How were people saved in the Old Testament? Dr. Robert Cara talks about how Old Testament believers were saved, reminding New Testament believers that the Savior never changes.
Often I’m in class and sometimes it’s just random, I get asked this question: “Dr. Cara, how are people saved in the Old Testament? They were the people of God. How were they saved?” And the Reformed answer, and most Bible-believing Christian answers is they were saved by faith—they were saved the same way: by faith, faith in God, and more specifically, as they understood God, not not as well as the New Testament does, but understood in some kind of divine Messiah. From their perspective, that’s faith in God and looking toward some divine Messiah. Now, the merit of their salvation? Exactly the same: the work of Christ. The work of Christ, his life, death, and we look back in faith to that. They looked forward in faith, even though they didn’t understand it as well.
The Westminster Standards’ Answer
They had faith in Christ. He’s the same. His divine nature, his person is the same forever and ever.Now, the Westminster Standards—which I have with me—7.5 answers the question and then I’ll go to the Bible after this. “This covenant [the covenant of grace that went from after Adam sinned all the way to new heavens and new earth] was differently administered in the time of the law [Old Testament]. Under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecy, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying [all looking forward] to Christ to come, which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious.” “Efficacious” meaning it created the effect. It was sufficient for them and it created the effect of the salvation benefits. It was through the operation of the Holy Spirit. They had the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit. We have more of a sense of the Holy Spirit, but they had the Holy Spirit. And it was “to instruct and build up the elect in the faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.”
The New Testament’s Answer
Lots of Bible verses we could go to. I’m just going to go to two in the book of Hebrews. So I’m going to go to the New Testament book, the book of Hebrews. I’ll start at chapter nine, verse 15, and here, chapter eight through ten and a half is all about Christ as priest and offering himself. He offered himself as a sacrifice. And that sacrifice affects people in the New Testament and affects people in the Old Testament. Reading [Hebrews] 9:15: Since Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the people in the Old Testament are saved by the Savior who was yesterday, today, and forever.“Therefore he [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance [he had been talking about the promises in the Old Testament, and the New Testament people will receive those Old Testament promises], since a death has occurred [that is Christ’s, and here’s the key line] that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant [meaning the Mosaic Covenant].” Again, part of Christ’s work was redeeming those who had committed transgressions under the first covenant. So Christ’s death and resurrection applies forwardly to us, backwardly to believers as far as merit goes.
Jesus Christ Never Changes
And then another famous verse in Hebrews, which then dovetails with it, and you’ll probably recognize this verse when I read it. Chapter 13, verse eight: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” And the previous version talked about faith. So they had faith in Christ. He’s the same. His divine nature, his person is the same forever and ever. Eternity past and eternity future, that’s eternity. In addition to that, in the context, his work and the application of the benefits of his work to his people is the same in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. So since Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the people in the Old Testament are saved by the Savior who was yesterday, today, and forever.