December 12, 2017

The Old Testament Law and the Believer (2)

Brian Trainer

This is Part 2 – you can find part 1 here.

The Benefits of the Law

This survey of the positions leads to the question of practicality. In what ways does dispensationalism view the Law of Moses as being beneficial in the life of a New Testament believer?

First, dispensationalists recognize that the Law cannot provide salvation for a man nor can it justify a man before God, but it is a “schoolmaster” which the Holy Spirit utilizes to convict men of sin. In Romans 7 Paul addresses the role of the Law within his own life as an Israelite who was under the Law. “Thou shalt not covet” was the commandment that convicted him of his sinful state and made him alive toward the realization of his spiritual death. The Old Testament Law, specifically the Ten Commandments, served as written covenant for Israel of the moral law of God that is placed within each man’s heart (Rom. 3:19).[1] In like manner New Testament believers can utilize the Law as a tool in gospel proclamation. The Ten Commandments reflect the universal, timeless moral requirements that God places upon every man. A man’s conscience in conjunction with the Law exposes his shortcomings and renders him dead before God. As the Holy Spirit utilizes the Law in that manner, Paul calls the Law “holy, and just, and good” (Rom. 7:12).

Second, the reading of Old Testament Law is profitable in the life of a New Testament believer if the exegete asks the right questions of it. As noted above, the New Testament believer should not seek to place himself under the Law as if it were binding upon him. The goal is to recognize the timeless principle upon which the Law is based. For example, the following six questions may be helpful when reading the Law and then applying them to a specific text.

1. What did the text mean to the original readers? The starting point for all Biblical interpretation is placing the text in its original context via the crossing of grammatical, cultural, geographical, and historical bridges. A clear understanding of the Law’s intent to the original readers is vital.

2. What does the text teach us about ourselves (humanity)? All good laws reveal the shortcomings of the citizens to whom it applies. For example, speed limits remind us that we are naturally selfish and focused upon our own agenda instead of the safety of others. God’s laws do the same, but with clear perception and direct application.

3. What does the text teach us about God? The Old Testament Law is a revelation of the holiness of God (Lev. 19:2). The foundation for ethical and moral actions prescribed in the Law is the character of God. He is the standard upon which all thoughts, words, and deeds are based.

4. What does the text teach us about our relationships with each other? Much of the Old Testament Law relates to the affairs between fellow members of the people of Israel. Instruction is given on how people are to cooperate with their friends, neighbors, workers, and enemies.

5. What does the text teach us about justice? One purpose of the Law is to establish justice in the land. It provides a framework for understanding ethical priorities and penalties.

6. How can the principles that are derived from these questions be applied in our contemporary context? Direct application of specific Old Testament Law is not valid for a New Testament believer. Yet the absolutes learned about God, humanity, relationships, and justice serve to equip the believer for good works (2 Tim. 3:17).

Utilizing these six questions when reading Deuteronomy 22:8 leads to simple applicable principles: “When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.”

1. Original Readers: The original context instructed all Israelites to build a small wall as a barrier around the flat roof of their homes.

2. Human Nature: The command illustrates the natural selfishness and laziness of man. If no injunction were given, the natural proclivity of man would be to shortchange the building process for sake of his own ease.

3. God’s Character: This command communicates that God’s love for mankind extends to all people in the smallest of details. This instruction is for our personal protection and the protection of our integrity. It connotes God’s concern for the sanctity of life.

4. Responsibility: Our care for neighbors and friends should extend to a watch-care over their safety and a willingness to exert extra effort on their behalf.

5. Justice: Slothfulness and lack of foresight in caring for others can lead to significant consequences. One must fulfill all personal responsibilities lest he be liable for the actions of others.

6. Application: Building a parapet around my roof is not the most likely application of this text in our historical setting. One of several applications may be utilizing my possessions in a manner that always looks out for the welfare of my family, friends, and neighbors.

Asking the right questions allows the Holy Spirit to reveal both the fullness of God’s perfect character and the heinousness of man’s depraved nature. We see ourselves as selfishly motivated in need of directives that teach us to love God and love others. The Law reveals who we are. It is a mirror that exposes our sin and declares us dead.

In like manner, it displays who God is. Indeed His separateness from all manner of sin is highlighted, but also His grace as He seeks the best for His people in all matters of life. His mercy is meted out, and His justice is perfectly measured. It is no wonder that David said, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). David learned who his God was by God’s self-revelation in the Law of Moses.

The third way in which dispensationalists view the Law as being profitable to a New Testament believer is by celebrating this new era of grace. John notes that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The Law at its best exposed man’s sin and God’s holiness; by doing so it brought nothing but a curse to mankind. As we stand now in Christ “the righteousness of the law” is fulfilled (Rom. 8:4). We stand justified in Jesus. The ethical goals of the Law are fulfilled in the believer as he allows the Spirit of God to direct his life in a spirit of love (Gal. 5:13–15; Rom. 8:4; 13:8, 10). The Aaronic priesthood and sacrificial system have been replaced “by a new and living way” (Heb. 10:20). The Law has no more power over me. Dispensationalists recognize the Law as the Word of God to us making it profitable, but not as the Word of God for us as binding.

Old Testament Law is foundational for understanding the history of Israel, the love of the psalmists, the message of the prophets, the life of Christ, and the epistles to the early churches. Law is not always easy reading or preaching. It demands additional study and persevering meditation to unlock its riches. It is not the yoke in which we as New Testament believers are bound, but it is a treasure trove of riches as we seek to know and love our God.

Brian Trainer is the chairman of the Bible and Missions Department of Maranatha Baptist Bible College. He was in pastoral ministry for ten years prior to transitioning to college education for the last ten years. In the summers Brian and his wife, Sherry, travel overseas to teach and lead student mission trips.

(Originally published in FrontLine • July / August 2010. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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  1. The fourth commandment regarding the keeping of the Sabbath is the exception. See From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982). []

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