The Problem of Living Under the Old Testament Law

Title: The Problem of Living Under the Old Testament Law
Category: Theology
Subject: Old Testament Versus New Testament

The Problem of Living Under the Old Testament Law


Have you ever wondered, how the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible is applicable to  Christians? How do we interpret and apply the Old Testament to the New Testament believer? Can we pray the same imprecatory prayers, David and OT saints prayed in the Psalms? Since Christian’s primary citizenship is in heaven, how do we view our country and the government? These questions are very relevant to a New Testament believer.

As we observe history, we can assume that the Crusaders in the Middle-Ages used the Old Testament as their support for retaking Palestine from the Ottoman Turks. They fought in the name of God. The European migrants to the Americas may have viewed the American Indians as Canaanites to be eradicated without mercy. Christians in the Southern United States may have viewed the blacks as the children of Ham and Canaanites, and found justification for the slavery. Misunderstanding the Old Testament is the main reason for many of the heresies that caused untold miseries. Therefore, we must have a proper hermeneutics and application of the Old Testament to understand the message of Christ. Some Evangelical Christians who view the government as theocratic. The Old Testament principles of patriotism and nationalism are falsely applied to those who claim to be believers.

Though Paul used his Roman Citizenship to assert his right to the Philippian Jailor, but when he wrote the letter to the Philippians, he reminded that “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ., who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory (Philippians 3:20-21). In India, where Christians are a minority and persecuted, there is no temptation to treat their opponents as enemies. Jesus wants to love our enemies and be the salt and light of this world.

Christians are supposed to be living under the New Testament Principles. However, we see many are still living under the Old Testament. One of the verses commonly quoted by Prosperity Theologians is Malachi 3:10 “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” This prophecy is given in the context of the Israelites who returned from Babylon, who were neglecting the upkeep and care of the temple. The New Testament principles of giving are found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 given in the context of the collection, which Paul was making for the famine relief in Jerusalem. Though the principle of tithing is a good one, we cannot apply legalistically in the New Testament. Christ came to fulfill the Law and he interpreted many of the Old Testament Laws giving emphasis to the motives rather than external adherence. Mosaic Law was replaced by the New Covenant promise. Paul talked about this in Romans 7 and Galatians 3. The Deuteronomic principles of curses and blessings are replaced by the Covenant of Grace. There are some Christians who consider the Old Testament as a Jewish book and never read or preach from it.

There are others who do not consider the dispensational difference between the Old and the New and try to conveniently apply the verses from the Old Testament as if they are promises or commandments given to the church. These are two extremes. The correct use of the Old Testament is what Paul stated in I Corinthians 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, “on whom the end of the ages have come”. The church should view the Old Testament as God’s dealings with Israel as the chosen nation. Christ came to fulfill the promises and prophecies in the Old Testament. He is the mediator of a better covenant. While we apply the principles from the Old Testament, it must be viewed as past history. Also, certain principles, such as salvation by faith and election are eternal. Abraham was able to view the eternal city and considered the material promises of land as temporary and lived there as a pilgrim and a sojourner.

The Roman Catholic Church, since the time of St. Augustine’s book, “City of God”, propagated A-millennial Theology. This is also referred to as Replacement Theology. According to this view, the Church replaced Israel. Therefore, all the promises made to Israel are annulled and it is applied to the Church. But this is strongly opposed by Paul, “Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, And this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, The deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:24-25). Parts of the Old Testament prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. The Second Coming of Christ and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth are yet to be fulfilled. Therefore, Old Testament is to be studied with this dispensational truth in mind.

Romans 7 and Galatians 3

Paul used the example of marriage to illustrate the fact that we as Christians are to live according to the New Testament. When the husband or wife dies, the living partner is free to get married. The Law of Marriage dies with the death of one of the partners. Likewise, when a person comes to Christ, if he was a Jew, the Old Testament dies and he should walk in the newness of life in Christ. He is no longer  bound by the Old Testament regulations such as circumcision, dietary regulations and ritualistic cleansing. The Old Testament regulations were like the teaching methods used by the Nursery School Teacher in teaching concepts to children. She may use object lessons to teach the principle of numbers. Once the concept is understood, the objects will have no value. Old Testament is a shadow of things to come. Sabbath Day regulation was to teach the principle of rest. The festivals in the Old Testament were given to teach about Christ and His ministry. The dietary regulations were given to teach the principle of separation and sanctification. The cleansing rituals were to give the principle of holiness. The temple and priesthood were given to illustrate the person and work of Christ.

Paul used the illustration of death and the cancellation of the Law of marriage, to show our life in Christ. All decedents of Adam inherit the sinful at birth. When a person is born again, he will come to inherit a new nature. However, his Old nature will continue to be part of the earthly body till the time of death. Sanctification is putting to death the Old Nature, and allowing the New Nature to take charge in a person’s life. This is a daily action till he dies. As long as we are living in our physical body, this conflict will continue. But one day, we shall receive the heavenly bodies and get rid of this fleshly body. Then we will not have the temptation of the Old nature. Paul experienced this conflict and all believers will experience the temptations coming from our self throughout our life. An unbeliever has only the old nature and he does not have this conflict. Some have argued that Paul was describing the conflict prior to his conversion. But such a conflict was not possible for an unsaved person. Paul is giving us the reality of sin and its effect in the life of a believer. It is possible for a believer to live a victorious Christian life when one walks in the Spirit (Romans 8). Underestimating the presence of sin and its power over our sinful flesh will lead to serious consequence. A daily crucifixion of our sinful nature and identifying with the liberating force of Christ comes from a reckoning (Gal. 2:20).

Grace living is liberating but legalistic religion leads one to bondage. The problem of the rich young ruler was that he kept the law legalistically. But when Christ asked about the question of his wealth, he went away sad. He was coveting the wealth and his motive was not right according to Christ. Paul says that God will judge the motives of every man’s heart and we should obey the commandments from the heart. So, He summarized the Ten Commandments into two, “Loving your God with all your heart and Loving your neighbor as yourself”. This is inward religion and only God can judge one’s love.

It is told that there are three kinds of dogs in the world, the first is the legalistic kind, that needs to be always on the leash, otherwise it will bite people or run away. The second is the antinomian type, that is free to roam around the neighborhood, chase rabbits, eat trash, until the city dogcatcher comes to take it away.  The third kind is the obedient dog that walks with the master without any leash and looks at the master’s face when it was tempted to chase a rabbit. His relationship with the master is one of trust and devotion. A sanctified believer is like the obedient dog to its master.

A story is told of a villager who would take his two dogs to the city for a show every week where the people bet on which of them would win in the fight. The villager would make sure that the winner be alternated. So, after some time the city people asked, how he accurately predicted the winner every week. He said the winner was fed and the loser was starved. If we feed on the old self, it will win every time. But if we feed on the new self, it will win. The conflict in Christian life is real, but the victory for the new can easily be predicted if we feed the new nature.


We, the believers in Christ are under grace and not under the Law of Moses. We still have to obey the commandments of God, but through the Spirit of God and inwardly give emphasis to the motives and not just obeying the letter of the Law. Christ set a much higher standard compared to the Old Testament. If committing adultery was sin in the Old Testament, looking at a woman to lust after her is adultery of the heart according to the Sermon on the Mount. Food that we eat does not pollute a us, but a dirty conscience would. Washing of the body does not cleanse the believer, but speaking edifying words would. Instead of washing the outside of the vessels, one should be careful about the thoughts and feelings. In short, Christians should surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees. This righteousness is inward and spiritual.

Prosperity Gospel proponents are taking the Old Testament promises and applying to believers today without any regard to the teaching of the New Testament. God has promised eternal life to those who believe the gospel (John 3:16). But sufferings, persecution and death can happen to a believer in this life (John 15:20). We walk by faith and not by sight. If health, wealth, prosperity and escape from death are guaranteed in this life for those who believe, a lot of people would come to Christ for the wrong reasons. Salvation is offered to those who believe in the gospel. The motive is the most important factor in the life and ministry of a New Testament believer.