Although the word “covenant” occurs 8 x’s in chapter 8 (and 9 more x’s in chapters 9-10), the overall topic continues to be the priesthood of Jesus. The priestly ministry of Jesus is exercised under the new covenant (8:6), so the writer turns to this as another line of evidence pointing to the superiority of Christ’s priesthood.
“Covenant” is a word that doesn’t seem to be used very often in speaking about our relationship with the Lord. That is unfortunate because there can be no relationship with the Lord apart from the new covenant Jesus inaugurated. Covenant spells out the framework of our relationship with God through Jesus as marriage vows (based on and coupled with biblical teaching) spell out the covenant relationship between husband and wife. Or to say it in a way that everyone can understand, covenant spells out our relationship the way the phone carrier contract spells out our relationship with them. If you have no contract, you will have no phone service—it’s as simple as that.
This is important because there is definitely the idea out there that we can have a relationship with God that is based on our terms rather than His. We’ve grown accustomed to hearing people (often defiantly) telling us how God accepts, understands, and approves some ongoing ungodly behavior in their lives (greed, sexual immorality, materialism, etc.). They don’t seem to understand If your relationship with the Lord is not defined and ordered by the new covenant He established, then you do not have a relationship with Him.
This is exactly what the Hebrews writer means when he speaks of those who “know the Lord” (8:11). Just as a husband or wife are those who have entered a covenant relationship with their spouse, people who “know the Lord” are those who have entered into a covenant relationship with God.
What is involved in such a relationship?
Education is an element. In speaking of the new covenant to be made with the people of Israel and Judah (see Acts 2) and subsequently with the Gentiles (Romans 1:16), God says, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (Hebrews 8:10). God doesn’t do this in some magical, mystical way—He does is through education! Christ said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God’” (John 6:44-45). And while it’s true people can be self-taught; it is the exception rather than the rule. (Acts 8:30-31). The overwhelming majority of people who come to Christ do so because someone taught them about the Lord. This is part of God’s plan in how we help each other to heaven.
A submissive heart is also involved. Becoming a disciple though is not an intellectual exercise. It is much more than simply learning important spiritual truths. It is allowing your life to be shaped and transformed by those truths for the glory of God. That is the difference between knowing about the Lord and knowing the Lord. The heart of the issue is the issue of the heart.
To submit your heart to God means that there is a change in management in our life. We no longer call the shots, God does. We don’t decide what is right or wrong, good or bad, true or false—those things have already been determined by God and our business is getting educated in His will and carrying it out in out in our lives. That’s why people who assure us the God is okay with something He has clearly spoken against in His word are simply not in touch with reality.
It is something gloriously new. The new covenant is just that—new! Now there’s nothing “new” chronologically about the new covenant. It has been in existence for over two millennia. In fact, it is older than the old covenant was when it became obsolete. The Greek word for new in Hebrews 8:8,13 is kainos. the emphasis is not on newness in terms of quantity/time (that would be neos), but rather newness in terms of quality. It is a superior covenant to the former covenant as it was founded upon better promises (8:6).
This is why when someone enters the covenant by faith at baptism, they become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Coming to Christ brings a glorious newness. Unlike cars, houses, and clothes, this newness doesn’t deteriorate or depreciate. Time has no effect on it. The newness disciples experience has nothing to do with chronology and everything to do with our relationship with Jesus (i.e., being “in Christ”). Life has changed radically and as long as we remain in Him, we remain radically new.