How Did Salvation and Forgiveness Take Place in the Old Testament?

How were people forgiven (or saved) in the Old Testament? Did forgiveness (or salvation) take place through sacrifices or human effort? The short answer is forgiveness (and salvation) was received in the Old Testament the same way it’s received in the New Testament: by grace through faith.

Unfortunately, people think of the Gospel as a New Testament invention, but Paul uses the Old Testament to present the Gospel. He explains justification by faith apart from the law and works in Romans 3:21-28. Then he discusses two prominent Old Testament men to have credibility with his Jewish readers. In the process he shows people were forgiven (or saved) in the Old Testament, just as believers are in the New Testament.

Paul’s First Example of Old Testament Salvation: Abraham—The Father of the Jewish People

Although Abraham was well-respected, he committed well-known sins:

  • God commanded Abraham to leave his family behind. He failed by bringing his nephew Lot (Genesis 12:1-4).
  • Abraham failed when he left Canaan, went to Egypt, and tried to protect himself by telling Sarah to say she was his sister (Genesis 12:10-20).
  • Sarah told Abraham to have a child with Hagar, and he obeyed her (Genesis 16:1-2).
  • Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister (Genesis 20:2).

Romans 4:1—What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.

We can boast if we’re justified by works, “but not before God,” because it wouldn’t impress him.

Romans 4:3—What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, which summarizes the Gospel. Abraham was justified by faith. He was saved by believing God.

Romans 4:4—Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.

When your boss gives you a paycheck you’d be offended if he said, “This is a gift.” You worked for it; therefore, you earned it. A system of works makes God “obligated” to us.

Romans 4:5—However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

The man who attempts to be justified – or saved – by works is not trusting God. He’s trusting himself. The man who trusts God finds his faith credited – or given to him – as righteousness.

Paul’s Second Example of Old Testament Salvation: David—The King of the Jewish People

According to God’s Law, David committed two sins that should’ve resulted in death: adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11). A few things made David’s terrible sins even worse:

  • David’s accountability—He knew God’s Law well.
  • David was blessed—God brought him of that shepherd’s field where he was a nobody born to a no-name family. Then God turned him into the rich and powerful king of Israel.
  • David’s sins were premeditated—He planned out all the details, even writing a letter to Joab that he had Uriah himself carry. It was one of the darkest moments in the Old Testament.

If David had to be justified, or declared righteous by works, he’d stand condemned before God. Since justification is by faith, he felt very blessed…

Romans 4:6—David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

David agreed with Abraham about justification by faith, and he wrote about his thankfulness in Psalm 32:1-2, which Paul quoted in Romans 4:7-8:

“Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”

When you’ve sinned like David did, you’re very thankful when God doesn’t “count” those sins against you, but instead “counts” or “credits” righteousness to you.

Romans 4:9-10—Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!

Abraham was declared righteous by God in Genesis 15:6 when he “believed God” at 86 years old. He wasn’t circumcised until Genesis 17:24, when he 99. Since he was declared righteous 13 years before he was circumcised, he had to be justified by faith and not works.

David’s Sins Should not Have Received Forgiveness

If anyone deserved death it was David, but this is also why David’s situation provides one of the greatest examples of God’s grace and mercy in all of Scripture. Nathan the Prophet confronted David, and he responded:

2 Samuel 12:13a—“I have sinned against the Lord.”

This is how we should respond when we sin. In these few words David provides a number of lessons:

  • Take ownership: “I have…”
  • Call it what it is: “sin.”
  • Acknowledge the sin was “against the Lord”
  • Avoid excuses and blame shifting.

Then Nathan said:

2 Sam 12:13b—“The Lord also has taken away your sin.”

These are some of the most amazing words in the Old Testament. Despite the enormity and wickedness of David’s sin, it was “taken away.” Hebrews 10:4 and 11 both state:

“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Sacrifices couldn’t forgive sins, say nothing of take them away. How could Nathan say this to David? His sins were taken away the same way ours are taken away:

  • When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
  • 1 John 3:5 says “[Jesus] was manifested to take away our sins.”

If any Old Testament sacrifices could take away sins, Jesus’s sacrifice would’ve been unnecessary. David looked forward in faith to Jesus the way we look backward in faith to our Savior.

The New Covenant Foreshadowed in the Old Covenant

The grace and mercy David received provide a beautiful glimpse of the New Covenant under the Old Covenant. What did David do to receive this forgiveness? Psalm 51:16-17 records:

For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.

David didn’t offer any sacrifices. He had a spiritual insight that was tremendous. He knew parts of the New Testament before they were written, and he knew no Old Testament sacrifices could make up for his sins.

But he did know there was a “sacrifice” he could “give”; he knew there was an “offering” God “desired”: “a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart.”

David Confess his sin and it “took away” evil sins he committed. This is without personal merit, human effort, or penance. This is New Covenant forgiveness by grace; justification by faith.

Forgiveness that Provided Life Instead of Death

David’s sins demanded death, but he found: life. Nathan also said:

2 Samuel 12:13c—“You shall not die.”

These words mean David was going to die. The Old Covenant (the Law) demanded what it always demands: death. But David was able to find life. He recognized the greatness of what took place, which led him to write Psalm 32. Paul quoted this in Romans 4, showing forgiveness and salvation took place the same way in the Old and New Testaments.

Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section 

  • Do you agree or disagree with the post?
  • How did you previously think people were forgiven and saved in the Old Testament? Do you think that now?
  • What other supporting verses from the Old Testament come to mind? What verses from the New Testament?

What Foods Should Christians NOT Eat?

Are there any foods Christians should not eat?

The New Testament is overwhelmingly clear there are no food restrictions for Christians

Consider the following verses:

Matthew 15:11 Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth.”

The Greek word for “defile” is koinoō. It means, “to make common, or unclean, or profane.” No food can make you unholy.

Mark 7:18-19 Jesus said, “Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus, thus purifying all foods.”

Jesus said all foods are pure.

Romans 14:17 The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

“Righteousness and peace and joy” are the weightier mattersPeople obsessed with food are missing the focus of the Kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 8:8 Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

People are not “better” if they don’t eat certain things.

Acts 10:12-15 [There] were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air.  A voice came to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” And a voice spoke to him again the second time, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

The sheet contained all kinds of clean and unclean animals. God told Peter all animals are now clean.

Colossians 2:16 Let no one judge you in food or in drink.

There’s no verse saying, “Let no one judge you in lying, bitterness, or serving.” These are immoral. But Paul says, “Let no one judge [what you eat],” because food is amoral or spiritually neutral. What Christians eat has nothing to do with spirituality. There are no foods that – at least for spiritual reasons – Christians should avoid.

Continue reading “What Foods Should Christians NOT Eat?”

Do Christians Have to Give a Tithe?

Notice the title says, “Do Christians Have to Give a Tithe?” versus “Should Christians give a tithe…” or “Can Christians give a tithe…” If you want to give a tenth, that’s fine. I know wonderful Christians who say, “God expected a tenth in the Old Testament, so I want to give a tenth in the New Testament.” Many people look at the Mosaic Law for principles to apply today, including in the area of giving, and that’s fine. But if you think Christians have to give a tenth, that’s different and you should keep a few things in mind.

Also, notice the title doesn’t say, “Should Christians give?” The answer to that question is, “Yes!” Please check out this post to see how much should Christians give.

First, Christians are not under the Mosaic Law

Giving a tenth was commanded under the Mosaic Law. Christians are under the Law of Christ, which carries forth the morality in the Mosaic Law: “Do not lie…steal…murder…commit adultery.” You see all these commands confirmed in the New Testament. But the ceremonial commands – including those related to giving a tenth – are not maintained.

Second, God commanded giving a number of tithes

There was a tithe for the Levites, the use of the temple and the feasts, and the poor of the land. This actually pushed the total closer to 23.3%. Continue reading “Do Christians Have to Give a Tithe?”

The Law of Christ: The Law Christians Are Under

Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law, but we are under the Law of Christ.

“What is the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament, or Mosaic Law?”

Not only is this one of the most common questions I receive, it’s also one of the most confusing. Since we’re under the New Covenant instead of the Old, this makes some people think we’re under no law whatsoever. This practically implies license to sin.

The Old Covenant Contained a Law and so does the New Covenant

As much as the Mosaic Law was the Law of the Old Covenant, the Law of Christ is the Law of the New Covenant:

  • Galatians 6:2—If we bear one another’s burdens, we fulfill the Law of Christ.
  • In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 Paul said he was not under the [Mosaic Law], but he was under the Law of Christ.

The Law of Christ is summarized in three New Testament passages:

  • Matthew 22:37-39—Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
  • Romans 13:8-10—He who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
  • Galatians 5:14—All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Law of Christ is a condensed version of the Mosaic Law. Rather than try to remember 613 commands, Christians focus on loving God and loving others. In doing so we fulfill the Law of Christ. Continue reading “The Law of Christ: The Law Christians Are Under”

Balancing Liberty & Holiness

From the administration of the sacrifices to the setting up and tearing down of the tabernacle, the precision of the Mosaic Law was really amazing. With 613 commands (365 negative, telling people what not to do, and 248 positive, telling people what to do), the question was never, “What should or shouldn’t we do?” the question was, “How perfect can we be?” and the answer was, “Far from perfect.” Romans 3:23 All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. As a result, God graciously provided the New Covenant, so we are no longer under law but grace (Rom 6:14). We breathe a deep sigh of relief and it’s like, “Ahhh…grace.”

The problem though – and truthfully I almost feel a little bad saying this – is we lose the exactness of the Law. With the New Covenant comes the responsibility for each man to be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom 14:5). We have to decide for ourselves what our consciences allow (1 Cor 8:7, 10). There are times I almost wish I didn’t have the liberty afforded under the New Covenant; I wish I had a tutor in the language of Galatians 3:24 telling me what to do and not do. I wish I had the clarity of the Old Covenant helping me navigate certain situations. The Law might have felt like an “unbearable yoke” in the words of Paul in Acts 15:10, but I bet people didn’t walk around saying, “Hmmm…how do we handle this grey area?

I know the New Covenant actually calls us to a higher standard than even was found under the Old Covenant. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly said, “You have heard it was said not to _____ but I tell you not to EVEN _____” (Matt 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-34, 38-39, 43-44). The Law forbids physical murder and physical adultery, but Jesus forbid committing those sins in our hearts…the Law was an eye for an eye, but Jesus said turn the other cheek; He was setting an almost exponentially higher standard. A verse I’ve really been meditating on is: Hebrews 12:14 Without holiness no one will see the Lord. I read this and think: “I can’t see God without holiness? No salvation without holiness? Holiness is pretty serious.” I don’t take the verse to mean our salvation is earned by being holy, as that would conflict with the Gospel; however, I do think it means holiness is a byproduct of salvation; it’s something salvation produces. Saved people strive for holiness. The absence of holiness would seem to be evidence of being unsaved. Jesus called His disciples to a higher level of obedience, but what I’d say He really called us to is a higher level of holiness…higher than even the Law commanded.

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