OLD WAY OF LIVING WAS BY EFFORT TO OBEY THE LAW
In the Old Testament, God gave laws to his people for governing their relationships with him and with each other. These laws – generally referred to as ‘the law’ – included the Ten Commandments and hundreds of supplementary ethical and ceremonial rules covering nearly every aspect of daily life.
But it was impossible for anyone to fully comply with the law. No one could be that good, not even Moses. The purpose of the law was to define sin and to demonstrate that everyone – even the best of us – is a sinner. When a person sinned, he had to offer a sacrifice to God in order to obtain forgiveness (see Topic 33), and then he would start all over again trying to be good.
Fortunately, obeying the law is no longer the key factor in our relationship with God. Now faith in Jesus Christ is the key factor.
JESUS CHRIST HAS TOTALLY FULFILLED THE LAW FOR US
Referring to the Old Testament laws, Jesus said, ‘I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.’
The New Testament explains that Jesus Christ is available as our substitute (if we personally claim him as substitute), in which case God looks at Jesus’ life (perfect!) and imputes his righteousness to us. Thus, Jesus Christ has fulfilled the law for us because God is willing to judge us on the merits of the substitute righteousness rather than on the demerits of our own sin.
The big difference between the Old Testament (old way) and the New Testament (new way) is that formerly people had to work at being good by following the law, but now we’re declared good because Jesus Christ (if we ask him) is our perfect substitute. His life is exchanged for our life (see Topic 54).
If we personally (by individual decision) accept Jesus Christ as our savior, God accepts the perfect life of Jesus as though it were our own life, so that when we stand in judgement before God we’re without sin! It’s as if we had never broken a single one of God’s laws in our life!
As with most things in God’s world, this is profoundly simple but also profoundly complex. That’s why we need the Old Testament explanations of sin and substitution to adequately understand and appreciate what Jesus Christ did by fulfilling the law for us.
NEW WAY OF LIVING IS BY POWER FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT
Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to help us with our daily living. (The Holy Spirit is part of God, without a body, who relates to us individually – see Topics 7, 8, 39, 41 and 44.) At the time Jesus said this, his disciples couldn’t even comprehend the concept of it, but now we understand and experience the reality of it.
The Old Testament law is still valid because it tells us the kind of thoughts, words and actions which are pleasing to God. We shouldn’t ignore the law today on the grounds that Jesus has fulfilled it or that it only applied to the Israelites. We still look to the great moral principles that lie behind the law.
But now these principles are worked out in daily living by the Holy Spirit, who literally resides within each Christian. It’s no longer a matter of self-effort but rather a matter of letting the Holy Spirit take control, and good living comes quite naturally.
It’s no wonder that the core message of the New Testament is called the ‘gospel,’ a Greek word meaning ‘good news’ (see Topic 52). The good news is that we don’t have to struggle in trying to obey the law in order to be acceptable to God.
Instead, we can take Jesus Christ as our personal substitute (savior) and receive the Holy Spirit to change our desires and empower us for good and dynamic living.
Here’s a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
Detailed Old Testament law
The law defines sin
Jesus says he has fulfilled the law for us
We are no longer under the law
We are saved by faith, but we do good works
Description of new nature controlled by Holy Spirit
Impossible to please God without faith
For help, see Topic 29.
Bible Survey Topics
Now there’s a better way!
A NEW NATURE!!
The Ten Commandments and the other laws of the Old Testament are good – but they’re so hard to keep. In fact, they’re impossible to keep! And that’s the point. No matter how hard we try, we’re still sinful by nature. We all have a sin problem that separates us from God.
The good news of the New Testament is that God has done two things to overcome this problem for us (provided we accept these benefits by personal faith):
God gives us a general pardon for all violations of his laws. The penalty for all our sins – past, present and future – was satisfied in full by Jesus’ death on the cross.
God gives us a new nature with better desires, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our new nature still isn’t perfect, because we still have temptations and free will, but it's far better than our old nature without the Holy Spirit. A wholesome life results from this new nature
(just as a wholesome life could result from following the laws), but now the results come naturally rather than from difficult self-effort.
Without God’s forgiveness and a new nature, we would always be living in failure, weariness and futility because we could never succeed in obeying all the laws. But now, by God’s new and better way – faith in Jesus Christ – we can live a good and happy life because all our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit is within us.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
God gave these Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:3-17). As an expansion and application of these principles, God later gave hundreds of detailed ethical and ceremonial laws, all recorded in the Old Testament.
God now accepts us for our faith, not for what we do or don’t do.