Law and Grace
Distinctions between the Old and New
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come
and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year,
which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. NASB
Continuity and Discontinuity
It is important to understand that the New Covenant has now come and as a result, the Old Covenant has been abrogated. This is to say that it has been annulled, replaced and fulfilled so that its purpose as a covenant with God’s people Israel, has come to its fulfillment in the person and work of Christ, who is the fulfillment of all that the Old Covenant typed and shadowed, and is Himself the reality and substance of all that is represented. Therefore we see that the Old Covenant has accomplished its place in the history of redemption and by this realize that it was only temporal, remaining in place until its fulfillment, and has now become obsolete (Heb 8:13) and ineffectual (Heb 7:18). If we maintain that there is a New Covenant that makes the Old Covenant temporal, obsolete and ineffectual, then we ask; was the old covenant truly redemptive for those who worshipped in its era? And if so, in what way was it redemptive? This brings up the question of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New covenants. If the substance of the New Covenant is of grace, and the Old of Law, how then can the Old be redemptive since no one has ever been able to keep the Law perfectly and thereby be justified in that obedience? Are the Old and New very different, or very much the same if they are both redemptive? Is there a continuity or a discontinuity in the two? The answer to this question is that even though the outward nature of the Old Covenant was obedience to all of its commands and precepts, the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the Law, its true redemptive substance was grace. Its moral aspects simply give broad and clear definition to the will of God for His holy people to live and act in accordance with his holy nature. The ceremonial aspects of the Law gave a very clear pattern of the true worship of the living God, who Himself defines how He is to be worshipped as He is the creator and sustainer of all things. The civil aspects of the Law were necessary because God had called the whole nation out as a separated community or society of people who were to be governed by God as a people set apart and holy unto the Lord, demonstrated (at least in one very obvious way), by the wise and discerning Law that governed them, given to them by their God, Jehovah. But even the civil Law is a very gracious benefit to those who live under its wise precepts, for it contained promises of great blessing and privilege for those who would obey it.
The Old Covenant was redemptive for the Israelites (and Gentiles who joined themselves to Judaism), but in a practical typological form of worship, the carrying out of the Ceremonial Law. The typological form (types of Christ in the ceremonies), was carrying out divinely appointed worship, by practices and rituals, which was entirely redemptive for those Jews and Gentiles who were circumcised in heart and by faith truly trusting in God alone for righteousness. This is because at this point in redemptive history, the Law was the divinely appointed means of worship unto God for His special covenant people Israel. But the true substance of redeeming grace was and always has been faith in God and in His mercy toward His people according to His own self-revelation (given in greater fullness over time), and individuals have been known and recognized by the obedience of faith throughout every age of redemptive history, but always according to the level of God’s revelation for them in these different ages. This can be seen in the entire storyline of Scripture, starting with Adam and the Patriarchs in Genesis, and moving through the whole Bible with Israel and the Church, continuing until the time of the consummation of the ages in the New Heavens and Earth. Therefore, when considering the Law or the Old Covenant with Israel, it must be understood according to its place in redemptive history. It had a practical typological form of worship, the carrying out of the Ceremonial Law. These types were the means of expressing the obedience of faith in Jehovah, and the faithful Jew was very concerned to follow the Law as best they could. This can be clearly seen in the era of the kings when the Scripture would speak of a certain king who “did what was right in the sight of the Lord,” as compared to those kings who would do “evil in the sight of the Lord.” The one signifies those who were obedient to both the ceremonial (in some degree), and in the moral and civil aspects of the Law, and the other wicked kings who disregarded God’s Law and worshipped and served other Gods in various wicked ways. Moreover, those who were obedient received the favor of God’s blessing and the privilege of deliverance from their enemies, whereas the evil kings would be overcome in all manner of calamity and put to the sword by their enemies. Nevertheless, for the generations of the Jews and some number of Gentiles, faithful obedience to the Law was the means of expressing truly devoted worship unto God, in the manner He had prescribed for them, which was an expression of God’s redemptive work in them. But this salvation’s substance was God’s grace through faith, the sovereign work of God, expressed in their obedience to God, and always fulfilled only in the person and work of Christ. In this sense the Old Covenant was much like the New and in this way we can see continuity. There is a continuity between the Old and New Covenants in their redemptive substance, grace and faith. There is an outward discontinuity in the ceremonial and civil aspects of worship in the Old Covenant, which have been abrogated by the New Covenant. Nevertheless, in both covenants the moral aspects of God’s Law remain as our guide and teacher, revealing God’s will and character, as well as our inability to be righteous before God, driving us to Christ as a schoolmaster. These moral aspects of the Law, of which the Decalogue is a summary, are established and upheld in both the Old and the New Covenants, and are the clearest form of continuity between the two.
JV Fesko writes in “The Law is not of Faith” pg 43…. “Under the Law, grace was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the pashal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come…. Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance of the OT was exhibited, it was done with greater fullness, simplicity, and outward glory. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.” Surely the Mosaic Covenant is unique because of its legal nature, but it demonstrated man’s inability to fulfill the demands of the Law and thus drives people to Christ. But in terms of its place in redemptive history it paints a prophetic picture, a typical prophecy with its types and shadows of the sufficient and completed salvation to come in the person and work of Christ. Under the Law, the Ceremonies pointed forward to Christ. Under the Gospel, we celebrate the fullness that has come in Him with a simple remembrance of His accomplished work.
Colossians 2:16-17 – 16 Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day — 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. NASB
Hebrews 10:1 – 1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. NASB
But in both covenants, we are commanded to obedience to the Moral aspects of the Law. These are forever binding on us because they are an expression of God’s character and nature, whom we worship and seek to emulate. When we say that the Moral Law is “binding,” what is it that we mean by this? Binding for what purpose? Well it certainly is not a requirement of perfect obedience in order to be saved, for no person can accomplish this even in the New Covenant age with the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling. Therefore we mean that it is the imperative commandment of God to which we are bound to keep, as an expression of true devoted worship unto Him. It serves as our guide as to what pleases Him and how it is that we conform to Him practically in our lives.
Matthew 5:17-19 – 17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. 19 "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. NASB
Romans 3:31 – 31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law. NASB
Romans13:8-11 – 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. 11 And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. NASB
James 2:8, 12 – 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well……12 So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. NASB
Moreover, God has threatened discipline to those who will not adhere to His moral law and also warned that the constant practice of violating it could be an expression of one’s being outside of His Kingdom and absent from His saving covenant.
Hebrews 12:4-8 – 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; 5 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; 6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives." 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. NASB
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. NASB
Galatians 6:7-8 – 7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. NASB
God’s character expressed in the Moral Law instructs us concerning the knowledge of His will, and is therefore forever our guide. We see the fullness of the moral character of the Law carried out in the person and work of Jesus, so that He has become for us a “living Word” from the Father, demonstrating in human terms the very substance of the Moral Law in His life and death. He is the supreme expression of God’s holy Law, the very Word of God made flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). Further, this profound incarnation of God in Christ Jesus has brought about the ability for the indwelling presence of God within us by the Holy Spirit. This indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is what makes the New Covenant effectual and eternal. The very power of God has transformed our nature in regeneration and brought God’s very life and immortality to live inside of us who are His very temple, the place where God is worshipped is now in the very heart and soul of man, in Spirit and in truth. This provides necessary power for the practical and transformational sanctification of God’s people causing it to be effectual, actually effecting to great degree God’s holiness practically in the lives of His saints. And because the New Covenant’s place in redemptive history, it has brought about the fullness of God’s redemptive work in the person and work of Christ, which shall never be changed or abrogated, but rather it has fulfilled God’s eternal purpose in Christ, and has reached its climax in the Gospel, bringing eternal life and immortality to all who will trust in Christ for salvation.
Ephesians 3:8-11 – 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; 10 in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord NASB
Therefore there is both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New Covenants. Brenton Ferry writes in “The Law is not of Faith” pg 83…. “The abrogation of the civil and ceremonial aspects of the old covenant law accounts for the discontinuity between the old and the new covenants, while the continuation of the moral law accounts for their continuity.”
The beauty lies not in saying there is a discontinuity, or a continuity, but rather in seeing both the discontinuity and continuity in the distinct and yet harmonious relation of both.
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