New and Old Testament Believers Compared
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
As NEW TESTAMENT BELIEVERS living in the age of God's sovereign grace in Christ and the presence on earth of (he Holy Spirit, we are far more privileged, and therefore more responsible to God, than believers who lived before the incarnation and Pentecost under the various economies of Old Testament times. The present article is an attempt to summarize and explain these privileges and responsibilities under seven main headings in the hope that we may come to a fuller appreciation of, and response to, our spiritual blessings in Christ.
Our Appreciation of God
This differs from that of Old Testament believers in that we know God as Father through observing the moral glory of His incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The early disciples witnessed His life and we can appreciate it also by reading the four complementary Gospel records based on their witness. It is in the Gospels that we sec the relationship between Christ as the Son of Man and God His Father, and so understand the Fatherhood of God in a way that Old Testament believers were never privileged to do.
God's revelation of His Nature and Person has been gradual and progressive, and the relationship of believers to Him has been determined by the degree to which they have been allowed to appreciate that Nature. At first God was known simply as the Creator. Then to Abraham and the later patriarchs He revealed Himself as God Almighty, the omnipotent God who was both able and willing to provide His people's needs. Later He was known to Israel as the Lord, Jehovah, the I Am that I Am, the Eternal and Self-existent God, who is righteous as well as merciful. This name reveals His character, and His covenant relationship with Israel was governed by that character. Israel was responsible to live consistently with the holy character of their covenant God. Only Israel nationally was ever called 'My son'. But in the full and final revelation of God by the Son He is known as Father: firstly, the Father in relation to the Son, but also Father in relation to all those who receive His Son. Christ, since His incarnation has fully revealed the character and Person of God as Father and His Nature as Love. Old Testament believers never fully understood this. Our worship of God should therefore be far deeper and more intelligent than theirs ever could be.
New Testament believers also participate in the very life and fellowship that has always existed between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Godhead. For the eternal life, into which we are born again by the new birth through faith in Christ, is essentially and primarily this divine fellowship in God Himself. The fellowship which all believers today enjoy is not just fellowship with one another, but first of all fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We should ask ourselves therefore, 'Are we really in fellowship?' For it is only those walking in the light as God is in the light, who can enjoy that divine fellowship.
We must conclude therefore that New Testament believers are more privileged than Old Testament believers in their appreciation of God, in that we now both know God as Father and experience the fellowship of the Godhead as fully revealed.
Our Standing before God
In one important way our standing before God is no different from that of Old Testament believers. For we are all alike justified before God by faith alone quite apart from any good works. In Romans 4 both Abraham and David are presented to us as examples of Old Testament believers justified before God. Also, in Hebrews 11 many Old Testament believers are also said to have pleased God by their faith in Him. But here the similarity ends. For in two other ways our standing before God is far more privileged than theirs.
First, Galatians 4 clearly states that we enjoy the liberty of adult sonship before God under the present age of grace, whereas Old Testament believers were bound as servants and minors under the regulations of the law of God given by Moses. Even believers, who lived before the law was given, did not enjoy any superior standing before God. Such prominent believers as Jacob, Moses, and David are never called 'My son', but 'My servant', and Abraham was never called more than 'My friend'. The Mosaic law, however, was not intended to bind believers permanently, but to give way at the right time to the age of grace in which God's Spirit was given to believers in order that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in them as they walked 'after the spirit'. New Testament believers are constrained to do God's will not by legal requirements, but by their love to Christ. All legality and ritualism in a Christian's life and worship is quite out of place today. Instead, we are intended to worship spontaneously, and serve our Father with a free and glad heart as His emancipated adult sons, and being heirs to a spiritual inheritance in Christ.
Secondly, Hebrews 10 exhorts New Testament believers to draw near into the very 'throne-room' of God by the new and living way. The blood of Christ has made this open to us and emboldens us to draw near. Old Testament believers did not enjoy this entire freedom of access into the presence of God at all times. They could only approach God through their high priest in the
tabernacle and temple. Their sacrifices were only shadows of the reality which was to follow later through the death of Christ once and for all.
The question must be asked, therefore, 'How much do we appreciate our present privileged position and avail ourselves of it day by day?'
Our Relationship to God
Ever since the descent of the Holy Spirit of God on the Day of Pentecost to form the one true Body of Christ, the church, and to indwell its members both individually and collectively, believers have enjoyed a closer relationship to their God than even the greatest of Old Testament believers ever enjoyed. We are the beneficiaries not only of the new birth through the word of God by the Spirit of God, which must be the possession of all in any age who would enter the kingdom according to John 3, but also of the Spirit's sealing, filling, anointing, intercession, spiritual gifts and fruit. Old Testament believers, by contrast, were assured of the Lord's presence with them and, at times, His power upon them, but were never indwell by the Holy Spirit, nor became any part of the New Testament church, whose Head is the glorified Christ in heaven, and whose members are vitally linked to Him upon earth by one Spirit. Christian assemblies, as we know them today, were an impossibility in Old Testament days. How much do we appreciate this fact?
Our Condition in the Flesh
New Testament believers can experience and count upon a more personal help and intelligent sympathy in their infirmities than Old Testament believers ever knew. This is because Christ in His life on earth experienced all the forms of testing that we will ever have to face, and did so without a trace of sin being shown to be in Him. This has qualified Him to be both a faithful and merciful High Priest in His present heavenly glory, and one who can intercede for us. Christ is now touched with all the feelings of our infirmities in a more personal way than He could have been before His incarnation. This should encourage us daily to come boldly to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and grace to help in any time of need.
Our Conduct in this Life
Believers today, unlike Old Testament believers, have in the incarnate life of Christ the perfect example of the way in which we should live in this sinful world. We are therefore more responsible to maintain a higher standard of conduct in our lives on earth. In several parts of the New Testament our Lord Jesus Christ is presented to us as this perfect example for present-day believers to follow. In Philippians 2 He is the perfect example of humble and selfless thinking; in Titus 2 our perfect example of gracious living; in 2 Corinthians 8 of costly giving. We, unlike Old Testament believers, have no excuse for ignorance as to how we should live to God's glory.
Our Testimony in the World
New Testament believers belong not to an earthly people like Israel, but to a heavenly people, the church. As such the nature of our testimony in the world is totally different from that of Israel and all other Old Testament believers. Whereas most of them had an earthly inheritance which they were expected to gain by earthly warfare, we have a spiritual inheritance which we are to retain by spiritual warfare alone. Israel was separated to their God from all other peoples in an earthly sense, but the Church is separated from the world altogether in a spiritual sense, and cannot expect any earthly inheritance in the present age of grace at all. In Old Testament days spiritual prosperity could usually be measured in terms of material prosperity, but today there is not necessarily any such correlation at all. Some of the godliest New Testament saints have very little of this world's wealth, but instead they prosper in spiritual life and experience. New Testament believers arc not expected to attempt to reform the world by entering politics or the armed services, but simply to preach the gospel of God's grace, so that individuals may be saved out of the world, and to witness to the truth of God by personal piety alone.
Our Destiny in Glory
Through no merit of our own, but simply through God's sovereign grace, New Testament believers are destined in glory to have a nearer relalionship to Christ than any Old Testament believer. For the church is the bride of Christ as well as His body, even John the Baptist was only the friends of the Bridegroom. Our destiny is in accord with our heavenly calling. Indeed, God's ptirposes for the church arc to be fulfilled before He completes His purposes for Israel and past and future Gentile believers. Their ultimate blessing is timed to follow, not precede, ours so that 'they without us should not be made perfect', Heb. 11. 40. How thankful we should be for this!
In the light, therefore, of the full revelation of God given to us in the completed canon of scripture, let us avoid the mistakes that follow confusing ourselves with Old Testament believers and their earthly inheritance, and respond to God's grace towards us in New Testament times by living practically, more in harmony with our closer relalionship to God in Christ as members of His body and bride, the church.