The Bible is divided into two major parts—the Old Testament and the New Testament. The word “testament” means “covenant.” The word “covenant” means “agreement.” The Old Testament was an agreement between God and Israel—the church in the wilderness. The New Testament is an agreement between God and the church—the new Israel.
In the Old Testament, God gave His Law. In the New Testament, God gave His Son. The Old Testament was dependent upon man’s obedience to God’s Law. The New Testament is dependent upon man’s faith in God’s Son. Whereas the Old Testament resulted in man’s condemnation, the New Testament resulted in man’s salvation. Salvation is no longer a matter of sinners trying to live up to God’s Law, but of sinners simply trusting God’s Son.
God gave His Law in the Old Testament to show us what we are like. According to the Apostle Paul, God’s Law did three things for us.1 First, it left us without any excuse. God said do and we didn’t; God said don’t and we did. Second, it left us guilty before God; that is, obvious lawbreakers who’ve come miserably short of God’s standard of sinless perfection. Finally, it brought to us the knowledge of sin. It leads us to the incontrovertible conclusion that there is something horribly wrong with us, for no matter how hard we try to do right we keep doing wrong.
Paul taught that the Law brought to us the knowledge of sin, not sins. Our real problem is not our sins, what we do, but our sin, what we are. We’re not sinners because we sin. We sin because we’re sinners. A thief is not a thief because he steals, but he steals because he is a thief. A liar is not a liar because he lies, but he lies because he is a liar.
By bringing to us the knowledge of sin, God’s Law proved to us the impossibility of ever making ourselves acceptable to God by our obedience to His Law. Therefore, the purpose of God’s Law was to prepare us for the coming of God’s Son by proving to us our need of a Savior.
The Old Testament (Covenant) was founded on the blood of animals, which provided a mere temporal atonement for sin. As the New Testament book of Hebrews teaches us, “And every [Old Testament] priest [stood] daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which [could] never take away sins.”2
In addition to providing a mere temporal atonement for sin, the Old Testament also, much to the consternation of many, was all about getting man lost, not saved. As the Apostle Paul taught in the New Testament, God’s giving of His Law in the Old Testament was meant to be our schoolmaster.3 The Law was given to teach us the utter hopelessness of making ourselves acceptable to God by living up to His law. Its true intent was to totally convince us of our dire and desperate need of a Savior to save us from sin and reconcile us to God, from whom our sins have separated us.4
When the Rich Young Ruler came to Christ requesting eternal life, Christ curiously asked him about his obedience to God’s Law.5 Surely, our Lord, like the Apostle Paul, knew that no sinner can acquire eternal life by living up to the sinless perfection demanded by God’s law.6 Why, then, did Christ question this seeker of eternal life as to whether or not he had kept God’s Commandments? Did our Lord not know that the Rich Young Ruler, like all other sinners, had fallen miserably short of perfect obedience and sinless perfection?
Jesus understood what very few people do today, that sinners, like the Rich Young Ruler, will never earnestly turn to Him for salvation until they are first convinced by God’s Commandments of their own short comings. Only then will sinners be convinced of their need of a Savior. Only then will sinners be convinced that their only hope of eternal life is found in the surrendering of their life to Jesus Christ.
No man will ever be convinced of his need to be saved until he is convinced that he is lost. It is God’s Law that convinces us of our helpless and hopeless lost condition. Once convinced of our short comings by God’s Law we will clearly see how lost and undone we are, as well as our dire and desperate need of a Savior, who alone can do for us what we can never do for ourselves. Thus, as the Apostle Paul taught, the Old Testament—God’s giving of His Law—was simply a schoolmaster teaching and preparing the world for the New Testament—God’s giving of His Son.
Unlike the Old Covenant, which was founded on the temporal atonement of repeated animal sacrifices, the New Covenant was founded upon the eternal atonement of the once and for all sacrifice of Christ Himself on the cross of Calvary for the sin of the world.7 The shedding of Christ’s incorruptible blood8 in the New Testament on the cross, unlike the shedding of corruptible animals’ blood in the Old Testament on the brazen altar, provided more than a temporal covering for sins. Instead, as John the Baptist taught his disciples, the shedding of Christ’s blood, as “the Lamb of God,” actually “takes away the sin of the world.”9 Furthermore, as we learn in the book of Hebrews, it provides eternal atonement for our sin, covering our sin forever.10
The Bible teaches us three extraordinary things about God’s forgiveness of our sins in Christ. First, when He forgives our sins He removes them from us as far as the east is from the west.11 What does this mean? Think about it; if you start going north you will eventually be going south after you cross the north pole. Likewise, if you start going south you will eventually be going north after you cross the south pole. However, if you start going east you will always be going east and if you start going west you will always be going west. When God forgives us in Christ, He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west; that is, forever!
Second, the Bible says that when God forgives us of our sins in Christ, He casts our sins behind His back and remembers them against us no more.12 Did you know that there is something our all-seeing God can no longer see? It is the sins of those He has forgiven in Christ, whose sins He has cast behind His back! Did you know that there is something our all-knowing God can no longer remember? It is the sins of those He has forgiven in Christ, whose sins He remembers no more!
Third and finally, the Bible says that when God forgives our sins in Christ, He buries our sins in the depths of the sea.13 God puts our sins where no one can go and bring them up against us anymore. Truly, the blood of Jesus provides eternal atonement for our sin!
Unlike God’s giving of His Law in the Old Covenant, which was meant to show us what we are like, God’s giving of His Son in the New Covenant was meant to show us what He is like. According to the Apostle John, God, whom no man has ever seen, has now been revealed to the world through His Son Jesus Christ.14 Whereas God gave the world His Law through Moses, showing us what we are like—hopelessly lost sinners who can never earn our own salvation or merit God’s favor—God gave us grace and truth through His Son Jesus Christ, revealing to us what He is like—a gracious God willing to give eternal life to all who believe the truth about the salvation He has wrought for the whole world in Christ.15
Whereas God’s giving of His Law in the Old Testament brought us condemnation, God’s giving of His Son in the New Testament brought us salvation. God’s Law proved our utter inability to earn God’s acceptance by our own goodness—our good works and deeds. Therefore, God gave us His Son as the sole means of our salvation, showing us that salvation is a matter of God’s grace, not our goodness, and of Christ’s atoning work for us, not our good works for Christ. As the Apostle Paul taught in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Salvation is a gift of God given to us for His glory. It is not something we can earn and thereby credit ourselves for acquiring. Since Christ has done everything that needed to be done for our salvation, because we couldn’t do any of it for ourselves, all that is left for us to do is reach out in faith and receive God’s gracious gift of salvation. However, if we refuse to swallow our pride, come to Christ on our knees, and by faith accept His gracious nail-scarred handout, then, the gift of God, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord,16 will never be ours.
A gift cannot be earned, lest it ceases to be a gift. It can only be received or rejected. On the other hand, wages are earned. They are what we’ve worked for and deserve. When Paul says the wages of sin is death,17 he is saying death is what we’ve all earned and deserve. Thankfully, he says we do have another alternative, which is eternal life. Yet, it is not a wage, something we can earn and deserve. Instead, it is a gift, something graciously and freely offered to us by God. Since eternal life is a gift of God, we can only receive or reject it. What will you do? The choice is yours!
One final thing should be considered before we conclude our consideration of the Bible’s two major divisions—the Old and New Testaments. Consider for a moment the meaning most often associated with the word testament today. Is it not a person’s Last Will and Testament? A Last Will and Testament tells what someone has left to others upon the occasion of his or her death.
The Bible, divided into an Old and New Testament, may be viewed as the “Last Will and Testament” of Jesus Christ. It tells us all about what God has left us as a result of Christ’s death for us! Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible is not a rule book, but a promise book. It’s a book that tells us all that God has promised us as a result of Christ’s death for us.
In 2 Peter 1:4, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” Notice, Peter taught that it is God’s promises, not His precepts, that produce godliness in us and results in the lust of the world losing all of its luster to us. Once we realize all that God has promised us in Christ, we will fall so in love with Christ and be so thankful to God that we will always want to please the Lord and never again find the lusts of this world alluring.
1 Romans 3:19-20
2 Hebrews 10:11 (ESV)
3 Galatians 3:24
4 Isaiah 59:2
5 Mark 10:17-23
6 Romans 3:20
7 Hebrews 9:26
8 1 Peter 1:18-19
9 John 1:29
10 Hebrews 9:1-28
11 Psalm 103:12
12 Isaiah 38:17; Jeremiah 31:34
13 Micah 7:19
14 John 1:18
15 John 1:17
16 Romans 6:23