The Largest Misconception of the Old Testament

One of the largest misconceptions of the Old Testament is that OT people were saved by keeping the law.

At no point does the Law say a person is saved by keeping the Law. Keeping the Law was a good thing, it was the covenant rules for Israel. If they kept the Law things would go well with them in the Land.

Deuteronomy makes it clear that staying in the Land is the entire point of keeping the Law. Chapter 28 is the classic one, it begins thusly:

“if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth.”

The chapter then continues to give a list of curses and blessings the Land will endure based on the Law-keeping of the people.

At no point does the Law ever claim that obedience to it saves a person.

Now, a person who is saved is the only one who could keep the Law, and the only one who would have a true desire to do so. But salvation is a prerequisite for true Law-obedience.

Attempting to keep the Law apart from faith, or as a replacement for faith, is why Jesus had such a problem with Pharisees and Paul had such a problem with Judaizers.

The Law never says keeping it saves a man and the New Testament constantly fights against this point, yet many continue to believe that keeping the Law is how OT people were saved.

5 thoughts on “The Largest Misconception of the Old Testament”

  1. Jeff,
    The problem of the Judaizers and Pharisees is still a problem today, only it has a different disguise.

    Instead of telling people they have to keep the law to be saved, we tell them that they can’t keep the law because “we’re all sinners”. But then we tell them that they have to do some good works anyway, which we call “love” because they look reasonably good from the outside.

    This is the same problem. Setting a standard lower than what God requires is how legalism starts. Once the standard is low enough that I can keep it with my fleshly power and will, then it is simply “works of the flesh” which do not require the miraculous power of God. That’s how Ishmael came into being, which was the clearest example of an attempt at salvation by works.

    For example, Jesus said that if a man lusts in his heart, then he has already committed adultery. What He’s really saying is that the gospel can free us from lust entirely. Most people think that is impossible, just as Abraham and Sarah thought it was impossible to bring forth the child in their old age. So they set up another standard, and then try to reach that instead. Yet these kinds of “impossibilities” are exactly where the power of God is required, and where real salvation is needed.

    If we set a standard lower than what God promises, we will miss the promise, and inevitably go into legalism instead.

  2. I also think legalism is an attempt to replace the doctrines of God for the commandments of man. Not enough to keep the Sabbath day holy, we musty invent hudnreds of laws to determine whether we do that or not. Soon, the issue is not about Sabbath keeping but about how well we hold to our man-made traditions.

    As you say, these standards are lower than GOd’s and of our own invention. God’s standard is so ridiculously high that the only way to meet it is in rebirth and through His Power. To limit this standard is to limit our need for God, at least in our minds.

  3. Your comments made me think a bit more. I believe these deviations from God’s standard spring from an unhealthy fear we have towards Him. This also is a result of sin. I was reading Deuteronomy 1 a week ago and was struck by the comment of the people, after the bad report from the spies who searched the land:

    “Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us.” Deut. 1:27

    I wondered where they got this idea that God hated them? They had a wonderful evidence of His love at the Red Sea. But after that, there were circumstances where the Lord rebuked their sins. The people seemed to be unable to differentiate between sin and the sinner. In their minds, to show hatred of their sins, was to hate their beings. And if the Lord hated them, then the only thing they could do was to try and do something to make Him love them again. This impulse of slavish fear also leads to making commandments of men.

    Then the Lord sent them back into the wilderness for 40 years. This made me wonder a bit. If someone thinks you don’t love them, wouldn’t you normally try to show them that you do love them, by doing nice things, or saying nice things? Yet the Lord sent them into the wilderness to die. Wouldn’t that just reinforce the thought that the Lord did indeed hate them?

    I had to think about that a bit. But there was this statement:

    “Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.” Deut. 1:39

    If the Lord really hated them, He wouldn’t have chosen their children to go into the land, would He? Yet He trusted them for those 40 years, to raise up children that would have faith. And, of course, He went with them in the wilderness, and protected and fed them the whole time. So there was a great love there, but also very firm judgments against sin.

    I have to end here, because I’m still thinking about this…!

  4. Many times God says His protection of them was due to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and had little if anything to do with them, which seems a slap in the face! Perhaps God loved them but did not like them!

    Or when he wanted to wipe them out, but Moses said not to because then the heathen will say that God was strong enough to deliver them from bondage but not strong enough to establish them.

    I’ve also seen this applied to sanctification–God doesn’t just save us, He is strong enough to sanctify us as well.

    Perhaps at stake is the fierceness of God’s love, which often does not smack us as love. A father who loves his son chastens his son. Our understanding of love is greatly flawed.

  5. And do we believe we are any different? Before God by His grace freed our heart, was there anything in us that was worth loving? There was not one whom was good, all of us had gone astray.
    He gets all the credit, He deserves all glory, for rescuing those whom He has chosen.

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