Is the Old Covenant Still Relevant to Our Lives?
By Jamey Escamilla • August 23, 2022
Recently I was asked, “Is there any relevance at all to the Old Covenant in this New Covenant age? And to what extent is there continuation or discontinuation of the covenants?”
I think this is a fantastic question. Often times, believers get very confused as to how we’re supposed to approach the Old Covenant in today’s world.
Should we still uphold it?
Can we use it as a guide to live holy?
Is there any relevance at all to the Old Covenant in today’s world?
Understanding the difference between the Old and New Covenants and how they apply to our lives is super important because it determines how a Christian lives in the here and now. Depending on what we believe about the relevance of the Old Covenant, it could also cause us to form distinct beliefs about God and who we are in Christ.
Is there any relevance to the Old Covenant in our New Covenant age?
Let’s answer this question by first making sure that we all understand what the Old Covenant is.
The Old Covenant was the contract that the ancient Israelites were under with God in the Old Testament. We can also call it the Mosaic Law that contained a lot of the popular Old Testament laws that we know about, such as the Ten Commandments.
We all know the origin story of the Israelites in the Bible, so let’s start there. There was Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob. From Jacob came the 12 tribes of people that made up the Israelite nation. This whole nation of Israel was in slavery in Egypt for 400 long years. Then, Moses comes on the stage.
He tells Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” God then demonstrates the famous plagues over Egypt until they finally relent and let the Israelites leave Egypt. They cross the Red Sea after God parts it and wander into the wilderness. A few months later, they come to Mount Sinai.
At this mountain, God begins to speak to the Israelites, but they’re too afraid to draw near to Him. This happens in Exodus 19-20, but Deuteronomy 5 is like a “repeat” of this story and it gives us more details as to what actually went down.
Deuteronomy 5:23-27 tells us that they wanted Moses to be the one who goes to God and hears from Him. Moses would then just bring the rules back to the Israelites and they would try to obey.
Scholars believe that if you study the language and history of Exodus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 5 closely, it actually has a lot to do with covenants. Making covenants, or contracts, were big in those days, and that’s what was going on in these passages. The Israelites were entering into the Old Covenant, which was technically a “kinship covenant”.
With this type of covenant, the two people entering into the agreement would have obligations to fulfill. God was responsible for blessing the Israelites and giving them their own land. The Israelites just had to obey, and if they didn’t, they would be judged.
This Old Covenant began here in Exodus 19-20 when the Israelites refused to draw near to God. So, God began to lay out the laws. This included the Ten Commandments, laws that told them how to treat their neighbors, and how to have the proper Israelite diet. The list goes on.
The Nature of the Old Covenant
This is the covenant that the Israelites were under for the remainder of the Old Testament in your Bible, and it shaped the way God dealt with His people. This Old Covenant was the foundation that they all stood on in the Old Testament. The importance of this Old Covenant in their lives is summed up well in Deuteronomy 11:
18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 20 And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.
22 “For if you carefully keep all these commandments which I command you to do—to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him— 23 then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will dispossess greater and mightier nations than yourselves. 24 Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the River Euphrates, even to the Western Sea, shall be your territory. 25 No man shall be able to stand against you; the Lord your God will put the dread of you and the fear of you upon all the land where you tread, just as He has said to you.
26 “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
It’s really a simple agreement. If they kept the Old Covenant, they would be blessed and possess the land that God promised to give Abraham and his descendants. If they didn’t, they would be cursed. Just know that this covenant was of the utmost importance to them and was behind most of the famous Old Testament stories you read about.
When you read about David, know that it was all under the Old Covenant. David and his men had to follow this covenant, or they would be judged. The same goes for Joshua when they shouted down the walls of Jericho, the famous prophet Elijah and his victories, and Malachi, the last book of your Bible. It was all Old Covenant.
Christians Not Under This Covenant
Now, I would confidently say that we, as New Covenant Christians, are no longer under an Old Covenant, and it’s important to stop living as though we are. Romans 10:4 says that Christ was the end of the law.
But here’s the problem. When some Christians hear this statement I just made, they might incorrectly come to some or all of the following conclusions:
“You’re saying that we don’t need the Old Testament for anything!”
“You’re saying that the Old Testament is not important, but it is still relevant to our lives as believers!”
“You’re saying that we don’t need laws, but we’re clearly guided by the Ten Commandments and other laws from the Old Testament! These are God’s standards for us to live by, and in this way, the Old Testament is still relevant to us.”
But again, a lot of this misconception stems from not understanding the proper definition of the Old Covenant. So, let’s make another distinction here.
The Old Covenant is not the same thing as the Old Testament. Normally, when we Christians say, “Old Testament”, we’re referring to the Old Testament portion of our written Bible. It includes all the stories, prophecies, patriarchs, psalms, and so much more.
When it comes to the Old Testament (the old, written portion of our Bible from Genesis to Malachi), this is still relevant to our lives today. But the question is “how”? Here’s the answer:
It is relevant for the purpose it was given. The Old Testament writings and stories exist to point us to Jesus and the New Covenant. I would say that the Old Testament is relevant to the life of a New Covenant believer in this manner:
The Old Testament helps us understand things that happen in the New Testament, and vice versa.
The Old Testament is first to tell us that there will be a transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. So, we don’t have to rely only on what the New Testament says about the transition into a new way of doing things. The Old Testament itself tells us that the Old Covenant was going to end, and this is a very important statement.
The Old Testament lays out all of the prophecy concerning Jesus and the New Covenant.
The Old Testament tells us what the “types and shadows” were. In other words, some people, objects, and events from the Old Testament represented people, objects, and events in the New Testament. So, the Old Testament is relevant in the sense that it helps us learn about these types and shadows and how we should understand the real substance here in the new.
The Old Testament shows us what the Old Covenant was like. In order to be blessed, the Jews had to obey every law, otherwise, they were guilty of breaking the entire thing (James 2:10).
The Old Testament shows us that at one point, God had a specific covenant with a specific people – the Jews. But now, He has made a New Covenant that includes all people – even us Gentiles.
When something is “relevant”, it’s something that is closely connected to the thing we’re talking about. It also means that this thing is applicable to and “goes with” what we’re talking about. In the ways listed above, the Old Testament is "relevant" to us believers and the New Covenant.
The Old "Covenant" Is Not Relevant
But what about the Old Covenant?
The Old Covenant is not relevant to the life of a New Covenant believer. It is not “closely connected” or “applicable”, and it does not “go with” us New Covenant Christians.
I know that might be offensive to some Christians. But if it is, first make sure that you know what I mean when I say this. Make sure you understand the difference between the Old Testament and the Old Covenant.
Old Testament – the written portion in your Bible from Genesis to Malachi
Old Covenant – the contract that God had with the people of Israel
The Old Testament talks about the Old Covenant, but it is not the Old Covenant. The old contract that God had with the ancient Israelites has nothing to do with us.
Let me explain.
In the Bible days, you were either a Jew or a Gentile. A Jew was a descendant of Abraham and was part of the people of God. A Gentile was anyone who was not a Jew. Most of us in the church world today are natural Gentiles, meaning, we probably don’t have any roots that go all the way back to Abraham.
The initial covenants that God made was with the Jews only – they were never with us Gentiles. Check out these passages:
Romans 9:4 CSB
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises.
Ephesians 2:11-12 CSB
1 So, then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.
Here’s what this tells us: Us Gentiles were never invited to the Old Covenant. We were never required to keep the Ten Commandments or any part of the contract that God had with the Jews. So, it is perfectly acceptable to say that the Old Covenant is not relevant to us.
For example, when you go to a dealership and purchase a car, you have to enter into a contract with the dealership. The document says that you agree to pay a certain amount every month, and in return, the dealership will give you the car. The contract is between you and the dealership – no one else.
But if someone else came along and began to send money to the dealership because of your contract with them, what would you say? It would be ignorant for that person to abide by any rules of that agreement, because it has nothing to do with them.
It’s the same way with the Old Covenant. The Mosaic Law has nothing to do with us because we’re Gentiles. Let’s just start with these basic facts.
But during the time that this Old Covenant was in effect, Jeremiah 31:31-34 tells us that a new and better covenant was going to be made. It would be made by the shed blood of Jesus and would include both Jews and Gentiles:
Ephesians 3:5-6 CSB
5 This was not made known to people in other generations as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: 6 The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
We see many times throughout the New Testament that this New Covenant we’re all under means that we’re forgiven and righteous because of our faith in Jesus, not by keeping the Old Covenant law. This new one is completely different from the old one. As Jeremiah said, “This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors.”
How To Disconnect From the Old Covenant
Therefore, Christians today should understand that it’s important to disconnect from the Old Covenant, and here’s what that looks like:
We shouldn’t try to uphold any Old Covenant laws, but follow God’s Spirit and Scripture, which will lead us into all truth, holiness, and good works.
We should know that certain ways God dealt with the Israelites and vice versa might not apply to us. For example, God will not leave us or curse us if we sin, because that’s an Old Covenant stipulation.
We are sons and daughters in the New Covenant, and they were servants in the Old. We should know our identity and stance in Christ.
We should repent and embrace grace when we sin, and not “try to be more disciplined”. Our striving to keep rules from the Bible in our own self-effort won’t work.
We are not saved by grace and “kept saved” by being good. That is an Old Covenant rule which says you’re right with God only when you obey.
Disconnecting from the Old Covenant does not mean that you throw out the Old Testament. The Old Testament scriptures point to grace, so we need them to understand our place in Christ.