You can’t understand the Bible – you can’t understand Christianity – unless you understand the relationship between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
Getting it wrong either way produces heresy.
If you think that we still have to keep aspects of the Old Covenant, along with our faith in Christ, in order to be saved that is the heresy of the Judaizers – the heresy Paul addresses in his letter to the Galatians.
If you think that the law was bad and that there is no use for it at all now that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, that is the heresy of antinomianism – the heresy addressed in 1 Timothy, Jude, 2 Peter and twice by Jesus in the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation.
The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament is very helpful in terms of sorting out this relationship. Consider Hebrews 8:6:
Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6 ESV)
Key word: better.
The Old Covenant wasn’t “bad” it simply wasn’t adequate to overcome the thorough waywardness of the human heart. The Old Covenant dealt in boundaries, punishments, rewards and instruction. Had our hearts been less damaged, such things ought to have led us in the way of salvation. But we were blinded, stubborn and persistent in our rebellion.
So a BETTER covenant was needed.
We needed someone to do for us what we could not do for ourselves and to pay for what we had done so that we could return to God.
Jesus is the mediator of a BETTER covenant based on better promises and stronger graces. He forgives our sins, gives us a new heart and fills us with his own Spirit – not so that we can IGNORE the law, but so that now, healed and helped by him – we can keep it.
That is the testimony of all the Apostles – even the Apostle of Grace, the Apostle Paul who said, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31 ESV).
The word “law” should be understood here in the sense of “instruction”, the ritual laws having been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ and the civil laws no longer applying given that the church now exists within a plurality of nations. What Paul is saying then, is that saved by grace and filled with the Spirit the Christian is now empowered to uphold the law of God. We are healed and helped so as to love the Lord and our neighbour as we were created and intended to do.
That’s the narrow way between two deep and dangerous ditches.
That’s the path of orthodox Christianity that we could never hope to hold without the grace and support of our Lord Jesus.
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.