Third and final installment on the purpose, fulfillment, and interpretation of the Old Testament Law. We have already looked at why God gave the Law, and I also argued that the follower of Jesus should not read the Old Testament Law with the focus on how we are to keep the rules. Rather we are to know the Law has been fulfilled by Christ. In this final post, then, I would like to give a few ideas on how we can read the law so that we begin to delight in it (as Psalm 1 calls us to do) and love the Law (as Psalm 119 beckons multiple times). As I have already argued both in my sermon past Sunday and in previous blogs, all the rules must take us to the Gospel. So let me get practical. Every time you read an imperative in the Bible we have to process the imperative through Gospel lenses. So let me give you some questions that we can walk through each time we see a command in Scriptures.
1)How does this Command reveal my need for the Gospel?
Whether we are talking the 10 Commandments or some of the imperatives in the New Testament, every command of God runs much deeper than the mere activity of the command. Jesus made this clear in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 as He interpreted some of the 10 Commandments. When speaking and adultery Jesus told us that lust in the heart is a breaking of that Commandment, and when it comes to murder calling a person a fool is equal in the heart. In the end, every imperative in the whole of Scripture reveals our utter need for a rescuer. The New Testament commands to love my wife as Christ loved the church, and to live in peace with all people are on the same level. I cannot do these things, fail every day. So any time I see a command in Scripture I need to learn that there is no way this is happening as God intends without Christ first doing it for me and then Christ doing it in me.
2)How is this Command fulfilled in Christ?
Once I come to realize that I am unable to keep any of the commandments at the deepest level, the next big step to finding joy in the law is to run to Jesus as the one who has kept the Law for me. Of course, the first way this is always true is that Jesus lived a perfect life keeping the Law completely. So Jesus actually kept every command and His righteousness is imputed to the follower of Jesus. Asking this question about all laws will help us love Jesus more as we more deeply understand what He has accomplished. But beyond this, some of the Old Testament Laws were literally given to paint a picture of what Christ has accomplished in our lives. Best example of this are the laws around the Sabbath. To this day there are sects of Christianity who argue that our gathering on Sunday for worship rather than Saturday is a violation of God’s revelation in the Old Testament. Others will argue that we should move the Sabbath to Sunday, but we are still to keep it, avoiding work and not visiting stores or restaurants. The problem with this position is that the teaching of the New Testament is clear in teaching that the concept of Sabbath was swallowed up in the person of Christ who is our rest from works so that we can gain access to God through faith (read Hebrews 4). So multiple times in the New Testament the writers remind us that the Sabbath was fulfilled and consumed in Christ, therefore the keeping of a specific day should no longer be the issue of judgment (Colossians 2:16-17, Romans 14:5). Here is the point, the very command goes past “Remember the Sabbath” as a command to not work on Saturday. Actually, the greater purpose is to show us Christ who kept the Sabbath for us, but is also the true Sabbath, the source of our true rest from works.
3)Where is the principle of the commandment rooted?
This is a bit trickier, but every commandment does find its root in something much deeper. Sometimes the root of the commandment is in the character of God (much of the commands around Temple worship and the sacrificial system are teaching about God’s character and the care of approaching him). Other commands are rooted in God’s purpose for creation. For example, the template for sexuality is given in Genesis 2 and the first marriage, as we are told that a man will leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife, and the two will be one flesh. This one flesh relationship is the goal and purpose of sexuality as created by God. Therefore, all laws addressing sexuality are designed to give great sex in marriage and forbid any sexuality that is not part of this one flesh relationship. So, while the Law itself was fulfilled in the person of Christ, the underlying principle about the nature of God and His purpose for me in creation do not change, marriage is still a one flesh, one life relationship. God saves me to know Him and live out His purpose in the world. When we get to the New Testament we still find commands and imperatives. But these are pulled into the New Testament by the Gospel which saves us and sanctifies us. Another example I’ll use again is the laws about the Sabbath. The strict letter of the command is fulfilled in Jesus, we do not need to set aside Saturday or Sunday and avoid all work at all costs. But, the underlying principle that we need to set rhythms in our lives that include regular worship and rest are important, and rooted in God’s acts within creation. If we don’t take a day off and make sure we get to church our relationship with God will wane and our life in this world will get overwhelming. A final example. The Old Testament contains a myriad of laws about justice, care for the outside, and doing what is right for the poor and broken. All of these laws are rooted in the character of God who is a God of justice, righteousness, and good. Christ is the fulfillment of this as he lived a life of perfect justice and then died to absorb the justice due us. But the character of God is still that He loves the poor, cares about justice, and is involved in the cause of the childless and the widow. So even though we do not necessarily strive to keep the Old Testament Law on these issues, a person who is truly being transformed by the Gospel will become a person who values the things God cares about and who acts in justice because He serves a God who loves justice and mercy.
4)What is the New Testament interaction with the command?
This part will take a little more study, but once I have wrestled with the reality that every law exposes my need for Christ, that every command was fulfilled by Jesus and therefore should point me to Him, and that every law is ultimately teaching us something about God and His purpose for us in creation, the next step to understanding the role the rules should play happens by looking at how the Apostles and writers of the New Testament treat the Law. I’ve already mentioned the Sabbath laws, which are clearly reinterpreted in the New Testament. By reading how the New Testament writers interact with laws after Christ’s life and death, we can see how the Gospel will work to change us. Christians are not lawless, but we know the law has been swallowed up in Christ. Still, the goal of the Gospel it to make us more like Jesus in our character and values. The commentary given by the New Testament writes as they pass on the very words of Jesus in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit helps us immensely from the dangers that have taken place throughout church history. These dangers started in the first fifteen years of Christianity and were addressed at the Jerusalem Council (go read Acts 15). At this even the Apostles gathered to deal with how new Gentile converts should relate to the Law of God. Do they need to be circumcised, follow the Old Testament rules, and become Jewish in their lifestyle? The clear answer that came from this gathering was a resounding “No”. My point is that the New Testament writers are giving a clear new way to read and understand the law, so we should search their words to interpret the Old Testament Laws in light of the Gospel.
5)What is God seeking to produce in me that is for my joy, for His glory, and for the Gospel to the nations?
In the end, all the commands are for our good. God is seeking to produce character, values, beauty, hope, and joy in our lives. Sometimes at the moment the obedience that flows from our faith may seem difficult and restricting. But we will find that our obedience to Jesus will always lead to our joy. I’ll say that again just in case you buzzed by that sentence. Our obedience to Jesus will always lead to our joy. This is the goal. God is for you and wants your joy! As he creates this joy in His people we enjoy Him which brings God glory. And the goodness of God is declared by His people so that the Gospel goes forth through the lives and lips of His redeemed people.