THE NEW COVENANT LIFE ANDTHE NEW COVENANT CHURCH
- Zac Poonen
There is a beautiful prophecy of new covenant life in Ezekiel 36:25-37. This is a description of how the Christian life, as God intends it to be. He first promises to cleanse us thoroughly, removing all idols from our heart, and then to remove our hard heart and to replace it with a soft one, and then to put His Holy Spirit within us and then to make us walk in His ways and cause us to obey His commandments and thus to save us from all our uncleanness (Ezek. 36:25-29). But all this can happen only when we pray to God and ask Him to do it for us (Ezek. 36:37). If we don’t ask for this life, we won’t get it. And when we come into this glorious life, we “will loathe ourselves in our own sight” (Ezek. 36:31), as we think of our past life. This is one of the primary marks of a Spirit-filled man that he detests himself for all the sin he sees in his flesh and cries out saying, “O wretched man that I am, I am the chief of sinners” (Rom.7:24; 1 Tim.1:15). A Spirit-filled man does not see any sin in others before he sees the same sin within his own flesh and he loathes himself for it. The closer we get to God, the more aware we become of our own sin. God took Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones and told him first of all to prophesy to them (Ezek. 37). The Word of God went forth and the bones came together and flesh covered them. But they needed something more than just the Word of God – they needed the Holy Spirit’s power as well, just as we see in Genesis 1. There we see that it was the joint operation of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit that brought life out of death. It is the same here and it is the same even today. When the Holy Spirit came upon these dead bodies, they stood up and immediately became a powerful army of soldiers for the Lord. This is a picture of what God wants to do in the church today. Many Christians are initially exactly like those dry bones, stiff and dead, despite the correctness of all their doctrines. As they respond to the Word of God, they begin to gather together as Christians (bone comes together to bone) and they begin to live decent lives (There is a certain amount of beauty when the flesh covers the bones). But there is one more thing that these Christians need if they are to be a mighty army for God. They need to be endued with the supernatural power of God’s Holy Spirit. There is also a picture of new covenant life and of the church in Ezekiel 40-48. This is pictorially described as a temple. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and the church is also the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). In Ezekiel 43, we read of the glory of God that had left the temple returning to the new temple – the new covenant church that was established from the day of Pentecost onwards. The Lord calls the church “the place of My throne” (Ezek. 43:7). The law for this new covenant church is described thus: “Its entire area shall be Most Holy” (Ezek. 43:12). In the old covenant temple, only a small room at its western end was called “Most Holy” – where God dwelt. But in the new covenant church, the entire church (temple) is Most Holy. To build the church as God’s temple today, we must follow this one fundamental law - absolute holiness for every member in it. Sin must not be tolerated in any form in anyone. The Lord speaks of two types of ministers in His temple – symbolized by the sons of Zadok and the Levites in Ezekiel 44:9-19. The sons of Zadok symbolize the wholehearted disciples of Christ who are permitted “to minister to Him”. The Levites symbolize the compromisers who are permitted only “to minister to the people”. There is a vast difference between these two types of ministries. Jesus never served the people primarily. All His service was done to the Father alone, even when He served people – and that is how we must serve God too. It is when we begin to serve the people that temptations to compromise and to please people enter in. From such a holy temple (Spirit-filled church or Spirit-filled individual) a trickle of water begins to flow out that becomes a river and finally becomes many rivers (Ezekiel 47). This is the passage which Jesus quoted in John 7:37-39, where He spoke of “rivers of living water flowing out” from a man who is filled with the Holy Spirit. This is what began on the day of Pentecost and has been flowing through godly men and women ever since. This life begins as a little trickle before it becomes a big river and many rivers. The Lord gave Ezekiel a little taste of what it means to live a Spirit-filled life in Ezekiel 47:3-6. He led Ezekiel step by step into this river. After walking in it for about 500 metres, the water reached Ezekiel’s ankles. After another 500 metres, it came up to his knees. After another 500 metres, the water came up to his waist. And after yet another 500 metres, it was so deep that Ezekiel had to lift his feet off the ground and be carried by the current of the river. We can go forward in our walk with God continuously as Ezekiel did. Or we can stop at some point. God will never compel us to go further than we want to. When Elisha followed Elijah (2 Kings 2), he continually tested Elisha to see if he was hungry for more or satisfied with what he already had. Because Elisha was not satisfied until he got God’s best, he got a double portion of the anointing upon his life. We see Ezekiel also being tested here in a similar way. He also wanted to enter into the river more and more until he had entered into “waters to swim in”. You can experience a measure of the Holy Spirit’s workings in your life and still stop at some point less that is less than God’s best. Notice this also: When the water was up to Ezekiel’s ankles, or up to his knees or even up to his waist, his feet were still on the ground. But it is when our feet are taken off from the earth, that we know that we are really filled with the Spirit. At that point, we are “detached from the earth and from earthly interests and from attachment to material things” and we begin to be “led by the Spirit, according to the will of God and not our own will”. The last verse of the book (Ezek. 48:35) mentions the name of this new covenant church as, “The Lord is there’ - Jehovah Shammah. This is the church that you and I are called to build – where people recognize that the Lord is there in our midst in all his glory. But to build it, the Lord needs people like Ezekiel who will obey Him totally.