This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).
This post will no doubt be the longest of this short series. For this is probably the most misunderstood aspect of this entire discussion. Thankfully, the errant belief that there are two ways of salvation in the Scripture, one by works in the Old Testament and one by faith in the New, is becoming less and less common. Yet, there remains much confusion regarding the salvation of God’s people in the Old and New Testaments. God’s people in the Old Testament are saved by faith and not of works. For Scripture is clear that the saints in the Old Testament are saved the same way New Testament believers are. Romans 3:29-31 says, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” Scripture is not silent on the issue of salvation in the Old Testament. Paul continues in the fourth chapter of Romans in verse 3, “What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” Abraham was not saved by his work but by grace through faith.
But then we must take this one step further and ask, “in what was their faith?” Were OT people required to exhibit a general faith in God or was the object of their faith also Jesus Christ? This is where much of the confusion lies, though Scripture plainly teaches that all of Scripture points to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Men and women in the Old Testament must also have faith in Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah. While certainly, they did not have all the revelation that New Testament believers have and may not have known the specifics as were eventually revealed in redemptive history, they did have the promise of God; the promise of a Redeemer to come. As New Testament believers look back to the accomplished work on the cross, Old Testament believers looked forward to the yet finished work on the cross, while being under the provisions of that work. Jesus declared to the disciples on the Emmaus road in Luke 24, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Jesus tells these disciples that Moses declared that the Messiah must endure the suffering and that they should have realized this and believed it based on that testimony. Peter declares in Acts 10:43 that “all the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” The prophets testified that it is through the name of Christ that sins are forgiven. This very Christ was the object of Old Testament faith. Not only did the Old Testament prophets testify to the Messiah but they also testified as to the days of the early church. Again, Peter states, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days” (Acts 3:24). The church age was not unknown to these prophets as argued by some; they are not a parenthesis in history, but these very times were prophesied by the prophets. In this same sermon Peter says to these Jews, “when God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26). Indeed He is the Christ, the Messiah, the long expected one who was to save men from their sins. It was in the expected Messiah that Israel was to put their faith. Likewise, Paul tells young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15, “…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” These Scriptures of which Paul was speaking were the Old Testament Scriptures. They did not have the New Testament as of yet. Jesus Christ was and is the object of a believer’s faith.
The New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31:31 is made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Very few would argue that this covenant was not inaugurated with the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself says in Luke 22:20, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. “ So the New Covenant is inaugurated with the coming of the Messiah yet it is made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Gentiles should be ever thankful that they have been grafted in to the cultivated olive tree. For the covenant was made with Israel! When people are saved they enter into this covenant community which is designated as “the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” Therefore, since Jesus Christ is the object of faith for both Old Testament believers and New Testament believers, they can properly be called “one in Christ.” Many argue that the saints of the Old Testament, though saved by faith, cannot be considered “in Christ” because one is “in Christ” by virtue of being baptized into his death and resurrection. The argument is that this is a New Testament experience only. However, it has already been shown that the saints in the Old Testament were saved by faith “in Christ” and not just a general faith. Moreover, Scripture is more than clear that salvation was indeed by faith rather than by any work or by virtue of circumcision. Furthermore, Colossians 2:11-12 connects the circumcision of the heart (not by hands of men) with being baptized into Christ. “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Abraham’s circumcision was the “seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11). It was not the circumcision done by hands that saved him; it was the circumcision of the heart wrought by the Lord.
Paul also makes this argument in his letter to the Galatians who were foolishly turning back to the law. He said to them in 1: 1-5, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” He then argues with them at the end of chapter 3 that “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul affirms to the Galatians that no matter what you are, if you have been clothed with Christ, then you are “one in Christ.” The argument might be, “well, this is after the death and resurrection of Christ that Paul says this; this is post-Pentecost”. In that, one would be correct. However, in the last verse (29), Paul joins the New Testament believer with Abraham’s seed and together they are heirs according to the promise. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” There is no promise outside of Abraham’s seed. The only way that Old Testament believers are not “in Christ” would be that no Old Testament person was Abraham’s seed and therefore not an heir according to the promise; we know this to be untrue.
In the end, those in the Old Testament are saved the same way those in the New Testament are; by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Those in the Old Testament looked forward to the person and work of Christ while those in the New look back to His completed work. While the New Covenant was indeed, new, the elect of all time, both prior to and after, are members of the New Covenant. This is not a new idea and certainly not one that this author has come up with. This idea goes as far back to Augustine and again is found in Calvin’s Institutes. In fact, Calvin quotes Augustine in Book II, ch. XI, 10: “the children of the promise [Rom. 9:8], reborn of God, who have obeyed the commands by faith working through love [Gal. 5:6], have belonged to the New Covenant since the world began. This they did, not in hope of carnal, earthly, and temporal things, but in hope of spiritual, heavenly, and eternal benefits. For they believed especially in the Mediator; and they did not doubt that through him the Spirit was given to them that they might do good, and that they were pardoned whenever they sinned.”
There is one plan, one tree, and one faith.
Application to faith and life:
Are you a member of the New Covenant? Have you been cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ?
With a proper understanding of the people of God, one can properly interpret and apply the Old Testament to their life. The God who brought Israel out of the bondage and slavery of Egypt is the same God who can bring you out of the bondage and slavery of sin. The God who brought His people through the Red Sea and protected them from Pharaoh and his men is the same God in whom you can take refuge in times of trouble and distress. The God who told Joshua, “do not be afraid” (Josh. 11) is the same God who says to His children today, “do not fear for I am with you.”
How was Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Joshua saved? Through faith in the Messiah, the Lamb of God. How are you saved? Through faith in the Messiah, the Lamb of God.
This post is part of the the people of god series (click to view the other posts in this series).