Was Salvation in the Old Testament
by Faith or Works?
Q. Did the people of the Old Testament believe in salvation by faith or salvation by works?
Very plainly the former. There are many who say that there is a conflict of salvation doctrines between the Old and New Testaments. There isn't.
The Lord taught the Israelites this principle early on in their exodus from Egypt. Persued by Pharaoh who had renegged on his word, they found themselves trapped between the Egyptian King's army and the Red Sea without a human hope of escape. First, the Lord parted the waters of the Red Sea and the Israelites crossed unharmed. Then the Egyptians followed to be overwhelmed by the sea:
Earlier Moses had said: "Stand still and see the SALVATION of Yahweh" (v.13, KJV). Moses' words were confirmed -- on that day Yahweh indeed saved them, they saw His great work, and they believed. Indeed, Yahweh led the Israelites into a position where they could not save themselves. They could only depend on Him for their salvation.
"But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day Yahweh SAVED Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and the Israelites saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Isaelites saw the great power of Yahweh displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and PUT THEIR TRUST IN HIM and in Moses His servant" (Ex.14:30-31, NIV).
If this were an isolated or unique event in the salvation of the Lord there might be some substance in the suggestion that Old and New Testament salvation are different. But it wasn't. This is a central theme throughout the Old Testament: God saved Israel. The story of that salvation went before them. As they moved in to possess Canaan forty years later, their adversaries remembered the demonstration of the power of God in their flight from Egypt (Josh.2:10). Throughout their history the descendants of these Israelites remembered the events of that day (2 Ki.17:7; 2 Chr.6:4-5). In times of apostacy, the Lord called upon Israel to remember that work of salvation (Jer.11:3-4; Hos.12:13). Indeed, this is a powerful, graphic type of the salvation which He worked for all men through Jesus Christ.
Both 'salvations' required, and require, trusting in God. Both 'salvations' are achieved by God -- and God alone -- through faith, and not men's works. The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New -- same God, same salvation. Same trusting, same faith required. No difference.
As if this is not enough evidence, consider why the Lord did not take the Israelites to Canaan by the most direct route. Why did He take them through the desert of affliction and not along the King's Highway -- the main road between Egypt and Canaan -- sweeping all their enemies before them? Why the desert wandering?
Salvation is an ongoing process of spiritual refinement. Israel witnessed God's mighty hand at the Red Sea, and they believed...for a while. Incredible, isn't it! Who has witnessed such a great physical miracle in our day? You see, physical miracles aren't enough. Such don't develop real, abiding faith that is independent of the physical senses. The Israelites needed not only to observe the mighty works of the power of God but also to depend upon Him in a practical way for the very necessities of life. Ultimately they needed to understand that all would be accomplished not by their own ability but by God's own power. At Marah they needed water (Ex.15:23-25), but that which was available was not fit for drinking but by God's own power. This was clearly a statement by Yahweh that the same power which defeated the Egyptian army and brought them safely out would provide the water necessary for life.
But not only drink, but food also. You will remember the miracle of the quail (Ex.16:13-15). And then came the manna, the "bread from heaven" which came only six out of seven days! Jesus connects Himself to this miracle by likening Himself to the "true bread from heaven" (Jn.6:31-35). Paul later goes on to say that Christ was the rock which provided Israel with water in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4).
There is an intimate conectiveness between the Old and New Testaments. The same God -- Yahweh, the pre-mortal Jesus Christ -- mediated the same salvation. The Isralites were trusting in the same God as the first Christians, because Yahweh and Christ were one and the same. It was Jesus in whom the Israelites trusted to get across the Red Sea, drown the Egyptians, provide water out of a rock, provide the quail and the manna, just as Christ today provides our "daily bread" through trusting in Him (Mt.6:11). We are saved through trusting in the same God whom the Israelites trusted in! We are delivered by the same God not because of our works but because of His! The Yahweh whom the Israelites trusted in was the same Jesus who was crucified and in whom we may be saved by trusting today.
The God of mighty miracles in the days of Moses and Joshua then appeared as a man of humility, revealing another side of Himself. Moses understood this humble God because he was like Him -- humbler than anyone else who lived (Num.12:3). Elijah understood Him too and both appeared before the Lord of glory on the Mount of Transfiguration to, amongst other things, make that identity clear (Mt.17:5). Three men of might and three men of great humility -- and one of them the Almighty Yahweh!
You can't separate the Old from the New Testament. The division is man-made and artificial. There were differences in ordinances to be sure to reflect a change in the redemptive history of the world. But the trusting of Peter was no different from the trusting of Moses, or the faith of Elijah no different from the faith of John, or the salvation of Joshua no different from the salvation of James. One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism? One baptism?? Certainly. For Israel was baptised in the Red Sea passing unharmed through a watery grave -- and was also baptised in the cloud as we are baptised in the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.10:2), just as we do when we die to self and trust in Christ with all our souls. One Baptism. One Gospel. One Lord. One Trusting. One Salvation. It is all the same!
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 26 February 1998
Copyright © 1987-2008 NCCG - All Rights Reserved