John Yates: Jesus and the Old Testament Law: Discerning Right and Wrong Today

Several weeks ago, the Rev. John Yates of the Falls Church began a sermon series on the 10 Commandments. Here’s an excerpt of the first sermon in the series which provides a really helpful framework for how Christians should understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament in moral decision-making:

We live in a time where the air the young people breathe is filled with the spirit of autonomy. There’s a great hesitation among young adults today to say that such and such behavior is wrong for someone else if the someone else doesn’t think it’s wrong. Our culture is becoming more and more hesitant to draw moral boundaries. Even young people who follow Christ are hesitant to draw moral conclusions about others because they’ve grown up in a society that says do you own thing, find your own way, question authority. And so the college student who challenged his mom, the college students who challenge their parents’ interpretation of biblical teaching about sexual morality now, it’s not unusual. And, Christians who just quote the Bible in support of this or that moral position are often accused of either insensitivity or backwardness or of selecting out those passages that fit their own predilections and ignoring others. That’s the setting that we’re living in today.

Now, the question is, how do we know what’s right and what’s wrong? And another question is how do we make wise moral decisions? Well, we’re here because we follow Christ. We believe he’s the Son of God who came among us to reveal God, to teach God to us, to teach us the way of God. And so we follow Christ to know right and wrong. We believe he’s entrusted to us the scriptures as a reliable, true, authoritative guide in right thinking and right living. He told us to trust and to heed the Old Testament, and he established the New Testament through the apostles who he promised to guide into the truth as they proclaimed the word. And so the church has always believed what the apostles wrote in 2 Timothy 3. You know the words:
All scripture is inspired or breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God [or the woman] may be competent, equipped for every good work.

The fundamental reason why the Anglican Communion and other communions as well are being pulled apart is that there’s no longer agreement as to what scriptural authority means. Church people are now accepting and approving ideas and behaviors that the church has consistently seen over the centuries as contrary to biblical teaching: the deity of Christ, the atoning death of Christ, the historical reliability of the resurrection, our responsibility to proclaim Christ to all people, and of course certain standards of moral behavior. All this and more is being questioned and even discouraged by many church people, and so we’re divided over these things, painfully divided. How do we read our Bible to discern what is right and what is wrong? We’re about to enter into a series of talks on Sundays in the summer on the Ten Commandments””God’s moral foundation for all civilization””because we forget how basic and how helpful the Ten Commandments are and what they teach us. They never go out of date. We’ll try to pitch this in a way that the kids will appreciate it as well as adults. But before we get to that today, I want to help you think clearly about how we view the Bible as a whole in its moral teaching. It’s true””as some people accuse us””it’s true. We do accept some passages of Leviticus, for instance, as still binding, and others we reject. Why do we do that? Are we just subjective””that’s what we’re accused of””or is there more to it?

The full text is here.

(hat tip: Prydain)


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

16 comments on “John Yates: Jesus and the Old Testament Law: Discerning Right and Wrong Today

  1. RevOrganist says:

    Anointed words.

  2. The Duke says:

    I think a truly New Testament understanding of the OT law is that we are not obliged to keep it. Jesus stated that there are just 2 laws which we are required to keep – love God with all we’ve got and love our neighbors as a ourselves. As it happens, we WILL fulfill all 10 commandments if we do this. Out motive will be different, however. It won’t be slavishly obeying law, but it will love for God and others. Liberation instead of legalism.
    The 10 commandments and other OT laws are a reliable, inspired and accurate glimpse of God’s character. They are not, however, the criteria by which Christians are to decided right from wrong. That question (according to Jesus) is to be decided by love – for God and neighbor.

  3. KAR says:

    #2 Well you make a correct point but come to a wrong conclusion. Jesus did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it. He didn’t lower the bar, He raised it!

    You are correct that if we keep Matt 12:37-38 we will in fact keep the Ten Commandments. There are no loop holes with the Golden Rule, there were loop holes in the OT, but in the Sermon on the Mount those were closed so that expressions of anger, not just murder were now under scrutiny. I can not worship an idol, not take the LORD’s name in vain and keep the sabbath yet not love God with all my heart, mind and strength. One curious item you seem to forget is Jesus wove together two OT verses (Deut. 6:5 & Lev. 19:18 ) so in effect He merely restated the law as it had already been revealed.

    Your final paragraph is an erroneous conclusion on the Golden Rule. In fact we are even told that the OT is given to us as an example that we might learn from the rich stories.

    (It does interest me how people who claim that the Ten Commandments are no longer a valid source tend to come up with the second set when their life is threaten, they’re the disrespected parent, or the victim of theft or cheating spouse, discovering someone lied to them or having someone covet their possession {I’ve had an insecure guy to the last, it really is obnoxious, it probably a root to many other property crimes} ).

  4. Jimmy DuPre says:

    Is Rev. Yates a reappraser? He has a very elevated anthropology. Needs to spend a little time with the prodigal son.

    Luke 15; 21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

    Was it the Fathers fault that the son sinned?

  5. Karen B. says:

    Jimmy, not sure if your question is serious or not. John Yates is very decidedly in the “reasserter” camp (aka “orthodox” or “traditionalist”).

  6. angusj says:

    #3 wrote in reply to #2:
    [blockquote]Jesus did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it. He didn’t lower the bar, He raised it![/blockquote]
    I think you’re making a category error. Your “raising the bar” can only be understood within the legal metaphor of justification whereas the requirement to love God and one another is relational. Therefore, while Jesus did indeed fulfil the law, we’re also no longer bound by the law (Rom 7:4-6). Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments remain an invaluable (but incomplete) picture of what it is to love God and one another and hence a wonderful guide to ensure we are truly living in the Spirit (Rom 8).

  7. KAR says:

    #7 Your “raising the bar” can only be understood within the legal metaphor

    Or in Sports … I’m a commoner, so I’ll never be able to pass the bar to enter the special area except by merit of the Paraclete, however in school PE was compulsory thus so was the High Jump.

  8. Br. Michael says:

    Paul’s point is that we are not saved by the law. Yet the summary of the law is taken form the OT. Deut 6:4-5 and Lev. 19:18. How do you love ghe Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind? How do you love your neighbor as yourself? Maybe the OT, which Jesus quotes, fleshes this out for us. You simply can’t read the NT in isolation from the old. Jesus did not have the NT He had the OT.

  9. KAR says:

    Addendum: remembering also that it is the Spirit which enables us to now be able to overcome sin and live out the law (Galatians – first part saying we are not to be bound under law but chap. 5 then shows how we are to live out the intent of law by walking in the Spirit — Leviticus is still a very profitable book in the Ephesian 1 sense that we may know Him better).

  10. Brent B says:

    # 5 Jimmy,

    I’m sorry that I don’t understand what you mean by an elevated anthropology. Can you explain what you mean in layman’s terms and cite some statements from the sermon that illustrate it?

  11. Jimmy DuPre says:

    Brent; High anthropology meaning a high estimate of our human nature as we are born.

    The sermon seems to say that Christianity is a combination of proper instruction and having a good teacher rather than a conversion from someone who is dead to sin ( Eph 2: 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, ) to someone who has life to the fullest.
    Why would the “good” student have any use for a God who sacrificed himself on a bloody cross?

    I also found it offensive to list Jesus as an example to be followed, in the same group with Abraham, Moses, and St. Paul.

    And is Abraham really such a good example? He shared his wife in order to save his hide, and had an affair with his female servant ( would be rape today).
    I found this a “lite” sermon. typical of what reappaisers are often accused of.

  12. Brent B says:


    Thanks for the reply. I interpreted it a bit differently. In the interests of full disclosure, I go The Falls Church. The Rev. Yates doesn’t need me to interpret his sermons, and I might just muddy things up, so take my comments as mine alone. I’ll try to reference things in his sermon to explain how I get a somewhat different message.

    I thought the part near the end where he says that we will fail, and have to keep coming back to Him asking for forgiveness, was a realistic assessment of man’s weakness. Tied in with that is his pretty clear statement (near the end of page 4) that only Jesus kept the laws perfectly, and He was crucified in place of sinful man, paints a clear picture of man’s weakness and need for Jesus as Savior. He says that “through Him could we meet the standards of God.” Jesus offered “forgiveness of sins, new life, grace.” He also says clearly that our adoption by God is by faith, repentance and living by the Spirit (bottom of page 4). In these parts that I see the gospel, complete with man’s fallen nature, rather than a high anthropology.

    I also think the sermon clearly separates Jesus from Abraham, Moses, and Paul, when taken in its entirety. The others have a specific trait or acts that are noted as good examples. But Yates talks about Jesus being the only one who kept the law fully. He says Jesus is our King and Master, not the others.

    Abraham certainly had his flaws. Even so, the Bible commends his faith, and that is the trait that is cited as exemplary in the sermon (bottom of page 2).

    I also didn’t find it “lite.” There are some important emphases on faith rather than works, but also a strong admonition to be obedient. And a realistic assessment that it is hard, and a long journey. I’d be interested to know your thoughts about what makes a sermon “lite” versus “substantive.”

    Anyway, just thought I would point out some differences in what I took from the sermon, and why I differed.

    Grace and peace to you,

  13. KAR says:

    I am personally unsure where Dr. John Yates+ stands in relationship to TULIP, I know +Minns shared personally thought is was a silly argument in relationship to the bigger issues going on today. I’m going to side that logic, ardent Calvinist have a nasty habit of arguing so passionately that they push all other folks away.

    In declaring a stanch Bible defender, who is currently named a defendant of a law suit, a “reappraser” is really a low blow! What price is the one who made that claim paying for his faith?

    If James D. Berkley was predestined to work with Mark Tooley who chose also to work at IRD can work together for renewal in not only Methodism and Presbyterianism but desiring to see renewal in American Christendom, just maybe Jimmy should do and evaluation of what believer are essential for you to fight along side. Maybe there could be too much tolerance of Arminianism or Anglo-Catholicism for you in Anglicanism.

  14. The_Elves says:

    elves ask that this thread not become
    1) a defense or attack of either Calvinism or Arminianism
    2) too personally directed at other commenters.

    Please keep the focus on Dr. Yates’ sermon

  15. KAR says:

    Apologies elf :down:

    KAR, thanks but no apology needed. The comment was not meant to rebuke you. It was preemptive. I could foresee it becoming either personal or a heated debates of doctrines not specifically related to Yates’ sermon

  16. libraryjim says:

    [b]VII. Of the Old Testament.[/b]

    The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.