The old covenant, new covenant, and the fellowship of the mystery all describe different ways in which people receive God’s blessings.
Ignoring the differences causes people to claim blessings or curses belonging to someone else, miss blessings belonging to them, and resort to sundry religious behaviors they think invoke God’s blessing.
What are the differences between the old covenant, new covenant, and the fellowship of the mystery?
The easiest place to start is with the old covenant, or the Law of Moses. This law was intended to be a blessing to the world through Israel’s separation and obedience.
The law was declared to be their righteousness if Israel performed all that God instructed. It would also be a curse if they disobeyed, and it was this latter lesson that Israel would learn. They could not keep the law, and required a multitude of sacrifices to cover their sin.
Israel as a channel of God’s blessing was not done away by their failure to keep the law.
God had made promises to the fathers of Israel to make Israel the nation through which the world would be blessed. The promises of God cannot be revoked because Israel did not fulfill them by their own power.
|Israel is a nation separate from the Gentiles|
|The law given to obey|
|Covenant to make Israel the channel of blessing to the world|
Israel was given promises from God to be the nation through which the world would be blessed. The old and new covenants were both intended to fulfill this promise. This is why both the old and new covenants are made with the house of Israel and Judah (Jer 31:31; Heb 8:10-11).
Both the old covenant and the new covenant include the law, priests, a kingdom, and sacrifices for sin. Both were intended to provide the blessing of the world through Israel.
Both are the subject of prophecy, and were not part of God’s mystery kept secret since the world began.
The new covenant was made better for Israel in that God would perform all that they could not do on their own. He would be the better priest, he would give the Spirit to cause them to keep the law, and he would send Christ to establish the kingdom.
The new covenant is merely the old covenant blessing, the promises to the fathers, made possible through the provision of God (John 1:17).
Whereas the old covenant emphasized man’s performance, the new covenant was God performing for Israel what they could not. The old failed to fulfill the promises, but the new would not fail (Heb 8:7-10).
|Old Covenant||New Covenant|
|Israel must perform on their own||God’s grace for Israel to perform by the Spirit|
|Israel is a nation separate from the Gentiles||Israel is a nation separate from the Gentiles|
|The law given to obey||The law written on their hearts to obey (Jer 31:33)|
|Covenant to make Israel the channel of blessing to the world||Covenant to make Israel the channel of blessing to the world|
More about the new covenant found here.
The Fellowship of the Mystery
Since the new covenant described God’s performance on behalf of Israel, many are confused by the difference between the new covenant and the fellowship of the mystery thinking they both require God’s grace and so must be talking about the same thing.
The difference here is critical.
The new covenant is God’s blessing of grace through Israel, their covenants, and their law written in their hearts. The fellowship of the mystery is God’s grace given to all freely without Israel, without their earthly covenants, and without their law written in hearts.
Whereas under the old covenant God was the law giver, and under the new covenant God in Christ was the law keeper, under the fellowship of the mystery God in Christ is the law remover (Rom 6:14; Col 2:14).
Whereas the old covenant was given to Israel, and the new covenant was given to believing Israel, the fellowship of the mystery is for all that believe the gospel of Christ: Jew or Gentile (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:15; Col 3:11). There is no place in the one body of the mystery for a separation between Israel and Gentile.
Whereas the old and new covenants are the subject of prophecy to fulfill God’s promise of blessing through Israel, the fellowship of the mystery was not revealed in any promise from God since the world began (Rom 16:25).
The fellowship of the mystery is not the fulfillment of any covenant, prophecy, or promise given to Israel. The dispensation of grace was hid in God until revealed to the apostle Paul for the church today (Eph 3:1-2; Eph 3:9-11).
|New Covenant||Fellowship of the Mystery|
|God’s grace for Israel to perform by the Spirit||God’s grace to all without Israel|
|Israel is a nation separate from the Gentiles||Israel is fallen; no Jew nor Gentile in the Body of Christ|
|The law written on their hearts to obey||Blessing without the law; Not under the law; walk by the Spirit|
|Covenant to make Israel the channel of blessing to the world||All spiritual blessings in Christ without covenants for a kingdom, nation, circumcision, or priesthood.|
A Word about 2 Cor 3:6
Despite the clear differences between the covenants and the mystery, Paul’s statement in 2 Cor 3:6 is often used to place the new creature back under Israel’s new covenant.
There is no reason to do so, especially since doing so robs the church of spiritual blessings not found in Israel’s covenants.
When Paul says he is an able minister of the new testament, it is because of what the new testament and the fellowship of the mystery have in common, namely, they both concern God’s gracious provision (sufficiency is the word used in context).
The old and new covenant are both made to Israel, but in the new covenant God performs where they could not.
It makes perfect sense, then, that the apostle of grace would be an able minister of the new covenant, since grace is what sets the new covenant apart from the old, and it is grace which sets the mystery apart from everything (Israel, the law, the covenants – 2 Cor 5:17).
Once the differences between the old covenant, new covenant, and the fellowship of the mystery are understood, then the riches of God’s grace according to the revelation of the mystery will be better appreciated.
Grace and faith were always necessary to receive blessings from God, but today grace stands alone in the fellowship of the mystery without Israel, the law, or covenants as the way God blesses the world.
Grace can stand alone because of the fellowship of the mystery of Christ which is different from the old and new covenants.