Under the Law
Then what of the Old Covenant? Does it serve any purpose at all today?
The Old Covenant stands as a warning to us—showing us the folly of trying to live under the law—something that the New Testament spends much time teaching us:
“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” Galatians 4:21.
Under the Old Covenant, Israel was dependent on the law to declare that they were
righteous. That is what it means to be under the law: to be dependent on the law to declare that you are righteous (i.e. justified—see What is Justification).
However if anyone has sinned, the law says,
“Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” “For the wages of sin is death.” Galatians 3:10, Romans 6:23.
Yet as we saw at Sinai, the Jews had fallen so far from the ancient teachings of God, that they really thought that they would be righteous in the sight of God, and would receive the fulfillment of His promises, if they strictly kept the letter of the law given them by Moses. And they they were sure they had the ability to keep it.
Until they made the golden calf, and realized they had no hope for God’s blessings through the covenant they had broken. And they were brought to feel their need of the New Covenant. The Old Covenant—the law without grace—was a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24).
Old Covenant Christians?
This is what it means to be under the Old Covenant—and this is what it means to be under the law. And this lesson is just as meaningful to Christians today—in case we ever get to feeling like our “filthy rags” are somehow sufficient to win us “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away”! (Isaiah 64:6, 1 Peter 1:4.)
The Old Covenant is an illustration of what Paul refers to when he says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified [declared righteous] in His sight. . . for all have sinned.” Romans 3:20, 23.
All these thoughts that run throughout the New Testament are closely connected—they are speaking of the same thing: being under the law, the Old Covenant, and being justified by the law.
In His mercy, God uses different illustrations in the hopes that different ones will reach different hearts with the same truth.
And so the Old Covenant, and its wonderful promises—on condition that they “obey his voice” and “provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions”—and the utter failure of Israel—shows us that we need the blood and the better promises of the New Covenant!
The New and Everlasting Covenant
Clearly then, the New Covenant is as vitally important to us as it was to Abraham, Moses, David, and the Jews.
In the New Covenant we can see Christ, and His blood shed for the remission of our sins. (Matthew 26:28).
In it you and I can find the grace of God which enables us to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and to “live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:11-14).
In it we see Jesus, who “died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again. . . . Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. . . . For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:15, 17, 21.)
“To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen!” (1 Peter 5:11.)