From time to time I am asked the following question:
What the heck is the “Old Testament Law” and how does it relate to the New Testament?
Here’s the “short” answer: (I realize the following response is not “short”, but it’s definitely shorter than it could be. 🙂 I’ll expound on this topic in a later post)
Very few believers can answer the question posited above. And for good reason.
The Old Testament book of Leviticus is normally where folks get bogged down after attempting to read the Bible through, beginning with Genesis. Why? Because it’s packed with seemingly arbitrary rules given by God, through Moses, to Israel. (There are 613 levitical laws.)
Nonetheless, this was God’s Law. But what does that mean exactly?
The Law was never intended to be a means of salvation. Rather, as Paul states repeatedly in the New Testament, the Law served as a “guardian”, or teacher, to show Israel how sinful they were in relation to a holy God.
Or, put in a different way, the Law served as a “mirror”, of sorts, to reflect the sin of mankind i.e. our anger, bitterness, gossip, lust, pride, the list seems endless.
Simply put, if city and state governments didn’t post laws – speed limits, for instance – we would have no clue if we were breaking the law since no law existed. Through his servant Moses, God “posted the law.”
Now, to be clear – the Law is subdivided into civic laws, health laws, etc., to guide Israel in ancient times. This is why we no longer are bound by those portions of the Law.
However, the moral Law – the 10 Commandments – and other Old Testament laws referring to morality are forever in play.
Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but the fulfill it.” (More on what this means in a later post.)
Here’s the point I want to highlight in this “brief” post: keeping the Law (following the rules) not once saves us from sin – rather, it reflects our sin and exposes our complete and total failure to live up to God’s standard.
And this is precisely why we were so desperately in need of a Savior – someone who was human – yet able to satisfy the Law. This is why Jesus was able to say from the Cross, “It is finished.”
It was the religious leaders of Jesus’ day – and sadly, in modern times as well – who perpetuated the lie that only when we can “check off the boxes of keeping the rules” will we be acceptable in God’s sight.
This is nothing more than legalism, crippling mankind under the weight of a mindset that asks, “Will I ever be good enough for God?” The answer to that question is an emphatic “no.” But, that’s what makes the “good news” the “good news” – and why the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy…for to you this day is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The New Testament unveils what the Old Testament was pointing to, and preparing us for, all along: we humbly acknowledge our depravity and joyfully profess our faith in the One who lived a perfect life, making himself the perfect, holy sacrifice to God. God confirmed his acceptance of this sacrifice by raising Christ from the dead, forever providing salvation “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10)
Parenthetically, our discussion up to this point begs the question: If salvation is by faith since the cross, how were people saved before the cross, in Old Testament times? The short answer is: salvation has always been by faith alone. (cf. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3 – I’ll address this more in a later post.)
For those who continue to listen to Satan’s lie that we can somehow earn salvation through human effort, Paul said, among other things,
“But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.’ …But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing…”
Paul continues, “So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Galatians 3:10-13)
Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, wrote that those who continue to teach the lie that salvation is not by placing our faith in the work of Christ on the cross, and, instead, believe and/or teach salvation is received by continuing to somehow earn God’s favor through human effort are “possessed by devils and then those devils are possessed by more powerful devils.” And these devils are more than happy to imprison mankind under backbreaking legalism.
“So Christ has truly set us free,” Paul wrote. “Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” (Galatians 5:1)
Author, Philip Yancey, rightly wrote,
“There’s nothing we can do to make God love us any more; and nothing we can do to make God love us any less.”
God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, due to the work of Christ Jesus on the Cross.
This, my friends, is true freedom.
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick