A lot of folks struggle with how to hold the God of the Old Testament in relationship with the God of the New Testament. A frequent refrain is “I’m more a New Testament God type of guy.” However, this separating of God into two separate deities is one of the oldest heresies of the early church. To dismiss the Old Testament God as a God of wrath and vengeance in order to focus solely upon the New Testament God misses the fundamental, singular story God has been writing since creation in order to recapture our hearts.
Last year my family bought me a puzzle of the Grand Canyon. This thousand piece puzzle took us months to complete. It was the hardest puzzle for us to complete, but like every puzzle we started it in the same manner. We built the edges first. We focused on the boundaries. We established the parameters. Once that was in place we were able to see how all of the other pieces fell into place.
This is how the Old Testament works. It was written in order to set the boundaries and parameters for us to fully understand grace. I like to say “Grace is getting what you do not deserve.” Therefore, in order to appreciate Grace we have to recognize that we do not deserve it. It is unmerited, un-earnable and unachievable by human effort.
The Old Testament law establishes the boundaries through which God expects humanity to reside – and it shows our persistent failures and shortcomings so that we can recognize that we are creatures dependent and in need of God. In the Garden we wanted to seek our independence; therefore, God had to remind us – and sometimes through harsh means – that we are dependent upon Him.
Paul beautifully wrestles with this in Romans 7 when he writes:
“For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire…when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”
In other words – I really would not have known what I was doing – desiring my neighbor’s life – was a corresive and destructive behavior, until I reflected upon the commandment not to covet. Then once I realized this was not good for me, I began to see how I coveted so much. I discovered that comparison is the thief of joy. And with joy robbed from my life, I was dead to myself and others.
The commandment established a boundary, and without that boundary we would have never realized we are dead in our sin and in need of Savior.
The story of Jesus Christ makes zero sense without the Old Testament. A God of the New Testament alone is a God who leaves us as He found us, and we remain unchanged, independent creatures, satisfied with our mediocre lives, layering religious practices onto lifestyles we have already chosen for ourselves.