While “Old Testament Christianity” should be easily recognized as an oxymoron, the sad truth is that for many believers it is the reality of their experience. Although the Bible is the record of God’s relationship with man throughout history, there is a failure to differentiate that relationship before and after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It changed! Today much is being taught and believed that indiscriminately draws from both the Old and New Testaments, failing to acknowledge the differences. The Gospel message begins historically at the time of the finished work of Christ on the Cross. Christianity simply did not exist before this!
Even though Christianity does not exist in the Old Testament, this is not the same as saying that the Old Testament is of no value to the believer. Paul wrote, before there was a New Testament:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3:16-17 NASB)
But in that same letter he also wrote:
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2Ti 2:15 NASB)
No doubt many of us were initially exposed to a Gospel message of salvation that offered us the forgiveness of our sins and the hope of Heaven when we die through the grace or unmerited favour of God in sending His Son to shed His blood on the Cross for us. This limited view of salvation falls far short of the heart of the Good News (Gospel) of our salvation. It leaves a gap in our experience from when our sins were forgiven to when we finally get to Heaven. It is in that gap that Old Testament Christianity comes to the rescue, offering all the do’s and don’ts that are guaranteed to complete our wonderful salvation experience. However, the real Good News is that salvation is only found in our union with Christ as we “are saved by His LIFE” (cf Romans 5:10). We are in Christ Jesus, who has become to us righteousness and sanctification, and redemption (cf 1Co 1:30). In Him there is no gap and in Him our salvation experience is complete.
The Old Testament saints could only look forward to the promise of a Saviour. With reference to these Old Testament saints, the writer of Hebrews says:
“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” (Heb 11:39-40 NASB)
The essential difference between New Testament saints and Old Testament saints is the heart of our relationship with God. For New Testament believers, the indwelling Life of Christ is our relationship to God. For the saints of old, their relationship with God was conditional on their conduct. They related to God from a distance as best they could. They had the prophets and the law. Their relationship to God was conditional on their obedience and faithfulness. The New Testament believer’s relationship to God is unconditionally centred in expressing the indwelling Life of Christ rather than in their own obedience or faithfulness.
A good example of this is a verse that most of us have heard somewhere along the way applied to Christians:
“Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Mal 3:8 NASB)
Nowhere in the New Testament is tithing mentioned in connection with the Christian life yet believers are told that God’s material blessing is conditional on tithing. Jesus made an unconditional promise when He said:
“Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mat 6:31-33 NASB)
The Old Testament Christian constantly takes the promises of God and makes them conditional on our performance. In the above passage they would make God’s provision conditional on us “seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness!” But in speaking of seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness, Jesus was simply promising those who would become believers that the Father would take care of them in this world. The New Testament says of our salvation that the Father has “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13, 14) and that:
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2Co 5:21 NASB)
We have also heard these Old Testament verses applied to believers:
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9 NASB)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psa 51:10 NASB)
These were the legitimate conscious concerns of the Old Testament saints but believers, under a new and better covenant, (cf. Hebrews) have had their hearts cleansed. Quoting from Jeremiah 31 on the new covenant the author of Hebrews writes:
“For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,” He then says, “AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”” (Heb 10:14-17 NASB)
“You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (Joh 15:3 NASB)
More could be said and will be, about “abiding”, “backsliding”, “recommitting or rededicating,” “obedience” but for now I will end with this: The Old Testament Christian is forever taking God’s promises to us in Christ Jesus and making them conditional on our actions and performance. In doing so they take our eyes off of Jesus who is our only Life for:
“We have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us; and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself up for us.” (cf Gal 2:20)