New Testament

Law and Sabbath, the Old and the New

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Microphone

Download Recording

Good morning, friends. This week a listener texted me this question:

Wenam nao ceremonial sabbath o law and wenam difference blong hem n how nao e finish hem?

So what is the difference between the ceremonial sabbath and the law, and how can we say that it is finished?

I appreciate the good question. What are we to make of the Law and of the Sabbath in particular?

1. The Law

1.1. The Importance of the Law

First we need to affirm the importance of the Law in biblical theology.

The Law was good.

Romans 7:12 ESV So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

1 Timothy 1:8 ESV Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully,

It reveals sin:

Romans 3:20 ESV For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 7:7 ESV ¶ What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

The Law was a guardian:

Galatians 3:24 ESV So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

Most importantly, the Law prophesied the coming of Christ; it pointed to Christ as its fulfillment.

Luke 24:44 ESV ¶ Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

1.2. Four Approaches

Dispensationalism holds that nothing in the Old Testament law applies to the Christian life unless the New Testament repeats it and endorses it. For example, the New Testament says nothing about wearing clothes woven of two kinds of material (Leviticus 19:19), so we feel free to wear shirts made of polyester and cotton, though that would have been forbidden under the Old Testament.

On the other hand, the New Testament says nothing about consulting mediums or spiritists (Leviticus 19:31), yet surely this is inconsistent with the life in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

Secondly, Covenant Theology takes the opposite approach: everything from the Old Testament carries over into the New Testament unless it is forbidden. So the Old Testament would rule out consulting mediums. But what about clothes made of two kinds of material? Most of us have violated that Old Testament commandment!

Third, one common approach has been to distinguish between Old Testament ceremonial laws, civil laws, and moral laws. We first find this approach in Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century Catholic theologian. Ceremonial laws would have to do with the temple and the system of sacrifice that is no longer in existence. Civil laws would deal with everyday life in ancient Israel. Moral law would deal with theft, lying, hatred, slander, etc.

But many laws do not seem to fall into these categories and frequently there is no attempt to group them in categories. Where, for example, do we put the Leviticus 19:27?

Leviticus 19:27 ESV You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

Is it moral, civil, or ceremonial? And that command is sandwiched between commands to not eat flesh with the blood in it, to interpret omens or tell fortunes or to tattoo yourselves. And if the Lord God has given all of these 613 commands of the Old Testament, isn’t our obedience to them somehow a moral issue and not just a civil or ceremonial one?

A fourth approach is to privilege the “Big Ten,” the Ten Commandments. Yet, in no place in the New Testament are all of the Ten Commandments dealt with together. In fact, there is one of the Ten Commandments that is never repeated as a commandment in the New Testament.

# COMMANDMENT TIMES
1 We are to worship God alone. 53
2 We are not to have any idols. 12
3 We are not to take the name of the Lord in vain. 4
5 We are to honor our parents. 6
6 We must not murder. 7
7 We must not commit adultery. 12
8 We must not steal. 6
9 We must not lie or bear false witness. 4
10 We must not covet. 9

Guess which Old Testament commandment is never repeated in the New Testament: the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath is never repeated in the New Testament. Each time the Sabbath commandment is mentioned, it is diminished, made smaller and shown not to be binding on New Covenant Christians.

Lists of sin in the New Testament:

Mark 7:21-22 ESV For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. Romans 1:29-31 ESV They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV ¶ Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 ESV Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 2 Timothy 3:2-5 ESV For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Guess what is never mentioned: not keeping the Sabbath.

2. The Sabbath

2.1. Jesus, the Pharisees, and the Sabbath

In the last several broadcasts, we have considered what the Bible says about the Sabbath, the Law, and the kingdom of God.

We noted first that Jesus and the Pharisees were always on opposite sides of the conflict over the Law. The Pharisees insisted on outward observance of the Law but ignored the intention and purpose of the Law. The Pharisees were concerned with appearances. They wanted everything to look just right on the outside, but they gave no attention to the inside. Jesus said that they were like people who washed the outside of the cup but never worried about cleaning the inside. He said that they were like the tombs of the dead: beautifully painted and kept up on the outside, but inside they were full of corruption and dead man’s bones (Matthew 23:25, 27). Those are strong words that Jesus had for these keepers of the Law.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed many of these questions. The Law had said, “You must not murder.” So the Pharisees figured that as long as they didn’t knife someone, they had kept the commandment. Jesus say that if you hate someone, you have already committed murder in your heart. If you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment. If you insult someone, you are in danger. If you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. Murder is a matter of the heart.

The Law had said, “You must not commit adultery,” so the Pharisees figured that it was enough to avoid climbing into bed with someone. Jesus said that if you desire someone sexually, you’ve already committed adultery. Adultery is a matter of the heart.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees continually put the accent on the external conformity to the Law:

  • No murder, but it’s okay to hate, insult, and curse someone.
  • No adultery, but it doesn’t hurt to look.
  • Tired of your wife? Give her a piece of paper so you can marry the woman you want.
  • If you made a vow, you’ll have to honor it. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what you said.
  • Someone hurt you? Hurt them back.
  • Got an enemy? It’s okay to hate. Just love those who love you.

And where did they put all their emphasis? The put it on keeping the sabbath.

Jesus’ greatest enemies were strict sabbatarians. They were constantly on Jesus about the Sabbath.

  • When he healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees persecuted him (John 5:16; 7:21-24).
  • When he healed the man blind from birth on the Sabbath, they declared that he was a sinner and could not be from God (John 9:16, 24).
  • When Jesus healed on the Sabbath a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit, the synagogue leader was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day (Luke 13:10-18).
  • When the disciples of Jesus picked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples (Matthew 12:1-8).
  • When Jesus healed the man with a deformed hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus (Matthew 12:9-14).

The Sadducees and the Pharisees put all the emphasis on the Sabbath. They could judge whether a man was a sinner or a saint by the Sabbath. If someone went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, they judged that he was right with God. But…

  • If a man was carrying his mat on the Sabbath, they judged that he was a sinner.
  • If a man picked grain on the Sabbath, they judged that he was a sinner.
  • If Jesus did some good work on the Sabbath, they judged that he was sinner.

The Pharisees looked on the outside, but their hearts were full of judgment, full of condemnation, and full of sin.

2.2. The Institution of the Sabbath

For the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the main thing was the seventh day, the Sabbath. We saw that for the first 2,500 years, from Adam to Moses, there was no Sabbath. Not one person was ever mentioned keeping the Sabbath before Exodus 16. In fact, the Sabbath is not mentioned one time in the 50 chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. It is not mentioned until Exodus 16. That was 2,500 years after God created the heavens and the earth. There was no Sabbath for Adam, or Noah, or Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Joseph. There was no Sabbath for the Israelites during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Day after day after day, the Israelites made bricks for Pharaoh, with no Sabbath.

When God brought them out of Egypt, for the first time God said to them in Exodus 16,

Exodus 16:29-30 ESV See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

It is here in Exodus 16:23 that the Sabbath is mentioned for the very first time in the Bible. It would be not be a work day; it would be a day of rest.

2.3. The Sign of the Sabbath

So there was no Sabbath before God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Only after the Exodus from Egypt did God give the Israelites the Sabbath. Again and again, God tells the Israelites that on the Sabbath, they are to do no work. This fourth of the Ten Commandments says,

Exodus 20:8-10 ESV ¶ “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work

No work. That was the outward sign. No work. But what was the meaning of the Sabbath? What did it mean to do no work? What was the significance… the signification of the Sabbath? What was the message of the Sabbath?

God is clear about the meaning of the Sabbath. In Exodus 31:13, the LORD tells Moses,

Exodus 31:13 ESV “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.

No work! The message is that sanctification is not our work but the Lord’s work! The message is that we cannot make ourselves holy by work. It is the Lord who makes us holy:

Exodus 31:13 ESV “…this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.

If you think that you can make yourself holy and acceptable to God by going to church on the Sabbath, you have missed the point, the message of the Sabbath. If you think that the Sabbath is a work that you do to get right with God, you have perverted the meaning of the Sabbath. God says that doing no work was a sign that it is the LORD who sanctifies us.

This passage also clearly shows that the covenant of the Law was with the people of Israel, not with us Gentiles:

Exodus 31:13 ESV “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.

Exodus 31:17 ESV It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'”

Let us note, in passing, that there is no place in the Bible where the Lord said, “On the Sabbath day, you are to go to the tabernacle or to the temple and worship me.” The Sabbath requirement was a requirement of rest, not worship. The Sabbath was not a call to worship. It was a call to rest. Not work. God does the work of making us holy.

This same message is given nearly a thousand years later by the prophet Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 20:12 ESV Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.

The message of the Sabbath is the same as we find in Ephesians 2,

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Our hope is in Christ alone:

MUSIC: 02 Kristyn Getty, In Christ Alone. 4:39 • 22 sec lead-in • Fade after 4:15

3. The Old and the New

Next we looked at the old and the new covenants. God made a covenant with the nation of Israel, but the Bible tells us that the covenant of the Law was a parenthesis in the plan of God. The Law was a covenant that had a beginning and an end. It began with Moses and it ended with the cross. The Law was neither the beginning nor the end of God’s plan. Four hundred thirty years before the Law, God had made a promise that would not be broken. God had promised Abraham that his many times great grandson would be the source of blessing for all the peoples everywhere. The Apostle Paul explains that promise in Galatians 3. This is how the New Living Translation renders Galatians 3:15-19,

Galatians 3:15-20 NLT ¶ Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. 16 God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to his child”– and that, of course, means Christ. 17 This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. 18 For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise. 19 ¶ Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. 20 Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham.

In other words, the promise to Abraham was given directly from God to Abraham and has precedence over the Law which was mediated through angels. Paul continues in verse 23,

Galatians 3:23-25 NLT Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. 24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.

This is the same message that we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews. We saw in Hebrew 8:8-12 that Jeremiah the prophet, though he was a prophet of the old covenant of the Law… Jeremiah prophesied 600 years before the coming of Christ that God would establish a New Covenant. The New Covenant would not be like the old covenant of the Law (v. 9). It would not be a matter of external rules written on stone tablets. In the New Covenant God would write his laws on our hearts. Ezekiel tells us that God would cleanse us from everything that is unclean and He would put His Spirit in us. The temple is no longer a building in Jerusalem; in the New Covenant, our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So the writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jeremiah, “In speaking of the new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete…” It is finished. The end.

In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul tells us that God has made Jews and Gentiles one new people, breaking down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility:

Ephesians 2:15 NLT He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.

That is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18. He said that the Law and the Prophets would not pass away until all was fulfilled. And he said that he had come to fulfill it. So on the cross, he declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). He died. He was buried. And on the third day, the first day of the week, Christ was raised from the dead. After appearing to several that morning of the resurrection, Christ joined two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Luke 24:27 NLT Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus showed them that the Law and the Prophets pointed to Christ. The purpose of the Law was to point us to Christ. Once Christ has come, the purpose of the Law was achieved.

That evening Christ appeared in the upper room to the disciples

Luke 24:44 ESV ¶ Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

The Law was not the real deal. The Law was temporary. The Law’s purpose was to point to Christ. The resurrected Christ appeared to the disciples the night of the resurrection and told them that the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms all pointed to him. He was the fulfillment of the Scriptures.

Matthew 11:13 ESV For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John,

Luke 16:16 ESV ¶ “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached…

A listener to this radio ministry asked, “How can we say that the Law is finished?” The Law is not simply finished; it is fulfilled. Christ fulfilled it. In every detail Christ fulfilled what the Law had prophesied. The Law was only a copy and a shadow of heavenly realities; Christ is that reality. Not the Law, but Christ is the real deal.

We can only say that the Law is fulfilled because God himself said it. Christ said that the Law prophesied until John the Baptist. The new message was not the Law, but the kingdom of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The good news of the gospel is that we are not under the Law.

John 1:17 ESV For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Romans 6:14 ESV For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 8:14 ESV For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Galatians 5:18 ESV But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

3.1. So what about Christian freedom?

If we are no longer under the Law, does that mean that we are free to do anything that we want to do?

Christian freedom is a reality, and so is righteousness. There is a strong accent on freedom in the New Testament, and it is a freedom from the reign and rule of sin. In fact, the freedom from the rule of sin is tied to our freedom from the Law.

Romans 6:14 ESV For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Here in this verse we see that sin will not dominate our lives not because we are under the law, but because we are not under the law. How does that work? Why should freedom from the law enable us to be free from the domination of sin?

Freedom from the law is only part of the equation, but it is an important part. The law actually provokes the sinful nature that we inherited from Adam. The law says, “You shall not…” and we respond, “Oh yes I shall!” This is how the Apostle Paul says it in Romans 7:

Romans 7:7-11 NLT ¶ Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” 8 But sin used this command to arouse all kinds of covetous desires within me! If there were no law, sin would not have that power. 9 At one time I lived without understanding the law. But when I learned the command not to covet, for instance, the power of sin came to life, 10 and I died. So I discovered that the law’s commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead. 11 Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me.

That is why the Apostle Paul says in

Romans 3:20 NLT For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

The Law provokes sin in us. And when we think that we are successfully living by the Law, it provokes sinful pride and condemnation of others. We become like the Pharisees, full of sinful self-righteousness and scorn for others.

Galatians 3:2-5 NLT Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4 Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? 5 I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

The Law is useful to show us how sinful we are, but it is powerless to save. The Law may change some of your outward behavior, but it cannot change your heart. For a heart change, you need the New Covenant. You need the promised Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the power of the kingdom of God and the power of the New Covenant.

Romans 8:1-4 NLT ¶ So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

So we are free from the Law. We are not under the Law. If we are in Christ, we are led by the Spirit of Christ.

Galatians 5:1 NLT ¶ So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

Galatians 5:4 NLT For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Galatians 5:9-10 NLT This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! 10 I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.

3.2. What about the Commandments?

The Bible is very clear. We are not under the Law. We are not under the old covenant. Yet we are not to use our freedom as an excuse to sin. Notice the next verse in Galatians:

Galatians 5:13 NLT ¶ For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

Paul goes on to talk about the fruit of the Spirit. Fruit is something that is produced by mature fruit trees. You can recognize a tree by its fruit. If the Spirit of God lives in you, He will produce His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, faith, self-control.

This is what the gospel produces in your life. That is something that the Law could never do.

Romans 8:3-4 NLT The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There are commandments for the children of God, but that will have to wait for another broadcast.

Scripture Union of Vanuatu has a wonderful booklet in Bislama called “Sarede o Sande? — Sabat Dei o Dei blong Masta?” It is only 20vt at the Scripture Union near Caillard et Kaddour Real Estate offices. Please stop by their offices and pick up a copy. It will help you.

Let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

Thank you for tuning in to FM 107. This has been a ministry of Joy Bible Institute. You can visit our website at joybible.wordpress.com. Our prayer is that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism“:

Advertisements

The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants

1. The Old and the New: Two Testaments, Two Covenants

Microphone

Download Recording

powerpoint icon

Download Powerpoint

When we open the Bible, one of the first things that we notice is that the Bible is divided into two sections: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Within the Old and New Testaments, there are covenants, special agreements ratified by sacrifice and sign. There are covenants between individuals such as Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:27). More importantly, there are covenants between God and man.

For example, God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by Flood. He put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of the covenant.

Genesis 9:14-15 ESV When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

God made a covenant with Abraham that the childless old man would yet become the father of a multitude of nations, that kings would come from him and that God would give them the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:18; 17:1-21).

Besides these covenants, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel:

Exodus 34:27-28 ESV And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” 28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Though Israel would break the covenant, God would not forget His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though He would judge Israel and drive them into other nations, God says in Leviticus 26,

Leviticus 26:42 ESV then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.

Leviticus 26:45 ESV But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

When God makes a covenant with man, it is a gracious act on his part. It is not a negotiated contract whereby we haggle and try to get God to do something that we want. God is God and he does whatever he pleases (Ecclesiastes 8:3; Psalm 115:3). When God makes a covenant, he takes the initiative and promises blessing if we will fulfill the terms of the covenant.

The covenant that God made with Israel would eventually be called the Old Covenant. In speaking of the Jews, Paul says,

2 Corinthians 3:14 NLT …to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

So the covenant of the Law that God made with Israel is called the Old Covenant. And if the covenant of the Law is the Old Covenant, there must be a New Covenant. There is a New Covenant and that New Covenant was announced under the Old Covenant in the Old Testament, more than 600 years before the coming of Christ. We read in Jeremiah,

Jeremiah 31:31-34 NLT “The day is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the LORD. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

So we see the great difference between the Old and New Covenants. God says, “This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors.” The Old Covenant was the Law. It was external. It was written on tablets of stone. In all, there were 613 rules that they had to follow. Six hundred thirteen! Most people could not tell you what the 10 commandments were, much less the 613 rules of the Old Covenant.

God says that the New Covenant would not be like the Old Covenant. It would not be external. It would not be outside of man. It would not be written stone tablets. Rather, God would write His instructions on our hearts:

Jeremiah 31:33 ESV For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

So God’s instructions would not be on the outside of man; they would be on the inside. God would write his instructions on the heart.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the newness that comes with the New Covenant:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV 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.

This new heart and new Spirit is the new birth that Jesus talked about in John 3. Jesus describes it as being born of water and the Spirit. The water represents the cleansing from sin and uncleanness that Ezekiel describes: “I will sprinkle clean water on you… I will cleanse you.”

Ezekiel also tells us that this New Covenant would include a new heart and a new spirit. In fact, God would put His Spirit in us: “I will put my Spirit within you…” This is what it means to be born of the Spirit. This is the new birth, being born of water and the Spirit, being cleansed of sin and made alive unto God. This is the new birth that is necessary to enter the kingdom of God.

That was the promise of a New Covenant that God gave through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel as the Israelites were about to be carried off into the Babylonian Captivity because they had broken the Old Covenant that God had made with them. As they had broken the Old Covenant, God promised the New Covenant.

Fast forward more than 600 years to the night before the crucifixion. Jesus and his disciples are gathered together in the upper room to celebrate the Passover meal. Jesus takes bread, gives thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Then he takes the cup, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

“This cup is the New Covenant in my blood,” he said.

Every time we come to the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, we celebrate the New Covenant.

The writer of Hebrews gives a remarkable commentary on the Old Covenant comparing it with the New Covenant of Jeremiah’s prophecy. In Hebrews 8:6f, we read that Jesus,

Hebrews 8:6-13 NLT …mediates for us a far better covenant with God, based on better promises. 7 If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it. 8 But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 9 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. 10 But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. 12 And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

So the author of Hebrews quotes the lengthy prophecy of Jeremiah about the New Covenant. Then he makes this commentary:

13 When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

This is a most remarkable commentary. The New Covenant that was enacted by the shed blood of Christ is far superior to the Old Covenant of the Law. Had the Old Covenant been faultless, “there would have been no need for a second covenant to replace it” (8:7). The Law was inadequate. The Law cannot change the heart. The Law needed to be replaced.

Hebrews 8:13 ESV In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

The Old Covenant of the Law is obsolete. It’s out of date.

Sometimes you go to the grocery store and you see that they have radically dropped the price on something that you have been wanting to buy. Says it’s a box of cereal that normally sells for 2000vt, and you see that it is on sale for 500vt. Well, you grab it up, all excited about the great deal that you just got: a 2000vt box of cereal for 500vt! You can hardly wait for breakfast the next morning. You get out your cereal bowl and pour in the cereal, but what do you find? The cereal is full of bugs! It’s stale! It is inedible! How did that happen?

You search all over the box until you find the expiration date. You look at the calendar. Oh, no! The cereal is past the expiration date. It expired a week ago, a month ago or more! It’s no good!

That’s what the writer to the Hebrews is saying. The Old Covenant of the Law has passed its date of expiration. It is out of date. It is no longer valid. It has been replaced with the New Covenant.

So why are you still clinging to the Law? Why have you bought into the Old Covenant of the Law? Why are you trying to live by the Law? It has passed its expiration date. It was valid for a time but it has been superseded by the New Covenant. Why are you trying to live by the external Law? “Do this, do that.”

That is like trying to use an old mechanical typewriter instead of a computer. Why are you doing that? Why are you using an old worn out mechanical typewriter when there is a brand new powerful computer sitting on your desk? Why are you trying to live by the letter of the Law instead of by the power of the Spirit of God? God has given us the power of the Spirit so that we can live in a way the pleases and glorifies Him.

The Law is finished. It’s over. Get over it.

2. Shadow and Reality

Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow, not the real thing:

Hebrews 10:1 ESV For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

The Law was only a shadow. Let me illustrate. You and I are walking down the road together one afternoon. We are hungry and would like something to eat. The sun is shining brightly and suddenly on the road in front of us, we notice a shadow. We recognize from its shape that it is the shadow of a papaya tree full of papayas. Let me ask you, “Will that shadow satisfy our hunger? Will we get any nourishment or strength from the shadow?” No, we will not. But the shadow is there because there is a real papaya tree with real papayas that can satisfy our hunger and meet our need.

Hebrews tells us that the Law was only a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities. You have tried to satisfy yourself with the shadow. You have embraced the Law thinking that it is the real deal. It is not. It is only a shadow. It pointed to the reality. It pointed to Christ.

Paul also writes of the Law as a shadow in Colossians 2. He tells us that God forgave all our sins and canceled the legal charges against us by nailing them to the cross (v. 14).

Colossians 2:16-17 NLT So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

So there are no food laws to follow: “Do not let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink.” The Christian is free to eat whatever he likes. You are free to eat meat. You are free to eat pork or any other meat that you may like. Jesus himself declared that all foods are clean:

Mark 7:14-19 NLT Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” 17 Then Jesus went into a house to get away from the crowd, and his disciples asked him what he meant by the parable he had just used. 18 “Don’t you understand either?” he asked. “Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? 19 Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.)

The English Standard Version renders Mark’s explanation, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” So all foods are clean. Bon appétit!

Again in Colossians 2, Paul goes on to say that these people are not holding on to Christ, but the danger for you is that if you follow their teaching, they will disqualify you or cause you to lose the prize:

Colossians 2:18 ESV Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [abstaining from certain things, doing without] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,

The Scriptures warn us about people who have visions and try to take authority over our lives and rob us of our freedom in Christ. “Let no one disqualify you… going on in detail about visions…” They tell you to abstain from foods and how you must worship. These rules about what you can eat and when you must worship have nothing to do with the Christian faith. In the next verses, the Apostle Paul tells us that we are free from these rules:

Colossians 2:20-23 NLT You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

The Apostle Paul tells us,

  1. Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.
  2. Do not let anyone rob you of your salvation by insisting on self-denial and submission to angels. Hold on to Christ.
  3. Stop living as if you belonged to the world. Man-made rules have an appearance of wisdom, they will do nothing to help you live a life of holiness.

3. Room for Difference of Opinion

All that is very clear. There are matters of consequence, and where the Word of God speaks clearly, we must speak clearly. We must not compromise on issues where God has spoken or we will be found to oppose God. Such matters include the biblical teachings about the inspiration of the Scriptures, the nature of God, the Trinity, the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his eternal existence before coming into the world, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for the whole world, his literal physical resurrection from the dead, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, his intercession for us. To that we could add the fall of man, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the believer producing a life of holiness without which no man shall see God, the primacy of the Church and its mission, the return of Christ, the final judgment, and the new heavens and the new earth. These truths are non-negotiables. You can see that these are weighty matters and on them the Scriptures speak with absolute clarity.

But there are also matters of opinion, areas where there may be different points of view or conviction. For example, in the area of food. We do not have the problem so much today, but in the early church there were both Gentile and Jewish Christians. The Gentile Christians were free to eat foods that some Jewish Christians, because of their upbringing, could not eat without feeling guilty. Can you imagine a church dinner where the Jewish believers would bring their kosher Jewish foods and the Gentiles would bring their non-kosher foods including pork and non-kosher foods of various kinds? The Gentiles could enjoy it all: chicken, salmon, tuna, beef, lamb, venison, and gefilte fish. Sounds good! Sometimes it is good to be a Gentile! But the Jewish believers would have a hard time swallowing bat, catfish, eel, shark, lobster, oyster, scallops, shrimp, snails, horse meat, or pork! Although Jesus declared all foods clean, some Jewish Christians having been brought up in kosher homes might have a troubled conscience if they were to eat non-kosher food.

The Bible addresses this issue in Romans 14:

Romans 14:1-4 ESV As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

You know what? Food matters do not matter. So if someone is weak in faith and feels that they cannot eat pork, let him be. Don’t look down on him. And the person who does not eat pork is not to think that he is any better than the one who does.

I’ve been to some stores where they had canned food with labels that told the customer that the ingredients looked like meat, smelled like meat, and tasted like meat, but that you could eat it because it was not really meat! If you are a Christian, you are free to eat it whether or not it is meat!

Food matters do not matter.

What about differences of opinion about the day of worship? This sounds so much more important. Surely we’ve got to get the day right! Not so. We have already seen in Colossians 2:16 that we are not to let others condemn us for not celebrating the Sabbath. The Bible says the same thing here in Romans 14:

Romans 14:5-12 NLT In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6 Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7 For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. 8 If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and rose again for this very purpose– to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. 10 So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, ‘every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” 12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

What does all this mean? It simply means that worshiping God in spirit and truth has nothing to do with the day that you meet for corporate worship. The person who meets with other believers to worship on Sunday must not look down on those who meet on Saturday. And those who meet to worship on Saturday must not condemn those who meet on Sundays.

Why does it not matter? It does not matter because we are not under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is obsolete. We are under the New Covenant.

4. Living with a Corpse

Death is a terrible enemy. And the Bible tells us that it is the last enemy that will be destroyed, being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). But imagine a widow who did not want to admit that her husband had died. Going to the graveside she talks endlessly to the grave, wondering why her husband does not respond. She prepares wonderful meals for him and pleads with him to come home for something to eat. In the evening she says, “Honey won’t you come to bed with me? It’s so cold out here.” As ridiculous as that sounds, many people try to live with a corpse.

We live under the New Covenant, and according to the New Covenant we are dead to the Law. Hear the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:1-4.

Romans 7:1-4 ESV Or do you not know, brothers– for I am speaking to those who know the law– that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

God made a covenant with Israel. It was the Old Covenant of the Law. By the Law, we died to the Law. This is how Paul says it in Galatians 2:19,

Galatians 2:19-21 ESV For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

We died to the Law. We have been released from it. We are no longer under it.

Romans 7:6 NLT But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg explains,

Rom 7:7–13 clarifies that it was not the Law that was evil or deficient in any way. It was God’s perfect covenant for its era. But to try to continue to follow the Law after its fulfillment has come is like a woman who tries to remain married to her deceased husband after she is widowed. Christians are freed from the law as the covenant to which they are obligated (7:1– 6). Thus, when Paul declares in Rom 10:4 that Christ is the telos (end) of the law “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes,” he means that Christ is both its goal and termination, as nicely captured in the TNIV’s translation “culmination.”

The coming of Christ changed everything.

Romans 10:4 NIV Christ is the [end] culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Are you trusting in the Law? Or are you trusting in Christ? Sabbath keeping will not save you. Abstaining from meat will not save you. Christ alone can save you. Hanging on the cross, he declared, “It is finished!” and the work was done.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Let me encourage you to find a Bible-believing church where the Word of God is preached, taught, and lived, and where the Bible and only the Bible — not someone’s vision or some other book — but the Bible and the Bible alone is the one and only final authority for what we believe and what we do. There is no other foundation than the Word of God.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”: