Living Christianity: The Old and New Covenants
October 9, 2018
by Peter Amsterdam
Living Christianity: The Old and New Covenants
In the introduction to this series I mentioned that I would be using the Ten Commandments as the framework to explore Christian moral ethics. Some might wonder why using the Old Testament Laws of Moses, which were part of the covenant God made with the Jewish people before Jesus’ time, is appropriate today. (Many of the statutes in the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are not applicable to Christians.)
We read in the Old Testament that a new covenant would come.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.1
The New Testament explains that the Mosaic covenant which began when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses was terminated upon Jesus’ death, and that since then, Christians live under a new covenant.2
The night before Jesus died, He spoke to His disciples about the new covenant. In Luke’s Gospel we read:
He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”3
Matthew’s Gospel says:
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”4
The old covenant was terminated and the new covenant came into effect when Jesus died on the cross.
The apostle Paul referred to the Mosaic covenant as the “old covenant,”5 and described it coming to an end.6 The book of Hebrews speaks of the “new covenant,” a better one, with a new high priest, Jesus. This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.7 It tells us that the new covenant won’t be like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. … For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.8 The old covenant, which included the Laws of Moses, has been replaced and is no longer in effect for Christians. Paul made that point when he said:
Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.9
Throughout the New Testament we find further passages which specifically state that Christians are not bound by certain Old Testament laws.10 Christians don’t need to be circumcised. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.11 Christians don’t need to offer animal sacrifices at the temple. Rather, we offer up a sacrifice of praise to God,12 and we present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.13 We don’t need to observe the Sabbath or other special religious days. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.14 We are also not bound by the Mosaic food laws, which declared some foods unclean and not to be eaten. Jesus abrogated the food laws and declared all foods to be clean when He said, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”15
We are also no longer bound to following the Old Testament laws which regulated the civil government of Israel. The Mosaic covenant established the Jewish people as a nation distinct from other nations of the world. God gave them rules for courts, judges, enforcement of laws and penalties for breaking them. Christians are not under those laws; rather, we are called to obey the civil governments in the lands in which we live.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.16
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.17
In the New Testament we are told why the Mosaic covenant, which included the Ten Commandments, was terminated. The apostle Paul wrote:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.18
The “Law” was meant to be temporary until the offspring—meaning Jesus—came. A few verses later, Paul wrote that the law was our guardian until Christ came … But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.19
Another reason is that the old covenant was fulfilled by Jesus. He never committed a violation against the Law. He perfectly obeyed it. Jesus asked those who were opposing Him, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?”20
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.21
You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.22
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.23
Author Wayne Grudem explains:
In another sense, he “fulfilled” many of the Old Testament laws by actions that showed the true spiritual purpose for which they were intended. He fulfilled the sacrificial laws by becoming the perfect sacrifice. He fulfilled the laws and regulations about priests by becoming our Great High Priest. He fulfilled the law about circumcision by the “circumcision of Christ,” which gives us new hearts that are responsive to God’s will. (In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.24) He fulfilled the Sabbath law by bringing us eternal spiritual rest. (Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.25) And he fulfilled the Old Testament laws for civil government by establishing for himself a kingdom that is not of this world. (“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting … But my kingdom is not from the world.”26)
Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law so that it is no longer binding upon Christians. And yet, while the New Testament writers understood that the Mosaic Law had been fulfilled in Christ and Christians were not legally bound by it, they still referred to it as an important source of valuable wisdom and guidance for living in a godly manner. The apostle Paul wrote:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.27
He pointed out that Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.28
These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.29
Throughout the New Testament, we find teachings which quote or allude to the Ten Commandments, with the exception of the fourth commandment about keeping the Sabbath.
You shall have no other gods before me.30
Paul affirmed this when he wrote about people sinning when they worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.31 In his list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God, Paul included idolaters.32
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.33
Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him … Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.34
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.35
The apostle Peter wrote:
These, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction.36
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.37
The command to rest on the Sabbath is not repeated as an obligation for Christians.
Honor your father and your mother.38
Paul quoted this commandment in full in Ephesians 6:2–3. Elsewhere he makes reference to those who dishonor their parents as sinning.
They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents.39
The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers.40
People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents.41
You shall not murder.42
A number of times in the New Testament, murder is included in a list of sins. For example:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.43
Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.44
You shall not commit adultery.45
This commandment is quoted in the book of Romans as well as in the book of James.46 In regard to sexual immorality in a broad sense, we find it referred to throughout the New Testament.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.47
We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.48
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.49
You shall not steal.50
Paul quoted this command in the book of Romans.51 He referred to it when he instructed:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.52
Throughout the Epistles, we find other verses teaching this commandment.53
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.54
This commandment is not quoted in the New Testament, but there are several verses which speak against lying and falsehoods.
Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.55
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.56
They learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.57
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.58
When Paul wrote about specific sins, he said:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: … evil desire, and covetousness.59
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness.60
The New Testament teaches that the Mosaic Law has been fulfilled, and Christians are not bound to follow the Law; yet it also teaches that the principles found within the Mosaic Law are useful as teaching tools to show what kind of conduct is pleasing and displeasing to God. Since the Ten Commandments teach truths which are applicable to living our Christianity, this series—Living Christianity—is using the Ten Commandments as a framework for exploring Christian morals and ethics.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Jeremiah 31:31.
3 Luke 22:19–20.
4 Matthew 26:28.
5 2 Corinthians 3:14.
6 2 Corinthians 3:10–14.
7 Hebrews 7:22.
8 Hebrews 8:9–10.
9 Romans 7:6.
10 The following points are condensed from Wayne Grudem’s Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), chapter 8.
11 1 Corinthians 7:18–19.
12 Hebrews 13:15.
13 Romans 12:1.
14 Colossians 2:16–17.
15 Mark 7:14–15.
16 Romans 13:1–2.
17 1 Peter 2:13–14.
18 Galatians 3:19.
19 Galatians 3:24–25.
20 John 8:46.
21 1 Peter 2:22.
22 1 John 3:5.
23 Hebrews 4:15.
24 Colossians 2:11.
25 Matthew 11:28.
26 John 18:36.
27 2 Timothy 3:16–17.
28 Romans 15:4.
29 1 Corinthians 10:11.
30 Exodus 20:3.
31 Romans 1:25.
32 Ephesians 5:5. See also 1 Corinthians 5:10–11, Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:20, 22:15.
33 Exodus 20:4–5.
34 Romans 1:21–23.
35 Exodus 20:7.
36 2 Peter 2:12.
37 Exodus 20:8–11.
38 Exodus 20:12.
39 Romans 1:29–30.
40 1 Timothy 1:9.
41 2 Timothy 3:2.
42 Exodus 20:13.
43 Romans 1:29.
44 Matthew 15:19.
45 Exodus 20:14.
46 Romans 13:9, James 2:11.
47 1 Corinthians 5:1.
48 1 Corinthians 10:8.
49 1 Corinthians 6:13.
50 Exodus 20:15.
51 Romans 13:9.
52 Ephesians 4:28.
53 James 5:4, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, Titus 2:9–10.
54 Exodus 20:16.
55 Ephesians 4:25.
56 Colossians 3:9.
57 1 Timothy 5:13.
58 Exodus 20:17.
59 Colossians 3:5.
60 Romans 1:29.