18. How were the saints of the Old Testament saved? By their faith or by their works?



They were saved by faith. What does the Scripture say? By faith “the elders obtained a good testimony” (Hebrews 11:2 – NKJV). What does this passage mean? It means that the elders obtained witness from God that they were righteous, they were people well pleasing to God, by their faith in God.

Let us take the example of Abel: does the Scripture not say that “by faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4 – NKJV)? Therefore God bore witness of Abel that he was righteous by his faith and not by his offerings.

Now let us look at what the Scripture says about Enoch, the seventh from Adam: “By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5 – NKJV). Obviously, Enoch pleased God by his faith, like Abel, therefore he also was justified by faith.

Now let us speak of Noah. The Scripture says about him: “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7 - NKJV). As you can see, Noah prepared the ark by faith, by faith he condemned the world, and by the same faith he became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Pay very much attention particularly to these words “became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith”, because they confirm the fact that Noah was justified by his faith in God (and obviously his faith was accompanied by a righteous life). It could not have been otherwise because the inheritance “comes by faith, so that it may be by grace” (Romans 4:16 – NIV).

Now let us speak about Abraham, our father, because we cannot speak about justification under the Old Testament without speaking of him. Paul says many things about the faith of Abraham, and takes his faith as an example of faith by which a man is justified, even though Abraham lived when the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus had not yet been manifested. Here is what Paul says: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised. For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect: Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were. Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:1-25). I would like to point out to you particularly these words: “He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised”, because they show very clearly that Abraham was justified when he believed the promise God made to him, therefore he was justified before he was circumcised in the flesh: so he was justified by grace.

Therefore, according to the above mentioned examples, we must say that those who were justified under the Old Testament were justified by God through their faith, that is to say, because they believed in God.

Obviously that faith included also the faith in the Messiah who had to come in the fullness of the time to make atonement for our sins, because those men believed that all things God foretold (sometimes He foretold certain things through symbols) concerning the Messiah would come to pass at God’s appointed time.

On the other hand, it is inconceivable to think that under the Old Testament God justified men by their works, because if things had been so, He would have given men the possibility of boasting before Him, which is something God hates, for God has always kept men from boasting before Him. There are many stories recorded in the Old Testament which show us that God in ancient times worked things as to keep men from boasting in His presence. I want to cite only the example of Gideon, around whom thirty-two thousand men had gathered together in order to go to fight against the Midianites and deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Midianites, to whom God said: “The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand” (Judges 7:2-3). And even after that, God said to him that the people who were with him were too many, and only three hundred men remained with Gideon (Judges 7:4-8), through whom God delivered the Midianites into the hand of Gideon. If in that situation God kept the Israelites from boasting against Him that their own strength had saved them, how much more did God keep men under the Old Testament from boasting against Him that they had been justified by their good works.

God is wise, He has always worked things as to receive all glory, He has never given His glory to another, and this can be said also about salvation.

To Him be the glory now and forevermore. Amen.