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
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 friend of his dies leaving a widow. He has pity on her, and for the friend’s sake promises her that she can move her florist business into a corner of his shop rent free for as long as his shop is open to trade. To make her feel more secure, they sign a contract. Now some years later the man has become very affluent and decides to purchase the entire commercial building for himself. He is no longer a tenant, but the owner of the building and he thus increases the size of his store.
Now the conditions under which his first agreement with the widow were made no longer exist, the contract has therefore become obsolete and worthless. But the man is righteous and so he continues to fulfil the obligations of the old contract. Only now he offers the widow twice as much floor-room for her florist and installs a cold-room for her as well. Again he draws up a new contract so that she feels secure. So the old contract has fallen away being superseded by a new one. But the promises of the old contract still stands, only now its promises are even better and its grounds even more secure than before.
This is the relationship between the Old Covenant with Abraham and the New Covenant under Jesus. In effect, the New Covenant, though making the old one obsolete, also fulfils the old one and so establishes it eternally.
“But now He (Jesus Christ) has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” – Hebrews 8:6
“For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God... by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.” – Hebrews 7:18, 22
7 - JUSTIFICATION AS A DESERVED REWARD
Another point that tends to trip us up is the question of who deserves God’s pardon. It seems we are all born with the unspoken belief that if our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds, then we are inherently good. And if the opposite holds, then we are inherently bad. If however, our good deeds severely outweigh our bad deeds, then surely we are deserving of heaven and eternal life. And if God then will not grant us that life, He has robbed us and is unjust towards us. This is a belief taught to mankind by the father of sin. God does not put our deeds on a scale to see which way it tips. In God, light is absolute. There is no place for any darkness in Him at all.
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5
Light is not co-dependent with darkness, on a sliding scale with dark on one side and light on the other. Light exists without darkness. God is good – full stop. He needs no devil or sin for His own existence, and He was (and is) before both. In practical terms this means that if even on one singular occasion, for the briefest split second in your life, you broke the smallest “jot or tittle” of the law – you have darkness in you. You have broken the law and are condemned to death by the law. You have sinned and the penalty of sin is death. One bite of the fruit was all it took for Adam to become a fallen sinner.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
With only a single sin to your name, you have not reached the mark of perfection and therefore are not worthy of God’s righteousness. Even if 99,9% of your life is perfect, that single fault has disqualified you from the perfection of God’s Kingdom. None of us, no matter how good we are, deserve heaven. God has no obligation to save us.
This thought helps us understand the shortcomings of the old law. For the law to justify us before God it would have to remove all sin from our lives permanently. It could never do this.
8 - JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH AND WORKS
Another question which comes up regularly is the relationship between faith in Jesus Christ and the fulfilment of the Law of Moses.
Some hold that since Jesus’ death, His sacrifice atones for our imperfections in fulfilling the law. In other words we are expected to continue to fulfil the law as far as it is in our power to do. Our shortcomings are then atoned for by the blood of the Son of God. In doing so He resolves our sins while we grow in maturity until we reach the same perfection as Him. They argue that works (fulfilling the law), together with faith (the atoning blood of God’s Son) is our means of redemption and therefore justification before God. These two acting in harmony are our hope. This is a very logical argument. In fact it even seems to be the argument that James makes in his letter.
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?... Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” – James 2:14, 22-24
But what then do we do with the following scriptures which show no such partnership between the works of the law and faith in justifying us?
“...man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” – Romans 3:28
“For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect.” – Romans 4:14
“knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” – Galatians 2:16
Paul and James’ teachings cannot harmonise if James is teaching that we are justified in part by the merit of our own adherence to the Law of Moses, and ‘topping up’ our shortcoming with faith in Jesus Christ. Paul says we are saved by faith alone. If James is saying we can only be saved by following the law and faith together, then one of them is lying.
However if James is teaching that we are justified by faith alone, but there is a necessity to prove the reality of that faith or to evidence our faith through our actions, then Paul, James and the rest of the New Testament harmonise perfectly. James is actually saying that to claim you have faith when no evidence of it is found in your life, is to lie. If faith exists then actions will follow. Therefore actions which exhibit faith are a testimony to faith itself, and not a second requirement. Section 11 of this discussion will explain James’ meaning in more detail. But for now hear him explain it again:
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” – James 2:17, 26
To say that the word “works” here means fulfilling the Law of Moses is an assumption – an added thought you will not find in the text. Nowhere does James say we need to fulfil the Law of Moses to be justified. He only says we need works to evidence that our faith is true. James was exposing those who claimed to have faith while their behaviour told a different story.
Let’s use another helpful analogy here. A country is under the impending threat of war and a man promises to fight beside his brother on the day fighting breaks out. But when the day does arrive, his courage leaves him and he runs away. The promise of his words have become nothing, they are dead. If however, when the day of battle comes, he is found standing right beside his brother, then his actions have proved the reality of his promise or have perfected his promise. See how James is trying to say just that:
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” – James 2:21-23
It is Abraham’s belief in God which is accounted as righteousness, not his offering of Isaac. However, by being willing to offer his son Isaac, he evidences that he truly does believe God. This understanding harmonises with Paul in the following scripture:
“For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him that does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” – Romans 4:3-5
For James and Paul to both be in agreement then it is clear that James is not advocating fulfilment of the law of Moses as a requirement for justification.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight...” – Romans 3:20a
Even in the Old Testament God shows that the righteousness of the Israelites was not of their own works but of Him.
“ ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is from Me,’ Says the LORD.” – Isaiah 54:17
Let us now move on to the most critical issue of our entire discussion – how does God justify us through Jesus Christ? This answer will also resolve the question of our relationship to the law.
9 - ONE SINLESS MAN
Jesus was the only man in all of human history to keep all the law of God perfectly. Never did He violate any of its commands in the slightest degree. Throughout His entire lifetime, from birth to death, He remained without sin, “without spot or blemish” before God.
“You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.” – 1 John 3:5
This makes Him the only Man to have not, metaphorically speaking, eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - the tree which produced death in Adam and all mankind after him. That is why Jesus could say that Satan had no claims on Him.
“...the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me.” – John 14:30b
Jesus fulfilled every last demand of the law. That is why He said:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil.” – Matthew 5:17
Jesus is called the second Adam because He is the second “clean slate” to enter the world. But unlike the first man Adam (and all who followed him), Jesus chose not to sin. This makes Jesus the only righteous man. It also makes Him the only man to ever have the right to enter heaven. Even the Jews were not entitled to, because as we have seen, the blood of animals was not able to wash away their sins. So from Adam to this day there has not been another person who merits entry into the Kingdom of God. Were it not for what happened next, there would only be one human in heaven, despite all the law and sacrifices of the Jews.
“What then, are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one... They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’” – Romans 3:9-10b, 12.
So God gave Moses the law, knowing no one would ever be able to uphold it perfectly. And because He knew no man would ever be able to attain to eternal life though the merit of works, it was always His intention to come to earth Himself, as a man under the law, and so fulfil the law Himself. He did this in order to fulfil the law on our behalf. Why? Because after He had fulfilled the law, He became that One righteous man who had the right to enter the Kingdom of Heaven – He became a door for others.
“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” – Galatians 4:4-5
What God has done here can be difficult to grasp. So the best way we can explain this principal is by using another analogy. Let’s say you wanted to send a parcel to the planet Mars. This is an utterly impossible feat. There is no way you could ever get something there. But one day NASA designs a probe that will land on Mars. That probe has become a means for you to have access to Mars. You could now load your parcel into the probe and when the probe goes to Mars, so does your parcel. If however the probe stays on earth, so does your parcel. If one explodes on take-off, both explode. The qualities of the probe are now the qualities of the parcel. Even though the parcel does not have any of the powers of the probe, once the parcel is put inside the probe, they have been knit together so that they share the same fate.
This is what God has done with us and Jesus. Jesus is the only man who has access to Heaven. But because He does, God is now able to offer us access to heaven. This happens when God places us in Jesus. If we are in Him, we automatically become included in all He does and is. Our fate becomes entwined with His. He is seated on a throne, and we are seated in Him. He is righteous, and we are righteous in Him. He has conquered death, and we have conquered death in Him. He has all power and authority, and we have the same in Him. Never once in all the Bible are we offered these things in and of ourselves. Never do we have them apart from Jesus Christ.
To go back to our analogy then, if you were to take the parcel out of the probe, it could no longer claim to posses any of the qualities of the probe. Only as we are found in Christ, is all that is His attributed to us. That is the spiritual principal by which God saves us through the self-sacrificial offering of His Son.
“...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” – Ephesians 1:4
“...you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” – Colossians 2:10b
“rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith...” – Colossians 2:7a
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” – Ephesians 1:7
Notice that our redemption is 'in Him' but 'through His blood'. You could say we are forgiven because of the blood, by the blood or through the blood. But we are not redeemed because of Jesus, by Jesus, or through Jesus. That would mean that we can claim redemption as a result of what Jesus did, but have it apart from Him. As we are placed inside Jesus we partake of His gifts and goodness with Him. Again, if we are removed from Him, we loose the benefit of sharing in all that He is.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5
We cannot place ourselves in Jesus. That is a work of the Father. God grafts in those whom Jesus accepts. We are therefore placed in Him by Father God. That is why Jesus says:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” – John 15:1
Jesus is the root which sustains us, the branches.
“And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root (Jesus Christ) and fatness of the olive tree.” – Romans 11:17
Now we can understand why it is Father who makes us to sit with Jesus in heavenly places.
“But God... made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 2:4-6
10 - JUSTIFIED BY JESUS
Because we are in Jesus and partake in all the He is, God therefore regards us as Jesus is. That means that as Jesus fully fulfilled the law of God, so it is also accounted to us. Jesus’ perfection and righteousness therefore have become our own. Our shortcoming are not held against us any longer.
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
We have the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed, or accounted, to us. That righteousness is already perfect. Can you see that if we receive such righteousness to our account that it negates a need on our part to bring any righteousness of our own? If He brings 100%, how much is lacking that we should contribute? Nothing. In actual fact we swap what we are for what He is. That being the case, our own efforts are no longer even reckoned in our favour.
Therefore, so long as we are in Him and all that is His is accounted to us, the law makes no demands on us for justification before God. Let me rephrase that to make it clear. We are justified in Jesus (full stop). The only thing that can un-justify us, is being removed from Jesus Christ. Our righteousness has zero to do with our deeds and everything to do with His deeds. We are justified only because we share in the perfection of Jesus Christ.
“...be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” – Philippians 3:9
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” – Romans 3:20-22
Now let us look at the purpose of the law of God and the expectations upon us after we have been justified by Jesus.
11 - THE LOWER AND HIGHER LAW
We have already seen how the law was given to bring us to Jesus, to reveal our sinfulness nature and to teach us what righteousness is. Now in coming to Jesus Christ we have been granted perfect righteousness. Therefore the work of the law is accomplished in Him, the demands of the law are met in Him, and the promises of the law are fulfilled in Him. All that the law hoped to achieve has already been perfected in Him, that is why Paul says:
“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:11-14
“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ... we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.” – Romans 7:4,6
But notice how instead of the old letter of the law, we are to “serve in the newness of the Spirit.” We are released from something so that we can enter something else. Freed from “the law of sin and death” unto “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” – Romans 8:2
To avoid confusion at this point we will invent two terms. We will call the Judaic law of the letter, handed to the children of Israel through Moses, the Lower Law. This is the law that has occupied our discussion up to this point. This is the law that governs the behaviour of men. It is also the law Paul calls “the law of sin and death” because it could not produce life in men. This is the law under the Old Covenant which Jesus’ death has fulfilled and therefore done away with.
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” – Romans 10:4
But now Jesus (who does away with the old law), comes teaching a new law. The law of the Kingdom of God is the Higher Law. It asks for a righteousness greater than the demands of the Lower Law. This is the law that governs the intent of the heart. This is the law Paul calls “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” It is a more perfect law under a New Covenant, built on the more perfect promises and sealed with more prefect blood.
“But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.” – Hebrews 8:6
Since none could uphold even the Lower Law what hope was there of anyone coming near the mark of absolute purity demanded by the Higher Law? Obviously none. Not until Jesus came, Himself fulfilling not only the Lower Law, but fully satisfying the Higher Law as well. That is why Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”
Jesus not only fulfilled them for Himself but for all of us as well. In Jesus Christ the Lower Law is not made void, instead it reaches its fullest expression – the measure of the Higher Law. And in Jesus we are not only knit into His privileges as a righteous Man worthy of heaven, but we become knit into His very nature. With His divine power working in us, we too are able to live out the heart of the Higher Law.
“His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” – 2 Peter 1:4
“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:19-21
12 - THE DIVINE NATURE
Here is yet another facet of the mystery and miracle of what God accomplished through Jesus on the cross: Because Jesus made us perfectly righteous, we have been found worthy to receive His Holy Spirit. When we are grafted into Jesus, He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. It is the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us which transforms us. To put it another way – all heavenly things are already ours because we are in Jesus (and justified by Jesus’ works). But the Holy Spirit in us brings those spiritual realities which are secured for us in the heavenlys, into an experienced reality in our hearts. He gives us His power to perform righteousness and fulfil the Higher Law. And so, through the Holy Spirit we become sanctified by our works.
There is so much to be said on this point that we have dedicated Part 4 of this series to it: "What does it mean to be a Christian?" Therefore we are only touching on it very superficially here but a deeper understanding of this dynamic is critical both to our discussion and to Christian living.
So it is the Holy Spirit in us who changes who we are, what we love, and how we feel. He makes us desire the things God desires. The Higher Law, “the law of the Spirit of life” becomes something we treasure. We are no longer at war with the suffocating demands of a law contrary to our nature. Instead the law has been written on our hearts. If the Spirit of God dwells in us then the nature of the Spirit will also be evident in us.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
Paul describes the outworking of that fruit in the following instructions:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse... Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:14,17-21.
You may have noticed the strong resemblance between this passage and Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God.
“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” – Luke 6:27-31
Now it all begins to fit together in one beautiful whole. The fruit of the Spirit working through us becomes the fulfilment of the Higher Law. Faith in Jesus Christ then has the ultimate result of fulfilling the law.
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” – Romans 3:31
“...he who loves another has fulfilled the law... Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” – Romans 13:8b,10
Look at this next definition and see how love is the fulfilment of the entire law of righteousness.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
This should come as no surprise because Jesus already taught us as much.
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40
13 - THE LAW OF LIBERTY
Are we then a lawless people as some accuse us of being? Absolutely not. Though we are justified by faith alone, we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice in response to what Jesus has already done for us. Our good works then become the result of Jesus’ finished work, not our means of earning justification. See how in this next verse John says we can witness the fruit of being His by the fact that we keep His word.
“Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin.” – 1 John 3:4-5
“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.” – 1 John 2:29
Let us close with the best way we can explain the difference between the Old Testament law of the letter and the New Testament law of liberty. We will use a final analogy:
Let us say that the owner of a farm employs a manager to look after his farm. He then hands the man a detailed document outlining his expectations of him. The manager begins work at 06:00 sharp then next and every morning after that. He is perfectly dressed and he keeps the store rooms and equipment in pristine condition, as the owner expects. He escapes at 17:00 sharp every day when he is released to go home. Whatever is imposed on him, he fulfils his duties to the letter. But the man has no love for farming. He fulfils his tasks mechanically. His thoughts are always daydreaming of being somewhere else. He is simply there for his money and does as little as he has to. Finally the production begins to suffer and the owner has to let him go. But the man argues that he is unfairly dismissed – after all, did he not meet every requirements his employer imposed on him, to the last letter?
Now in his place the owner employs a new manager. This time he takes a different approach. He tells the man that he can share in the profits gained at the end of the year and leaves him to take care of the details. This manager is less punctual than the first, in fact some days he is simply missing. Under him the storerooms are never as neat as his predecessor’s were. And yet this man has a passion for the farm. When he cannot be found it is because he is rescuing a calf from a ditch he discovered walking through the lands at sunrise. Or he is late because his enthusiasm had him researching crop fertilisers through the night. He does not concern himself with the rules of clock in and out times because he knows he is giving his employer his all. Even when he is off duty he cannot keep his thoughts away from the crops and livestock. Naturally under him the farm flourishes. You could say that he has broken the employer’s set of rules and requirements laid down for the previous manager. And yet this man has more truly done the will of the owner. Because he cares about the farm he has fulfilled the intent of those rules which were laid down so that the farm might flourish.
That is how the Old and New Testament laws differ. Because God was able to transform our hearts as a result of Jesus coming to earth, God could give us a liberty He never gave in the Old Testament. But that liberty is not freedom to sin, it is freedom to do good. This freedom with which we are allowed to live and express God’s love may look like lawlessness to some – but God judges the heart. The old law may seem more righteous on the outside, but it could only hedge men into prescribed behaviour – there was still a disconnect between their hearts and their actions.
So did Jesus’ coming affect the application of the Old Testament law on us today? Most definitely yes. Jesus completely transformed our relationship to the law of God. As Christians we can no longer use the Old Testament as our yardstick for righteousness. We live in the blessing of better promises, we are held to a higher law and we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to fulfil it – all draw us to a mark beyond that of the Old Testament.
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – John 1:17
NEXT UP – PART 2
Why Does God Seem to Undergo a Character Change Between the Old and New Testaments?
In the second part of our discussion on the difference between the Old and New Testaments, we ask how we are to reconcile God’s righteous judgment and His unmerited grace? How can the same God seem like a ruthless and demanding dictator in one Testament, and then become gentle, meek and forgiving in the next? And yet He tells us that He does not change.