Is the Old Testament relevant today? Part 2

By WND Guest Columnist

By Alex Dziemianowski

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the relevance of the Old Testament to Christians. Read Part 1.

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ … and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations.”

– Romans 16:25–27

It is important to realize that the New Testament writers assumed readers had knowledge of the Old Testament.

Peter’s second Epistle addresses the false and immoral teachers who had emerged in the church. He compared the immorality of his day to Israelites who were seduced by Balaam. Peter does this by referencing “those who count it pleasure to carouse in the daytime” (2 Peter 2:12-13).

How could we possibly understand the connection Peter was making without knowledge of the Old Testament? We couldn’t. But Peter assumed his readers had knowledge of this account.

Other examples? In the Gospel of John, it says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14-18).

What is John referring to regarding the serpent and Moses? The back story can be found in Numbers chapter 21.

Or what about the New Testament book of Hebrews? How are we to understand all the Old Testament imagery and language contained in this book without a basic understanding of the Law and sacrificial system?

Hebrews says of Jesus, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6).

Who was Melchizedek, and what is the relevance to Jesus? Melchizedek is mentioned nine times in the book of Hebrews. To understand, we look to the Old Testament book of Genesis and Psalms 110, the only other places in the Bible where Melchizedek is referenced.

In Matthew 24, after Jesus revealed that the Temple would be destroyed, the disciples asked, “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?”

Jesus responded with a detailed discourse of what will unfold at that time and said, “as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:36–37).

Here Jesus points to the account of Noah to show the conditions that will exist at His coming. Matthew assumed his readers had knowledge of this Old Testament passage.

What about Old Testament Law?

The portion of the Old Testament that would be the most controversial when looking at its importance to today’s Christians, would be the Law. Is the Law still relevant?

My answer is a resounding yes. Let me explain.

The New Testament confirms that the Old Covenant is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). But how does that reconcile with everything we discussed – the plethora of Old Testament references in the New Testament, references by Jesus and the Disciples, and Old Testament prophecy and typology?

The Old Covenant and the Law it contains is obsolete. The Law is not a means of salvation, and never was. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. As Paul wrote, we are not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16). Paul affirms that no one can attain salvation (be justified) by the Law.

So why is the Law relevant?

In the book of Romans, Paul wrote, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

Here Paul again emphasizes that we cannot attain salvation (justification) by the Law. But he also introduces another important point about the Law – the Law provides the knowledge of sin.

Paul goes on to say in Galatians, “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:22-25).

Paul emphasizes that the Law is our tutor, or teacher, to bring us to Christ. As our tutor the Law is relevant in that it teaches our need for a Savior. It teaches that we cannot live up to God’s standard. It teaches that our only hope is faith in Christ, who perfectly and completely fulfilled the Law and purchased salvation for us. What the Law teaches is essential so that we as lost sinners can see our dire need.

How then is the Law our tutor that brings us to Christ?

Paul said in Romans, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Roman 7:7).

The Law is God’s standard of righteousness, and if we are honest when comparing ourselves to the Law, we find without exception that we all have sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23).

The Law teaches that we cannot attain salvation on our own, that we cannot meet God’s standard through good works or deeds, or by any other way. Rather, the Law teaches that I fall short and therefore need a Savior.

Ask any married person about the seventh commandment, “You Shall Not Commit Adultery.” Is the Law relevant?

Now apply God’s standard as taught by Jesus: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27–28).

Here Jesus elevates the true spirt of the Law, reinforcing that God’s standard is so high that it cannot be met. Our only hope is to turn to Him. The Law, our tutor, has done its job and brought us to Christ.

One year while on vacation, I had a camera and Bible stolen from my rental car. I joked that I hoped the perpetrator turned to the page that reads. “You Shall Not Steal!”

Who hasn’t lied? The Law says, “You Shall Not Bear False Witness.”

Who hasn’t coveted? The Law says, “You Shall Not Covet.”

We all have lied and been covetous and broken the Law at some point in our lives. Every day if we are honest.

Honor your mother and father? Is that relevant?

Can we achieve God’s standard as stated in the Law? The answer is an emphatic no.

Further, the Bible states that if we have broken one point in the Law, we have broken the whole Law (see James 2:10). We can’t pick and choose. If I’m caught driving 50 in a 25-mile-an-hour zone, I can’t say, “but look, officer, I didn’t rob that gas station down yonder.” Doesn’t matter, I broke the law.

What are we to do? The Law has revealed my depravity and hopeless state. The Law has accomplished its purpose. It has shown my need for Christ.

The Apostle Paul wrote half the New Testament books. With that kind of resume you might think he would be able to stand before God and say, “Look at all I have done. Look at my works and good deeds!”

But not so. Paul recognized his need for a Savior and wrote, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25)

After his personal encounter with our risen Lord, this essential truth was revealed to Paul, that the Law is our tutor to bring us to Christ. Paul captured this truth in his letter to the Galatians. It had taught Paul well. May it teach us.

Alex Dziemianowski is married and father of two children. He attended Rutgers University and Philadelphia College of Bible and works in Information Technology.

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