Something quite disturbing came to my attention recently about what a leader in a small group told the other people in the group (not saying which group, which church, or anything particular about the situation I heard about (if true, not sure about the info), but felt the idea in general should be addressed because so many seem to not understand this point). The question posed to the leader was, “How were people in the Old Testament saved?” The response? “By following the law.” I cringe when I hear even a hint of someone saying that because it means the person doesn’t understand the point of the law, man’s nature for all time, as well as the heart of the Gospel, even to those in OT times. And might I remind you this is a leader. There are two things wrong with this response: one, it is absolutely contrary to both the Old and New Testament; and two, it shows the lack of understanding about the intention of the law among even leaders. Was the law ever given to save us? No! The law was given to point out our absolute inability to come anywhere close to fulfilling God’s righteous standards, but pointed to the great Redeemer who would come and fulfill the law on behalf of those who believe in Him. The point of the law is to point to Christ, not to save us. Paul states that we cannot be saved by the law. And if anyone thinks people in the OT were saved by the law, they logically have to say that something changed in human nature from the Old to New Testament’s, which is clearly not the case according to Romans 3:20. Well let’s move on …
Scripture is sufficient in and of itself to show that people in the OT were not saved by the law and how Paul in particular attested to this, and even how the Old Testament itself attested to this as well. One passage that clearly speaks against this fallacious thought is Romans 4. The whole chapter is about faith, particularly about the faith of Abraham and how our faith is in the same likeness. Paul uses Abraham as an example to show that we are saved by faith alone, just as he was. Abraham “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” And Paul is quoting the OT here in Romans 4 to make his point. Or in other words, Abraham was saved through faith alone, just as we are! Let’s look at the passage:
“1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’ 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, 12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
– Romans 4
At the end of this passage, Paul shows that just as Abraham was justified by faith alone, so are we also by faith in the risen Christ to save us by His blood. Abraham, as well as his decedents were not saved by adhering to the law, but by believing in God’s promise to bring about salvation. This passage could not be clearer about how Abraham, pre-Christ, was justified, or made right in the eyes of God, through faith alone in God’s saving promise. Abraham was NOT saved by his works or by anything he ever did, but was saved (justified) through faith alone. This point right here was one Luther’s big issues with the Roman Catholic church during the reformation who said we were saved by faith + works. We are not saved by works, or faith + works, but by faith alone in Christ alone. And this passage clearly shows that the same was true for Abraham and those in the OT.
Another passage that just hits you right in between the eyes concerning this thought is Hebrews 11. The whole chapter cites instance after instance pertaining to how people in the Old Testament were saved through faith alone in the promises of God, not by their works.
“1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– 38 of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
– Hebrews 11
This passage attests to the fact that “people of old” received their commendation, justification, or more specifically, their eternal approval (i.e. salvation) through faith alone, not by works of the law. They even performed their works by faith alone, as is clearly seen above. No one was, nor ever will be saved or justified (made right in the eyes of God) by their works, but through faith alone. And this was absolutely true in the OT. Romans 4 and Hebrews 11 attest to this very clearly. It is a shame that people within the church are not educated even on the basics of the faith pertaining to a heresy known as legalism. You don’t have to have a seminary education to know that no one is saved by their works, both in the OT and NT. The church overall in America is definitely floundering in its commitment to educating its people, leaders even, on the Scriptures, if unbiblical responses are given like this. This is two whole chapters on the righteousness that comes through faith alone! This is not high, lofty theology, but is rather a part of the very basic essence of the Gospel message to an unbelieving, dying world, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Also, I would like to add that this very faith that people of old possessed was given to them as a gift, just as it is today. If you believe in Christ for salvation, that itself was a gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Otherwise, why else would you have believed in Him? Can an unregenerate man produce faith of his own volition? It was no different in the Old Testament, namely because human nature has not changed one bit. In fact Paul cites the OT when he explains man’s condition in Romans 3.
In this passage here, Paul is addressing the Galatians who were relying on their works to be justified before God, because there were false teachers there dispelling a false, heretical Gospel, called legalism; that you gain and maintain your standing before God through works of the law. Paul puts that thought to rest and even makes statements concerning Old Testament believers (namely Abraham and those who live by faith, i.e. believers), specifically citing the Old Testament that says, “The righteous shall live by faith.” Paul even states that the Gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham where God says to him, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” Here it is:
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith– 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
This last passage is what I’ll close with and says it all, shutting up all people for all time, both in the Old and New Testament eras under sin, and pointing out the inability to adhere to the law and utter need for God to first regenerate us in order for us to see and believe in Christ.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Extra Article to Read Pertaining to This:
http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/a … aints.html