The Role of the Old Testament in the Life of a Christian

Christians believe the Old Testament, but do not follow it. What does this mean?

The Old Testament is history, prophecy, and commands to a specific people. Insofar as we read of first things (In the beginning…), early development of a region and of a people, and God’s declaration of what would come after, Christians believe the Old Testament. We recognize and accept that God Which created the universe was the sole presence before creation, and has provided us with information concerning that event that is incontrovertible because He caused it to happen. We also recognize and accept that God, as sovereign, will work in the universe to bring all circumstances and events to serve His eternal purpose to create a people for Himself, in His own image of goodness, righteousness, purity, and love, and has taken the prerogative to tell any who will listen what the major world events will be and what the outcome shall be. These two, history and prophecy, are statements of fact which each person either accepts as true or rejects as false. Christians are those who believe God, and we therefore accept that what God has said is true, so we believe the Old Testament history and prophecy as it is written. [1]

However, insofar as the precepts of the Law given to Moses were specifically and exclusively given to the people of Israel, upon their insistence that God not speak directly with them but that Moses be told what God required Israel to do and they would do it, but they did not want to hear God’s voice anymore[2], Christians do not “follow” the Old Testament. Where The Law makes reference to a moral statement, it is an universal statement – an abomination 1500 years before Christ’s birth is an abomination 2000 years after Christ’s ascension – and where principles may exist in the rituals and separation ordinances given to the Hebrews to teach them faith toward God, which have some application to the non-Hebrew peoples of the earth, and the church in particular, The Law was given to the Jews; it was not given to the non-Jewish peoples, and it was not given to the Church. It was given to tutor the Jews to Christ, not to tutor the Church, nor even the unbelieving Gentiles.[3] The people of Christ are not, and never were as a people, under the Law given to Moses at Sinai, and we are not called to obey its precepts at any time. So Christians do not “follow” the Old Testament, because those regulations established in the Old Testament were established in and by the Law to the Jews only, and are not applicable to Christians nor the basis for our conduct.

Consequently, when someone protests against Christianity on the basis of their personal objection to some aspect of the Mosaic Law, such as those who slander Christians for believing it right or desirable to execute homosexuals in accordance with the requirement of The Law to the Jews, the accuser has raised a straw man that has nothing to do with the Biblical position of the church on homosexuality. Christian belief and practice is rooted in what Jesus Christ and His apostles taught[4], and is recorded in the New Testament. But Christian living is intended by God to be led by the Holy Spirit[5], not rooted in the self-righteous conformance to a set of rules; we are neither saved by the performance of a moral code, nor do we make ourselves more agreeable to God by doing so. Any effort on our part to make ourselves good is a work of the flesh[6], which Paul asserts is contrary to God. This is not intended to suggest that we can live any way we please and do whatever comes to mind, whether good or bad, but is a statement about the motivation for what we do. If we seek to follow rules to reconcile ourselves to God or make ourselves acceptable to God, we are effecting the opposite result[7]. But if we walk after the Spirit of God, we will put off the works of the flesh, and the wickednesses that are an offense to God and a blemish on the image we are called to bear.[8]

The Old Testament is the source of God’s witness of earliest history, the development of humanity, and of a people through which He would provide both His prophecies and a Saviour to bring lost humanity back into fellowship with God, and every person who has been born of the Spirit of God knows with certainty that what God has told us is true. But the biblically-mature Christian also knows that, while morals do not change because they are an expression of the purity and righteousness of God, the rituals and ordinances of the Hebrew Scriptures have no claim on the life or conduct of a child of Christ, because we live by the indwelling Spirit and not by a written code of conduct; we may learn from their principles, but we do not obey their tenets.

[1] It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the abundant evidence to the accuracy of the biblical account of history, but in counter to the sceptic’s oft-flung accusation of “blind faith”, the Christian does not believe in the absence of evidence; the evidence is so plentiful as to make argument either ignorant or wilfully rebellious. But where there apparently lacks extra-Biblical evidence for any point of record in the Old Testament account, the Christian recognizes that God, knowing all and as eye-witness, has recorded the true facts so that we can know what certainly happened before we lived, and that the record is accurate and true as it is written.

[2] Exodus 20:18-19; Deut 18:16; Galatians 3:19

[3] Gal 3:6-26

[4] Ephesians 2:20

[5] Romans 8:14; Gal 5:18

[6] Romans 8:1-14

[7] Romans 8:13

[8] Romans 8:29; cf. Genesis 1:25-26