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
The Old and the New
In the New Testament, the Law is sometimes referred to as the “old covenant,” as it is contrasted with the New Covenant (Heb 7-10). In fact, many see the entire Old Testament as the “Old Covenant” and the New Testament as the “New Covenant.” This concept however is not entirely correct as the Old Testament contains more than just the Old Covenant Mosaic Law that God made with Israel. It also contains the historical narratives, even beginning in Genesis and running through Ezra, as well as the Prophets, Psalms and Wisdom literature. Nevertheless, there certainly is an Old Covenant, which is now “old,” and a New Covenant which is forever “new.” But what are the key differences between the Old and the New? What makes the Old Covenant “old” and what makes the New Covenant “new”? If the new replaces the old, how then should we view the old? And what about the entire Old Testament Scriptures, in what ways, if any, does the Old Testament apply, and how do we see it in light of the New Testament?
These questions are really the focus of this entire study and will be addressed in some detail as we examine biblical passages. But let us suffice here to give a brief answer to the general thrust of these questions.
The key differences between the two covenants relate to the fact that God has placed them in the history of redemption in order to accomplish His eternal purpose in Christ. Therefore the Old Covenant was put in place in the course of redemptive history to accomplish several preparatory matters and establish a legal basis for the condemnation of sin and a righteous justification by the Mediator whom God would send. This justification would then establish the basis for the New Covenant blessings and promises.
Galatians 3:19-22 – 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. NASB
The Old Covenant was given to show the nature of worship unto God, proper relationship to Him as His covenant people, proper relationship to one another and most importantly to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin in order to drive people to Christ as a schoolmaster, instructing us that we are in great need of a Savior. This is primarily seen in the Ceremonial portions of the Old Covenant and typified in the blood sacrifices, Aaronic Priesthood and temple worship. The Old Covenant was therefore temporary and ineffectual in regard to salvation, pointing the way to Messiah who would come and “save” His people from their sins by being the fulfillment of that sacrificial system and bringing in the new eschatological age of Messianic Salvation. This is the age of the New Covenant that God now makes with His people through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This New Covenant brings the blessed power of the indwelling Spirit to produce God’s desired work of sanctification in the believer. Moreover, the New Covenant provides the finished work of justification for the believer and holds forth the promise of eternal life with Christ and the hope of glorification when we die. The New Covenant is therefore both effectual and eternal. We are eternally saved and sanctified by Christ in position, even though for now we are practically sanctified through our sufferings and strivings with the fallen world and our natural sinful bodies. Therefore we wait in hope for our glorification as we live out our new purpose of glorifying and enjoying God in this life. We have partaken of the Age to come in the indwelling power of the Spirit, but we have not yet reached the climax of our transformation until the Resurrection. This is called realized eschatology and is a benefit of the New Covenant. We have realized the power of the eschatological (last days) age now in some degree, but not yet in its fullness. We, like the Kingdom of God, have already partaken of the eschatological age of Messianic Salvation, but not yet in its ultimate expression. That will come at the Resurrection which takes place at the parousia or Second Coming of Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:22-24 – 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. NASB
1 Corinthians 15:50-57 – 50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. NASB
Matthew 24:29-31 – 29 "But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken, 30 and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. 31 "And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. NASB
Therefore the Old Covenant has served its place in redemptive history and ushered in the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus Christ the God-man, who has powerfully broken into this Age bringing the necessary sacrificial work and active obedience to the Law to justify ungodly sinners and bring them into favor with God. Therefore the OLD Covenant is “obsolete” and has been replaced by the NEW Covenant. Christ has fulfilled the Law’s preceptive requirements in active obedience and has paid its penalties in His passive obedience at the cross, a fulfillment of the sacrificial system.
Galatians 4:3-5 – 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. NASB
Colossians 2:13-14 – 13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. NASB
Hebrews 7:18-19 – 18 For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. NASB
Hebrews 8:13 – 13 When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. NASB
On this basis the Ceremonial Law has been fulfilled in Christ’s person and work and abrogated. The Civil Law has been abrogated on the basis of the fact that God has now called people from within every race or ethnic nation, every class of people (rich, poor, slave, free), and no longer has a covenant community of peoples who live together under a societal structure of civil laws, but rather live under the new principal of the Law of Christ, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This New Covenant people are told to live in the love and forgiveness of Christ no matter what nation, community or society they find themselves in. See in this abrogation of the Ceremonial and Civil Law the discontinuity between OLD and NEW. But realizing the Moral Law of God is an expression of His character and is a necessary guide into the knowledge of His will, and will always abide with us until all is fulfilled in the Messianic Age of salvation.
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
The Moral Law then, being an expression of God’s character, is the exhortation to our obedience, not as a rule or condition for salvation, but as a gracious response to what God has done in Christ to save us. The New Covenant is still a covenant with the element of obedience, whereby the truly redeemed covenant people of God express their obedience as a grateful response to God for His saving acts. However, now the believer is empowered by union with Christ through the Holy Spirit in order to achieve what we were powerless to do under the Law, because of the weakness of the flesh. And even though perfect obedience is still something beyond our grasp, God’s purpose now in our sanctification is being fulfilled according to His gracious work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we seek to glorify and enjoy Him all of our days. All of this we do, having all our sins cancelled and forgiven and the Law no longer looms over us with a guilty condemnation, but rather we live in the newness and freedom of forgiven sins.
Romans 8:1-4 – 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. NASB
This then, is the effectual and eternal blessing of the New Covenant we now live under because of God’s free grace to us, and because of Christ’s finished work.
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