Front Page
Series Contents

Title:  Looking at Preaching Afresh



Part 6:  Distinguishing Old & New Testament 'Theologies'





1. Differences of the New Testament

2. Transition

3. Significance of the Differences

4. The Law Superseded

5. And So...




In the background of the Christian preacher's mind must remain that truth, that he is a preacher of Christianity and the truths contained within it. To use and base his message on this truth, he will need to be aware of the differences between or distinctions of, the Old and New Testaments. Failure to do this will mean an emphasis placed in the wrong place or bringing confused teaching in respect of a number of issues pertaining to the Christian life.


In what follows we wish to note:


•  The differences between the two Testaments by observing the distinctions of the New Testament that are unique to it, and


•  The fact that in the New Testament there is a transition taking place which means that the context and background of the teaching needs to be carefully observed and understood.


The reader may work through this page and, initially at least, comment that these things are so obvious that they hardly need mentioning. Our response to that is that these things DO need noting in preparation for the vitally important page that will follow on the outworking of this in respect of teaching behaviour for the Christian, which will form so much of the Christian's life.



1. Differences of the New Testament


The New Testament brings us four distinct differences from the Old, features which should impact all we believe, and they are simply the things that take place that are so radically different from anything found in the Old Testament:


1. The Coming, Life & Ministry of Jesus


•  Jesus modelled the coming of the kingdom, led by the Spirit, following the Father bringing blessing to all who would receive him.


•  Although the ministry of Jesus is difficult to apply to our everyday living – he travelled by foot, was constantly involved in ministry and had little home life – yet the spirit and purpose behind all he did must surely be the same for our lives.


•  He came bringing a new emphasis and a new dynamic (see later)


•  The Gospels are so important because they reveal Jesus as The Son of God who has come to reveal the Father. Jesus said, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:9)


•  Through Jesus we understand the character of the Father more fully because Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) and “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19)


•  Through Jesus we learn that we, the church, will continue doing what he had been doing: “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12)


•  As we observe Jesus expressing love and goodness, we realise this is the character of God and the purpose of God being expressed, and this in itself sets the standard for us as Christians.


2. The Death of Jesus on the Cross


•  This dealt with all our sin and guilt and shame


•  All we are as Christians today hangs on his finished work – we can add nothing to it.


•  We cannot impress God by our good works; He knows the truth about us and because of that sent Jesus to die for us.


•  All we can do is gratefully and thankfully receive His forgiveness and then the sonship and purposeful new life that flows out of being released from guilt, fear and shame.


•  Because the old sinful nature likes to be in control and likes to feel it is worth something, we need to emphasise again and again that nothing but nothing we do can add to what Jesus has achieved on the Cross.


•  We are accepted utterly by the Father the moment we are born again (see below) and all teaching about our behaviour or activity cannot make us ‘more a Christian' or ‘more acceptable to God' for the Cross achieved our total acceptance.


3. The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost


•  In the Old Testament period, the Holy Spirit came down on the occasional individual to empower them for service. 


•  On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down and indwelt EVERY believer and every believer since has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit (often referred to as the ‘Spirit of God' or the ‘Spirit of Jesus'). 


•  Thus every believer is equipped to live with an element of Jesus within them, empowering them to change, and communicating with them to teach them and guide them. 


•  The church is now one body, people ‘alive' by the Spirit, all empowered by the Spirit, to continue the ongoing work of Jesus (as seen in Acts).


•  There is a new reliance upon one another within this body made up of people with different gifts, different callings, different ministries etc.


•  We are what we are ‘as church' because of the Holy Spirit's equipping and enabling – and we are all different.   


4. The New Birth Experience


•  This requires a one-off repentance and acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord.


•  This utterly changes the dynamics of living – surrendered beings, beings Spirit taught and led, being changed (sanctified) as an ongoing thing.


•  This was a unique work of the Holy Spirit – we couldn't do it – and His life now flows within us and has a unique purpose for each one of us.


Each one of these four things goes to produce a radically new people of God, utterly different from that people seen in the form of the nation of Israel and those who joined themselves to Israel in the Old Testament period:

  • The life and ministry of Jesus reveals the Father and models the kingdom on earth
  • The death & resurrection of Jesus provides the ‘legal' basis for our salvation – our forgiveness, our sonship and our being worthy to receive His Spirit
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit meant we are all Spirit empowered, taught and led people
  • The new birth experience of the Spirit opens up and creates an entirely new life of sonship, powered and led by God that brings change in us to make us more Christ-like in character and in behaviour and in purpose.


2. Transition


We should note in passing, the New Testament as history is a period of transition.

  • The four things above came in stages – Jesus had to come, live, minister, die, rise from the dead and ascend before the Holy Spirit could come. The coming of the Spirit and subsequent new birth for all new believers followed on.
  • The church was initially in a Jewish context which needs to be understood e.g. all of the Sermon on the Mount is set against the Old Testament Law and develops from it. Thus we often find Jesus speaking to people – Jewish people – who have the experience of living in a Jewish culture with Jewish teaching and following (theoretically at least) the Law of Moses.
  • It becomes more and more Gentile context, easing away from the specific practices of the Law. Thus the leading apostles in the Council in Jerusalem lay nothing of the Law on the new Gentile believers except avoiding certain meats and sexual immorality! (Acts 15:20,29) An interesting combination which recognised that the Jewish believers still held to those parts of the Law and the apostles were thus asking the new Gentile believers to be sensitive to their sensitivity over these matters.
  • The transition is also from Law to Spirit: initially it was follow the Law, but this gives way to follow the Spirit. This is of major significance for the New Testament Christian which we will examine in detail in the following paper.


3. Significance of the Differences


The significance of the awareness of these differences, is that

  • in respect of revelation, we may use the Old Testament to catch understanding of who God is but His revelation is incomplete in the Old and is only completed by the New,
  • in respect of relationship, we may catch understanding of the possibilities of relationship with God in the Old Testament but the fullness does not come until ‘sonship' is made possible in the New Testament,
  • in respect of empowering, when God used people in the Old Testament we see the Holy Spirit 'coming down on' people and empowering them, but in the New Testament that is true of every believer who becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit,
  • in respect of right living, in the Old Testament this was seen as obeying God (on the relatively rare occasions He spoke) and responding to Him, accepting what He said, but mostly by obeying the Law. In the New Testament, all believers are declared righteous because they have received Jesus as the Son of God and as their Saviour and Lord. Personal daily living is led by the Holy Spirit and by the teaching of the New Testament (Jesus and the apostles).
  • sanctification in the Old Testament is seen as holiness by being a part of Israel and complying with the Law. In the New Testament, it is the individual set apart to God by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and then the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual changing them into Jesus' likeness.


4. The Law Superseded


This subject is so important that it requires a special point being made. To understand the role of the Law of Moses in the Bible and how it is superseded in the New Testament, we need to see its role in the light of the who of the history covered by the Bible:

a) God's Perfect Design

  • When God created the world He made everything to work perfectly in specific ways.
  • This was no less true of human beings.

b) Sin meant diverging from that design

  • With the entry of sin into the world, from then on men and women moved away from God's perfect design and lived lives contrary to it, resulting in spiritual, physical and social changes.
  • Sin = the propensity to be godless and self-centred resulting in unrighteousness; sins are individual acts of unrighteousness emanating from godlessness and self-centredness.

c) The Purpose of the Law

  • The purpose of the Law of Moses was twofold:
  • First, to provide a framework for behaviour for living within the newly established community of God's people at that time in history. This sought to establish a peaceful, harmonious and caring community answerable to God.
  • Second, to provide guidance for when people failed to follow the laws, the means of dealing with the wrong behaviour by bringing correction, restitution etc. as well as a means of restoring the broken relationship with God that had brought about by the wrong. This second purpose was an expression of God's mercy and grace and its intent was to restore the community and avoid worse repercussions.

d) Directions from the Old & New Testaments

  • Guidance and direction in the Old Testament period came mainly from Law and when the people failed to obey that, from the prophets sent by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  
  • In the New Testament era this is reversed: we are guided and led by the indwelling Holy Spirit and when we fail to respond to Him, our ‘fall-back' is the teaching and instructions found in the New Testament, readily available to us and taught and administered by ministries within the church. (We will explain this more fully in the context of the next paper). Where necessary, correction is brought by the elders of a local church, aided on occasion by apostolic and prophetic ministries.


e) Motivations in Old & New Testaments

  • In the Old Testament, the motivation to keep the Law was the threat of the community leaders taking action against the sinner, or where they failed to act, either through prophets sent to bring a rebuke and warning, or God acting directly to bring chastisement. The Law was there to be obeyed.
  • In the New Testament, the motivation for conforming to God's design, His will for us, is supposed to be the indwelling Holy Spirit. God will reinforce this through the Eph 4:12 ministries who teach and reveal God's design in the ‘body of Christ', and through local elders. He does also act directly to bring chastisement (see 1 Cor 11:28-32)

5. And So...


We cannot emphasise enough the radical difference brought about by the four things we have noted in section 1 above. Put very simply, there is a new ‘God-awareness'

  • God has come to the earth and revealed Himself through His Son
  • He has revealed His love and goodness and purpose
  • He has died for our sins and our guilt to set us free from them
  • He has sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us
  • Now our lives are God directed, God motivated and God energised.


The following paper will note how the old sinful nature likes to ‘do it itself' and thus ignore these vital truths. It is incumbent on the preacher (and indeed the individual Christian) to hold on to and understand and live out these truths. Failure to do so means we slide back into a form of Old Testament religion which nullifies all that the Father has planned, all that Jesus did on earth, and all that the Spirit seeks to do today. It is that important!