Lyndal asks a great question, one I wish more believers would ask:
Greetings from Perth, Western Australia.
Are we able to take comfort in Old Testament Scriptures as promises also for us, such as “For the Lord my God, will hold my right hand, saying to me, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13) and “God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1-2a)?
Or does only the New Testament apply to us?
All Scripture is profitable for us today as Paul said in 2 Tim 3:16-17. We are to apply every verse. But we must interpret and apply every book of the Bible in light of its intended audience. That is even true of the New Testament. Of course, we must also consider dispensational changes.
The New Testament is easier to apply since all the books were written to church age people, and all the books except John were written specifically to believers. But even there, we must exercise caution at times. For example, Paul told Titus to appoint elders in every city of Crete (Titus 1:5). In addition, we know that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in many cities as well (Acts 14:23). But does that mean that someone today should be going around appointing elders in various cities? I’d say no. There are no apostles today and there are no delegates of apostles (like Titus and Timothy). I think we can discern that each church should have multiple elders and that they need to be selected somehow. Missionaries rightly or wrongly might appoint the first elders in a given city. Someone who plants a church in his own country might feel he is entitled to appoint the first elders. I don’t see that as prohibited. But it certainly is not commanded either. I think a more Biblical approach would be to let a new church decide who the first elders should be. After that, I think the elders can themselves decide who should join them.
In my opinion, the sign gifts are not operating today. Therefore, we must discern from sign gift passages what underlying principle we can apply. And we will not be in the Tribulation, but we still should apply passages dealing with that time.
The situation is more difficult for the Old Testament. Consider the dietary laws. Jews from the time the Law of Moses was given—around 1440 BC—until the birth of the Church in AD 33, were required to follow the dietary laws. No bacon burgers. No shrimp scampi. But only during that time period. Once the church age began, Jews and Gentiles were no longer under the Law of Moses.
But we still apply the Law of Moses today (2 Tim 3:16-17). The dietary laws remind us that we are not to be conformed to this world (Rom 12:2). We are to be separated people. We are to live differently. That is the application of much of the Law of Moses today: we are to be holy as He is holy.
Verses such as the ones Lyndal cites can often be applied directly. The principle found in Isa 41:13 and Ps 46:1-2 is repeated in the New Testament in verses like Matt 6:33; 10:31; Luke 12:7; Heb 13:5.
Caution must be taken in verses that offer comfort to people in specific situations. The fact that God promised to deliver Noah and his family from the flood is not a general promise that God will deliver every believer from every flood. The fact that God promised to deliver Israel if she turned from her wicked ways and sought the Lord (2 Chron 7:14) is not necessarily a promise that if the church (all the believers) in a given country repents and seeks the Lord, then the nation will be delivered. It is the entire nation that must repent and seek the Lord for deliverance to come (e.g., Jonah 3:1-10). The words My people in 2 Chron 7:14 refer to the Jewish people, the entire nation, and not simply the believers in it. The church is not Israel, and the church is not a nation.
Great question, Lyndal. BTW, I love Perth. I spent 10 days there about 15 years ago and loved the place and the people.