A sentiment I hear frequently is “I just want to love Jesus,” with the implication that the speaker would rather not get too caught up in some of the more controversial or foreign passages found elsewhere in the Bible – especially in the Old Testament. People sometimes embrace this perspective as a way to keep the Christian life simple and pure. They don’t want to get caught up in religious rituals, arbitrary requirements, and teachings that are hard to make sense of in the modern world.
Jesus himself was once asked to pinpoint what God wants from his people. Mark 12:28-34 records a conversation between Jesus and an earnest Jewish scribe. The scribe asked Jesus to identify the most important commandment, and we know his answer well. Or do we?
Jesus’ answer to the scribe was to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. But that is not his complete response. His entire answer draws from a passage, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, that was familiar to all Jews in the crowd that day, because they recited that passage as part of their daily worship. The passage, known as the Shema, begins with “Hear, O Israel: The LORD (YHWH) our God, the LORD is one.” Jesus includes this as part of his answer because he is talking about loving a specific God: the God who initiated a relationship with Israel and who was revealing himself to Israel. The audience of Jesus’ day knew this God as the God who was testified about in the Scriptures – the Old Testament (of course, the New Testament wasn’t in existence yet!).
We shouldn’t miss the significance of Jesus’ answer. Jesus himself highlighted loving the God of the OT as the most important thing we can do. If we want to love and follow Jesus (and we should!), we will love God as he is described in both the OT and the NT – the complex, challenging, holy God who doesn’t always act according to our sensibilities. It is not enough to follow Jesus in isolation and cast the God of the OT aside, since Jesus points us to the God of the OT rather than away from him. “Jesus” without the OT is a skewed, distorted Jesus.
As Christians, our relationship with God is defined by Christ (and the new covenant he inaugurated in his death and resurrection), but God has not changed or “improved” from the way he was in the OT. Jesus’ answer to the scribe that day directs us to love the same God who revealed himself to Israel – YHWH God of the OT – who is the same God we can know today through Christ.
Distorted religiosity and heartless rituals still have no place in the life of a Christ-follower. But careful, prayerful, responsive engagement with the Old Testament does. If we love Jesus, God the Son, let’s listen to his call to embrace the LORD God, as witnessed in all the NT and OT, without reservation, revision, or apology.
For the second part of this series, see the link below: