DISTINCTIVE Christian doctrine and that which is to be practiced by the church is embodied in the New Testament. Talking about the New Testament, the writer of the book of Hebrews said, “For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Hebrews 9:16, 17). The New Testament came into force when Jesus died on the cross of Calvary. Everything before the New Testament was preparatory. Paul tells us in Galatians 3, having reference to the Old Testament law, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster [the Old Testament]” (verses 24 and 25). During the ministry of Christ, leading up to his crucifixion and the termination of the Old Testament law on the cross (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14), he taught many things in anticipation of the New Testament. But they were still living under the Law of Moses, the Old Testament. To not realize this is to end up with many misunderstandings.

      One misunderstanding that commonly stands out today is an appeal to the thief on the cross as proof that we don’t really have to be baptized. After all, didn’t Jesus say to the thief, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), and he wasn’t baptized? But remember the Scripture in Hebrews (9:16,17). The New Testament didn’t come into force until Jesus was dead, like a man’s last will and testament. Its terms could not be executed before then. Also, the apostle Paul makes it plain that we are buried with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12; Acts 8:38). There was no way that a person could be buried with Christ in baptism before he was actually buried. The appeal and application to the thief on the cross just does not fit the picture. And the appeal to the so-called “sinner’s prayer” in Luke 18:9-14 (to be saved) just doesn’t fit into the picture either. The man who prayed, “God be merciful to me a sinner” was not an alien sinner calling upon God, but a follower of God under the Law of Moses (equivalent to a backslidden Christian). He was praying in the Jewish temple. The New Testament hadn’t begun. After the Lord’s death and resurrection, in giving the Great Commission, he said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16). Then in Acts 2:38, with the establishment of the church, Peter said, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost [Spirit].”

      To understand the makeup of the Old Testament is to better understand the New Testament. The Old Testament, although having some basic eternal truths, was an imperfect system given to imperfect man to “show” up his need of a perfect solution to his sin problem. Within this system there were some basic moral truths, some ritualistic and ceremonial matters (animal sacrifices, purifications, etc.), and some accommodation to imperfect man in his imperfect state until that which was perfect came. Its laws governed a nation of people. It had a shadow of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1), although imperfect itself. Its symbolism and prophecies pointed to the New Testament. It was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24, 25). It was something that was imposed after the main promises involving God’s eternal purpose were given to Abraham (Galatians 3:9-24). But it had a purpose. John said the law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The writer of Hebrews said that the Law made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:19). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, referring back to the Old Testament Law, said, “You have heard it said...but I say unto you” (Matthew 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43, etc.). The teachings of Christ go deeper than just an external legalistic system. The heart must be involved. Indications of the imperfection of the Old Testament and its accommodation to imperfect man, until that which was perfect was come, can be seen in many ways.

      Notice the radical differences from the teachings of Christ as voiced in the psalm book of the Old Testament. Psalms 139:21 and 22 read: “I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” Looking back to the Old Testament, Jesus plainly said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy” (Matthew 5:43-48). “But,” the Lord continued, “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…” Then David wrote in Psalms 144:1, which as Christians makes us sit back and wonder, “Blessed be the lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight.” Does this sound like what we read in the New Testament that we live by today? (Matthew 26:52; John 18:36; Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4)

      Read Luke 9:51-56 that follows. “And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias [Elijah] did? [2 Kings 1:9-15] But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” Plainly, this teaching is just the opposite of the Old Testament and the Psalms as noted in the paragraph just before.

      The worship of the Old Testament was very much different from that of the New Testament. In the Old Testament they offered up animal sacrifices, and incense, which appealed to the sensual side of man, filling their nostrils at times. Then, different from the way we look at things today, on one occasion David danced with all his might and leaped before the lord, much to the displeasure of his wife, Michal. But God was pleased with it and dealt unfavorably with his wife for her attitude (2 Samuel 6:12-23). It seems that God at times accommodated primitive man with his primitive emotions. However, in the New Testament, in reference to the church assembled for worship, Paul wrote, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Jesus said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).

      Another example of God accommodating imperfect man until that which was perfect was come is found in Matthew 19:3-9. The Pharisees questioned Jesus about marriage and divorce, and what Moses allowed. Divorce originally was not in God’s plan. The Lord explained the situation. “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” This seems to be an appendage to the law, perhaps with Deuteronomy 24:1 in mind. This was not what God commanded, or wanted, but Moses permitted (and evidently God), according to Christ. Without the changed hearts that the gospel produces in real conversion, and grace to help, man was not accomplishing true obedience. God’s revelation was still in the process of being progressively given. However, the Lord says now, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

      The apostle Paul asked, “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed [Christ] should come…” (Galatians 3:19). And, looking back now, Romans 15:4 states, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Although we are not living under the Old Testament Scriptures, we can learn from them great lessons on faith and obedience. We know that God was there to encourage and help His people. When we make application of Old Testament Scriptures for lessons in reference to Christianity, they should be filtered through the New Testament. The New Testament, and New Testament practice, did not come into force until Jesus died on the cross. This is what we live by today.

      Remember: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). We are now under the New Testament, God’s “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Amen!

to Index Page