Is the OT Helpful or Harmful? The Sanctifying and Empowering Influence of the OT ScripturesAugust 30, 2023 1 Comment
There is a deeply disturbing, dare I say, heretical, trend in some circles of professing evangelical believers. I say “professing” believers because I’m beginning to wonder if those who embrace the view that I have in mind can truly be born again believers in Jesus. But I’ll leave that for each of you to judge, if you so choose.
The perspective I have in mind is the repudiation by many of the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures. The OT, they tell us, does not represent truth about God, his character, and his purposes, but only records for us what an ancient people (Israel) believed about God.
You may want to go back to my post on Monday, August 28, to read the short article by Michael Kruger on what Jesus thought about the OT.
Today, I want us to look at another critically important passage about the sanctifying power of the OT Scriptures. It is found in Romans 15:1-7.
(1) We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (2) Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (3) For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (4) For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (5) May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, (6) that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (7) Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
I want you to follow Paul’s train of thought here. It’s incredibly important. His point, as you can clearly see, is to direct our attention to Jesus and the sacrifice he made to please us, to save us, rather than to please himself. But why didn’t Paul refer to something in the life of Jesus as recorded in the four gospels? There are numerous incidents that he could have mentioned to illustrate the depth of sacrifice Jesus made for our salvation. But instead, he goes to a statement by David in Psalm 69:9. He cites a text from the Old Testament, written at least a thousand years before Jesus came to earth. Why?
I think the answer is that he wanted to highlight for us the power and influence of the Old Testament Scriptures. Far too many Christians think little of the OT. At best they look at it in the rearview mirror of their lives, as if it were an irrelevant group of stories long since passed. But in citing Psalm 69 Paul is reminding us of the life-changing, heart-shaping power of the entire Bible.
When he speaks of “whatever was written in former days” he obviously means the books of the Old Testament. They are there to instruct us. It is true that we are no longer under the dictates of the Mosaic Law. We live under the New Covenant. But that doesn’t mean we can simply ignore what was written before, for the sake of Israel. We can learn glorious truths and practical principles and gain insights into the nature of God by meditating on and memorizing and carefully studying the inspired OT text.
In fact, when we are tempted to give up, the truths of the OT serve to impart to us endurance. When we are convinced that our only option is to quit and abandon the faith, the OT awakens in us hope. It is used by the Holy Spirit to infuse into our hearts and minds countless reasons to persevere. If we are discouraged and find little reason to press on, where do we look to find energy and strength to maintain our hope? From the Scriptures, says Paul! Encouragement doesn’t fall from heaven like manna. It doesn’t float in the air or appear out of nowhere. God has ordained that we find encouragement by means of and through the instrument of the inspired texts of the OT!
There is a disturbing trend among certain professing evangelicals to dismiss the OT as beneath the dignity of God. Although they agree that the Spirit of God inspired the OT, they don’t look to it for instruction or for truth concerning the nature of God. They contend that the books and stories of the OT are the record of a primitive people, Israel, who embraced distorted views of God. The OT Scriptures are not God’s revelation of what he is truly like. They simply portray for us what an unenlightened and barbaric people thought of God. It is simply a record of their misguided beliefs and not God’s personal revelation of his own nature and will. It is only with the revelation that came with Jesus that we see more clearly the true character of who God is and why he does what he does.
They do this largely because they don’t like certain events in the OT and are convinced that God would never do such things. They have in mind things such as the great flood that destroyed the entire world except for Noah and his family. They would also point to God’s commandment that Joshua and Israel eradicate the Canaanites from the land. They are persuaded that these stories are inconsistent with the character of God as revealed in the person of Jesus.
But, as Michael Krueger pointed out in the article I posted on Monday, they have a difficult time explaining Jesus’ own perspective on the OT. He frequently appealed to stories and individuals and events in the OT to make his point. He declared unequivocally in John 10:35 that the Scripture “cannot be broken,” and by Scripture he was referring to the OT. And Paul, with the OT Scriptures clearly in mind, asserted in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
It's as if Paul pauses right in the middle of his argument about how the strong should be willing to sacrifice for the sake of the weak and says: “While I’m at it, in citing an OT text about what Jesus freely and joyfully did for our sake, I want you to see the vital role that the Bible plays in your experience and in your spiritual growth and in your capacity to endure hardship. If you want to have hope, immerse yourself in the inspired Word of God.”
I’ve said this countless times before and I want to say it again today, and I do so on the basis of Paul’s statement here in v. 4, that there is little long-lasting help that comes from anecdotal sermons and topical discussions about issues in our society. That isn’t the way that God intends to sustain your heart and give you hope. I could entertain you with clever turns of phrase and humorous stories and make you laugh and cry with manipulative little vignettes. But that would do nothing to help you endure and persevere and find encouragement in difficult times. God’s ordained means, the method by which he does this for us is through the truths of the inspired biblical text. Saturate your mind in the written Word of God!
Look closely at v. 5. Here we are told that “endurance and encouragement” ultimately come from God. You won’t find them in any of the self-help books at Barnes & Noble. You won’t find them in the counsel of Dr. Phil. The ability and power and incentive to endure and to be encouraged come from God. But how does God bring them to bear in our lives? By what means does he impart them to weary and weakened souls?
It is “through” the Scriptures!