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ARE WE STILL UNDER THE LAW TODAY?


OLD vs NEW TESTAMENTS

– Part One –

The Old Testament taught that sins should be punished eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Yet the New Testament teaches unconditional forgiveness. How can both come from the same, unchanging God? If Jesus said, “I have not come to destroy, but to fulfil the law,” why does Paul say, “Christ is the end of the law?” These and other questions need answering if we are to understand the Bible’s instructions for today.


THE LAW OF GOD

 

INTRODUCTION


This is the first of a 5 part series on the differences between the Old and New Testaments. Our discussion will go through the following phases in answer to our question:

  • Section 1-3: We begin our discussion with a look at how the law was perfect but the people who kept it never could be. Therefore it was only ever God's temporary plan.

  • Section 4-5: Next we look at who Jesus Christ was and what He came to change.

  • Sections 6-10: Then we will clear up some common questions on the law, faith, and works.

  • Section 11-13: We end our piece by concluding what the nature of the law is in the New Testament.


1 - THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH


In the Old Testament, the Jews were guided into righteousness by the Mosaic Law. That law was delivered to them by God, through Moses. God’s intention in giving them the law was to teach them what righteousness is, and by extension they learned what sin is as well. However, the entire Old Testament is evidence that despite the presence of the law, there were none who could perfectly keep it. Even the best of them, those who loved God and devoted themselves to Him completely, came short of the measure of the law. David sinned (the man after God’s heart), Moses sinned (the most humble man on the earth), Abraham sinned (the Father of God’s people), along with all the others, despite the guidance of the law.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23


It was not possible for the law to produce perfect righteousness in any man, because the law depended on the strength and efforts of man. Still the law served a crucial purpose, it exposed the sin within the man. Because of the law, men recognised their fallen state and their need of God’s mercy. But with their sin exposed, the law had no power to remedy them. It showed the way of righteousness but could not produce fruit of it in the hearts of men.


“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20


The simplest way to explain what we mean might be to use an analogy. Let us say, hypothetically, that the law of a country declares it illegal to view pornographic material. There is now a law. The law teaches righteousness. Has the presence of a law made the subjects of the country less interested in viewing pornography? Absolutely not. Quite possibly, as the forbidden fruit, it has awakened an even stronger desire to do so. And if a man should choose to abstain from doing it, though with all that is in him he is burning break the law, is he a transgressor? No, he has done nothing wrong yet – not by the judgment of the law. The law holds a man accountable for his actions, not his heart. But does his heart echo the will and righteousness of the law? No, he abstains to avoid punishment.

And for another man who cannot abstain but breaks the law, the law serves to increase his guilty conscience. But it is not within the power of the law, as perfect as that law may be, to change the heart of the man. All the law has done, by showing the man that his desires are evil, is expose the nature of the man. It has revealed sin, but it cannot cure it. This is what Paul is saying in the following passage:


“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead... And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” – Romans 7:7-8, 10-13


So the Bible teaches us that despite the perfection of the law, it failed to bring men to righteousness because of the evil in their hearts. Something more than the law was needed in order to bring men’s hearts into harmony with the law. Something had to happen to make the man want to abide by the law and do what is righteous. And beyond that, something had to happen to give man the power to remain righteous, even in moments of temptation. For this reason, God brought about a remedy that could cure the sin within the man, not simply one that would deter him from outwardly acting on the evil still resident in his heart.

“If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have

been by the law.” – Galatians 3:21b


God’s remedy to man’s sinful nature came in the form of a second covenant (or New Covenant). In this covenant, God now writes His laws in the hearts of men. He places the desire for godliness within them, something the first covenant could never do.


For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them He says, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a New Covenant... For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbour, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” – Hebrews 8:7-8, 10-12


This New Covenant, being better than the first, has superseded the first one.


“In that He says, ‘A New Covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” – Hebrews 8:13


2 - FROM THE BEGINNING

We should note that this New Covenant was never God’s plan B. God did not discover a mistake, a flaw, in His first plan and then decide to remedy it with a new one. Instead it was the intent of God from the very beginning to first send the Mosaic Law for a season, before bringing the fullness of His perfect plan.

God’s perfect plan, that brought with it a New Covenant, came in the form of His Son. That is why we find in Genesis (long before the law), that it is prophesied that the seed of a woman would produce One who would conquer Satan (Genesis 3:15). Therefore it was always God’s intention to remedy sin with Jesus. Even before the Garden of Eden, before God even formed the earth, He had already determined to send His Son. That is why Jesus is called, "the Lamb slain for the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8b).


“...the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you.” 1 Peter 1:19b-20


Even when the law was given, it pointed to the crucifixion and the Son of God that would come. All its symbols and ceremonies attest to this. The “lamb without blemish” was a symbol of Jesus “who knew no sin”. The design of the tabernacle was “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” The lamb’s blood brought to the Holy of Holies was symbolic of Jesus’ blood brought to the throne of God in heaven, “the true tabernacle which the Lord erected” (Hebrews 8:1-6).


“You were not redeemed with corruptible things... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” 1 Peter 1:18-19


“Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens (the earthly tabernacle) should be purified with these (blood of animals), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these (the blood of Christ). For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (as our High Priest).” – Hebrews 9:23-24


3 - THE DOVETAIL BETWEEN THE OLD AND THE NEW


The Mosaic Law was (and could only ever have been), a temporary measure. It was never a stand alone system but functioned only because it ushered men towards Jesus Christ. The law never could, or was ever intended, to offer men righteousness apart from Jesus. It pointed toward the cross.


“But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” – Galatians 3:22-25


The law did not have its own power to remove men’s sins.


“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—In the volume of the book it is written of Me—To do Your will, O God.’ ”...(by saying) “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all... For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:1-7, 9-10, 14.


The passover lamb of the Old Testament then served to appease God’s wrath for a season. It was only to bring God’s anger to patience, waiting for the day that the penalty of Israel’s sin’s could truly be paid in full by His Son.


“Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood... because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” – Romans 3:21-26


“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.” Galatians 3:19


So we can see that the law was necessary until Jesus Christ. But what about after His coming – what form or purpose does the law serve in the New Testament? To answer this we need to look at who Jesus was and what He came to do. After all, He is the dividing line between the two Testaments and the catalyst of any change that occurred.


4 - THE SON OF GOD


The Gospels of Mark and John open with these words:


“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” – Mark 1:1


“And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:34


What does it mean that Jesus was the Son of God? The phrase “son of God” is used many times in the Bible to describe both men and angels. So to understand why Mark and John felt the need to specifically testify that Jesus was “the Son of God”, we need to look at the ways the Bible uses the term. In the first sense of its use “a son of God” is any man or angel who serves God. See how the angels are called God’s sons:


“Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them.” – Job 1:6


Similarly, believers are called the sons of God:


“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” – Matthew 5:9


“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” – Romans 8:14


Now in the second sense of the expression, we are no longer talking about “a son of God” or “the sons of God,” but “the Son of God.” This title is reserved for Jesus Christ alone, the only begotten Son of God.


“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16


God has many sons, but only One holds the distinction of being His begotten Son. This concept of God having an only Son was not new to the Israelites. By the time Jesus came to earth, the Jews had spent centuries waiting for their Messiah. He was the One who would be sent from God to redeem them. He would become their king and set up His kingdom of peace. It was prophesied by Isaiah that He would be born of a virgin as a sign that He was the promised One. As such, the woman would be His earthly mother, but God alone would be His Father. Therefore the Messiah was called, “the Son of God.” He was no mere human, He was the offspring of God – God manifested in the flesh.


“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (meaning God with us).” – Isaiah 7:14


Look how Isaiah describes the Son of God.


“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:6–7

The prophet Isaiah shows that the Son of God (born of a virgin), will be a King over God’s people and that His name will be “Immanuel,” which means God with us. Isaiah even says He will be called “Mighty God” or, to put it in other words – He would be God Himself. Now have a look at the fulfilment of these words in the New Testament.


“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ And the angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.’” – Luke 1:31-35


“...an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’” – Matthew 1:20-23


This phrase “the Son of God” was therefore a claim to deity. Look how the Jews used it to accuse Jesus just before His crucifixion, saying that He should die for such blasphemy.


“The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’” – John 19:7


“The high priest asked Him, saying to Him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ Jesus said, ‘I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of Heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘What need do we have of further witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.’”Mark 14:61b-64a


“But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, ‘I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!’” – Matthew 26:63


Note how the above two verses use the term “the Son of God” and “Christ” as the same thing. The Biblical text itself tells us that the title “Christ” (New Testament Greek) is simply a translation of “Messiah” (the Old Testament Hebrew). If “Messiah” then becomes translated as “Christ,” the terms are interchangeable and hold the same meaning. Both Christ and Messiah refer to “the Son of God”, “the King of Israel,” and “the Holy One” born of a virgin. See how these expressions came up as people recognised who Jesus truly was.


“He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated, the Christ).” – John 1:41


“The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’”John 4:25


“She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” – John 11:27


“Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” – John 1:49


“And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God.’” – Matthew 14:32-33


Even the demons recognised Him and Jesus had to silence them so that they would not reveal His identity.


“And demons also came out of many, crying out and saying, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ And He, rebuking them, did not allow them to speak, for they knew that He was the Christ.” – Luke 4:41


“Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” – Mark 1:24


God the Father also testified to Jesus being His beloved Son with a voice directly from Heaven. The First occasion was at His baptism (the beginning of His ministry). The second was on the Mount of transfiguration just before His death (the end of His ministry).


“And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’” – Matthew 3:17


“While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’” – Matthew 17:5


Jesus also testified to His own deity.


“Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’” – John 8:58


“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,’ says the Lord, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” – Revelation 1:8


“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” – John 14:9


That is also why Jesus did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.


“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8


The Apostle Thomas suddenly understood who Jesus was when He appeared to him after His resurrection.


“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”– John 20:28


The New Testament repeatedly testifies to Jesus’ deity.


“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh...” – 1 Timothy 3:16a


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” – John 1:1-3


“The Word of life... was manifested and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.” – 1 John 1:2

“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. – Colossians 2:9


“But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.’” – Hebrews 1:8


Look how Jesus reacted when Simon Peter could finally say that he knew for a fact that Jesus was the Christ.


“Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’” – Matthew 16:16-17


John and Paul in later letters testify to the same thing as Jesus has just said here. They both say it is only by the Spirit of God that one can recognise that Jesus was the Christ (the only begotten Son of God), and therefore the manifestation of God in the flesh. And all who cannot say it do not have the Spirit of God:


“By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.” – 1 John 4:2


John testifies here that Jesus is the Christ and therefore the Holy One come in the flesh.


“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” – 1 John 4:14-15


As we have seen, calling Jesus the Son of God, is equivalent to calling Him Immanuel (God with us).


“Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 12:3


The word ‘Lord’ here is indicative of His divinity, and therefore the same thought is expressed as the previous quotes, but using different phrasing.


Lord (Strong’s G2962)

1. Supreme in authority – by implication God.


That Jesus is the Christ and therefore God manifest in the flesh, is the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the heart. That is why Jesus said Peter was blessed that God had showed him who He truly was. Only the Holy Spirit can cause a man to believe this teaching. And every false doctrine denies this teaching. Usually their Jesus is reduced to a mere mortal, a great prophet or some say He was overshadowed by the power of God for a time, but not Himself God manifested as a man.


So if Jesus Christ was God manifest in the flesh, then what did He come to do on the earth?

5 - THE KINGDOM OF GOD


Jesus came teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven had come to men. He often used the words, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like...” in His many parables describing the nature of that Kingdom. That phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven,” was not a Judaic term. It had no place in the Old Testament. He was teaching them something new.


“And from that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ ” – Matthew 4:17


The Kingdom of Heaven had come because the King had come.


“Then Pilate asked Him, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ He answered and said to him, ‘It is as you say.’” – Mark 15:2


“If I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” – Matthew 12:28.


Now we can get to the heart of this discussion, Part 1 in our series. How did Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God (New Testament) compare to the Judaic Law of Moses (Old Testament), which had guided God’s children to that point? Let’s hear Jesus’ words:


“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire... “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart... “Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32.


When Jesus says, ‘you have heard that the law says “x” but now I tell you “y”, He is superseding the law of Moses with a new command. He is in effect replacing one with the other. The only reason He had the right to do so was because He was God. But note something here, He does not change the nature of the law. Murder was wrong in the Mosaic law. Murder is still wrong in the Kingdom, only now, Jesus has elevated the standard of righteousness. In effect, He does not remove the old, He pushes it to an even higher mark of perfection. It is no longer enough that your actions alone be pure, but your thoughts and intentions must be so too. You must not commit adultery, but neither must you desire to do so. Your entire being must be in agreement with God as to what is good and what is evil.

It becomes clear then that the heart behind the Old and New Testaments are the same. The God who judged stealing to be wrong in the Mosaic law, is the same God who judges it wrong through Jesus Christ. The fulfilment of the law still produces righteousness, because the law teaches us what righteousness looks like. However, we have already seen that men could not perfectly keep the law because their hearts were evil. For that reason the law could never justify men.


“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” – Romans 3:20


“...if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21b


If the law could produce righteousness, God would never have asked His Son to come to earth and die. But it could not and there was no other way to wash men of their sins. Jesus was God’s perfect and only cure for the sin within mankind.


“He (Jesus) went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’” – Matthew 26:39


This is the new and better covenant.


“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh.” – Romans 8:3


“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned... (therefore) if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.” – Romans 5:12, 15b


We will discuss the dynamics of this New Covenant in Jesus Christ from Section 9 of this piece onwards. But first let us deal with a few potential points of confusion.

6 - AN ETERNAL COVENANT


Some find this issue of a New Covenant superseding the Old Covenant troublesome because of the following words God spoke to Abraham:


“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” –Genesis 17:7


How can any New Covenant replace an “eternal covenant” – that is illogical. And yet Jesus echoes those words at the Last Supper, just before His crucifixion, when He says of His death:


“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” – Matthew 26:28.


How could God have called the first covenant eternal if He always intended to replace it with a new one? Are we not at an impasse here? Has the Bible not contradicted itself?


We will use another analogy here to make this answer easy to grasp. Lets say a man rents a large store in a commercial building and opens his shop to trade. Soon a close fr