|THE NEW COVENANT - Characteristics of the Content of the New
Covenant: I. CLEANSING
Watchman Nee and Witness Lee
HIS GLORY REIGNS
May 9 2008
We will now look specifically at the characteristics of the content of the new covenant. We have seen in previous
chapters that according to Hebrews 8:10-12 the contents of the new covenant include three major parts. According to
God's eternal purpose, He first imparted His life and power into us; then He became our God in the law of life that we
might be His people in the law of life, that we might have a deeper knowledge of Him, and that we might live Him out
through us. Since forgiveness of sins is only a procedure by which to achieve His purpose, Scripture puts forgiveness
of sins at the very end. However, according to our spiritual experience, we first obtain cleansing, that is, the cleansing
which comes from forgiveness; then we become God's people in the law of life, and then we possess a deeper
knowledge of God in an inward way.
Now let us look at the matter of forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 8:10 and 11 form one continuous thought, while verse 12
is another start. Notice the word "for" in verse 12. It says, "For I will be propitious to their unrighteousnesses, and their
sins I will by no means remember anymore." The word "for" shows us that God's being propitious to our
righteousnesses and no longer remembering our sins occurs before we receive the life. In other words, what is
mentioned in verse 12 occurs before that which is mentioned in verses 10 and 11. For this reason, the first thing to see
is how our sins are forgiven and cleansed according to the covenant.
The Two Aspects of Sin
According to the Scriptures, sin has two aspects: the nature of sin and the act of sin. The nature of sin is sin that dwells
in man, mastering and governing him and inciting him to commit sins (Romans 6:17; 7:20-21). Sinful acts are the sins
which are manifested outwardly in our daily life. Concerning each of our sinful acts, whether small or great, hidden or
deliberate, there is a charge against us before God. God has also passed judgment upon them (Romans 1:32; 6:23).
This causes our conscience to feel uneasy whenever we think of them. Whenever we are dominated by sin and
struggle without release, we feel wretched within (Romans 7:23-24). Therefore, the sinful acts need to be forgiven and
cleansed, but we also need to be delivered and released from our sinful nature (Romans 6:7, 22). Praise God, the
blood of the Lord Jesus deals with the charges of sin against us before God and purifies our conscience (Matthew 16:
28; Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 9:14); and the cross of the Lord Jesus deals with our old man, delivering us from the power
of sin and freeing us from sin itself (Romans 6:6,18). For this reason, when Romans 1 through 5:11 speaks of our sins
before God, the blood is mentioned. When Romans 5:12 through chapter eight speaks of the sin that is in us, the same
portion mentions the fact that our old man has been crucified with Christ to annul the body of sin that we may no longer
serve sin as slaves. Now let us see that our sins need to be forgiven and how they are forgiven and cleansed.
Sins Need to Be Forgiven
Without exception everyone who has truly been quickened will be conscious of his own sins. For example, when the
prodigal son in Luke 15 came to himself, he felt that he had sinned against Heaven and against his father. A person
who is truly enlightened by the Holy Spirit cannot help but condemn himself concerning sin (John 16:8). It is at this
moment he needs God's forgiveness. As soon as he sees his sin, He will consider the charges of sin against him before
God; he will consider the punishment which his sin deserves; he will consider the unceasing pains of hell; and he will
also hope to have a way to be saved. Perhaps at this time the gospel is preached telling how the Lord Jesus was
crucified on the cross and how He shed His precious blood for the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 26:28) that men might be
washed of their sin (Revelation 1:5). When a person hears this gospel and believes, his sins are forgiven (Acts 10:43;
26:18) and his conscience is purified (Hebrews 9:14).
Luke 7:36-50 shows that God's forgiveness may not mean much to a self-righteous Simon, but to a sinner who is
considered "what manner of Woman" (verse 39) by others, it is very much needed. All that this sinful woman had
received her entire life was mockery and contempt. This only caused her to pity herself and feel ashamed of herself.
But on this particular day there was One before her named Jesus, who appeared so holy and yet was so accessible -
who even allowed her to stand behind Him weeping at His feet. Her weeping indicated several things: (1) her suffering
because of sin, (2) the hidden story in her heart, (3) her helplessness, and (4) her hope for a Savior! However, her
weeping did not obtain Simon's sympathy; it only caused him to be full of thought (verse 39). Weeping for sin simply
could not be understood by a self-righteous person like Simon. But Jesus understood! First He corrected Simon; then
He spoke on behalf of this weeping woman, saying that her many sins are forgiven (verse 47). Then speaking directly
to the woman, He said, "thy sins are forgiven...Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" (verses 48, 50). This
forgiveness to her was a great gospel! It enabled her to no longer feel sorry for herself, but rather to be full of peace.
This forgiveness henceforth would become a gospel to many great sinners.
Mark 2:1-12 shows us that to those self-righteous scribes, God's forgiveness was mere empty doctrine. It only caused
them to criticize and judge the Son of God regarding His authority to forgive sins (verses 6-7). But to the man sick of
palsy, who was carried by four men, it was really beneficial. How many times sin causes not only torment in our heart,
but ruin in our bodies! We realize that many illnesses are results of natural causes, contagion, or over exhaustion. But
the Scriptures also indicate that some illnesses are the result of committing sin (Mark 2:5; John 5:14). When illness
results from committing sin, whether obvious or hidden, the one who commits the sin knows. When a person commits
sin which results in some incurable disease, all he can do is regret it; there is nothing more to say. The Lord knew that
with this man sick of palsey, the cause of his illness was sin. For this reason He first spoke to the sick man, "Son, thy
sins are forgiven: (Mark 2:5). Then He said, "I say unto thee, Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house" (verse
11). The sins were forgiven and the sickness was healed. What a great gospel this is! Henceforth, this forgiveness
would become a great gospel to many who were sick because of sin.
The Security of Forgiveness
According to the experience of those who serve the Lord, the more one sees his sins in the light, the more sorrowful he
feels for his sins and the more he senses the grace of forgiveness. With some, because they have sinned so much and
so grievously, there is always the fear that God will not forgive them. Some who have been frequently troubled by their
past sins and suffered overmuch have developed a weak conscience. Even though their sins have been forgiven,
whenever they think of them they are still afraid, fearing they have not been forgiven. They may even feel that it is too
cheap for God to have forgiven them. Those in such a condition with such an attitude must realize that the security of
forgiveness has a firm foundation. Such a one must take note of the following two points:
1. Forgiveness is Based on God's Righteousness
1:9). His holy nature does not allow Him to tolerate sin, and His righteous attitude causes Him to judge sin. His
Word says, "The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). His Word also says that "without shedding of blood there
is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22). Whenever we commit sin, God must condemn us for our sin. According to
God's nature He is holy; therefore, He cannot tolerate sin. According to God's way of doing things, He is
righteous; therefore, He must punish sin. In Himself God is also glorious; for this reason sinners cannot approach
Him. Those who do approach Him will surely die. God deals with man according to the principles of His holiness,
His righteousness, and His glory. Therefore our sins are not forgiven without passing God's judgment. He does
not simply disregard the charges of sin against us. He forgives us our sins and no longer remembers them,
because the Lord Jesus had shed His blood (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7).
directly; grace comes to us through the cross. It is not that God sees us repenting, feeling sorry, and weeping for
our sins, and because of this He has pity upon us and forgives us. No, God never does this. First God judges
our sins; then He forgives us (Isaiah 53:5,10,12). A certain common saying goes, "Grace and righteousness
never come hand in hand." However, those who are taught by grace realize that God's way of forgiving men their
sins is perfect in both grace and righteousness.
in both grace and righteousness. A girl high school student tells the following story. Her principal was one who
belonged to the Lord. One day someone broke a piece of furniture in the school. The principal (a woman)
conducted an investigation, but no one would admit to having broken it. She tried to explain to the students that it
was not right to break public things in the school, and that it was even worse to have broken it and lack the
courage to admit it. While she was saying this, she was also crying. Then a student came forward to confess.
But this student was too poor to pay the damages. The principal then took the money from her own pocket, paid
for the damage the student had done, and also forgave her of her sin. Such a gracious and righteous attitude
and conduct on the part of the principal not only caused the student to know sin, but also enabled her to know
both grace and righteousness. This is only a shadow of the perfection of both grace and righteousness being
manifested through God's redeemed people.
forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). This was even more painful than the crown of thorns on HIs head and the
wounds and stripes on His body. Isaiah 53:5 says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for
our iniquities." Who says that forgiveness is cheap?
2. Forgiveness is the Characteristic of the New Covenant
no means remember anymore." This is one of the blessings given to us in the new covenant. It refers to God's
forgiving us our sins in Christ. God can be propitious to our unrighteousnesses because Christ has shed His
blood for us. Not only is He propitious to our unrighteousnesses, but He by no means remembers our sins
anymore. That God does not remember our sins means that He forgets them. God's forgetting of our sins is not
that He hides His face or purposely ignores them, but that Christ's blood has blotted out the charges of sin
against us and washed us from our sins (Isaiah 44:22; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 1:5). Today God is confining
Himself to the covenant; He is willing to be restricted by the covenant. When He said, "I will be propitious to their
unrighteousnesses," He will do it; and when He said, "their sins I will by no means remember anymore," He will not
remember. This is the new covenant, and this is the gospel.
in mind! Some people keep thinking: "I have committed so many grievous sins - has God really forgiven them
all? Does God really forget them?" Others think: "God has blotted out my sins, but the trace of the blot is still
there. Whenever God sees it He will again remember what kind of sinner I am." Those who have such thoughts
do not know how to enjoy the rights of the new covenant.
first item in the new covenant. God made a covenant and said, "I will be propitious to their unrighteousnesses,
and their sins I will by no means remember anymore" (Hebrews 8:12). If God would not forgive our sins, we could
speak to Him in this manner: "O God, You have made a covenant with us. You must forgive our sins. You must
do according to Your covenant." God has made a covenant, and He must act according to it. He cannot forgive
or refuse to forgive at will, for He has given us a pledge, namely, a covenant.
the things, can never by the same sacrifices which they offer continually every year perfect those who draw near.
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because those serving, having once been purified, would
have no longer any conscience of sins?" This means that enjoying a clean conscience and no longer feeling sin
is not something which can be experienced by those who offer the blood of bulls and sheep. Only the blood of
the Lord Jesus can enable a man to have such an experience. When God sees the blood of the Lord Jesus, He
forgives our sins and by no means remembers them anymore. This is a characteristic of the new covenant.
God's Word could not be more clear.
Confession of Sin and Forgiveness
When a sinner knows that he is a sinner and believes in the Lord Jesus, his sins are forgiven. This is beyond doubt.
The question is, after a person has believed in the Lord and received forgiveness, does he need to be forgiven
further? In order to answer this question we must first consider three facts: (1) After a person is saved, he should not
continue to live in sin (Romans 6:1-2), and he should not commit sin again (John 5:14; 8:11). (2) There is still the
possibility that a believer can commit sin (I John 1:8,10), and it is possible that a Christian can be overtaken in some
offense and be tempted and fall (Galatians 6:1; I Corinthians 10:12). There are the examples of Peter's hypocrisy in
Antioch, Barnabas pretending with a group, and the brother in Corinth who committed fornication (Galatians 2:11-13; I
Corinthians 5:1-2, 5,11). In the case of the brother who committed fornication, the consequence was very serious; on
the one hand his body was corrupted, and on the other hand he was excommunicated by the church. (3) In I John 3:9
we read that "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed abideth in him: and he cannot sin,
because he is begotten of God." This refers to the habit and nature of a regenerated person.
If we are clear concerning these three points, we will admit that the more fellowship we have with God and the more we
walk in the light of God, the more we need forgiveness and cleansing. God is light; therefore to have fellowship with
God means to be in the light. This is shown clearly in I John 1:5-7. How then can we obtain forgiveness? The answer is
in I John 1:9, which says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us
from all unrighteousness." It is clear from this verse that if a believer commits sin, he needs to confess it in order to be
forgiven. We must "confess our sins." If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and
cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The following is a true story. In a certain city there was a sister whose conscience continually accused her and gave her
no rest. Whenever she saw a preacher she would say, "My sins are so grievous! I don't know if God has forgiven me or
not." On one occasion when she said that, the preacher asked her to read I John 1:9 with him. Then he asked her,
"Have you confessed your sins before God?" She replied, "Yes I have, and I do it quite often." "What then does God's
Word say?" he asked. She said, "God's Word says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us
our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "Then," asked the preacher, "what do you say?" She answered, "I
do not know whether God has forgiven me or not." After this manner they read and questioned, read and questioned;
and then they prayed. She again confessed her sins before God. After the prayer he again asked her, "Has God
forgiven you your sins?" She again replied, "I don't know." Then that preacher spoke to her very seriously: "Do you
think that God is a liar?" She answered, "How dare I?" The preacher replied, "Then if we confess our sins, what does
God say He will do? God says that He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness." At this point she understood; she had peace in her conscience. From that time until the day she
slept in the Lord she remained joyful. The Lord's Word truly enlightened and comforted her.
Therefore, we must remember that forgiveness of sins is something in the covenant. If we confess according to God's
Word, God will forgive us according to His covenant. Brothers and sisters, do we dare ask God by holding on to His
Word, "O God, Your Word says that if we confess our sins, You will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all
unrighteousness"? We must realize that God has made a covenant with us so that we may speak to Him according to
His covenant. He wants us to ask by faith that He fulfill what is in the covenant. We are not just asking God to show us
mercy; we are claiming our portion according to the covenant. Praise God, even the forgiveness of sins is a part of the
Some no doubt think that if they really hate sin, it will be easier for them to be forgiven. Others feel that if they continue
to feel sorrowful and have a contrite heart, it will be easier for them to be forgiven. This kind of supposition is utterly
wrong. This is not what God's Word says. A contrite heart and feelings of sorrow are a natural result, a natural attitude,
issuing from enlightenment; it is not a condition we exchange for forgiveness. In the book, The Christian's Secret of a
Happy Life, we read of a little girl who was asked, "If you commit sins, how will the Lord Jesus treat you and what will you
do?" She said, "I will confess my sins to the Lord; the Lord Jesus will make me feel sorry for a while, and then He will
forgive me." Do not think that these are only the words of a little child; this is also the story of many adults. Many grown-
ups feel the same way. They think that after they confess their sins they need to feel sorry for a while; they need to wait
until their heart feels no pain - then they will receive the evidence of forgiveness. Those who think in this way do now
know what the new covenant is. We must realize that forgiveness of sins is something in the new covenant, that
because the Lord Jesus shed His blood, God must forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The
moment we accept the Lord, God forgives us according to what is stated in the covenant. God is bound by the
covenant He has made with us. We need only ask God to act according to what is stated in the covenant, and He is
bound to do it.
We must remind the reader that the confession referred to here is something we do after seeing sin in God's light.
God's light does not tolerate sin. When a person truly sees sin in God's light, condemns sin as sin, and comes to God
to confess his sin, God will forgive such a person's sin and cleanse his unrighteousness. Some people take shelter in
the confession of sin: day by day they continue to speak lies under the precious blood, and day by day they continue to
lose their temper under the precious blood - this is definitely wrong. To them confession is a formula and a method. On
one hand they commit sins, and on the other hand they confess as a formality. This is not confession in God's light.
Such confession is only confession in words. We should never practice this. What we are saying here is that the more
we fellowship with God, the more we walk in the light of life, the easier it is for us to see sins; then we realize how much
we need God's forgiveness and the cleansing of the precious blood. It is this kind of confession which counts. With this
confession we enjoy the rest issuing from the forgiveness of sins mentioned in the new covenant.
Revelation 4:3 says that there is a rainbow around the throne. The rainbow is the sign of the covenant which God made
with Noah. It means that God has never forgotten that covenant. It also means that God must listen to man's prayer if
he prays according to the covenant. As long as the rainbow is around the throne, God must listen to the prayer which is
according to the covenant. God has pledged Himself to us in this way that we may pray to Him according to the
covenant. What a wonderful grace this is!
Who today has not yet solved the problem of sins? You can bring your sins before God, holding on to God's Word and
believing Him according to His covenant. Then you can rest in His covenant. The reason we have lost so many spiritual
blessings is that we have not realized that God has made a covenant with us. God has made a covenant with us that we
may speak to Him according to the covenant. Then He will act according to the covenant.
The New Covenant, by Watchman Nee and Witness Lee, Copyright 1981, Living Stream Ministry.
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