Knowing how much I love reading the Old Testament, my buddy Dean passed on a question posed to him, by someone at his church. They were having trouble with seeing a loving and consistent God, while trying to read the Old Testament. Is the Old Testament something that Christians need to read? Is it even relevant anymore?
Those who penned the New Testament, guided by the Holy Spirit, certainly exhort all believers to read “the scriptures.” At that time, the Old Testament writings were scriptures that the early church had. Paul writes:
All scripture is "Profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
2 Timothy 3:16
"Whatsoever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope"
Followers of Christ, during the New Testament writing, were being tortured and killed and experiencing the confiscation of their lands and homes because of their confession of faith in Christ. Such persecution is still common in parts of the world today. When we in safer nations read the Old Testament, trying to relate to it from our little chunk of globe, the Old Testament’s presentation of the holiness of God and the wickedness of man, can seem extreme. But in fact, God is holy. And holiness is extreme, and can be terrifying.
Some think of holiness as meaning not sinning. But holiness is neither merely the absence of sin, nor an abundance of good deeds. Holiness is an attribute of God. People are not born holy. Holiness is an utter separation from all that is not God, and separated to be now of God. The closest thing I can think of in earthly terms is the word, “royal.” If I have a spoon that belongs to me; it is a spoon. But if I go to the royal palace and pick up a spoon that belongs to a King or Queen, then I am holding “a royal spoon.” It does not belong to me, but to the King and Queen. When God Himself comes and chooses and sets apart for Himself, someone or some things, they are declared holy; belonging to God.
Holiness is unapologetically uncompromising. The New Testament explains to those whom God has now made holy, through the shed blood of the Christ, to explain to us what has happened to us, by trusting in Jesus. To be in God’s presence has always required holiness. The Old Testament shows us how impossible it was to become holy. God’s requirements were not diminished because Jesus came. Jesus made the impossible possible, by making a way for sinful unholy people, to become a people holy and acceptable to God. We need to know this God in order to live as He expects us to live.
Nutshell: God is unapproachable to sinful mankind. Ignoring the Old Testament, some fail to realize that it is not "God's Love" that enables man to now approach God in prayer. It was the horrible and bloody death of Christ alone. God's love "gave" Jesus to us. (John 3:16)
We depend upon the Old Testament to demonstrate to us much of God’s character and attributes. The New Testament tells us we are now holy, while the Old Testament presents to us what holiness is. This is so with many attributes of God. In the times of the Old Testament, God spoke to us through “the prophets.”
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, . . .”
Hebrews 1: 1-2
And Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”
Since we were powerless to fulfill the law and the prophecies spoken to mankind through the prophets, Jesus did this for us. We must know what the law was and what He has done for us. So the Old Testament tells me not only who my God is and what He likes and doesn’t; but it tells me what He promised and promises to do. And as I see Jesus fulfilling these promises, my faith is built up.
The New Testament presumes we’ll study God’s amazing attributes, as demonstrated in the Old Testament. Holiness yes, but also His: Omnipotence (Genesis 17:1 eg.), His Omniscience and Omnipresence (Psalm 139:7-11 eg), and His Lovingkindness (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). The Old Testament also reveals to us both His goodness and His severity: (Romans 11:22)
Not knowing God through the Old Testament waters down our Christianity. Selective reading can lead some to think God is soft on sin. He is not. “I’m Not Okay! You’re Not Okay!” despite what That Girl says. Except for Christ mankind remains in sin, without hope of ever being reunited with God.
My favorite Old Testament book is Leviticus. When I was convinced of my utter unclean state before God, only His loving voice could console me. That night the horror of my self brought terror. I was not “okay.” But upon crying out to Him in anguish, He reminded me of the cross. Holy God never overlooked sin in me. My sin had cost Him Jesus’ blood. That horrible death on the cross, paid for my holiness. It isn’t about goodness. It is about finally being God’s own.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
People sometimes describe the film, “The Passion of the Christ” as horrifying. Holiness to sin is horrifying! These will not occupy the same space! Reading Leviticus, I’m reminded of the night I knew I was “unclean!” But Jesus rescued me from the horror and shame. I didn’t need to go about lamenting “Unclean! Unclean!” lest others be contaminated by my filth. Next time you read Leviticus, look at all the bloody ritual holiness required. The Old Testament explains to us why Jesus went to the cross for us.
Considering our nations’ moral state, the church appears largely ineffective. We are neither sufficiently awestruck by God, nor repulsed by wickedness. What was not spoken in mixed company a couple generations ago is now amusing. The moral bar that my generation has set for the next generation has been set right on the floor.
The Old Testament shows sin’s consequence. Time and again, it reveals God’s mercy and promise of the coming Messiah. He alone will have the power to set things right for us! If we only read the New Testament, we get a baby in a manger, growing up into a really good man, who the Romans kill cause the Jews got political on them; and then there’s this unnatural word called “sin,” that we think just means doing bad things.
Since everyone sins, what is God so upset about? The Old Testament both defines to us and demonstrates how God deals with sin. Each prophet has a message that the early church felt strongly, was from God to us all. We were to study the scriptures. (2 Timothy 2:15).
New Testament readers read that “Jesus is Lord.” God’s nature as revealed in the Old Testament, shows us Lordship. Jesus is so much more than a good friend! Jesus doesn’t want my heart. He wants to remove my heart of stone, and to give me a new heart. (Ezekiel 26:36) The Old Testament builds in me the reality of my stony heart. God doesn’t want to just improve us. Transformation requires our death and, through Christ, an entirely new life!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
2 Corinthians 5:17
The same is true of our fellowship, our relationships, whether family or friends or marriage. Some approach the New Testament as a kind of self help book for better relationships. It is not. The New Testament presumes we understand who God is. All powerful God doesn’t improve things. He destroys and creates according to His will and pleasure. He needs no advice. We need to die, trusting in Him who promises new life. Relationships will be transformed; never tweaked. You can trust Him!
If God has revealed something about Himself that you don’t yet grasp, wouldn’t you hunger to know it? A while back I got to go and hear an expert lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the lecture he casually mentioned that through the scrolls Bible scholars had found a newly revealed Bible verse from Psalms, soon to be included in modern Bible translations. It’s a Psalm where each verse begins with following letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Translators always knew this verse was just missing. Until now!
Then the speaker just changed the subject. Aghast, I felt like shouting, “Well, are ya gonna tell us?!?!?!” But someone quicker than I pleaded, “Won’t you read it to us!?!” And some applauded. The speaker said “Oh, well, okay.” It was beautiful! It was a verse we’d never read or heard, but that God wanted us to know. I want to know all God wants to reveal to me. Wouldn’t you like to know what that verse says?