Goin’ Old Testament in the Advent of Grace

In popular vernacular, when someone ‘goes Old Testament’ he is putting the hurt to someone else.

The phrase arises from the seeming disparity in God’s wrath between Old Testament and New Testament (and, thus, modern) times. In the Old Testament, people offer strange fire to the Lord and are instantly killed. People grumble against Moses’ leadership and are swallowed up in the ground. Miriam questions Moses’ wife and is turned leprous. Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. Men touch the ark of the covenant to steady it and are instantly killed.

These incidents teach many things, among them that God’s judgment on disobedience is sure, swift and final.

The God of the New Testament, we suppose, has become enlightened, developed, nicer. All his wrath was poured on Jesus at the cross, so God is now a soft, squishy and harmless benevolent deity who only seeks our best.

To be sure, the New Testament does not have reports of slain giants, destroyed armies, and the immediate punishment of wrongdoing. But hints of God’s immutability (unchanging character) shine through, nonetheless.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul instructs the congregation to put a man involved in gross, unrepentant sin outside the church, so that his flesh could be delivered over to (and destroyed) by Satan (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira are killed instantly when they lie about how much money they gave the church. And in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul links the fact that many of them were weak, ill or dead to their misbehavior during the Lord’s supper.

Imagine, for a moment, the pastoral implications of the truth expressed in these passages. Pastor Jones is approached by grieving widow Smith, who asks, ‘Pastor, why did God let my husband die?’ To which Pastor Jones says ‘He was tight as new rope, but told the elders he was tithing.’ Or, deacon Brown, laid up in the hospital, is lovingly chastised by Pastor Jones: ‘Son, you’re here because you abused the Supper.’

Do men still lie to the Holy Spirit? Sure. Does the church still sit idle around unrepentant sin? Absolutely. Do members still abuse the Lord’s Supper. No doubt.

Does God still take the lives of men when they do these things? Well . . . Here is where we hedge and attribute all physical difficulty, illness and death to the natural consequences of living in a fallen world. Scripture is clear that God disciplines those he loves, and discipline for God is not merely a sanctified “time out” spent sitting in the corner while the other believers play, but includes physical hardship, sickness, even death.

We do not always know for sure that there is a causal relationship between someone’s illness and personal sin. Pastor Jones can’t always be so blunt with widow Smith and deacon Brown. But the warning remains, and part of preaching the whole counsel of God, part of admonishing one other as is required of every believer, includes reminding ourselves of these biblical warnings.

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