You’ve probably never paid much attention to this difference, but I am persuaded that it is a notable one. Many bible teachers who have been accused of promoting moralism and social reform at the expense of the Gospel often tend to use many Old Testament examples to make their cases. On the other hand, those teachers who have been accused of promoting apathy and too much liberalism in the Christian life tend to use many New Testament passages in their sermons. This difference in emphasis could be merely coincidental, but there’s something here that cannot simply be overlooked.
THE LAW JUNKIES
Do your homework, go out and look for sermons from teachers who have been accused of teaching moralism, personal improvement and social change at the expense of the Gospel. They often tend to use Old Testament stories and narratives to emphasize their points. They will often point to the obedience of Noah, the faith of Abraham, the perseverance of Jacob, the boldness of David, the purity of Daniel…. as examples. They will usually pick out events and decisions made in the lives of these Old Testament heroes as examples to emulate. On a social level, such teachers will often refer to the theocracy of Israel as the imperative of how Christians ought to live out their faith in the public arena.
THE GRACE JUNKIES
On the other hand, those who have been accused of emphasizing grace, apathy towards personal holiness and indifference to social reform, tend to focus on the Epistles of Paul and generally the Old Testament. They will often keep coming around to the teachings on forgiveness, love, tolerance and grace. They will seldom call people to action regarding their personal holiness. And when they do, it is always cushioned by a reminder of Grace and the imputed righteousness of Christ, lest the hearers focus too much on obedience and become legalists.
THE JESUS PARADIGM
Apostle John, in the poetic introductory chapter of his Gospel narrative, says about Jesus Christ;
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” [John 1:14,16,17]
John makes a strong contrast between Moses and Jesus. He says that the law came through Moses. Paul, in another part gives us a glimpse into the purpose of this law that came through Moses; “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” (Rom 5:20a) In other words, the law of Moses was given, not so that we can blindly obey it, or obey it at any cost, the law was given so that we could realize our hopelessness in trying to obey it. The initial focus of the law of Moses is therefore not to seek to please God through keeping the commandments, but to realize our total inability in obeying it. To realize that, even when we keep it perfectly, God is still far from pleased with us.
In the same passage, Paul provides a counter-balance; “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 5:20b-21). Our inability to keep the law of God should lead us to a new realization, that it is only through Jesus Christ can we have any hope of pleasing God. The Gospel leads us to look to Jesus as our only hope of salvation. The Gospel also leads us to look to Jesus as our only hope for sanctification. The Gospel changes the paradigm by making us realize that Jesus is not the New Testament version of Joseph, or Daniel, Jesus is the point of Joseph and Daniel.
Jesus is more than just a good moral example, more than a character to emulate. He is the point and definition of goodness.
GRACE AND TRUTH
What does all this mean? It means that any teaching on the relevance or application of Old Testament narratives and examples that fails to mention the role of Jesus as Savior and Mediator is an incomplete teaching. It is a half-truth. There’s nothing encouraging about the impressive obedience of Joseph or the super-human integrity of Daniel if these are not presented in light of Jesus Christ. Therefore, any teacher that praises the morality of Joseph without also highlighting Joseph’s need for Jesus is preaching a half-truth. Similarly, any teacher who is highlighting Paul’s need for Jesus without highlighting Paul’s obedience is also preaching an incomplete message.
The Old Testament law ought to lead us to Jesus, by making us realize our need of Him. The New Testament grace ought to lead us to a different law, the perfect law of liberty, by making us realize our freedom to obey. A freedom purchased by Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.
For the fame of His name,