My guess is if you’ve grown up in a Christian home, or at least a home that went to church on Christmas and Easter, you probably have a certain level of respect for the Bible. You probably didn’t read it. But you believed it. No judgement, that’s my story too.
You probably were also taught that the whole Bible was absolutely true. Not a single error. And that the whole Bible, Old and New, were equally useful to help us know God and live as he wants us to.
And that’s where the problem comes in. Most Christians in the western world are taught that the Old and New Testament are equal. But they’re not.
I know for some of you that’s a hard pill to swallow. But hang with me. I’m not saying that the Old Testament is useless and we shouldn’t read it. It’s still useful and we should read it. But we need to read it in light of what Jesus has done.
The Problem with the Old Covenant
The Old Testament is based around a covenant that God made with Abraham. It’s the foundation of the Law the Jews followed, and it’s how one earned their righteousness.
The problem with the Old Covenant?
In short… Nobody could live up to it.
If you read through the Old Testament not a single person was able to live up to the requirements of the Old Testament. They all failed. The problem with the Old Covenant is that we, humans, were not capable of fulfilling the requirements.
That is of course until Jesus came along… But we’ll get there in a minute.
Of course God didn’t leave his people hanging. He provided a way for when they fell short. The sacrifice of an animal that took the place of the person’s sins. Something had to die so that their sin could be forgiven. And kill they did. Countless animals were slaughtered so the sins of God’s people would be forgiven.
This had been going on for over a 1,000 years by the time Jesus entered the picture and changed everything.
For the sake of time I’m not going to go into how the Old Covenant worked or all the details about the Law. If you want to read more on that check out my article: What’s the Point of the Old Testament Law?
What Jesus Said
By the time Jesus came around the Law was ingrained in the Jew’s DNA since Moses walked down the mountain with the 10 Commandments. They were sticklers for the rules. By the book kind of people. So much so that they added laws to the Law just to make sure they didn’t break the Law. Of course they still did, because no one could actually live up to the Law. But that didn’t keep them from holding others to the Law.
Jesus enters the picture and totally rocks their world. He wouldn’t leave the Law alone, he kept pocking at it. Worse still he compared himself to Moses and eventually claimed to be God. Which is basically the worst offense against the Law you can commit… Unless it’s true…
Jesus Fulfills the Law
Matthew 5:17-20 is probably Jesus’ most quoted passage about the Law. But it’s drastically misquoted and misunderstood. Often the first sentence of this passage is used as a proof text for the way Jesus didn’t do away with the Law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” And they are right. Jesus didn’t abolish the Law… But he did fulfill it. It’s in the next sentence.
Jesus claims that He came to fulfill the law, a curious statement to the listening Jews. To fulfill the Law was impossible. It wasn’t something you could fulfill, it was something you follow. Later in this passage He makes an outlandish claim, that for the Law to save you, you would have to follow it better than the Pharisees. There ain’t nobody that could do that. Well except Jesus…
In other words he’s saying that there’s two deals.. You can keep living under the Law, you can keep following the 613 laws.
If you do that you have to do it perfectly. Better than anyone else. Even the best of the best aren’t good enough.
The other deal?
A new covenant. A new commandment.
A New Commandment (to replace the rest)
If we flip over to John 13:31-35 we see Jesus claiming to have a new commandment. This isn’t an addition to, but rather in place of. He didn’t say, Behold I give you the 614th commandment. No. Jesus ushered in an entirely new deal. A new covenant.
He clarifies this by saying, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Those listening would have been thinking, whoa, calm down Jesus. The Bible (the Old Testament) tells us that we are known for our observance of the law. You’re telling us that now we just have to follow this one commandment?
In short yes. We have the benefit of knowing the full story. His followers didn’t. Jesus would indeed fulfill the law on the cross. He would fulfill it and replace it. No longer do we need the 613 laws for us to be righteous; we are now marked by our love for God and others. No longer do we need to sacrifice an animal each time we sin; Jesus died once for all.
This is where some of you will point to the moral laws, such as the 10 Commandments, and accuse me of downplaying sin or disregarding scripture. Not what I’m doing. The Old Testament is still useful and I would argue the New Covenant has higher expectations (and similarities to the old). More on that last point in the next section.
This is ultimately why the Jews tried to kill Jesus. Because he was replacing their DNA, the only thing they knew. The Law. He introduced something new. And they killed him for it. Of course that couldn’t stop him. In fact that was the plan all along. The final sacrifice for all sins of all time.
The New Covenant
So what is this new covenant? This one is very different from the old. In the old covenant your righteousness was based on your adherence to the law. Under the new covenant, our righteousness is based on Jesus fulfilling the law.
The Old Covenant had 613 laws. The New Covenant has one. John 13:31-35. Love one another as I have loved you.
But not easy.
Jesus replaces the complicated old covenant with a new, better covenant. Romans 8:3-4 summarizes this best.
While the New Covenant is simple it’s not easy. There might not be 613 rules to follow, but the new rule is not easy. While the price of entry is free, and for literally everyone, there’s an expectation once you are in. Just go read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus expects his followers to act. What you’ll see in many ways is an elevation of the Old Covenant laws that pertain to our treatment of others. Jesus made the entry to the New Covenant easy, but he expects a lot out of his followers.
But thankfully there’s hope. We no longer are held down by our mistakes and dependent on continual sacrifices. Best of all under the New Covenant we have God not only with us, but in us, helping us. We aren’t alone.
The Rest of the New Testament Agrees With Jesus
Don’t believe Jesus? Fine. Not the place I’d want to be… But the rest of the New Testament agrees with Jesus replacing the Old Covenant too. Not adding to, but replacing.
Really you can take all of Hebrews, but Hebrews 8:6 is the pinnacle. This is a brilliant book written by _______… Well we don’t know who. Maybe they too feared for their life for writing such damning words about the Old Covenant. They write the same things that got Jesus killed. Why risk it? It’s foolish… Unless it’s true.
I like how Wayne Grudem explains this in his book, Christian Ethics:
It is important to realize that the author of Hebrews is not saying that some old covenant laws are no longer binding on Christians (such as sacrificial laws or purity laws, for example), but that the old covenant itself, that entire system of laws that defined the relationship with God and his people, is no longer in effect.
Let’s look at one more…
Paul Believes It Too
At one point in Paul’s life he claimed to follow the Law better than anyone else. And then abruptly he met the resurrection Jesus. And immediately left the Old Covenant behind. Why? Because the new deal is so much better.
New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner puts it this way:
Paul argues that the entirety of the law has been set aside now that Christ has come. To say that the ‘moral’ elements of the law continue to be authoritative blunts the truth that the entire Mosaic covenant is no longer in force for believers.
The New Testament is in agreement. The old is out and the new is in.
But this is where the problems start. The old keeps coming back. Christians keep trying to put the old commandments back in place.
Stop Mixing the Old and the New
Under the Old Covenant there were a lot of rules you had to keep in order to remain righteous. 613 to be exact. If you were to thumb through the Torah (the first 5 books of the OT) you would find a whole slew of laws.
Most of them we got no problem not following anymore. We have broken many of them without even knowing. Eating bacon, mixing fabrics in our clothes, only worshipping on the Sabbath (which is Saturday FYI), and so on… But we have this habit of reaching back into the Old Covenant and picking and choosing certain teachings, sayings, and narratives to support our view.
This isn’t new. This started minutes after Jesus ascended into heaven. The first Christians started telling new Christians they had to eat a certain way, and they had to be circumcised. Which as you can image was a deal breaker for many… They were mixing the old and the new. But Jesus fulfilled and replaced the old.
This has caused incredible damage over the years. The Crusades only existed because of this mix and match style of theology. They weren’t following the New Covenant way of living Jesus set up. Maybe we aren’t killing people today (hopefully), but we are still causing damage by mixing the old and the new.
Stop putting roadblocks that make it harder for people to come to Jesus. Stop adding laws to the New Covenant. And stop looking to an inferior covenant when we have one that is much greater. What Jesus accomplished for us is so much better.
Let me end with Andy Stanley who just wrote a great book that covers this topic much better than I ever could. It’s called Irresistible… So, while I believe there is much we can learn from studying and preaching on the Old Testament, we must now take our cue from the promises fulfilled in Jesus—the new. The way we treat others is not based on 10 Commandments, but on one command given by Jesus—“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34; 15:12). We need to ask: what does this love require of me? And this informs our apologetic approach to reaching people. For me, it starts by introducing them to Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection. That’s something we’ve never seen before in human history. It’s brand new. And that’s what makes Christianity irresistible.