As Christians, many in Churches of Christ have an unusual way of determining and interpreting the basic nature of Christianity. We declare that we are not under the law of Moses (the law that was the foundation of Judaism in both the Old and New Testaments). Yet, we use the format and approach of Old Testament law to dictate the function of Christianity and to declare what Christians are required to do. Our reasoning commonly following this line of thinking: God is the God who gave and relied on law in Old Testament Judaism. Since He is the same God, we should interpret Christianity on the basis of law.

An objective, unprejudiced person who is not familiar with Churches of Christ could conclude that Christianity is just a reformed, improved version of Judaism. God did not accomplish what He first intended to do through the Law of Moses, so He perfected His efforts in Christianity. Therefore, Christianity is the revision of the Law of Moses. It is the law of Moses perfected.

When a Christian holds that view, I am convinced that one of three things is true. Either his knowledge and understanding of the law of Moses is limited. Or, his knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ is limited. Or, he has a limited knowledge and understanding of both.

It is very easy to know a lot about our religion but actually understand very little about Jesus Christ. We can know a lot about what we have always been told in the church, but know little about what Jesus actually taught.

It is easy to assume that the Old Testament law and Judaism are very similar to New Testament Christianity. It is easy to assume that the divinely revealed religion of the Old Testament is very similar to the divinely revealed religion of the New Testament.

There certainly are similarities. This evening I want us to see beyond the similarities.

  1. Consider some basic comparisons between Judaism and Christianity.
    1. Similarity: Both originated from the same Creator God. But:
      1. Old Testament Judaism was founded on a law code that God gave to the nation of Israel (Exodus 19:3-6; 20:1-17; the book of Deuteronomy)
      2. New Testament Christianity is founded on a Savior that God gave the world (John 3:16-18).
    2. Similarity: They both commemorate the fact that God delivered and freed them. But:
      1. In Israel, once a year the Passover sacrifice and meal commemorated the fact that God released them from physical slavery and gave them freedom as a nation (Exodus 12:1-20; 12:43-51; 13:1-16).
      2. In Christianity, the weekly observance of communion commemorates the fact that God released the Christian from the slavery of evil and gave him freedom from the eternal consequences of spiritual and moral failure (Matthew 26:26-29; Ephesians 1:7).
    3. Similarity: They both worship the same God. But:
      1. In Israel, their primary act of worship was through sacrifice by slaughtering an animal (Leviticus 16).
        1. The animal's blood provided a temporary solution, not a permanent solution.
        2. The effect of sacrificial worship was to confirm guilt.
      2. In Christianity, the primary act of worship is through praise or thanksgiving singing, praying, and remembering (John 4:23,24; Acts 2:46,47; 1 Corinthians 14:15-17; Hebrews 13:15).
        1. The Christian thanks God and praises God for using Jesus' blood to permanently forgive him.
        2. The effect of Christian worship is to acknowledge and confirm sanctification through forgiveness.
    4. Similarity: Both address the problem of guilt. But:
      1. In the Old Testament, a legal system used justice to reveal guilt, to confirm guilt, and to impose the consequences of guilt (note the consequences of violating the law in Deuteronomy).
        1. The law provided instruction and guidance.
        2. The law liberated through obedience.
      2. In Christianity, the goodness of a Savior destroys guilt through unconditional forgiveness and liberates the Christian from eternal consequences (I Peter 2:21-24; Hebrews 9:26-28).
        1. A Savior provides instruction and guidance.
        2. The Savior liberates through forgiveness.
    5. Similarity: Both sought to provide forgiveness. But:
      1. In the Old Testament, forgiveness was temporary (Hebrews 10:1-4; Romans 3:24,25).
        1. It was based on an inadequate form of atonement.
        2. In many sacrifices, the sacrifice addressed one specific violation of law.
      2. In Christianity, the forgiveness is permanent.
        1. The forgiven sins with their guilt are destroyed and no longer are recalled by God (Hebrews 8:8,9,12).
        2. As long as the Christian remains in Christ, the forgiveness is continual (Romans 4:7,8; 1 John 1:7,9).
        3. It forgives both realized and unrealized sins (1 John 1:9).
    6. Similarity: Both are concerned with the holiness of the person. But:
      1. In the Old Testament, holiness is dependent on human achievement.
        1. It exists only if the person is completely obedient to the total law.
        2. Consequently, it is an unattainable goal.
      2. In Christianity, holiness is the gift of forgiveness (1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:20,21; 1 Thessalonians 5:23).
        1. A person is holy because he has been and is cleansed through forgiveness.
        2. It is his responsibility to preserve this gift of holiness (1 Peter 1:13-19).
        3. This incredible gift is cared for in a sense of sober responsibility.
    7. Similarity: Atonement is at the heart of Judaism and Christianity.
      1. In the Old Testament, an annual day of atonement was held on the same day of the same month of each year (Leviticus 16).
        1. There was a cleansing of the high priest, then a cleansing of the nation.
        2. The ritual was precise, specific, and included the slaughter of animals and a scapegoat that carried Israel's sins into the wilderness.
      2. In Christianity, atonement occurred at the death of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:18,19; Colossians 1:13,14,19,20; Titus 2:14).
        1. His single death produced potential atonement for the world in all ages.
        2. Since the cross, atonement has been a perfect, established reality.
        3. Jesus was the "once for all" blood sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:12).
    8. Similarity: Both use a high priest who represents the people before God.
      1. In the Old Testament, the high priest was an imperfect human who had failed to perfectly keep the law (Hebrews 5:1-4).
        1. He functioned in an earthly tabernacle/temple using an earthly altar.
        2. Because of his human limitations and imperfections, he was an imperfect representor.
        3. His representation was limited to his human life span.
      2. In Christianity, the resurrected Jesus is every Christian's high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:5-9; 8:1-2).
        1. He functions in God's own sanctuary beside God Himself.
        2. As a human, he was without evil or mistake, but because of his human experience he is the perfect representor.
        3. His representation is unlimited and unending.

  2. The contrast between Judaism in the Bible and Christianity in the New Testament go beyond areas of similarity.
    1. Consider:
      1. Old Testament Judaism was dependent on earthly rituals.
      2. New Testament Christianity is dependent on eternal, heavenly realities.
      3. Old Testament Judaism was a covenant extended to one nation.
      4. New Testament Christianity is a covenant extended to all nations.
      5. Old Testament Judaism limited the individual's access to God by making the Israelites dependent on the priesthood.
      6. New Testament Christianity gives the individual direct access to God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-22).
      7. Old Testament Judaism began as control through a legal system.
      8. New Testament Christianity began as a relationship with God through a Savior.
      9. Old Testament Judaism wanted to compel by love, but commonly controlled by fear.
      10. New Testament Christianity compels through a Savior's love--even fear must be transformed to love (2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 John 4:18,19).
    2. Christians must never base their service to their Savior on the approach, perspective, and mentality of the Old Testament legal system.
      1. Though we obey, our faith is in our Savior, not laws, not in human achievement.
      2. Though we hold God in awe, we do not serve Him in terror.
      3. Though we submit our bodies to God's control, our hearts and spirits rise to the heights of freedom in love.
      4. Though we worship God, we never reduce worship to habitual ritual--worship must always express the spirit and the heart, not merely comply with instruction.
      5. Though we seek to do God's will, our spiritual confidence is based on the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; our confidence is not based on "doing the right thing the right way."

Until we understand that God's accomplishments and provisions for us in Christ are distinctly different to what God did for Israel through law, we will never become what God wants us to be.

Israel never had the opportunity to have what every Christian has in Jesus Christ. The most devout Israelite would swap places spiritually with any Christian in a heart beat. Not even greats like Moses, David, and Elijah have what you have in Christ. Listen to 1 Peter 1:10-12:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things into which angels long to look.

It is not a superior or improved law that would make them want to swap places. They would swap places with us because the relationship we have with God did not even exist for them.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 13 July 1997
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