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Why do we pick and choose stuff out of the Old Testament and then ignore other stuff?

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Why do we pick and choose stuff out of the Old Testament to follow, such as dietary rules, and then we ignore other stuff?


Steve Answers:

 For me, three reasons come to mind when it comes to “picking” and “choosing” some Old Testament stuff and “ignoring” other stuff.

1. I pick the stuff I like and ignore the stuff I don’t like.
2. I don’t know about some of the stuff.
3. Some of the stuff doesn’t apply to us any longer.
 
Let me offer some examples and explanations for each of these three reasons.
 
1. I pick the stuff I like and ignore the stuff I don’t like. “He [the Lord] forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” (Psalm 103:3-5, NLT).1
 
“The Lord says, ‘Come, let us talk about these things. Though your sins are like scarlet, they can be as white as snow. Though your sins are deep red, they can be white like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18, NCV).2
 
I like the idea of God forgiving me. I like His promise to change me from sinfully dirty to clean. When you look inside my Bible, these are verses that are underlined and high-lighted in yellow.
 
When other people say nice things about me or promise to do good things for me, I like them. I want them around me. Don’t you? That’s the way it is with special Old Testament verses like these.
 
But here’s some stuff from the Old Testament that I don’t like, so I’m more likely to ignore it:
 
“The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if there is even one with real understanding, one who seeks for God. But no, all have turned away from God; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not even one!” (Psalm 14:2, 3, NLT).
 
“The kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help” (Isaiah 58:6, 7, NLT).
 
What I don’t like about verses like these is that I’m guilty before God, I’m not together enough to be called anything but corrupt. That hurts! I don’t like being called corrupt. And I’m accused of not being kind enough to needy people. Hey, I don’t mind helping people (especially when I get community service credit for it), but I’m not interested in welcoming the homeless into my home. I’ll feed them on the street once in a while, but I don’t want them to live with me!  Are you ready to have a homeless druggie share your bedroom and start using your stuff? These are not feel-good verses for me, so I tend to avoid them. Do you?
 
2. I don’t know about some of the stuff. This is true for many Christians when it comes to topics like the seventh-day Sabbath and dietary ideals. Some don’t even know that the fourth commandment about worshipping the Creator says that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11). And, according to Genesis 2:1, 2, observing the Sabbath isn’t limited to Jews.
 
Many Christians are oblivious to God’s instruction not to eat unclean meat. They figure that if something is available at the grocery store, it’s OK for them to eat. Then they’re surprised when their physician tells them that their diet’s killing them. Or they’re surprised when research, such as the China Study, reveals that a diet more like the one God outlined in the Garden of Eden prevents heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—diseases so common in Western societies.
 
When a person points the finger at people and condemns them for not following what the Bible says, it often makes the people defensive. Admittedly, a good slap in the face sometimes works as a wake-up call. However, it’s usually best to show the benefits of following what God has revealed to us in Scripture, including facts that might be brand-new to others, even though they’ve been in the Bible the whole time.
 
Here are some benefits you can share about the Sabbath and healthful diet. Putting away schoolwork, chores, and a job for 24 hours straight each week can be a relief, especially when you’re counting on God to take care of you with that tremendous break. Having a better quality of life now has its own rewards. Plus, you’ll probably live longer when you eat what is good for your body rather than what your taste buds have been taught to crave.
 
If you’re a Seventh-day Adventist, you might be familiar with keeping the Sabbath and not eating unclean meats. But there are probably other Old Testament passages that you might ignore because you simply don’t know about them. For starters, check out Isaiah 6, Daniel 11, or Ezekiel 16!
 
3. Some of the stuff doesn’t apply to us any longer. God taught His children that sin kills (see Leviticus 4:27-31). When Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” came to earth (John 1:29), He died in our place. From then on there’s no longer been a need for animal sacrificing to show people that the innocent would one day die for the guilty, because Jesus did! Now we can go directly to Jesus for forgiveness. No wonder the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51).
 
So, that teaching served its time. It pointed toward a promise, and the promise was fulfilled. Now to kill an animal as a sacrifice is like showing disrespect to Jesus, who was the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1, 12).
 
It’s also possible that some of the things in the Old Testament progressed, so that the new things take the place of the old (see Mark 2:22). For example, when the Israelites came out of Egypt, payback came in the form of overkill. If somebody knocked out another person’s tooth, the other person might pay them back by knocking out 10 or 20 of their teeth. If someone poked out one of your eyes, you’d pay them back by gouging out both of their eyes. That’s why God told them, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:24). That was more merciful than overkill! It sounds like payback, but God’s directive offered much more mercy than what they were accustomed to.
 
When Jesus came on the scene 1,500 years later, He told the people: “If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too” (Matthew 5:39, NLT). See the progression of mercy from overkill, to eye for eye, to letting it go?
 
Naturally the Old Testament came before the New Testament. The Old Testament points toward Jesus. And the New Testament offers you the story of Jesus in person (John 14:8-11)! When you look at Jesus, you get a clearer picture of what God is like than if you were to consider only the symbols that pointed to Him (see Hebrews 1:1-3). In the same way, if I interact with you in person I get a better idea of who you are, than if I were to merely look at your photos or read your journal.
 
A similar thing happens when somebody knew you as a child but doesn’t know you as a teen. You’re the same in some ways, but you’re also different. Has this ever happened to you when you’ve met relatives you haven’t seen for five to 10 years? It’s like you have to start over in some respects.
 
I’ve seen this happen to people who meet on Ultimate Workout and then don’t see each other until a year later on the next Ultimate Workout. A lot of changes can happen in one year!
 
In the same way, getting better acquainted with Jesus in the Old Testament can give you additional insights for your current relationship with Jesus. Don’t limit yourself to the wonderful New Testament when you’ve been given the entire Bible!
 
When I was a seminary student, we asked one of our professors about how he could trust and follow God when there are parts of the Bible that are hard to understand.
 
I clearly remember his response: “It’s not the parts of the Bible that are hard for me to understand that are difficult for me; it’s the parts of the Bible that are easy to understand but I don’t want to follow them—that’s the hard part.”
Here’s an example of an easy part of the Bible to understand but hard to follow: Luke 6:20-49. Or, if you want a challenge from the Old Testament, check out Deuteronomy 30 or Isaiah 1. There are many other chapters and passages that I could point out as well.
 
Try reading through the Old Testament. Start with Proverbs or Deuteronomy. Underline the parts that you believe were written not only for people thousands of years ago, but also for people right now. Highlight those parts that seem to be specifically for you. Put a question mark in the margin if you wonder whether or not a part of the Old Testament still applies.
 
Now you have lots of material to pray about and to discuss with others at Sabbath school, at a meal, or when you’re hanging with friends and have nothing to talk about. You may find that your faith will grow to the point that others will come to you to help their faith flourish. Then you’ll be answering your own question!
 
1Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
 
2Scriptures credited to NCV are quoted from The Holy Bible, New Century 
Version, copyright © 1987, 1988, 1991 by Word Publishing, Dallas, Texas 75039. Used by permission.


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