Too many Christians skip reading the Old Testament and only read the New, never discovering the full meaning of the Bible. However, if you want a full picture of God’s nature and character, you must read both!
Scripture actually gives us two different views of God, not that He ever changes or has done anything differently but there was a period of time that in the terminology used in the Bible, God “held men’s sins against them.”
This can be compared to raising a child. When they are very young, it isn’t possible to reason with them, and they take toys away from their brothers or sisters because they are selfish and don’t know any better. When they are old enough to understand, they are told the rules, and if they don’t follow them, they are disciplined. The rules that are set have to be enforced even though they are too young to know about God and the devil. They may not understand the concepts the parent is teaching, but they soon learn that if they repeat the same action, discipline will follow.
In a sense that’s what the LORD did in the Old Testament. Before people were born again, they didn’t have the spiritual perception we have now under the New Covenant, so God had to give laws and enforce them with punishment, sometimes even unto death, to deter them from sinning. Although this might leave some with the impression that God didn’t really love them, that is not what the Word of God teaches us.
Romans 5:13 says, “Until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed where there is no law.”
“Until the law” means until the days of Moses when God gave the Ten Commandments and other ceremonial laws that applied to the Jewish nation. Up until that time, sin was in the world but wasn’t imputed.
The word “imputed” is a bookkeeping term like when someone would go to the store and say, “Put this on my account or tab.” When it was put on a person’s account, the purchase is “imputed” to that person which bought the item.
So then, this verse is saying that until the Ten Commandments came, sin was not being held against people.
Look at Genesis 3 and 4. Most people have the concept that when Adam and Eve sinned against God, because He was holy and man was now sinful, God could have nothing to do with sinful mankind. They think God drove man out of the Garden to remove him from His presence because a Holy God couldn’t could have no more relationship with him. They further think that a person must clean up their act through right actions and God once again cannot have a relationship with them. But Adam did continue a relationship with God and that kind of thinking is contrary to the message that Jesus taught.
Romans 5:18 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The New Testament teaches that while we were still sinning, God extended His love for us, not after we cleaned up our behavior. One of the great truths about the Gospel is that, God loves us even before we stop sinning, but when He changes our life, we don’t want to sin anymore. His love won’t let us continue in that “old life.” We change as a by-product of God’s love, not in order to get His love but because He loves us.
Even after Adam and Eve sinned, God still had fellowship with them (You can read this in Genesis 4.) Their relationship with God was not broken, as some believe and teach. Did God think that Adam and Eve did wrong, yes He did. That is why God eventually gave the Law. God had to give the Law to bring man back to a proper standard, His standard. That’s another reason why sacrifice was in the picture. God showed the people they needed a Savior and that man had to humble himself and receive forgiveness through the Savior as a gift.
Sadly too many manipulate and control these things to teach that the Law was given for us to keep it and thereby “earn” God’s forgiveness and acceptance. This is not why the Law was given.
The purpose of the Old Testament Law was to magnify our sin to such a degree that we would despair of ever saving ourselves and say, “God, if this is Your standard of holiness, I can’t do it. Forgive me for trying to earn it and have mercy on me!”
God is love and that has always been His nature!