If the Old Testament law no longer applies to us (as I’ve discussed in my last two posts, February 3, 2012 and February 6, 2012), what is the point of reading the Old Testament? It takes up approximately ¾ of the pages in your Bible. There must be some reason why people keep printing it and buying it.
When God made a covenant with the people of Israel, He made it through His representative, Moses. It was only by going to Moses, or later the priests and judges appointed by him, that the people could know what God was saying to them or what His requirements were. Now, with the coming of Christ, and specifically His death on the cross (Colossians 2:14), we have been freed from the Mosaic Law, and more importantly, we can go directly to God through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 8:6-11 which quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34)
So what purpose does the Old Testament now serve? II Timothy 3:16-17 gives us the answer. All scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, training and equipping. The history and prophecy of the Old Testament allows us to understand the significance of the New Testament, beginning with the genealogy listed in Matthew 1 and continuing to the death and resurrection of Christ. (I Corinthians 15:3-5) When Jesus walked on earth, the only scriptures that people knew were what we now refer to as the Old Testament. Those were the scriptures that Jesus quoted and prayed. Those were the scriptures that He used to teach the disciples and the people. (Matthew 22:29, Luke 4:21, Luke 24:27) Every time Jesus said, “It is written…”, He was referring to the Old Testament scriptures.
Although we are no longer under Mosaic law, the principles and facts that are written in the Old Testament are still true. We can still find hope and encouragement from the Psalms. We can still find good advice in Proverbs. We can still learn from the experiences of the Israelites. We can still find evidence of God’s faithfulness in His interactions with the people of Israel, and in the very fact that He made a new covenant that includes all of us.
In my last post, I brought up the question of whether the laws that were given in the Old Testament still apply to us. If some of the laws on food restriction don’t apply, do any of the others? In a sense, no. But, you might argue, does that mean that it’s okay to lie and murder and steal, since we don’t have to obey those laws anymore? Of course not! Just because we are no longer under the old covenant, doesn’t mean there is no covenant at all. To begin with, we are told in Romans 13:1-7 that we must obey whatever authorities are in place; they have been appointed by God.
Then in Romans 13:8-10, the Apostle Paul boils it down for us. In Romans 13:7, he had just instructed his readers to pay their debts, and to give to others what is due them. Now in Romans 13:8, he tells us that once we have paid our debts, we should owe nothing to anyone, except for love. Love is an obligation that though we pay it, it will never cease to be an obligation. We must love, not because we have some highly emotional feeling that attracts us to someone else, and therefore we want to show our affection. The love being discussed in this passage is agape love, the unconditional love that Christ has for us and that He commands us to have for one another. We are to have concern for every other person on this earth because that is what Christ requires of us. We will certainly need the power of the Holy Spirit within us to accomplish this.
Perhaps the Pharisees liked to have rules because it gave them structure and boundaries. Perhaps they found following the rules easier than loving others. They thought that Jesus was flouting their law, their authority and their tradition, but Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law.” (Matthew 5:17) He also said that the greatest commandments were to love God, and to love others. (Matthew 22:36-40, John 13:34) We are now under a new covenant with God, based not on law but on His grace. If we follow the guidelines of that covenant—loving each other—we won’t have to worry about breaking Old Testament laws.
Now that I’ve committed to studying the messages that God sends to us, the next question is where to start. The first thing that came into my mind was, “In the beginning…”. I know of two verses in the Bible that start that way: Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1. I will look at Genesis today and John in the next post.
As I see it, Genesis 1 is the whole basis for faith. If we don’t believe that God created the universe, and us, there would be no reason to believe anything else in the Bible, or that we have any relationship to God, let alone that we could have a relationship with Him. Conversely, if we do believe that God is the creator of the universe, it allows us to believe that He is all-powerful, and therefore we can have confidence in what follows in the rest of the Bible.
Interestingly, the account of creation assumes the existence of God; it doesn’t try to prove it. It is more concerned with telling us who created the earth and everything in it than with how it was done, or how long it took. There is no exhaustive explanation of creation, so whatever you believe requires faith. Not understanding how it happened actually makes it easier for me to believe that a higher power was involved.
The reassuring fact here is that we didn’t happen by accident. God chose to create us, and He chooses to have a relationship with us. From the very beginning God has been involved with His creation. He interacted with Adam and Eve, and He gave them freedom. They had the choice to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not. He interacts with us today, and gives us the same freedom. We can choose to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not.