WHERE DOES THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW FIT IN?
Paul is writing to a group of people who are grounded in the Old Testamant.
Much of the content of the book is based on these things.
If we don’t have a basic understanding of the Old Testament, we are in danger of missing his meaning altogether.
In particular he deals with 4 main Old (First) Testament themes:
• God must be first … from creation
• The fall … human brokenness
• The Law
1. Looked at creation … “In the beginning God”. God is pre-eminent. God created a perfect world with God as number 1.
God must be at the centre for life to flow.
2. Genesis 3 shows us mankind dethroning God … challenging His right to be “in the right”.
As a result the intimate relationship was broken & MANKIND WAS BROKEN … not damaged BROKEN!
Sin is choosing to put ourselves 1st & removing God from the centre … doing things our way.
Sin became part of our DNA from that moment on.
3. Abram (Genesis 12, 15). God begins his plan to put things to right.
With Abram God introduces the themes of Grace → Faith → Righteousness.
From Abram God plans to build a new covenant community.
Before we look at where the Old (First) Testament Law fits in to all this, let’s have a brief look at the whole Old (First ) Testament story so we can see where everything fits in.
Creation (Gen 1, 2) → The fall (Gen. 3) → Abram (Gen 12-23) → The Patriarchs Gen 24-50) → The Exodus (Exodus – Deuteronomy) The Law→ The land & Exile
How, then, does the Old Testament Law fit in to this story?
From Exodus onwards, the Law takes centre stage.
We read about intricate laws about behaviour, food, ceremonies, morality …
In Ezekiel (at the time of the Exile) God says to His people:
Read Ezekiel 36:24-27
Pointing to a time of internal renewal.
God, by His Spirit, would change His people from the INSIDE OUT.
Pointing to the work of Christ on the cross.
So God’s intention has always been to change us from the inside out.
Why, then, did God give the written law in the first place?
Where does the Old Testament law fit in to all this?
If God’s plan is an internal change, why all this external law stuff?
What should be our response to the Old Testament law today?
To answer these questions, we need to understand a few things about the OT Law.
1. THE LAW WAS NEVER A TOOL FOR SALVATION
The law was never intended to deal with the inner state of the heart.
Sin was always dealt with through the death of a substitute.
An animal died in place of the person needing forgiveness.
On the cross, Christ became our substitute.
So forgiveness and being declared IN THE RIGHT only came through faith in God & the cleansing power of the substitute.
Keeping the law saved no one.
What was the purpose of the law then?
The Jewish Law (The Torah: Exodus to Deuteronomy) dealt with 3 basic aspects of Jewish life.
2. THE LAW PROVIDED SOCIAL REGULATIONS
Israel had just left Egypt.
3,000,000 people slogging it out through the desert.
No social structure … no government … no guidelines for healthy living in a dirty environment.
Needed social structure if they were to last as a united group
The social laws were given to help mold them into a nation. (Laws for living together in harmony, eating healthily, healthy practices of life etc.)
They were specific to the time & place where they were living.
3. THE LAW PROVIDED RELIGIOUS RITUALS
They were given to guide their worship.
To keep God at the centre in the midst of a Godless and hostile world.
The religious laws were designed to prepare them for the coming of a Saviour … to realise that salvation could only come through the sacrifice of another.
Most of these laws point to Christ and the Cross … they explain to us in detail exactly what Christ has done for us on the cross!
• Mankind needs a redeemer … we cannot save ourselves
• Redemption is found through faith in that external source, not our own efforts
• God must be first … His ways must become ours.
The plan was to get God’s people thoroughly used to these ideas so that when the Messiah came they would be ready.
4. THE LAW PROVIDED MORAL PRINCIPLES
The 10 commandments
Jesus reduced these to TWO Matthew 22:36-40
These would become natural once we learned to live a life of faith in God. (Inside → out)
5. THE INTENDED PURPOSE OF THE LAW
The law was given AFTER Abram had learned to live by faith.
The law was never intended to be THE pathway to life.
It’s role was as a tutor … to educate humanity that:
• We are unable to fix our brokenness through our own effort … we are totally broken. We cannot live right by ourselves. The law reminds us that we need help!
• Mankind needs a saviour to find our way back to God
6. BUT THE JEWS MISSED THE POINT BADLY
To the Jews, the Torah became the pathway to life.
Keep the law & you will find God … rather than find God and then He will help you to keep the law.
The Torah became a source of group identity. It kept the Jews together and EVERYONE ELSE OUT! God’s plan to save the world was lost in the midst of an exclusive club.
The Torah was reduced to a strict code of conduct that was explained & added to and refined until it became impossible to keep. (Give examples … clay, work etc)
They settled into the old human mistake of “I’ll do it my way!”
• It brought them into bondage
• It created national pride & exclusiveness
• It brought death rather than life
Paul teaches in Romans that life, identity & conduct CAN ONLY BE DISCOVERED IN UNION WITH CHRIST BY FAITH!
To try to earn God’s favour is impossible
It can only be received by grace, through faith.
So where does that leave us and the law today?
1. The law proves to us we are broken people who fall short of God’s standard
2. The law shows us we can never meet God’s standard by our own works … it is impossible
3. The law shows us we need external help in the form of a Saviour if our brokenness is to be fixed
4. Once we meet the Saviour, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within to slowly change us from the inside out.
Now we are ready to tackle the book of Romans.