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THE TWO COVENANTS


Sometimes we run so far from the Old Testament to be The New Testament Church that we almost cut the Old Testament out of the Bible.

A few brethren even cut Matthew 1-26, Mark 1-14, Luke 1-22, and John 1-18 out as well. Why? Simply because these were pre-crucifixion. They reject the teachings of Jesus before the cross as part of the authoritative Scriptures for the church. Fortunately, there are very few who take this approach. I have not heard them explain what Jesus said to the twelve near the end of John about sending the Spirit to call to their memory the things He had taught them – as well as to reveal even more to them than He could tell them at that time.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus said He had not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He said the [Old Testament] Scriptures testify of me. The apostles often quoted from the Old Testament, and Paul said to Timothy:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

These were the Scriptures Timothy had known from infancy. He knew these Scriptures before Paul ever came to Lystra where Timothy became his son in the faith. He learned these from his mother and grandmother. These Scriptures were the Old Covenant writings that, Paul said, “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).

In his great epistle of the grace and wisdom of God, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians:

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. – Romans 15:4

Why, then, do we put so much emphasis on being the New Testament Church that we virtually de-canonize the Old Testament?

About the time that I turned 23 years old, I moved to New Zealand with a team of missionaries. We first went with a campaign group led by Joe Gray and Ivan Stewart. In a study with a young man during that campaign, the person leading the study was making so much of the difference between the Testaments, stressing that Christ abolished the Old Covenant, that the young man was ready to walk out. Somehow, though, he met another teacher within the group who was able to “get through” to him. This young man then became one of the stalwart members of that fledgling congregation, but insistence on “The New Testament Church” almost turned him away. Why? Because he knew enough Bible to know that the Old Covenant Scriptures are still important to us today.

The Old Testament is more than a history of God’s dealings with Israel. It introduces us to God Himself as both Creator and Redeemer of mankind.  God revealed Himself completely in Jesus, but without the context of the Old Testament the work of Jesus does not have the depth we need. What Jesus did does not make sense to us – though we fall in love with Jesus Himself – without the background of the Old Testament.

The entire Bible is a unit and the parts should not be dissected  from each other. Just as the New Testament is incomplete without the Old, the Old Testament remains unfulfilled and incomplete without the New. When we disregard either, something is missing from what God gives us for our learning and growth in God’s likeness.

One of my biggest regrets is that I do not know the Old Testament better. One of the greatest joys I have is that after a two-year ministry in one congregation, I could look back and say that I had used every single book of the Bible in my work there. These two statements are not contradictory. I did use every book, but the depth of my understanding of the Old Testament did not match what I understood about the New.

Both Testaments testify to Jesus. During the time between His resurrection and His being taken up to Heaven, Jesus explained the Old Testament Scriptures to His disciples.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself….”

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from  the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:25-27, 44-47

The Law, which was a central part of the Old Testament, did not supercede God’s Covenant with Abraham. Because of the weakness of the people, God gave them the Law to show that we all need His grace. The Law, which the Pharisees loved so dearly that they could not see beyond it to God’s grace, was not capable of saving us. It was never intended to be God’s means of saving His people. Instead, “the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Law” (Galatians 3:24-25).

When Jesus, and later His apostles, taught that the Law was incapable of making us what God wants us to be, those who loved the Law thought they had thrown all restraint to the wind. Today, many believe the same thing. I understand them. When Richard Rodgers first introduced me to grace when I was his student in Lubbock, I resisted with every fiber of my being.

It sounded too easy. I thought it would encourage a lax attitude to sin. I did not see, at first, that grace operates on love and trust – and that “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6) counts for much more than all of the laws that could be written.

What a difference that made in my thinking! When I realized that God’s grace teaches us to live godly lives, and empowers us to do so through His Spirit, it changed how I looked at God Himself and my relationship to Him.

I want to explore this thought further in another post in the near future.

GOOD WORKS (And Grace) IN TITUS

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