vexed issue of ‘falling away’ is considered in the light of Jeremiah’s assurances and the teaching of Hebrews about God’s covenant faithfulness.
Chapter 4 New Covenant Ministry
Paul’s teaching about his ministry of ‘a new covenant’ in 2 Corinthians 3 introduces a study of the way Word and Spirit bring transformation to believers. The moral, relational and physical aspects of this change are explored. The relationship between the law of Moses and the New Covenant is considered in the light of Paul’s argument in this chapter.
Chapter 5 Hearts and Lives Transformed
Paul’s use of new covenant expectations in Romans 11:26-27 and Galatians 4:24-31 is first considered. The rest of the chapter explores the way Paul uses ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ terminology in Romans to explore the need for transformation and the way transformation takes place through God’s new covenant provisions.
Chapter 6 The Transforming Knowledge of God
Extensive teaching about knowing the Lord in the Gospel and First Letter of John is related to Jeremiah’s prophecy. The link between knowing, believing and the work of the Holy Spirit is explored. In view of the claim that ‘you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge’ (1 Jn.2:20), the tests of a true relationship with God are discussed. In view of the claim that ‘you have no need that anyone should teach you’ (1 Jn. 2:27), the role of Christian teaching in promoting the true knowledge of God is examined
New Covenant theology is central to New Testament thinking about the saving work of Christ and the way it is appropriated by believers. It has profound implications for Christian ministry, both with respect to evangelism and the nurture of believers. It is the basis of much teaching about perseverance, growth and change. It is a key for understanding the differences between pre-Christ and post-Christ experiences of God. In terms of the Bible’s teaching as a whole, it shows how the Christian dispensation is a fulfilment and perfection of the covenant first established by God with Abraham and his offspring.