by Johnathan Arnold
In a recent sermon by Andy Stanley, son of esteemed Baptist preacher Charles Stanley (a radio minister who George Straub, founder of God's Missionary Church, highly respected and listened to each week), Andy encouraged Christians to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. He contends that “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and…we must as well.” He goes on, “The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down.”
While the resurrection of Jesus is the heart of Christianity, Andy Stanley’s understanding of the Old Testament (OT) verges on heretical. He argues that nothing in the OT, including the Ten Commandments, is binding for Christians, and that new believers should essentially disregard the first half of their Bible. He goes as far as to suggest that the inerrancy of the Old Testament is not worth defending.
While Andy’s conclusions are blatantly wrong, he addresses a question that many Christians are asking: “What should I do with my Old Testament? Should I keep some of the laws? All of them? None of them?” Many Christians end up cherry-picking particular laws which seem pertinent while completely ignoring others. The long sections of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are often the subject of tongue-in-cheek jokes. In high school, one of the most intelligent girls in my class dismissed my faith because, in her opinion, “if you are going to obey the whole Bible, you better not wear polyester or touch pig skin footballs!”
It’s vital for Christians to understand their relationship to the Old Testament. Contrary to Andy Stanley’s comments, we should still teach children that the whole Bible is God’s Word and we should respect the Book with all of its contents.
The Law is Not Our Covenant
We must understand the difference between the OT law as a covenant and the OT law as a rule for life and godliness. As Christians, we are not accepted by God through the law nor do we relate to God through the ceremonies of the law. We are accepted by God through the finished work of Christ, and we relate to God through Jesus as our intercessor.
Paul goes to great lengths in Galatians and Romans to show that the law as a way of life and relating to God does not bring salvation, but death, since no one can keep it perfectly (Romans 3:20, 7:10; Galatians 3:10). Thousands of years of Jewish history attest that people always break the old covenant and fall under God’s curse because they need a new heart.
We are not accepted by God through the law nor do we relate to God through the ceremonies of the law.
That is why God’s new covenant is by grace through faith. Through faith in Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit who writes the law on our hearts, empowering us to fulfill the law by love. In order to embrace the covenant of faith in the promised Savior, we must die to the law as a covenant. Paul says it this way: “I died to the law, so that I might live to God…. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:19-21).
However, dying to the law as a covenant does not mean that we dispose of the law as if it is worthless or actually bad. "But we know that the [Old Testament] law is good, provided one uses it legitimately” (1 Timothy 1:8). The law still serves many purposes. One purpose — the one defended by Paul in 1 Timothy — is that it reveals sin and points people to Jesus.
Dying to the law as a covenant does not mean that we dispose of the law as if it is worthless or actually bad. Christians express their gratitude to God by obeying His Word.
The law is also our rule for life and godliness. Nathan Purdy explains in an article on legalism, "the law drives a believer to Christ (we need Him) and when we’ve seen Christ afresh we are driven back to the law (to find how to please Him)." In the Heidelberg Catechism, the law of God (and the Ten Commandments) is not under section one, the “Misery” section, but under the final section, the “Thankfulness” section. Christians express their gratitude to God by obeying His Word.
Fulfilled, Not Abolished
Jesus never viewed his atoning death or resurrection as doing away with the Old Testament. Rather, He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [the Old Testament]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).
In Jesus’ day, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, was called “The Law”; the historical books, wisdom literature, and prophetical books were often referred to collectively as “The Prophets.” The Sermon on the Mount — the context of Jesus’ above statement — is nothing less than an expository sermon on the Old Testament. Jesus takes selections from the Ten Commandments (e.g. “You have heard, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’) and expounds on them, getting to the heart of what God requires in His Word (“But I say to you, if a man lusts after a woman, he has committed adultery already in his heart”).
We should not disregard the OT law, but reinterpret it in light of Christ’s coming.
Christ’s blessing is on the one who does not relax or ignore the commandments of the Old Testament, but rather does them and teaches them. We should not disregard the OT law, but reinterpret it in light of Christ’s coming. After a prophecy is “fulfilled,” its full meaning becomes clear; before a prophecy is fulfilled, we can only guess about what it means. Likewise, when Christ fulfilled the Old Testament, He brought it to its full and clear meaning. Jesus kept the law perfectly, showing us what a life governed by love looks like — a life which qualified Him as the sinless sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world.
The answer to the question, “What does it look like to love God and our neighbor?” is “Look at God’s commandments, Old and New Testament, in the light of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and new covenant.”
Christ brought the law to its full and clear meaning.
A New Way
The way in which we keep certain OT laws differs now that we are in Christ. Paul says, “Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). Some of the Old Testament laws, which we sometimes call “ceremonial laws,” served a unique purpose of foreshadowing what Christ would do in His death and resurrection. Christians observe these laws in a different way: by observing Christ.
For example, Christians still keep the Passover feast, but not by observing the ritual; we keep the Passover by clinging to Christ, for “Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). We don’t disregard the Passover as if it no longer matters, but we identity how the specific feast commandments are modified by the New Testament. This is how we should approach all of the law in the Old Testament.
Consider also the dietary restrictions. These laws are modified by the New Testament teaching of Jesus, who declared all foods clean (Mark 7:18-19). Paul speaks out against those who “require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:3-4).
We do not observe the Old Testament by the letter, but by the spirit — by taking the principles and lessons and applying them afresh and anew to our particular personal and collective context.
The Old Testament is Profitable
The NT is clear that all OT Scripture is profitable. Rather than carefully interpreting each OT law in light of Christ’s coming, many Christians have proposed another way to deal with the Old Testament law. The idea is that OT laws fit neatly into one of three categories: some laws are timeless (moral) while others were specifically for Israel (civil) under the old covenant (ceremonial) and do not apply to us anymore. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays point out the problem with this hermeneutical approach: “The distinctions between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws appear to be arbitrary. There is no such distinction in the text. For example, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18) is followed in the very next verse by the law, ‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material’ (19:19).”
Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Scriptures that Paul and Timothy had were the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Paul essentially said, “Every word of the Old Testament is necessary for being a complete Christian!” It takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian. We should think through individual OT commandments using the lens of the new covenant, and make the appropriate applications to our lives.
Every word of the Old Testament is necessary for being a complete Christian. It takes a whole Bible to make a whole Christian.
Equally God's Word
The OT and NT are equally God’s Word. Although the OT law is not binding on Christians in the same way, it is still relevant. Peter told his audience to “pay attention” to the Old Testament, in that “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
Jesus and the apostles quoted frequently from the OT to establish the way NT Christians should live. In fact, the NT quotes from the OT around 850 times. If the OT is a house of cards, so is nearly 25% of the NT! Jesus clearly viewed the OT as inspired and reliable; He even formed whole arguments based on single words and verb tenses in the Hebrew Scriptures.
If the Old Testament is a house of cards, so is nearly 25% of the New Testament.
So, to summarize: We are no longer under the law as a covenant or way of life. We are under a new covenant — a much more glorious and better covenant — in which we are accepted by God and relate to God through Jesus. This does not mean that the law serves no purpose. Jesus never intended for us to view His work or gospel as doing away with the law. All Scripture, including the OT law, is a rule for life and godliness. Jesus revealed the full meaning and significance of the law, and we must view it in light of His coming and covenant. When the Jewish laws, feasts, and dietary restrictions are viewed through the grid of New Testament teaching (centered in the work of Christ), it becomes clear that we do not observe the OT by the letter, but by the spirit — by taking the principles and lessons and applying them afresh and anew to our particular personal and collective context. The New Testament gives us sufficient information to know how to keep each law properly in the context of New Covenant life.
We should not mingle Moses and Jesus; however, neither should we throw out the baby with the bathwater. We should trust in the inerrancy and authority of the Old Testament and proclaim its relevance for Christian life in the 21st century.
The Jerusalem Council
While Andy Stanley argues that the Old Testament confuses people who want to come to God and makes it difficult for them to have faith, the Bible is one continuous story that points to Jesus. We can only understand the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection by the truths of the OT, such as the creation, fall, and curse.
We can only understand the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection by the truths of the Old Testament, such as the creation, fall, and curse.
Andy Stanley’s conclusions about the Old Testament are centered in his understanding of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, where church leaders met to discuss requirements for Gentile believers coming to faith. Stanley is correct that the four requirements laid down at that council (abstaining from food polluted by idols, sexual immorality, etc.) are primarily in consideration of the consciences of Jewish Christians, but his conclusion that all of Moses’ law is thereby dispensed is a major misreading of the issue at hand.
Jewish Christians were requiring Gentiles to keep the Mosaic law before recognizing them as true Christians. Their law-keeping was wrapped up in their salvation, and that was extremely dangerous. The sign of the Mosaic covenant was circumcision, so Jewish Christians were requiring Gentiles to be circumcised. The Jerusalem Council concluded, “no way!” Paul goes so far as to say in Galatians 5:2 that if someone is circumcised (with the idea in mind that it contributes to their salvation), then Christ is of no benefit to them.
Christians were to make a clean break with the law as a way of being justified and sanctified, which are the work of the Holy Spirit in response to faith. But the Holy Spirit uses the Word (New and Old Testament) as the way to guide us into deeper and deeper levels of purity, and show us how far we miss the mark of loving God and our neighbor perfectly. As Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17).
The principles and lessons of Scripture guide the life of faith.
Our message is as simple as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31); salvation is a free gift by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But after a Gentile is saved, he clearly needs to be exposed to the Scriptures — all of them — to better understand the foundations for his faith and discover the principles and lessons which will guide his life of faith.
Romans 15:4 is clear: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. Zondervan, 2012.
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