Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians
The Hebrew language did not have a term for what we know as the new covenant concept of "grace." The Hebrew word hen referred to "favor, pity, good-will, compassion, mercy, kindness, a favorable inclination toward another." Noah, for example, is said to have "found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8), and other Old Testament personalities obviously experienced God's graciousness as well.
To recognize God's graciousness in the Old Testament is not the same as participating in the activity of God in Jesus Christ as "grace" is used in the New Testament. The Greek word charis is employed by Paul and the other New Testament writers to refer to a reality that was altogether new and unique: the "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20) of the "new covenant" (Heb. 8:8), wherein Christians receive "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4) in Christ Jesus.
The deep meaning Paul conveys with the word 'grace' is hardly suggested by the Hebrew word hen, which the LXX translated as charis... It is not surprising that Paul never quotes from the Old Testament in order to establish his use of the word 'grace.
In handling the pre-Christian period of God's relations with Israel,...He (Paul) never cites any Old Testament text for grace.
It is not...that Paul conceives of God as ungracious during the pre-Christian period; Israel had its religious benefits. But 'grace' is so distinctively the mark of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ that he reserves it exclusively for the experiences of Christian men. In other words, 'grace' belongs to the years A.D., not to B.C.
The patriarchs and saints of the Old Testament,... their spiritual life, their union with God, their covenant privileges...constituted at best but an approximation to the grace of the gospel, rather than the actual presence of it in any sense itself.
The Hebrew word hen in the Old Testament referred primarily to an attribute of God, whereas the Greek word charis in the New Testament is used to refer to the new and unique activity of God in Jesus Christ.
Numerous Scriptural affirmation in the New Testament link "grace" to the historically revealed Jesus: "The Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Paul explains to the Jerusalem Council, "we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:11). To the Corinthians Paul writes, "I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 1:4). Paul begins his epistle to the Ephesians "to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). In the second letter to Timothy, Paul writes of God's "own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 1:9), as well as "the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (II Tim. 2:1). The last verse in the Bible commends that "the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all" (Rev. 22:21). This sequence of Scriptures documents that "grace" is specifically identified with the historical person and work of Jesus Christ. There is a specific Christocentric meaning of "grace" in the New Testament.
The Old Testament believers experienced God's graciousness and kindness and favor, but not the specific "grace" of God in Jesus Christ wherein His activity is expressed by the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. Such "grace" of the new covenant was a promise that the Israelite peoples did not receive (Heb. 11:13) nor participate in. God's activity of "grace" in Jesus Christ must not be read back into the Old Testament narrative, for such was "realized", came to pass, happened historically "in Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
The response to God's grace in Jesus Christ is intended to be the human response of "faith." The Hebrew language did not have a word that corresponds with the New Testament idea of "faith" either. An English Bible concordance reveals that the translators of the KJV used the English word "faith" only twice in the entirety of their translation of the Old Testament (Deut. 32:20; Hab. 2:4). James S. Stewart notes that "in neither place is it a strictly accurate translation of the original." In both verses the better translation would be "faithfulness" or "fidelity." The NASB translates four different Hebrew words with the English word "faith" (Deut. 32:51; Job 39:12; Ps. 146:6; Hab. 2:4), and they too would best be translated as "trust," "truth" or "faithfulness
The Old Testament believers responded to God's gracious activity. They believed that God was true, reliable and faithful, and therefore they were convinced of, assented to, and confessed God's Old Testament revelation of Himself. They put their confidence in God and trusted Him. The New Testament Scriptures refer to this response as "faith," and mention specifically the faith of Abraham (Rom. 4:9,12,16; Gal. 3:7,9,11; Heb. 11:8,17; James 2:22,23), Abel (Heb. 11:4), Enoch (Heb. 11:5), Sarah (Heb. 11:11), Isaac (Heb. 11:20), Jacob (Heb. 11:21), Joseph (Heb. 11:22), Moses (Heb. 11:23,24) and Rahab (Heb. 11:31), as well as "Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets" (Heb. 11:32).
The faith-response of the Old Testament believers was not necessarily equivalent to the New Testament response to the "grace" of God in Jesus Christ. The Jewish persons believed and trusted in God based on the revelation given to them, but this was a preliminary form of response based on a preliminary and incomplete revelation and covenant, which was but a pictorial pre-figuring of the completeness of the new covenant in Jesus Christ and the full content of a faith response which receives the divine life of Jesus Christ.
Paul had definitely passed beyond the sphere of hope and promise into that of realized fact. Hence faith was not so much a confidence that God's word would someday be fulfilled, as a recognition that it had been fulfilled already, and fulfilled in a way that claimed the surrender of a man's life in love and gratitude and obedience."
Faith in the New Testament was invested with a fullness of meaning that was not possible in the Old Testament.
There is no doubt that the object of the faith of the Old Testament believers was God and His promised Messiah. "Moses...considered the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Heb. 11:26), but he still "did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11:39). The faith of the Old Testament believers was a prospective faith, believing in the promise of the prospect of the Messiah (for the person and work of Christ was not a "virtual reality" or "prior reality"). Christian faith is a receptive faith that receives the Being and activity of the risen Lord Jesus, the fulfillment of the promise and the provision of divine activity in humanity.
The first element in faith is what we can only call receptivity." New Covenant faith is our receptivity of the presence and activity of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. We "receive Him (John 1:12); we "receive the Spirit" (Gal. 3:2), the Spirit of Christ who is to live out His life in our behavior to the glory of God. Christian faith is the receptivity whereby spiritual union and communion is effected between Christ and the Christian (I Cor. 6:17), and the Divine Being is allowed to function within the human being, which was God's intent for mankind.
It is impossible to legitimately attribute Christian faith to Old Testament believers. The reality of the indwelling spiritual union and communion was not made available until the historic death of Christ for the consequences of sin and the historic resurrection of Christ for the renewal of God's life in man. Christian teachers should be very cautious about utilizing Old Testament believers as allegorical or typological examples of Christian faith, lest they be encouraging what is less than new covenant response to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament believers did indeed have a form of faith that believed and trusted in God, but it was not a spiritually receptive faith, for they "died in faith, without receiving the promises" (Heb. 11:13, 39). The entire thrust of the argument of the "faith chapter" in Hebrews 11 is that in the new covenant we participate in a "better faith" than that exercised in the Old Testament era.
The grace of God in Christ received by faith allows the life of God in Christ to indwell and become functional in the receptive Christian. The commencement of that indwelling and living function is referred to as "regeneration," since the life of God is "brought into being again" within the spirit of man.
The Old Testament never employs the terminology of "regeneration" or being "born" with the spiritual life of God in reference to Old Testament believers. Neither does the New Testament ever apply such terminology to Old Testament personages in the past. "Regeneration" and spiritual life are exclusively related to the unique spiritual union between Jesus Christ and the Christian.
The "Word of God" (Jesus Christ) became incarnate (John 1:14). "In Him was life" (John 1:4). He proclaimed that He was "the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6), and that He "had come that we might have His life" (John 10:10). "Whoever believes in the Son has the eternal life" of Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 36). "He who has the Son has the life" (I John 5:12), and has "passed out of death into life" (I John 3:14). "The Spirit (of Christ) gives life" (II Cor. 3:6), whereby the Christian can "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4), "reign in life through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17), and be "saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10).
The commencement of the presence and activity of Christ's life in the Christian is often referred to with the analogy of "birth" in the New Testament. The Christian is said to be "born again through the living and abiding word of God," i.e. Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:23); "born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (I Peter 1:3). It is important to note in the above quotation from Peter that this initiation of the presence and function of divine life in the Christian is based upon the historic prerequisite of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead unto life, the Christian can "pass out of death into life" (I John 3:14), that by being "born of God" (I John 4:7; John 1:13), "born of the Spirit" of Christ (John 3:6,8), "born from above" (John 3:3,7). "He saved us...by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5).
The Old Testament believers looked forward to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, but they did not "receive the promises" (Heb. 11:13). They responded to the graciousness of the Living God in trusting faith, and "lived" physically, socially, religiously in that old covenant relationship with God, but they did not "pass from death to life" (I John 3:14) spiritually in regeneration whereby the very presence and activity of the life of Jesus Christ became their life (Col. 3:4) during the Old Testament era. It is the unique privilege of Christians within the new covenant to participate in a spiritual union with the life of Jesus Christ, and to be "saved by His life" (Rom. 5:10) as His life is lived out through them.
"Salvation" is another term that some tend to use interchangeably between Old Testament and New Testament. Careful word studies of the numerous Hebrew words translated "save" and "salvation," in comparison with the Greek words sozo and soteria in the New Testament, will reveal that differing concepts are being referred to.
In the Old Testament "salvation" is usually a physical deliverance or rescue. "Save me!" is a common cry for God's help (Ps. 3:7; 6:4; 7:1; 22:21; 54:1; 65:1). The Old Testament believers were often "saved out of their troubles" (Ps. 34:6), "saved out of their distresses" (Ps. 107:13), "saved from their enemies" (Ps. 18:13) and their "adversaries" (Ps. 44:7). The Exodus is a prominent example of God's rescuing and "saving His people out of the land of Egypt" (Jude 5). Noah and his kin were also "saved," delivered, "brought safely through the water" (I Peter 3:20; II Peter 2:5). These are the New Testament references that apply "saved" and "salvation" to Old Testament personages.
Such physical deliverance is certainly not to be equated with the salvation that is effected by the Savior, Jesus Christ, in the new covenant. Jesus "came into the world to save sinners" (I Tim. 1:5), to "save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21), for His very name "Jesus" meant "Jehovah saves." Such a salvation was unknown in the old covenant for the Law could not save from sin. The prophet Jeremiah explained that such a salvation would come when the "Righteous Branch," the "Lord who is our righteousness" would come, and Judah and Israel would be "saved" (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). Jesus Christ the Righteous (I John 2:1) is indeed that promised "righteous Branch of David," the Savior of all mankind. Peter explains that the prophet Joel was also referring that new covenant realization when "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord (Jesus Christ) shall be saved" (Acts 2:21; Joel 2:32; Rom. 10:13).
Salvation is only "through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:9). "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name...by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The Philippian jailor asked "What must I do to be saved?" and Paul replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:30). "By grace you have been saved through faith" (Eph. 2:5,8). "He saved us...by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5,6).
Christian salvation is not just a deliverance or escape from the consequences of sin. Neither is it a static commodity which "Jesus dispenses" as Dispensationalist Darrell Bock indicated when he referred to Jesus as "the divine dispenser of salvation." Salvation is the dynamic process whereby we are "made safe" from the satanic misuse and abuse of humanity, and invested with the very presence and life of the risen Lord Jesus so as to allow the divine character to be lived out to the glory of God. Christian salvation must never be disconnected from the vital and dynamic activity of Jesus Christ the living Savior. We continue to be "saved by his life" (Rom. 5:10) and to "grow in respect to salvation" (I Peter 2:2).
This intimate union with the life of Jesus Christ wherein we are "made safe" from sinful misuse of our being, and the Being of the Savior becomes the functionality of our lives in salvation was an experiential unknown to the Jewish peoples of the Old Testament. It was known only as a prophetic promise yet unrealized, until "the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation to all men" by our "God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:11-13). It is illegitimate to transpose "salvation" to all the Jewish believers of the Old Testament based on an alleged "unconditional promise and covenant" to Abraham, prior to and apart from the historic revelation and redemptive activity of Jesus Christ the Savior.
The foregoing truths of the divine life operative in salvation by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, are all connected to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God and His activity is referred to throughout the Old Testament, but "in the Old Covenant, His work was...altogether different from what it is now." In the Old Testament the Spirit of God was understood as a "divine influence exerted upon the soul of a person." The Spirit of God is reported to have come upon the seventy elders (Numb. 11:17,25), Balaam (Numbers 24:2), Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (Judges 6:34), Jephthah (Judges 11:29), Samson (Judges 14:6,19), Saul (I Sam. 10:2,10; 19:20-23) and David (I Sam. 16:13; to have filled Bezalel (Exod. 31:3; 35:31) and Micah (Micah 3:8); and to have been present and operative in Joseph (Gen. 41:38), Joshua (Numb. 27:18), Daniel (Dan. 4:8,9,18; 6:3) and the prophets (Neh. 9:30; I Peter 1:11). In these latter references the preposition "in" is best understood as referring to "in" the behavior mechanism of their soul, rather than spiritual indwelling. It is doubtful that the prepositions in the foregoing citations should be precisely differentiated, for they all refer to a temporary action of the Spirit for an assignment of service. The temporality of the Spirit's activity in the Old Testament is evident in that "the Spirit of God departed from Saul" (I Sam. 16:14), and David pleads that God "not take Thy Holy Spirit from me" (Ps. 51:11).
The activity of the Spirit of God to inspire and energize a particular activity in the Old Testament believers is not equivalent to the indwelling activity of the Spirit of Christ in Christians in the new covenant. Such relation to the Holy Spirit was only promised by the prophets to the Old Testament peoples. Through Isaiah, God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring" (Isa. 44:3). Through Ezekiel, He says, "I will put My Spirit within you" (Ezek. 36:27; 37:14) and "pour out My Spirit on the house of Israel (Ezek. 39:29). Through Joel, God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind...in those days (Joel 2:28,29), which Peter declares that God fulfilled on Pentecost (Acts 2:17,18).
All these promises could not be fulfilled until after the completion of the redemptive work of Christ. Not until Christ was crucified, raised again and glorified, could the Spirit be poured out and accomplish all His work.
The apostle John comments on Jesus' promise of "living water flowing from one's innermost being" (John 7:38), noting that Jesus was speaking "of the Spirit whom those who believed in His name were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet (given), because Jesus was not yet glorified" (John 7:39). Later to the disciples, Jesus speaks of "the Spirit of Truth who...will be in you" (John 14:12) and will come (John 16:13), obviously indicating a future expectation of the presence of the Spirit realized only on Pentecost and thereafter. Thus Peter in his Pentecostal sermon explains that the risen Lord Jesus "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, has poured forth this (activity of the Holy Spirit) which you both see and hear" (Acts 2:33). "In Christ Jesus...we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14). "Having believed, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13).
The Holy Spirit must not be detached from Jesus Christ and regarded as a mechanical instrument which/who "implements the purposes of God in every age," and in the Christian context "applies (italics added) redemption by uniting us to Christ and to the benefits (italics added) of His atoning work." It is a deficient Trinitarian theology that separates the Holy Spirit from the "Spirit of Christ." The natural tendency of Christian "religion" is to posit some theory of the Spirit's "supernatural influence" to assist in the Christian's ethical obedience in the context of a morality-based relationship with God. Such is not the Christian gospel! In the new covenant the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him (Christ)" (Rom. 8:9). By the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ we are "joined to the Lord in one spirit" (I Cor. 6:17) in a real spiritual union of the divine life dwelling in the Christian, whereby the life of the risen Lord Jesus can be manifested in character that is the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22,23).
The promised new covenant relation to the Holy Spirit is realized and experienced only by Christians. We read of the Spirit of God, as present and active in the world, under a certain form, before the incarnation of Christ. But we must not confound this agency with the relation, in which He has come to stand to the church since, in consequence of the union thus established between the Divine nature and our own. John goes so far as to say there was no Holy Spirit, until Jesus was glorified (Jn 7:39). This does not mean, of course, that he did not exist; but it limits the proper effusion of the Spirit, as known under the New Testament, to the Christian dispensation as such. It teaches besides, that the person of Jesus, as the Word made flesh, forms the only channel by which it was possible for this effusion to take place. The Holy Spirit accordingly, as the Spirit of Christ, is, in the first place, active simply in the Savior himself. ...He cannot be separated from the person of Christ.
The particular reality wherein the Holy Spirit is the spiritual expression of the risen Lord Jesus poured out on Pentecost to indwell all Christians and to be the vital and functional expression of God's character in Christians, can only be predicated of Christians. Such a spiritual restoration of humanity was promised to the Old Testament believers by the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel, but they "did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11:39). From Pentecost onwards the Spirit of Christ could indwell the spirits of receptive mankind, and become their life, and Christians could have the inner assurance that "the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16).
In both the Old and New Testaments the term "righteous" is applied to Old Testament personages. In what sense were they regarded to be "righteous," and is there a distinction in their "righteousness" and the "righteousness" that New Testament Christians enjoy by union with Christ?
Reference is made within the New Testament Scriptures to Abel's deeds being "righteous" (I John 3:12) and the consequent testimony of God to his "righteousness" (Heb. 11:4; Matt. 23:35). Noah's preparation of the ark merited for him the designation of being a "preacher of righteousness" (II Peter 2:5) and an "heir of righteousness" (Heb. 11:7). Abraham's unstable belief that God would provide descendants as promised (Gen. 15:1-6) is oft quoted in the New Testament as an example of one who was "reckoned as righteous" because of his faith (Rom. 4:3,9,22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23). Along with Abraham, Rahab is used as an example of an Old Testament person who was "justified" or regarded as "righteous" by the active out-working of faith.
The righteousness which is ascribed to these Old Testament believers must be considered within the context in which righteousness was evaluated and applied at that time in the history of God's dealings with mankind. These persons obviously made right choices to listen to God, to respond to God in the right way, and to thus have a right relationship with God by trusting God. Robert A. Kelly notes that
"In the Old Testament righteousness involves the fulfilment of the demands of a relationship... When a person fulfils the obligation of a relationship, that person is said to be righteous. ...Righteous people are people who fulfil their duties toward God..."
The relationship of God and man in the Old Testament was one wherein trusting God in right external conduct could gain God's approval (Heb. 11:2,4,5,39), and a person could thereby be "reckoned," accounted as, declared "righteous." Old Testament believers were "approved" as "righteous" or well-pleasing to God by a faithful response to whatever revelation of God had been given to them. Being "reckoned as righteous" was usually set in a legal or judicial context, wherein God the Judge declared the "status," "condition" or "position" of righteousness/right standing to be "on the books" of His heavenly accounting. Such commendation and calculation of righteousness was certainly less than the spiritual communion with the Righteousness of Christ that Christians participate in.
Even the prophets recognized that the righteousness of the old covenant was insufficient. "All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment," declares Isaiah (64:6). They uttered prophetic promises of the righteousness that was to come in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, allowing God to declare through them, "I bring My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay" (Isa. 46:13; 51:5); "I shall raise up a Righteous Branch..., He will be called 'the Lord of righteousness'" (Jere. 23:5,6; 33:15,16). These prophecies were recognized as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the "Righteous One" (Acts 22:14), the "righteousness of God" (Rom. 3:21).
The righteousness of the old covenant eventually came to be regarded as "righteousness in the Law" (Phil. 3:6) or "derived from the Law" (Phil. 3:9), even though the Law could not impart righteousness (Gal. 3:21). Such a context and understanding of righteousness cannot be equated with the justification or righteousness made available in Jesus Christ. L.S. Chafer remarked that the "standing" of the Old Testament believer "cannot rightfully be compared with the estate of the believer today who is justified and perfect forever, having received the pleroma (fullness) of the Godhead through vital union with Christ."
"Resemblances there are to Jewish doctrine, but the difference is momentous and decisive. Pious Jews could only peer into a dim, mysterious future, hoping against hope that God would pronounce a sentence of acquittal at the last. But it was Paul's glorious certainty that for himself, and for all who had faith in Christ, the liberating sentence had already been pronounced. ...Judaism toiled and hoped and struggled and doubted: Paul possessed.
Paul's conception of justification...is no mere legacy of Jewish scholasticism. It springs from Gospel soil. It bears the stamp of Paul's deep, evangelical experience. It mirrors the life and death and teaching of his Lord.
The righteousness that Christians enjoy "in Christ" is the very indwelling righteousness of the nature of God. The "divine nature" (II Peter 1:4) of the Righteous God "is transferred to man, and realized in him by the action of divine grace."Christians are "made righteous;" we "become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21). The indwelling of Jesus Christ, the "Righteous One" (Acts 22:14; I John 2:1), establishes a spiritual condition of union with the righteousness of God, divine righteousness; far more than just pardon or forgiveness from sin, and the reckoning or commendation of righteousness. "Christ Jesus becomes to us... righteousness and sanctification" (I Cor. 1:30), "the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9).
The indwelling righteousness of God in Christ is the vital and functional dynamic for the behavioral expression of God's righteous character in Christian behavior. Righteous Christian behavior is not the result of a Christian's ethical consistency with either the Law's demand or God's character. We are not adequate (II Cor. 3:5) to produce righteousness, despite The Holy Spirit enables me to produce godliness and holiness and...righteousness. "The fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11). The righteousness of Christian behavior is only and always the out-living of the indwelling life of the Righteous One, Jesus Christ. "Everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him" (I John 2:29). Nicodemus, who would have been regarded as a "just" and "righteous" man within Judaism, was still told by Jesus that he "must be born from above" (John 3:3,7), "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5,6,8), for righteousness only comes from the indwelling life of the Righteous One. Jesus said, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20).
The righteousness that Christians receive by the indwelling presence and activity of Jesus Christ far surpasses the Old Testament Judaic concepts of righteousness in commendation, reckoning or declaration. Our righteousness is "in Christ." Christian righteousness cannot be read back into the Old Testament and attributed to the peoples recorded therein.
Not wanting to inordinately belabor the point of the discontinuity between Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians, the foregoing categories should suffice to document that there is a radical difference in the spiritual condition of Christians "in Christ" as compared to the spiritual condition of personages of the Old Testament. Inasmuch as this study is but a synopsis and statement of thesis, further study should be made to explore the Biblical evidence concerning the above categories as well as such subjects as creation, adoption, atonement, ordinances, eschatological expectations, etc.
The question might still be asked, "Why should we be concerned about the spiritual condition of Old Testament believers?" Some might say, "Their spiritual condition is God's business. He will take care of them." "Perhaps God did not intend for us to speculate about their spiritual condition, and thus did not give us adequate information to make definitive evaluations." "Is this just dry historical concern of theological inquiry?" The theological implications of such a study as this are important in order for Christians to better understand all the implications of the abiding spiritual life of Jesus Christ by comparison and contrast with the spiritual condition of Old Testament believers. There is certainly sufficient Scriptural data to make the comparisons, as is evidenced by the abundance of Biblical citations we have quoted.
The Old Testament era was a promissory period, a physical pictorial pre-figuring of the spiritual "People of God" (I Peter 2:10) that God intended to create in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament believers experienced the graciousness of God, "finding favor in His sight," but they longed for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. They believed and trusted God, but theirs was a prospective faith and they "died in faith, without receiving the promises" (Heb. 11:13); "having gained approval through their faith, they did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11:39). But as the "mediator of a new covenant," Jesus made it possible for Christians to "receive the promises of the eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15). "Christ...confirms the promises given to the fathers" (Rom. 15:8). "As many as may be the promises of God, in Him (Jesus) they are 'Yes,'" (II Cor. 1:20), affirmed and fulfilled. "The promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only those who are of the Law (Jews), but also those who are of the faith of Abraham" (Rom. 4:16). By receptive faith Christians "receive the promises" of God in Jesus Christ. Christians receive the very life of God, the resurrection-life of Jesus Christ, so as to be regenerated, saved, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. Identified by intimate spiritual union with Jesus Christ, Christians are "Christ-ones," vessels through whom the Christ-life is lived out to the glory of God. Prior to the historical redemptive manifestation of Jesus Christ there were no "Christians." The Old Testament believers cannot be called "Christians," nor can they be theoretically vested with the spiritual realities experienced only by new covenant Christians "in Christ." Christians, on the other hand, participating in the fulfillment of the pictorial "type," can and are called "spiritual Jews." "He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit" (Rom. 2:29). The Old Testament period was a preliminary period culminating in the "finished work" of Jesus Christ, the declaration of which Jesus made from the cross, exclaiming "It is finished" (John 19:30). The divine foreknowledge and predetermination of this "finished work" had been made "from the foundation of the world" (Heb. 4:3); the completion came in the life, death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring of Jesus Christ.
The focus of all the inspired Scriptures is the fulfillment of all God's promises and intent in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, including the living out of His life in Christians. This is why the "historical revisionism" of the Old Testament employed by some Christians is so damaging to the gospel presentation. It diminishes the Christocentric emphasis of the Biblical record. When Old Testament believers are reputed to have experienced grace before "grace was realized in Jesus Christ" (John 1:17); to have been "saved" before the redemptive and saving work of the Savior; to have "passed from death to life" before the resurrection-life of Jesus was made available; to have been completed and perfect in their relationship with God prior to the "finished work" of Jesus Christ; and to have been "Christians" before Jesus ever came to be the Christ; then the historic redemptive action of the cross and the subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ is made to be unnecessary and redundant. Such assertions can only be advocated when the interpreters fail to connect the so-called "benefits" with the Being of the risen and living Lord Jesus; when they fail to recognize the necessity of dynamic and ontic oneness with the person and life of the resurrected Jesus in order for deity to indwell humanity and express divine character in human behavior.
Even more tragic consequences occur when such misinterpretation and such inadequate and deficient spiritual understanding becomes the basis of new covenant explanation. Having sacrificed the dynamic and ontic distinctions of New Testament spiritual realities by transporting them back into Old Testament interpretation, some would then bring the same anemic definitions of these realities forward into New Testament theology and set them up as Christian doctrine, as the full content of Christian "truth," continuing to regard them as Christian "benefits," separated and detached and disconnected and divorced from the resurrected Jesus.
Tainted old covenant concepts are taught as new covenant gospel. Grace is defined simply as "undeserved favor." Faith is regarded as assent, belief, trust and confidence in God. Salvation is explained as deliverance and rescue, the avoidance of hell-fire. Regeneration becomes but an experience of rejuvenation after which one possesses the commodity of "eternal life." Justification is a legal declaration of the status of righteousness reckoned and accounted in the divine bookkeeping. The Holy Spirit is a nebulous depository promise of future inheritance. Do these sound familiar? They are typical, traditional doctrinal definitions proffered by the Christian "religion" of our day, none of which are necessarily connected to the living Lord Jesus.
What we are seeing today in "evangelical" Christian religion is a tragic misrepresentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have "sold out" the gospel in order to make it a marketable commodity. They have "watered down" the gospel to a gruel that no one could regard as cruel. They have "gutted" the gospel of its living reality in Jesus Christ. Much of "evangelical" teaching today is nothing more than Judaism "warmed over," a form of Christianized Judaism with a few glosses. They fail to proclaim the radical newness of the "new and living way" (Heb. 10:20). The "new" of the "new covenant" is not new since it has been available since Adam; thus they miss the radical difference of "newness of life" (Rom. 6:4) in Christ, failing to recognize the ontological dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. The "good news" of Christianity is the proclamation of the ontological spiritual union with the very Being and Life of Jesus Christ as God.
If the order of grace is supposed to continue the same...if Christ manifested himself previously to the patriarchs and prophets as he now manifests himself to his church...if the Spirit of Christ indwelt the people of the Old Testament the same as Christians.... ...if so, let the church know that she is no nearer to God now ...than she was under the Old Testament; that the indwelling of Christ in believers, is only parallel with the divine presence as enjoyed by the Jewish saints, who all 'died in faith, not having received the promises;' that the mystical union in the case of Paul or John was nothing more intimate and vital and real than the relation sustained to God by Abraham, or David, or Isaiah.
Under the Old Testament..(the presence of the Spirit) was always an afflatus or influence simply, exerted on the soul of the person to whom it was extended. Is this all that we are to understand by it, in the Christian church? So the theory would appear to mean. The theory of "supernatural influence" -- merely moral union, rather than the actual LIFE of Christ conveyed into us.
The religion of the Old Testament ...foreshadowed the great fact of the incarnation. In the religion of the Old Testament, God descends toward man, and holds out to his view...the promise of a real union of the Divine Nature with the human, as the end of the gracious economy thus introduced.
To such a real union it is true, the dispensation itself never came. ...God drew nearer to men in an outward way. But to the last it continued to be only in an outward way. The wall of partition that separated the divine from the human, was never fully broken down.. ..It was a revelation of God to man, and not a revelation of God in man-the only form in which it was possible for Him to become truly known.
The meaning of the entire (Old Testament) system lay in its reference to Christianity. We may say of the Old Testament as a whole, what is said of its last and greatest representative in particular. It was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!
...The mystery of the incarnation (God in man). Here was a fact, which even the religion of the Old Testament itself had no sufficiency to generate, and to which all it’s epiphanies and miracles could furnish no proper parallel. For the revelation of the supernatural under the Old Testament, as already remarked, was always in an outward and comparatively unreal way. It never came to a true inward union between the human and the divine.
But in the person of Christ, all is different. It is by no mere figure of speech that Christ is represented to be the author of a new creation. ...The Word itself...became permanently joined with humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
The religion of the Old Testament...(its) covenants, law, promises...(were) only a shadow to the substance it represents. Its truth was not in itself, but in a different system altogether to which it pointed. Its reality was..relative only. It made nothing perfect. It was the picture merely of good things to come. ...We have no right to say that the New Testament is a mere extension or enlargement of the Old, under the same form.
The relation of God to the patriarchs and saints generally of the Old Testament, was something that came short wholly of the relation in which He now stands to His people, as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Their spiritual life, their union with God, their covenant privileges -- all had an unreal, unsubstantial character, as compared with the parallel grace of the gospel, and constituted at best but an approximation to this grace, rather than the actual presence of it in any sense itself.
That which forms the full reality of religion, the union of the Divine Nature with the human, the revelation of God in man and not simply to him, was wanting to the Old Testament altogether. ...all its doctrines and institutions, ...had a shadowy, simply prophetic nature... Its sacraments were representations only... Its salvation was in the form of promise, more than present fact. It became real ultimately, only in Christ; for before His appearance, we are told the patriarchs of the law could not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:13, 39,40). The dispensation of the Spirit has its origin wholly in the person of Christ (Lk 1:35; 3:22; Jn 3:34) and could not reveal itself in the world until He was glorified (Jn 7:39)
The religion of the Old Testament went not beyond the character of a "report," to be received only by "the hearing of the ear." The revelation was always relative only, never absolute. It came not in any case to a full manifestation of the truth in its own form. But in the church of the New Testament, all is different. A new order of revelation entirely bursts upon the world, in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the absolute truth itself, personally present among men, and incorporating itself with their life. He is the substance, where all previous prophecy, even in its highest forms, had been only as sound or shadow.
Many see in Christianity an advance only on the grace of the Jewish dispensation, under the same form, and not a new order of grace entirely. Greater light, enlarged opportunities, more constraining motives, a new supply of supernatural aids and provisions; these are taken to be the peculiar distinction of the New Covenant, and constitute its supposed superiority over the Old. But is not this to resolve the Christian salvation as before, into a merely moral institute or discipline?...an outward apparatus....(which) turns the work of redemption into a mere doctrine or example. We should have at most, in this view, an exaltation only of the religion of the Jew. Christ would be to us of the same order with Moses; immeasurably greater of course; but still a prophet only in the same sense.
In opposition to all this, we say of Christianity that it is a LIFE. Not a rule or mode of life simply; not something that in its own nature requires to be reduced to practice; for that is the character of all morality. But life in its very nature and constitution...the actual substance of truth itself. John 1:17 - "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
We read of the Spirit of God, as present and active in the world, under a certain form, before the incarnation of Christ. But we must not confound this agency with the relation, in which He has come to stand to the church since, in consequence of the union thus established between the Divine nature and our own.