How Does the Old Testament Apply to Me?

May 25, 2019 | Brian Bill

Earlier this week I tried to start our 2006 Honda Odyssey and all I heard was “click.”  Not knowing much about cars, I opened the hood and shook a few things to see if anything was loose (I see other guys do this).  I think I impressed Beth when I got out the battery charger and hooked it up.  After a couple hours, it still wouldn’t start.  The only sound was “click.”  I called our mechanic and he said it sounded like the starter was bad.  After getting it towed in, he confirmed his initial diagnosis and scrubbed in for starter surgery.  

A mechanic I am not so I did some research and learned: “A starter is very important…to prepare an engine to start, it must be cranked over so that fuel and air are sucked into cylinders. This mixture of fuel and air is then compressed in the combustion chambers preparing it to be ignited by a spark provided by the ignition system.”

I’m not sure I understand all that but here’s what I did find out: Our van was never going to start without a new starter!  The question we’re addressing this weekend is, “How does the Old Testament apply to me?”  I want to suggest that without the Old Testament, Christianity would not have started and without God’s revelation reviving you there won’t be spiritual combustion in your life.  

For our main point today, I’ve adapted a phrase attributed to Augustine: The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.

Last weekend we unpacked the opening section of Genesis and learned, “If you want a good ending, begin with the beginning.”  Next weekend we’ll be tackling the question, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”  Parents, please be advised I will be preaching on topics your young children might not be ready for.  Having said that, you may want to consider having them here if they’re already talking about it.

I want to say again how privileged I am to be one of your pastors.  Your desire to grow in your understanding and application of God’s Word is quite humbling.  So many of you come ready to dive deep each weekend.  In an effort to help you drill down even more, I want to make sure you’re aware of some resources.

Our question today is very important because some Christians and many non-Christians have “unhitched” themselves from the Old Testament.  Here’s the general outline we’ll follow.

  1. Why does the Old Testament matter?
  2. What Old Testament laws are to be followed today?

Why Does the Old Testament Matter?

A popular pastor and Christian author recently made this unsettling appeal to church leaders: “Would you consider unhitching your teaching of what it means to follow Jesus from all things old covenant?”  He believes this is necessary because “when it comes to stumbling blocks to faith, the Old Testament is right up there at the top of the list.”  He believes when people struggle to believe, “the Old Testament is usually the culprit.” 

I strongly disagree.  Let’s consider why we must have a robust view of the Old Testament.

  • The Old Testament is an integral part of the inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word of God.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, 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 complete, equipped for every good work.”  BTW, the Old Testament makes up 75% of the Bible!  
  • The Old Testament reveals the attributes and actions of God.  Deuteronomy 5:24“Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness…
  1. The Old Testament helps us see how God has chosen Israel to be a light to the nations.  Psalm 147:19-20: “He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel.  He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules.  Praise the Lord!”
  2. The Old Testament lays the foundation for the teachings and the events found in the New Testament.  In fact, all but 12 chapters in the New Testament reference the Old Testament.  If we don’t saturate ourselves in the Old Testament, we won’t fully understand substitutionary atonement (see Isaiah 53:1-12), the priesthood of all believers and the coming kingdom of God.  
  3. The entire Old Testament points to Christ.  During our Easter services we were reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 24:27: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Knowing the Old Testament enables us to see how hundreds of precise prophecies are fulfilled in Christ.
  4. The Old Testament was the Bible Jesus read, studied and memorized.  Jesus had a very high view of the Scriptures and He expects His followers will as well.  When He was tempted in the wilderness, He quoted from the Old Testament three times.  Here’s the first one found in Matthew 4:4: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 
  5. The Old Testament provides vivid examples of faithfulness and failures of real people.  1 Corinthians 10:11: These things happened to them as examples for us.  They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.”  In verse 13 we read these examples give us help in temptation.
  6. The Old Testament gives us hope when we go through trials.  Listen to Romans 15:4:  For 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.”  Why would we unhitch from something that gives us hope?  BTW, studies show young people today are the most digitally connected generation while also being the most anxious and depressed.
  7. The Old Testament helps us grow in our faith.  Proverbs 15:32 is an example: Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”  I like what J.I. Packer said about the wisdom literature: Psalms teach us how to worship; Proverbs, how to behave; Job, how to suffer; Song of Solomon, how to love; and Ecclesiastes, how to live.”
  8. The Old Testament challenges us to be concerned about matters of justice.  We’re called to care for the little, the least and the lost.  Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Speaking of justice, the Illinois House and Senate will adjourn for the summer on May 31.  I encourage you to contact your representatives about the Parental Notice of Abortion Repeal Bill and the Late-Term Abortion No Restrictions Bill.  Beth and I sent emails on Friday.

I like what Steven Cole writes: “Without the Old Testament you lack a major part of God’s revelation that He gave for teaching about Himself, about man, sin, and salvation.”

The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.

You may find this simple summary of Scripture helpful.

  • Old Testament: Anticipation
  • Gospels: Manifestation
  • Acts: Proclamation
  • Epistles: Explanation
  • Revelation: Consummation

Let’s move now to the second question.

What Old Testament laws are to be followed today?

Many non-Christians like to say Christians just pick and choose what parts of the Old Testament to follow.  This was popularized in a scene from the White House drama The West Wing after a talk show host defended a verse from Leviticus dealing with homosexuality.  This is how Martin Sheen, who plays the President, sarcastically responded:

“I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.  She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleaned the table when it was her turn.  What would a good price for her be?

My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath.  Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death.  Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?

Here’s one that’s really important ‘cause we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. (Leviticus 11:7)  If they promise to wear gloves can the Washington Redskins still play football?  Can Notre Dame?  Can West Point?

Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting different crops side by side? 

Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads?”

J.D. Greear summarizes the challenge we might hear: “When the Bible talks about certain sexual behaviors as sin, you quote that; but when it says not to eat shellfish or that you should execute people for breaking the Sabbath, you just ignore it.  Are you just picking and choosing what suits you best?”

On a more humorous note, I was talking to a pastor friend about the sermon this week and he mentioned the only Old Testament law he teaches is tithing!

Since this is such a common question, especially when it comes to passages that deal with homosexuality, let’s take some time to understand a key interpretative principle.  According to Genesis 12:1-3, God selected the nation of Israel to be His “special” people.  They were therefore called to be holy – separate and distinct from the nations around them.  The covenant God gave through Moses was like a treaty with the Jewish people.  There are three types of Old Testament laws that regulated almost every aspect of life in Old Testament times.

  • Civil Laws
  • Ceremonial Laws
  • Moral Laws

1. Civil Laws. 

These laws provided a unique identity for Israel as a nation under God’s reign and rule and brought order to the national life of Israel.  These included guidelines for waging war, settling of disputes, land use, and restitution for a man gored by an ox.  These laws not only governed behaviors, but also punishments for breaking them.

Let me address a question that several in the congregation submitted: “What’s up with all the violence in the Old Testament?”  Here’s a summary of the answer found on Got Questions:

A basic knowledge of Canaanite culture reveals its inherent moral wickedness.  The Canaanites were a brutal, aggressive people who engaged in bestiality, incest, and even child sacrifice.  Deviant sexual acts were the norm.”  The Canaanites’ sin was so repellent that God said in Leviticus 18:25, “The land vomited out its inhabitants.” 

According to Genesis 15:13, God gave the Canaanite people more than 400 years to repent. Except in rare instances, the Canaanites continued their rebellion against God until the bitter end.  Individual Canaanites, like Rahab in Jericho, found mercy after repenting. While it is true that God’s holy character demands that sin be punished, His grace and mercy remain extended to those who are willing to repent and be saved.  The Canaanite destruction provides us with a sober reminder that, while our God is gracious and merciful, He is also a God of holiness and wrath.

2. Ceremonial Laws.


These laws were at the heart of worship in the Old Testament and were often translated as “statutes.”  These include regulations for religious feasts and festivals (see Exodus 23) and for worship at the tabernacle and temple.  Dealing with sacrifices and ceremonies, they contain regulations for circumcision, clean and unclean foods, how to dress, how to maintain ritual purity, and guidelines for priests.  

3. Moral Laws.


These laws are often translated as “ordinances,” most clearly set forth in the 10 Commandments.  These laws represent righteous and eternal standards dealing with ethics and sexual conduct, which are to govern our relationship with God and others.

J.D Greear offers this insight about moral laws: “These reflect God’s character, and since his character doesn’t change, his views on morality don’t either.  In fact, whenever Jesus mentioned the moral laws, he either reaffirmed them or intensified them!  To follow Jesus is to love what he loved, including the moral law.”

The civil and ceremonial laws are no longer in effect because all these regulations pointed ahead to Jesus Christ and have been fulfilled by Him.  In Mark 7:19 we read, “Thus he declared all foods clean.”  This is also fleshed out in Colossians 2:16-17: “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.  These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”  

To discover more about how Jesus is the final sacrifice I commend the Book of Hebrews to you.  If you want to learn more about how faith trumps the Law, read through the Book of Galatians.  In Galatians 4:9-11 the Apostle Paul warns Christians that if they focus on keeping the commands related to feasts and festivals, they are in danger of hearing a “click” when they try to start their Christians lives: “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?  You observe days and months and seasons and years!  I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”

In John 2:21, Jesus spoke of His body as the true Temple and in Matthew 5:17 He said these stunning words: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  In John 19:30 He cried out triumphantly, “It is finished!”  The price has been completely paid.  The work of redemption has been fully finished.  Immediately the thick curtain in the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), signifying we now have unfettered access to God the Father, no longer needing to make sacrifices or go through a priest to be pardoned.  Is that not great news!

The New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed.

Application of the Law

As you read and seek to apply the Old Testament, you may find these metaphors helpful.

  • Map.  God’s law teaches us how to live like God wants us to.  Psalm 119:92: “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”
  • Muzzle.  The Law can also keep us from doing wrong.  According to Romans 13, as a deterrent, the law can keep depravity in check, which is why our country is sliding south as laws become more immoral.  After the giving of the Law, we read these words in Exodus 20:20: “Do not be afraid.  God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
  • Mirror.  James 1:23 describes the law like a mirror that shows us our sin.  Romans 7:7 says: “Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law.  For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’”
  • Master.  The Law can bring bondage because it’s impossible to keep.  Galatians 3:10: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’”  The Law convicts and it condemns.
  • Mentor.  The commands are not like rungs on a ladder one must climb to get to heaven.  Instead, the law points us to Christ.  Galatians 3:24: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”  One of the most important uses of the laws in the Old Testament is to show sinners their need for the Savior.  In fact, it’s important to preach the law in order to reach the lost.  People must know they are sinners before they will seek out the Savior.

Jewish religious leaders taught there are 613 laws in the Old Testament.  Jesus teaches they can all be reduced to two commandments: Love God and Love Others.  Listen to Matthew 22:37-40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  

Tim Keller writes, 

“In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live.  The moral law outlines God’s own character – his integrity, love and faithfulness.  And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force.  The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sexual ethic of the Old Testament is restated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11).  If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, this is still in force today.”

Let me say it like this.  Freedom from the Old Testament law is not a license for Christians to relax their moral standards.  In fact, Jesus calls for even greater self-discipline related to sexuality in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The next time someone accuses you of arbitrarily picking and choosing from the Bible, be ready to talk about the differences between civil, ceremonial and moral laws.  You aren’t being fickle; you are being faithful!  In summary, go ahead and eat shrimp, barbequed ribs and medium rare steaks without guilt, and by His grace and empowerment live with sexual purity while striving to live out the 10 Commandments, knowing the entire law is summed up by the One who fulfilled all of God’s standards

The 10 Commandments are important and are to be followed.  However, no matter how hard you try to keep them you will inevitably fall short.  The more you try to not covet, the stronger the temptation becomes to want more.  The more you try to not lie, the more you find yourself exaggerating.  

I heard about a guy who bought a new refrigerator and didn’t know what to do with his old one so he put it in his front yard with a sign that said, “Free to good home.  You want it – you take it.”  For three days the fridge sat there without even one person looking at it.  He wondered if people thought it too good to be true.  So he took the old sign off and made a new one: “Fridge for sale – $50.”  The next day someone stole it!

There’s something within us that seeks to do what we’re not supposed to do, isn’t there?  One of the purposes of God’s commands is to show we fall short of His holy standards.  We miss the mark of His perfection.  Even if we keep some of them some of the time, or even most of them most of the time, it’s still not enough.

God turns up the heat in James 2:10: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”  That means it’s not enough to just try to live up to God’s standards.  God says if you mess up just one time, you’re guilty of breaking the entire law.

No one can say they’ve kept all of God’s commands every day of their lives.  If you do, then they’re breaking the ninth Commandment about lying!   Since the 10 Commandments are important and at the same time impossible to keep, God wants us to follow the Only One who kept every one of them completely.  In other words, we need to put our faith in the impeccable one — Jesus Christ.  The word “impeccable” means without sin or compromise.  

Before we end this service, I would be doing you a disservice if you just left here trying to be good.  Some of you have not yet put your faith in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  Maybe you’ve trying to follow all the rules and regulations or maybe you’ve given up trying.  You may sense things aren’t quite right and maybe even you’re drawn to Jesus.  But your goodness isn’t near good enough.  When you try to get started all you’ll hear is “click.”

If there were a sign posted on the lawn at Calvary it might read something like this: “Salvation is free – you want it, you take it.”  You don’t have to steal it because it’s already been paid for.  But it won’t become yours until you can say, “Salvation is free – and it’s for me.” 

I appreciate Ken Ham’s summary of God’s grand meta-narrative as unfolded in the Scriptures…

In Genesis we learn that God created a perfect world, but Adam and Eve chose not to obey God’s command and marred the world by their sin.  Their children likewise chose disobedience, as did their children after them.  Eventually the world became so wicked that God judged it with a global Flood.  Only righteous Noah and his family survived. But, just a few generations later, mankind rebelled against God again.  Eventually God chose a covenant people, Israel, for Himself and gave them His law.  They failed to live by it time and time again.  This pattern of failing to keep God’s law repeats itself throughout the whole Old Testament.  The history of mankind and the nation of Israel clearly show that we cannot keep God’s commands and laws on our own.

With this backdrop, the New Testament teaching of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes sense.  Salvation is by faith alone (Ephesians 2:8), in Christ alone (Acts 4:12), because sinful human beings have fallen short of God’s law (Romans 3:23) and can never keep it.  So Christ kept it for us (Matthew 5:17).  What we could never do on our own, Christ did for us because it’s impossible for us to earn our own salvation (Ephesians 2:9).  Throughout the Bible we see the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation that culminates in the person and work of Christ.  It’s about Jesus from beginning to end.

What about you?  Do you need a new “starter” today?  Here’s how you can respond.

  • Acknowledge the wretchedness of your own unrighteousness and own the fact you cannot keep God’s laws.  
  • Believe that Jesus died in your place to justify you, to redeem you, and to forgive you.
  • Confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.  Forsake all else and follow Jesus with everything you have.  Repent of your sins and receive the Savior.

On Thursday I met with a woman dying from pancreatic cancer.  When I explained the gospel message she said she was ready to believe and receive Jesus Christ.  With her daughter sitting next to her, I led in prayer phrase-by-phrase and asked the woman to repeat after me.  When I prayed, the daughter repeated each phrase out loud, followed by her mother.  When we were finished I asked the mother if she meant what she had prayed and she said yes.  I then turned to the daughter and she said she had received Christ as well!

I want to give you that same opportunity right now…

Lord, I admit I am a sinner and deserve your just judgment.  I repent from trying to follow my own way and now turn to you as the only way.  I believe Jesus died in my place on the cross and rose again on the third day and now I receive Him into my life.  Please save me from my sins and from Your righteous wrath.  I want to be born again so I place all my trust in You and You alone.  If there’s anything in my life You don’t like, please get rid of it.   I pray this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Closing Challenge

This is now the third week we’ve focused on the authority of Scripture.  As a way to prepare us for the sermons still to come, I want to read part of a post by Tim Challies called, “If the Bible is Wrong, I’m So, So Wrong.”  When I’m finished I’m going to ask you to say, “Amen” loudly if you agree.  Please stand.

When it comes to the Bible, we’ve all got a choice to make.  We can take the Bible on our terms, or on its terms.  We can choose to follow it some of the way, or we can choose to follow it all the way.  We can dabble in it, or we can dive deep into it.  At some point we have to choose.

Many people choose to relate to the Bible like one item at a buffet.  They’ll put a bit of Bible on their plate, then also a bit of this and a bit of that.  But as time goes by and I continue to live out my little life in this world, I become more and more convinced that there’s nothing better than to go all-in with the Bible.  I’ve come to realize I’m so all-in that if the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong. In fact, if the Bible is wrong, I’m so wrong, completely wrong, shamefully wrong, devastatingly wrong, and wrong about all that really matters in life and death.

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the origins of this world…If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the origins of humanity…If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the purpose of humanity.  The Bible tells me that mankind was put on this earth to bring glory to God…If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the purpose of family. The Bible tells me that marriage exists to serve as a miniature of the relationship of God to his people through the complementarity of husband and wife. 

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the great problem and the great need of human beings. The Bible tells me our great problem is that we’ve sinned against a holy God, become rebels against him, and desperately need reconciliation.  We are not good people who make the occasional poor choice, not innocent people who sometimes act ignorantly, but evil people who hate God and our fellow man.  Our great need is not self-esteem or tolerance or new forms of politics or economics, but the forgiveness that comes by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about the future.  The Bible tells me that history will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ who will come to judge the living and the dead…He will come as victorious King, as righteous Judge, to bring some to eternal glory and condemn others to eternal condemnation.

If the Bible is wrong, I’m wrong about today’s most pressing cultural issues: homosexuality, gay marriage…and abortion…

But I’ve made my choice. I’ve examined the evidence and have chosen to believe it’s not wrong, but right.  I’ve chosen to believe it’s good and pure and true, infallible and inerrant and sufficient. I’ve chosen to take it on its own terms, to believe it all the way, to live by its every word.  I’ve chosen to be in—all-in.

If you’re in…all-in, would you say Amen loudly?  And all God’s people said, “AMEN!”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?