Why I Won’t Be Unhitching from The Old Testament Anytime Soon

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The new evangelical world is abuzz with all the talk about paper popes and unhitching ourselves from the Old Testament.

Mark me down as out of step.

Mark me down as highly suspect of these new voices and new directions.

When the world is losing its mind, new ideas should be held up to closer scrutiny.

So, I’m calling a pause.

I will not be unhitching from the Old Testament; and this is why:

1. It tells me the truth about God

The human heart is an idol factory.

My heart is an idol factory.

Left to myself I will create a version of God that does not conflict with my chosen vices.

I will create a God that agrees with the spirit of the age.

I will create a God that does not embarrass me in the public square.

This, more than anything explains why I will not be unhitching from the Old Testament anytime soon.

I need an external word. I need truth that does not pass through my hands before it penetrates and purifies my heart. I need a word from God about God that doesn’t come from me. That’s why I come to the Bible! Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones said this:

When men come to the Bible, and find all the history about kings and people, they say, What is the meaning of it all? This is the meaning of it all, it is just to manifest the sovereignty and glory and might and majesty and the dominion of God. The assertion of the Bible is that God is over all and, whether we like it or not, God will remain over all. The man who does not submit and recognize and accept it joyfully, and glorify God, is the man who sooner or later will be forced to do so.[1]

I’d like to know the truth about God long before I meet him on Judgment Day. The Bible says that the better people know God the more wisely they will behave in this life:

He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 22:16 ESV)

A person who knows God pursues justice and mercy. The story of the Old Testament seems to indicate that both of those things are integral to the character of God. God is just. He cares about right and wrong, fair and unfair, true and false. And God is merciful. He is compassionate. He is faithful. He is generous. To know God is to reflect those same concerns in your day to day life.

In the Old Testament God said that he was:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV)

That is the God I should expect to meet on Judgment Day: A God prepared to be merciful but by no means clearing the guilty.

That isn’t likely the sort of Deity I would create if left to my own devices, but that is the One who is there and who has spoken; thanks be to God!

2. It tells me the truth about me

In addition to being naturally deceived about God I am also naturally deceived about me.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

People don’t see the truth about themselves.

I don’t see the truth about myself.

I don’t see the consequences of my own actions and I don’t judge myself by the same standard I apply to everyone else.

Therefore I need an external word!

And in the Bible – in the Old Testament – I find that external word.

When I read the stories in the Old Testament I feel like I am reading the story of “every man” but I also feel like I am reading the story of one man in particular.

Me.

According to the Apostle Paul that is exactly how we are supposed to read these stories. He says in 1 Corinthians 10:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Corinthians 10:11–12 ESV)

All those stories – the story of Adam and Eve, the story of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Achan, Jephthah, Samson, Eli, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, Ahab, Hezekiah, Mannaseh and Zedekiah – those stories were written down to serve as an example that we might not desire evil as some of them did; that we might not become idolaters as some of them were. These stories were written down to tell us the truth about who we are as fallen human beings – so that we might become wise unto salvation.

3. It makes me wise unto salvation

Reading the Old Testament from start to finish convinces me of three things:

  1. God is holy.
  2. I am sinful.
  3. I need Jesus!

I think that is kind of the point.

Nothing I’ve read in the Old Testament makes me think that God will simply “wave away” all my sins and acts of rebellion. The sacrificial system does not incline me to think of a God who “waves away” sin. The stories of plagues breaking out in the camp of the travelling Israelites do not incline me to think of a God who gets along well with sinful people. The story of the exile does not incline me to think of a God who is infinitely patient with persistent sinners.

All of those stories incline me to think of a God who is holy, holy, holy.

And that’s a problem because all of those same stories incline me to think of myself as a person who is sinful, sinful, sinful. And also stupid, stupid, stupid. And also more than a little bit forgetful, forgetful, forgetful.

Not to mention rebellious, rebellious, rebellious.

And that inclines me to look for a Saviour.

That inclines me to look for someone who will do for me what I could never do for myself and who will pay for my sins and put a new and willing spirit within me.

Thanks be to God – I see those very things promised in the pages of the Old Testament.

I see the promise of a Suffering Saviour spoken of by the prophet Isaiah:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall he sprinkle many nations. (Isaiah 52:13–15 ESV)

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4–5 ESV)

And I see the promise of a new heart and a willing spirit as spoken of by the prophet Ezekiel:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:25–27 ESV)

Payment for sin and help to obey – that is exactly the sort of salvation that the Old Testament tells me I need and instructs me to anticipate. And that is the salvation that I meet within the pages of the New Testament. That is the salvation that God provides through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But of course I would never have known that had I ignored the sacred writings which are able to make me wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15). And that more than anything explains why it is so damnably dangerous to tell people to unhitch themselves from the inspired Word of God in the Old Testament.

4. It helps me to keep my way pure

David loved that about the law – he said: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word (Psalms 119:9 ESV).”

The law can’t save people and never could – but it can keep us from doing stupid things. The law shows us the line between wise and foolish, between helpful and harmful and between healthy and corrupt.

Why would we want to unhitch from that?

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! (Psalms 119:1 ESV)

5. It gives me knowledge and understanding

Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Therefore whatever relationship Jesus had with the law it cannot be characterized as contradictory or apathetical. On the contrary, Jesus in that same passage went on to say:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19 ESV)

The job of preachers is NOT to discourage the reading and proper use of the Old Testament. What could be clearer than that? While it is true that the entire sacrificial system pointed forward to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and while it is true that the covenant community is no longer a single nation but rather a people and a community gathered out of every tribe, tongue and nation on planet earth – still the law of God has a use and a purpose.

It teaches us true things about everything that really matters.

The five books of Moses teach me that it is hard for fallen people to live with a holy God.

The Book of Joshua provides a warning about future judgment.

The Book of Judges teaches me that people need a King sent from God.

The several books that follow add an important caution: but not a King like Saul!

We need a King who loves the Word of God!

We need a King who is perfect in his obedience!

We need a King who will defeat our enemies and guarantee the fullness of our inheritance!

We need a King sent from God!

The Book of Job reminds me to never think that I have God figured out. It’s a big world out there and God is working purposes I will never see and likely never understand. But he is good. He sees me and in the end he always does what is right.

The Psalms teach me how to pray and how to sing.

The Book of Proverbs teaches me how to raise my kids.

Ecclesiastes tells me what matters, what doesn’t and how to die.

Song of Solomon teaches me how to love my wife while simultaneously teaching me how to respond to the love of God in Christ.

The prophets teach me how to wait, how to hope and what to watch for in the One who will come to save my wretched soul.

Now, tell me again why in the world I would ever abandon this book?

Tell me again why I should be embarrassed?

Why should I unhitch?

Save your breath.

Here I stand and I will do no other.

I will not let this book of the law depart from my mouth. I will meditate on it day and night. Not because reading it or even obeying it will save my soul. Jesus has already done that, thank you very much.

I will read it because my God wrote it.

I will read it because every word in it is true and leads to life – everlasting and abundant.

I will read it because without it I would lose Jesus.

I would make him something other, something less and something me.

God have mercy!

I don’t need more me – and I don’t need more you and I don’t need more fancy preacher.

I need more Jesus!

So with all due respect, to all these new voices in evangelicalism, I won’t be unhitching from the Old Testament anytime soon.

Because I love it; because I need it and because it is the Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

Pastor Paul Carter


To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

[1] Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Psalm 70:10 as cited in Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), xxvii.

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