I’m afraid the Church is confusing many unsaved people, as well as many new Christians, and even many older Christians for that matter. I hear it over and over, they say, “you say the Bible never changes. Then why were the people in the Old Testament saved by keeping the law, but you say that we’re saved by grace through faith now?” I’m sure we’ve all heard this question. But, here’s the problem. They are confused because many of our churches, many well-intentioned pastors, are unknowingly preaching a false doctrine. Please don’t stop reading here and think that I’m one of those guys that think I’ve figured it out and everyone else is wrong. I just want to share what scripture says, and you can make your own decision, but remember to keep everything in context, and don’t try to interpret the Bible.
So, did the law ever save anyone? Romans 8:3 tells us, “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So, God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” The campus pastor at our church, Steve Meharg, would say right now, “don’t you hate how the Bible is so vague?” So, what is the Bible saying here? The first sentence of this verse tells us that the law of Moses was not able to save us. Why? Because of our sinful nature. You see, we can’t be good enough to get to heaven, because of our sinful nature.
Here’s wherein the problem lies. We are sinners! Romans 5:12, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” Again, so unclear, right? When we try to be good enough to get to heaven, we are measuring ourselves up to other people, and we can always find someone who is worse than ourselves. A serial killer can say that he’s not as bad as Jeffery Dahmer because he isn’t a cannibal. But, here’s the catch, God doesn’t measure us up to each other, He measures us up to Himself. Galatians 5:19-21 says, “19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Do you see that…no sin can enter heaven…none! Notice that, along with idolatry and sexual sin, He also adds quarreling and jealousy…any one sin will keep you out of heaven. We also read in Ephesians 2:8-9, “8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Again, he says that we are not saved by our works, not now, not ever!
We also know that they weren’t saved by just being born into one of the tribes of Israel, although they tried to make it about that too. Look at the examples of Rahab and Ruth. Rahab was a prostitute and a Canaanite, and Ruth was a Moabite. Not only did Rahab not keep the law of Moses, she wasn’t born an Israelite…that’s a double whammy. And, Ruth was not an Israelite either, she was a Moabite. But, not only did God save them, He went a step further. God did something He didn’t have to do by making Rahab and Ruth part of the lineage of Christ. We see this in the first chapter of Matthew. The first sixteen verses are giving the lineage of Christ, from Abraham to Joseph, and in verse 5 it says, “Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).” There are very few mothers mentioned in this passage, but he names two in this verse alone, Rahab and Ruth. Both of these women are in the lineage of Christ, and neither are Israelites.
So, if the Old Testament believers weren’t saved by keeping the law, and they clearly weren’t saved by being born a Jew, then how exactly were they saved? Yes, it is true that they did have to offer sacrifices every year because the perfect sacrifice had not yet come. But it wasn’t the sacrifice that saved them, it was their faith. Let’s take a minute to look at Hebrews chapter 11, the chapter known as the Believer’s Hall of Faith. I’m not going to print the entire chapter here, but take a minute to read it, even if you have read it many times, then come back.
Did you notice something about it? Let’s take a look at the people mentioned here: verse 4, Able; verse 5, Enoch; verse 7, Noah; verses 8-10, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; verse 11 Sarah; verse 21, Jacob; verse 22, Joseph; verse 23, Moses; verse 31, Rahab; verse 32, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. Everyone mentioned in this passage is from the Old Testament. They were not made righteous by keeping the law, they were made righteous by their life-changing faith! In the middle of all this it says in Hebrews 11:6, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” It is, and always was, IMPOSSIBLE to please God without FAITH!
But, something we must remember because we humans always try to make it about ourselves, is that it’s not our faith that saves us. God saves us when He sees our faith. And, faith doesn’t just mean believing. The Bible tells us in James 2:19, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” So, you see, it’s not just about believing, it’s about trusting and changing. Just before this verse, we see in James 2:14-17, “14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”
We are now, and always have been saved by God’s grace, through our faith…our life-changing faith. So, let’s stop confusing people and start living by faith.