I’m always thrilled when people ask me to write about a particular topic. It’s nice to know that people are reading and actually interested in the things that I have to say and in my take on whatever topic comes to mind. Here’s one that came to me this morning:
Perhaps one of the hardest things to understand about God is how He seems to change between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In the OT He appears to be a harsh, cruel, and judgmental being with no patience and and who is quick to execute extreme justice. In the NT He seems to be a different being altogether – softer, gentler, more patient and loving. Many people view this difference either as a contradiction in the Bible or as a God who is not really unchangeable but who is, in actuality, constantly changing and shifting. The truth of the matter is simple, however – the God of the OT is the exact same God as the NT. The difference is seen as we view His plan in relating to mankind throughout time.
Man was given the choice to follow God and turn his back on sin or to give in to sin and turn his back on God. Man, in the person of Adam, made that choice, choosing rather to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a little while. As such there came to be a need for redemption, and a way to _secure_ that redemption, so that Man could once again enjoy the fellowship of God. So, God promised a Redeemer, Someone who would pay the price necessary to secure once again the hope for eternal life for all mankind. The promise was made that this Redeemer would arrive at some as-yet-to-be-determined date in the future, and that redemption would be bought for all who believed – past, present, and future.
In the meantime, God chose a special people for Himself, a people who would bear His special pleasure and blessing and reap an extra reward. (Later, this was extended to include the Church, as the Jews continually turned their backs on God.) This was promised to a man who forsook all he knew and had and followed God with a great faith. From this man Abraham, the nation of Israel was born, and God became their God as He led them throughout history.
Now, part of God’s plan to demonstrate the people’s need for His Redeemer was to show to them just how much they actually needed Him. He wanted to make sure His people were aware that they were completely and utterly unable to satisfy the requirements for righteousness so that they could enter Heaven without help. So God established the Law, the requirements by which all men should live in order to satisfy God’s demand for holiness. No man in history has yet been able to live consistently and completely by that Law.
The Law was the guideline for righteous living for the days before the Redeemer. Since the price had not yet been paid, man’s level of righteousness was determined by his deeds. Faith was still enough to be granted salvation, just as it is now, but a man gained greater favor with God and was accounted greater righteousness by living as closely as possible to the edicts of the Law.
Fast forward to a manger scene. Jesus Christ enters the world as the God-Man. He grows up, enters the ministry for a handful of years, sacrifices Himself and defeats death soundly, so securing eternal life for all who believe. From that day on God’s relationship to His people took a new step forward. There was now an Intercessor between God and Man in the person of Jesus, who now stands in that gap so that all men can know God personally, rather than having to have a human priest to intercede on our behalf. (Jesus is now that Great High Priest.) He paid the price for redemption, fulfilling the requirements of the Law, and so the Law is now no longer necessary. The Age of Law has given way to the Age of Grace.
The God of the OT was just as long-suffering and loving and patient as He is now. You can read through the history of the Bible and see how often God gave His people (and even those who were _not_ His people) time and multiple opportunities to give up their sinful ways and follow Him. That has not changed today, but the pressure is off to fulfill the Law because grace has taken its place. Jesus Christ has already satisfied the Law. It does not mean, however, that we who follow Him should not live righteously, but because we have died with Christ to sin, we should strive all the more to live righteously, a process made easier by the power of the Holy Spirit upon all those who believe.
God has not changed over time; the God who appears in the Old Testament is not a different God than appears in the New. He has simply continued in His plan to show men their need of Him and and bring them to Him in a close, personal relationship.