The Old Covenant was based on what man could do to find favor with God. The children of Israel said, "Tell us what God requires of us, and we will do it." They never considered that they could not do it. Man had to be brought to the point of seeing his own inability to meet the demands of a holy God. Romans 7 is Paul's commentary on all he could do under the Old Covenant. What he wanted to do, he did not find the ability to do.
The Law could control to some extent the outer expressions of a man. It could judge and condemn a murderer. But it could not control the intent of the heart. When Jesus came, He proclaimed the standard of a holy God. Apart from the provision of the New Covenant, that standard cannot be met. If a law could have been given that could bring us into a true knowledge and union with God, then there would have been no reason for Christ to die (Gal. 3:21). But since man is spiritually and totally dead in sin, nothing that he can do pleases God. Man does not need just a new idea, or lists of things to do. He needs an entirely new disposition, or nature. He needs to be born again--start all over.
The New Covenant is God's answer to man's dilemma. The New Covenant is based upon what God can do in man. It does not consider man and his capabilities; it considers only God and His ability. Man does have a part, but it is not to "help" God. It is not in strength of body or mind or will. It is rather a heart of belief when the word of God comes to create faith within. Some asked, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:28,29).
The word of God is not separate from God. In fact, Jesus Himself was called the Word of God (John 1:1). When God speaks His word into our heart, He is in that word to fulfill it in our lives. Our place is to believe. When we do, it opens the door for God to accomplish the work in our hearts.
In believing, there is a choice to make. Either we choose God and abandon all of our own efforts, or we still feel that there is some good in us or something that we can do. To choose the latter direction will leave us powerless, and we must be brought lower still, to where we can see our need of God. Our faith must rest not on the wisdom of man but in the power of God.
The basis of all that God does in the New Covenant is the work of the Cross. When Christ atoned for our sin, He opened the way for the Holy Spirit to come and indwell us. Salvation is not a gift we receive that stands alone apart from God. It is God Himself coming to abide within. We are saved by His life (Romans 5:10). The only way man can be right with God is to receive a new life, and this happens when we are born of the Spirit. We are born of the Spirit when the Holy Spirit comes to abide within us and we are baptized into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). This is the single work of grace by which we receive a new (divine) nature (II Peter 1:4). The nature which is born within us is the very nature of God; therefore it easily responds to the leading of the Spirit. Obedience is not difficult. Our "inner man" delights in the righteousness of God, and now by the indwelling power of God finds the ability to do the will of God.
The conditions for partaking of the life of God are to repent--turn from the world and to God--and to receive the Holy Spirit by faith. The Holy Spirit is promised to those who ask (Luke 11:13). This asking is out of a desperate need, seeing that I am helpless without God, and with a "single eye" for God--one that cannot be distracted from its purpose. I have no other place to turn for help. When the Holy Spirit comes, He brings all that God is, to find expression in my life. He takes the things of Jesus and makes them mine (John 16:15).
We are no longer following or imitating an outward Jesus, but living the life of God. The faith to do this does not originate in us, but is authored by Him. Now God no longer considers us separate from what He is in us. He can put love demands upon us because He has given Himself as the resource to fulfill those demands. As long as we continue to look to Him as our supply, the provision is there. Struggles enter in only when we consider our own abilities, because this takes our eyes off the Lord and stops the flow of faith and grace in our lives.