Theme: Grace in the Old Testament and the New
This week’s lessons show how the grace that came through Jesus Christ fits with the
perfect law of God and its condemnation against us for our sins.
Scripture: John 1:17
There is a tendency among dispensationalists to emphasize differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and there is a corresponding tendency among reformed thinkers to minimize or deny them. But there is one area in which even the most rigorous reformed theologians must acknowledge a difference between the testaments, and that is between an emphasis upon law in the Old Testament and the emphasis upon grace in the New. The reason? It is the teaching of the New Testament itself. John 1:17 teaches the distinction when it says, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
Since I am a reformed theologian myself, I do not want to overemphasize this distinction. I know that the Old Testament is also profoundly aware of grace. Even more importantly, it teaches that the way of salvation is by the grace of God in providing an atoning Savior, who turns out to be Jesus. We saw this in our study of Genesis 3, and it could be proved throughout the Old Testament by many other passages. And by the New Testament! In Romans Paul teaches that Abraham, David, and the other Old Testament saints were saved exactly as God saves people today, that is, through believing on Jesus Christ (Rom. 4:18). They looked forward to his coming. We look back. But the basis of our salvation and the nature of belief are the same.
Or again, I am aware that the New Testament does not reject the law of God or deny its importance. In Romans, the same book in which Paul teaches that salvation is by grace and that the Old Testament figures were saved by faith, as we are, the apostle asks, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” and answers, “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31). Later he writes, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12). We must never overstate the difference. Yet we must not overlook it either. For there clearly is a difference, as our text indicates.
The contrast between the Old Testament emphasis on law and the New Testament emphasis on grace can be seen at least in part by the frequency with which the word “grace” is used in each testament. In the New International Version there are only eight occurrences of the word grace in the Old Testament, none terribly significant. But there are 128 uses of grace in the NIV’s New Testament translation. Moreover, they occur in key passages and with multiple usage. Romans 5 is one example. The word is used seven times in that chapter. Grace is also used extensively in Ephesians 2. It occurs four times in the Greek text of John 1.
Most striking of all are the doxologies. There are thirty that use the word grace, doxologies such as: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:7), “Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2), “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom. 16:20), “Grace be with you” (2 Tim. 4:22), “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:13), and “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Phil. 4:23).
There are other Old Testament words for grace, of course. The word “gracious” is found 39 times in the Old Testament (NIV), seven times as an exact or near repetition of Exodus 34:6 (“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”). Those words are more or less repeated in Nehemiah 9:17, Psalms 86:15, 103:8 and 145:8, Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2. But even these texts do not add up to the force grace seems to have when it breaks forth freshly with the coming of Jesus Christ. In the same way, “favor” is used 98 times in the Old Testament. But many of these speak of human favor only, and the double use of the word has the effect of weakening it even when it is applied to God.
So there really is a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament at this point, and John is not overstating the matter when he writes of grace coming in a special way with Jesus Christ. I have already noted verse 17 of John 1. The full passage says, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (vv. 14, 16, 17). John meant that grace came to us fully with Jesus Christ, because it is through his death and by his resurrection that sinful men and women have been made righteousness before God.
How were Old Testament saints saved?
What does it mean that grace came to us fully with Jesus Christ?
Application: Look up some of the doxologies that talk about grace. Praise the Lord for how he continues to show you his grace in Christ.