Been talking with a number of Christian friends recently and Jenny and I are beginning to run into this conversation more frequently. Actually, this conversation takes place a lot with non-Christian friends as well.
A: The Bible says to do this.
B: Yeah, but that was the Old Testament. We’re in the New Testament times.
A: We’re not supposed to do this.
B: How do you know?
A: Because it doesn’t specifically say so in the Bible (or New Testament).
I’m sure you’ve had these types of conversations before, especially if you are a Christian with non-Christian friends or friends that subscribe to a different denomination of Christianity.
This had got me thinking and I’ve come up with the following Venn diagram.
Here’s my claim.
There are specific things that in the Old and New Testaments, God gave instructions on what TO DO and what NOT TO DO. There are these places of overlapping areas which are also pretty clearly stated which I’ve labeled with letters. I’ll try to think of some examples of each.
A) God Said “Don’t Do” in both OT and NT.
Pretty much any time Jesus referenced OT commandments, you could put into this category. For example, Do Not Murder. (Matthew 5:21 Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Jesus expands our understanding that Murder is not just the physical act of taking someone’s life, but that long before you pull the trigger, if you have hatred in your heart, you are already guilty of the same sin.
B) God Said “Do This” in both OT and NT.
Again, anytime Jesus or the Apostles referenced the OT as our duty, you could put here. For example, Honor your Father and your Mother. (Ephesians 6:3 Deuteronomy 5:16) aka. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
C) God Said “Don’t Do This” in the OT, but then said “Do This” in the NT.
This is where the death and resurrection of Christ changed the original Abrahamic covenant with God’s people and established a New covenant with both the Jew and the Gentile. I think of Peter dancing the fine line between eating with Gentiles and refraining from them depending on the company he was with and how Paul rebuked him. (Galatians 2:11-13) This despite his vision of eating the unclean meat (ie. preaching to Gentiles) (Acts 10:9-15).
But even a more basic level is the fact that we are now able to approach boldly the throne of grace, to call God “Abba Father”, and to go to Him with our prayers and supplications. To do so in the OT would mean immediate death.
D) God Said “Do This” in the OT, but then said “Don’t Do / No Longer Required to Do This” in the NT.
Most of this is in the same vein as C. Specifically, I think of physical circumcision in the OT as a requirement vs. the NT circumcision of the heart. I also think of observances of the Sabbath and the Passover.
So far, I think these are pretty easy to discuss because these are clearly described in both the OT and NT.
NOW. Here’s where it gets tricky.
What about all those areas in the Red and Green OT circles that are not specifically mentioned in the Blue and Purple NT circles? And what about the things that aren’t found in any of the circles?
Here are a couple of examples I hear a lot:
- Worship with instruments (Psalm 98:4-6). No mention in NT?
- Tattoos / body piercings (Leviticus 19:28). NT?
- The dreaded blending of wool and linen fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11). NT?
- Tithes and Offerings. NT?
Again, then there are things that are not mentioned specifically anywhere.
- Sunday evening / Wed night / Friday night worship / Bible Study gatherings
- Sunday School (particularly age-segregated)
- Proper church attire
- Disciplining of children
And the lists can go on and on.
Now, I have an opinion about each of these bullets. And most of my opinions are based on what I believe the Bible is teaches me is right living.
But as a Christian, I think it’s my responsibility to take extreme caution in stamping anything that’s not specifically written as “Thus Saith the Lord”.
So what is one to do? How can we discern what TO DO, what NOT TO DO, and what we’re ALLOWED TO DO but not necessarily commanded? What parts of the OT still apply and what doesn’t?
There are a couple of key principles that I’ve used to guide me through the confusion.
1. God Does Not Change. (Malachi 3:6)
The nature of God does not change because to do so would imply He made a mistake. So when you see something in the OT, you have to ask yourself in light of the New Covenant, why would God create that commandment? What does it say of God’s nature?
2. Christ’s Death and Resurrection gave us Freedom from the burden of the Law. (Galatians 5:1)
Christ died and was resurrected once for all to save us from the requirements of sacrifice as a result of our sin. He paid the price for us not only to roll our sins forward for another year, but to wipe them out completely and wash us clean.
We are not given freedom to sin in order that grace may abound. We are still called to be holy as God is holy. The freedom we have received does not change God’s law. As Christ stated, He did not come to abolish the Law put to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).
4. There is permissible, there is good, and there is best.
Our conscience, grounded in Biblical wisdom, is to be our guide ultimately in the “grey areas”. As Romans 14 reads, all things must be done paying particularly close attention as not to cause a weaker or less mature Christian to stumble (1 Corinthians 8). If we are truly considerate of our brothers and sisters needs above our own, we must recognize that our freedom can also be a stumbling block for those around us.
Finally, 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 reads:
23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
Before we start drawing lines in the sand and declaring our camp is more righteous than yours, please consider what divisions these distinctions create in the body of Christ. Are they profitable or are they simply our pride getting in the way of fellowship?