By Timothy S. Morton
From our brief overview of the major divisions of the Bible, it should be clear to the reader that God does not always work exactly the same way in every dispensation. What God required of Adam (don't eat of the tree), He did not require of Moses; what He required of Noah (ark), He did not require of David. Likewise what He required of Moses and David (keep the Law), He does not require of us today. God is the same God, but He simply does not work with man the same way in every dispensation. Therefore, every Christian MUST know where the divisions between the dispensations are and what God requires of man in each of them to make reasonable sense of the Bible. Again, this is imperative to see God's overall program for man as He has revealed it.
In this chapter and the following, we are going to look at the covenants and dispensations from the standpoint of personal, individual salvation. This is a touchy topic, but our only concern is what the Bible says about the matter. Now, we realize every Bible preacher, teacher, minister, "scholar," etc. who attempts to teach something from the Bible says he is only interested in what the Bible says; therefore, the reader must determine the truth himself through prayer and study. Don't blindly follow the opinions of men no matter how "godly," "devoted," and "fundamental" they may appear; follow only the BOOK (AV 1611). When anyone (including your author) does not strictly go by the Bible, abandon him, at least in the area of error. The Bible is the Christian's absolute, final authority for ALL matters and is subject to no individual, group, church, or school.
Before we go any farther, let us clear the air and list three "historic, fundamental positions" we take issue with concerning salvation:
1. That the means of receiving salvation is exactly the same
in every dispensation.
2. That every person ever saved was "born again" and a "son of God."
3. That no saved person in any age can in any way lose his salvation.
These three positions are considered "undeniable" among many today, but again, "what saith the Scriptures"?
First of all, before you jump to conclusions, let us state as clearly as we can that we fully believe every person saved in this present Church Age is saved by grace through faith apart from any works. We insist he is born again, a son of God, and has eternal, everlasting life abiding in him which he cannot lose. We further believe in all the baptistic "fundamentals of the faith," and more than that we believe the book these fundamentals were extracted from-the Authorized King James Version of 1611. Our only real difference with some of the brethren is we don't believe all these Baptist fundamentals apply to everyone in every dispensation. We contend the new birth, eternal security, the Body of Christ, permanently indwelling Holy Spirit, and all other doctrines unique to the Church Age were not available until after the crucifixion, were not revealed until the New Testament was well under way, and were not clearly defined until the epistles of Paul. We further contend these Church Age doctrines have no application to any Old Testament saint, no matter how notable (Abraham, Moses, David, etc..), or to someone in the Tribulation.
Nowhere in the Old Testament can one find the Holy Spirit regenerating anyone, sealing anyone unto the "day of redemption," placing someone "in Christ," or applying a half dozen other New Testament doctrines, but that doesn't stop people from teaching these doctrines are there. They do it by taking present Baptist (or any other) Church Age doctrines and forcing them to apply to all ages. This is nearly as bad as those who try to force doctrines unique to the Law (the Sabbath, abstaining from certain meats, etc.) on believers today. The only difference is the Baptist doctrines cannot be practiced in the past because they were unknown then, but past doctrines can be practiced now. In future dispensations, though, those who try to force presently sound Baptist doctrine to apply there will be heretics just like the Sabbath-keepers and pork-abstainers are today. As someone has said, "Nearly every bad thing is a good thing twisted," thus even the precious new birth can be detrimental if it is taught as doctrine in the wrong age.
When one reads modern, "fundamental" literature he needs to be careful. Much of what he reads will likely be sound doctrine, but some may also be based solely on assumption, emotion, opinion, or ignorance. For example, the author has read and heard several respected ministers make statements like: "People in the Old Testament were saved by looking forward to the cross while people in the New Testament are saved by looking back to the cross...," "All Old Testament saints were saved just like we are today...," "All believers from every age are born again, possessors of eternal life, and part of the Body of Christ...," etc., and make no effort to PROVE these statements from the Bible. They make them in such a matter of fact manner that the hearer usually does not even question them. He accepts them as "universal truths" from the lips of a great "scholar" or preacher. Though these remarks may sound biblical to modern ears, that does not MAKE them biblical.
For instance, concerning Old Testament saints "looking forward to the cross," what cross? A "cross" is not mentioned in any context in the Bible until Matthew 10:38, and a cross is not directly connected with Jesus Christ's death until Matthew 20:19! Where does that leave Joseph, Aaron, Gideon and the rest of the Old Testament saints? How could they look forward to something that did not exist and God had not yet revealed? Christ's own disciples who followed him for months didn't even understand why Christ had to die, let alone "look ahead to a cross" (Matt. 16:22). You say, "Well, they were looking forward to redemption, then, if not a cross." Maybe so, but what did they know about redemption (Heb. 9:12)? Did they know as much about it as Paul in Romans, John in 1 John, or even YOU today? Did they know anything about someone dying on a cross for the sins of the world to purchase and provide an eternal redemption from sin? When Christ told Peter about His coming crucifixion it was such a shock to Peter that he rebuked Him! Peter didn't want to even consider his master dying on a cross, so to say he was looking forward to it absurd. We admit it is easy to apply our rich salvation doctrines and advanced revelations to those of other dispensations, so we must be extra careful when dividing the Scriptures to only apply to a dispensation the doctrines valid at that time.
One of the strongest indications that salvation is not the same in
every age is that Old Testament saints did not go at death to the same
place New Testament saints go to when they die. Old Testament saints
went to Abraham's Bosom or "paradise" while New Testament
saints go directly into the presence of God in Heaven (2 Cor. 5:8).
This alone proves there is a difference. Christ cleared up the matter
in Luke 16 concerning where dead believers at that time went with the
account of the "Rich man and Lazarus." Before Christ, the Bible was
not clear where believers went at death. That there was a hell for the
clear, but specific details concerning where believers went were not revealed. All that is said of Abraham, for instance, is that he was "gathered unto his people." In Luke 16 the Lord gives advanced revelation and says Abraham was actually in a desirable and comfortable place (called "paradise" in Luke 23:43) across a great gulf from Hell. Abraham and the other saints did not go into Heaven until they went up with the Lord at His ascension (Eph. 4:8), but saints who die in the Lord today go immediately into Heaven (2 Cor. 5:8). Obviously, our salvation is in significant ways different than Abraham's. In light of their many similarities, the two salvations are quite different.
In the following we are going to look at salvation in the different dispensations and examine the similarities and differences between them. We will be very careful and try not to make the mistakes of many today who read doctrines from one period into another, forcing the Bible line up with their "private interpretation." Remember, the Bible is not a Baptist book written only for Baptists (or others) in this present age, it is a Jewish book written to people of all ages declaring different manners and doctrines for each period.
Notice when instructing Adam God does not go into long speeches about the benefits of doing right and the consequences of doing wrong. He knew Adam had no experimental concept of these matters. What is "right" to someone who has never seen or experienced "wrong"? On the other hand, what is "wrong" to someone who has never consciously chosen to do "right"? God was testing Adam in Eden and gave him a free will to make a choice, but the choice, as far as Adam is concerned, is not between "right and wrong," but between God and something else!
Before He would let Adam stumble upon it by accident, God, in love, warned him of the deadly result of eating of the Tree of Knowledge. Since Adam had no concept of "wrong," God did not tell him it was wrong to eat of it. He told him only that it would kill him and it was His will for him NOT to eat of it. True, Adam didn't know what death was either, but he didn't have to, to make the right choice. Wasn't God's WORDS telling him He didn't want him to eat of it enough? Adam didn't have to know all the details. God's warning showed Adam He loved him, cared for him, and didn't want him to die. Furthermore, God also put the "Tree of Life" in the garden to give Adam a positive alternative, but neither was it "right" to eat of this tree. Again, the test was not between right and wrong or good and evil, but would man love God in return for His love and obey Him, or love something else more.
The Serpent also knew of Adam and Eve's moral ignorance, and he used it to further his evil purpose. As mentioned before Satan used the desire for "knowledge" to deceive Eve into eating of the forbidden tree, but Adam, who was NOT deceived and who heard the warning directly from God's mouth, decided he loved Eve more than he loved God and ate also. Though he knew his action was against God's will, Adam was willing to suffer death with Eve ("whatever that is," there was no death before the fall) rather than live with God. As a result of eating Adam, became a "sinner." He received the lusted for knowledge of good and evil, but he also became lost, spiritually dead, headed for physical death, alienated from God, and afraid in the process. He gained much knowledge in a few short moments, but definitely the wrong kind.
When Adam ate he did not fall from what we consider today as salvation, but he did fall from innocence to sin, from a relatively safe position into iniquity. When he was in innocence (remember, not righteousness) he was much better off than in guilt, and in this sense he fell from safety-salvation. On the other hand, if Adam had eaten of the Tree of Life instead he may have acquired righteousness. Though the Bible does not plainly say that he would, it is somewhat implied since he obtained an evil nature from the Tree of Knowledge. If this is true and he did eat of the Tree of Life instead of the Tree of Knowledge, he would have still obtained the knowledge they desired. Not by doing a sinful act, but by doing a righteous act. They would have knowledge similar to the way God has knowledge of good and evil. Not by committing an act of sin and realizing righteousness as the opposite, but by doing an act of righteousness and knowing sin as the opposite.
God does not have to be a sinner to know what sin is. Since He is righteous by nature, He knows sin is everything that is contrary to Him. Everything and anything contrary to God is sin. He is the absolute standard, and His infallible word is His vehicle to convey this standard to man. Adam likely would have known this too if he had loved God enough to eat of the right tree. Having only a righteous nature he would have been saved from the possibility of sinning (eternal security) because a righteous man cannot sin!
Nevertheless, what we want the reader to realize is Adam's "salvation" before the fall was based entirely upon works. If Adam neglected the work of eating from the freely offered Tree of Life (as he did), he would never have had all God wanted for him (eternal life, righteousness, etc.). If he refused to eat of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge (another work), he would not have become a sinner. Clearly, Adam could be "saved" or lost only by works! To not work either way was to remain in the limbo of mere innocence. Faith or the lack thereof had nothing to do with the matter. In fact, Adam did not doubt what God had said about the tree in the least; he knew he would die if he ate of it! He believed God was telling him the truth. Thus Adam didn't have a lack of faith, he just had the wrong works.
At this point you may be thinking, "What about Romans 4, Galatians 2, Ephesians 2, and all the other passages which say works have nothing to do with salvation?" This is a good question, but be careful Christian; as we have stated before, don't assume everything found in the Bible applies doctrinally to everybody in every age. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and much of the rest of Paul's epistles apply to us today, but they did not apply to Adam. All Adam knew about these things was what God said to him in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, and we must not read anymore into it. If we read our doctrines back into his or any other's day, we wrest the Scriptures and end up with a doctrinal fantasy. Nowhere can we find where Adam was to have faith in anyone or believe in anyone, neither was the "new birth" or anything related to it even vaguely hinted at. Everything hinged upon Adam's works.
One can easily see how Adam's dispensational setup concerning salvation is drastically different to our's today. Now, salvation is a free gift, entirely by grace through faith apart from any works whatsoever. Furthermore, a born again believer is much more than just forgiven or innocent in God's sight, he is RIGHTEOUS. He has the imputed righteousness of his Savior Jesus Christ. God knew when he devised eternal salvation that man needed much more than just his sins forgiven and placed back into an innocent state, he needs the righteousness of his Son Jesus Christ. From this position the believer CANNOT fall because he is in Christ and Christ is in him. God does not see the saved New Testament believer as only innocent (as Adam was), He sees him positionally with the perfect and spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. We receive much more in Christ than we lost in Adam (Rom. 5:20).
After the fall things were much different for Adam and Eve. Their sin brought guilt, the guilt brought shame, and all three together brought fear. They were now truly lost, and the knowledge of it scared them. What could they do now? Their new knowledge did not supply the answer for this question. They tried to cover their sin with fig leaves, but that did not relieve their conscious of guilt. "What will God think when He sees us?"
The Lord was very gentle with His sinning creation. He did not consume them in His wrath or even belittle them. He just questioned them enough to get them to confess their sin and admit their guilt. After they confessed God offered His own covering for their sin in place of their self-righteous fig leaves, and they accepted. By doing so they abandoned their own means of dealing with sin for God's means, and that is all God asked of them. Here, however, we begin to see the entrance of faith concerning salvation. They did not need to have faith that God existed because He was right before them, but they did need to have faith in something God had promised to do. Of course, they were not to believe on someone who would die on a cross thousands of years later to redeem them from their sins, such a thing was unrevealed and unknown. All they knew was God was in some way going to send the "seed" of the woman to bruise the head of the serpent's seed and this would in some way deal with their sin and the curses. Looking forward to the "cross" is out of the question. All they knew was what God had shown and told them, nothing else. Of course, we today can look back and see the cross in Genesis 3:15 and 3:21, but this means nothing to Adam. He and Eve were saved by believing what God had said (faith) and by putting on the "coats of skins" God provided (works).
The coats of skins, which God obtained by killing the animals, showed Adam (and us) two very important lessons. First, God was willing to provide salvation to man; second, a substitute could purchase a sinner's salvation with its life. We can see these lessons very clearly now, but Adam did not have the advanced revelation we enjoy and was not certain of what all he observed meant.
God told Cain, "If thou DOEST well, shalt thou not be accepted?" (Gen. 4:7). Suppose Abel would have said, "I believe I am a sinner, and I believe God is willing to cover my sins if I offer a bloody substitute," but he did not offer the substitute, would he still be accepted? There is no indication he would have. He would have been in the same unaccepted condition as Cain. Along with his faith Abel had to perform the WORK of killing the offering and offer it to God before he would be respected (Gen. 4:4). As for Cain, he had faith that God existed (like the devils, Jam. 2:19), but he did not have the faith and works to present the proper sacrifice to God. Abel was respected by God because of faith and works, and Cain was rejected by the lack of the same. Either way works played a part in the salvation of many during this period.
From what the Scriptures reveal to us about the Dispensation of Conscience, every saved person in it was saved by grace through faith with works playing a part. Furthermore, with a few notable exceptions (which we will examine shortly) every saved person in the entire Old Testament was saved by faith connected with works. When people in the Old Testament were saved nothing happened IN them spiritually. Of course, God imputed righteousness to their account when they obeyed him, but they were not regenerated, a son of God, indwelt and sealed by the Holy Spirit, part of the body of Christ, and the rest of the salvation doctrines unique to this age. Their sins were only covered, not taken away. In many ways they were saved on credit because Christ had not yet died on the cross to purchase their eternal redemption. But those in the Dispensation of Conscience knew practically none of this. Again, all they knew was what God had revealed up to that time as found in Genesis chapter 3:
1. Man is a sinner and doomed to death (3:7).
2. Man and the earth are cursed because of Adam's sin (3:17).
3. The woman's "seed" will bruise the head of the serpent's seed (they MAY have understood this to somehow relieve man of sin, death, and the curses), and the serpent's seed will bruise the woman's seed's heel (3:15).
4. Man has a knowledge of good and evil; a conscience that will excuse or convict his heart (3:5-6).
5. God will offer man a covering to cover his sin (3:21.
6. An animal substitute can supply the covering (3:21).
If God had other requirements of people during this dispensation they are not mentioned until we come to Noah. Reading New Testament doctrines into this time period brings nothing but confusion. Also, there is no reason to believe, or any verse to suggest that these people could not loose their salvation during this period. We will look more into this later, but nearly all of those saved in the Old Testament simply did not have anything in them (indwelling Holy Spirit) or any promise from God to permanently secure their salvation. Therefore, one could by faith (along with works) be saved and be on the right path toward "enduring to the end," and then, by a lack of faith fall away and loose all they gained. In a nutshell people are saved in every dispensation by simply doing what God SAYS. Sometimes it is works alone, sometimes faith alone, and sometimes both faith and works.
Where in Genesis chapters 1 through 7 can you find where Noah was saved by faith alone? Can't find it anyplace? How about searching the whole Bible, New Testament and all, for a verse that says Noah was saved by faith alone? Peter plainly says he was saved by water while in the ark (1 Pet. 3:20). You say, "Only his body was saved by water." Okay, PROVE IT with Scripture! If you can't you had better quit trusting someone else's opinion or your emotions for doctrine and begin trusting the Scriptures alone. Again, don't try to read Church Age doctrines into the past. John chapter 3 won't fit into Genesis chapter 6 no matter how hard you force it. If the ark had nothing to do with Noah's spiritual salvation, then the people who drowned in the flood may have been saved too, just not physically!
God told Noah to build an ark, and if he refused, he would have drowned; simple as that. Do you think he would have drowned saved? On what grounds? That Noah was found righteous (a righteousness based upon his OWN works relative to other men) at the beginning would mean nothing if he disobeyed a direct command from God; he would no longer be considered righteous. Since he refused to do what God said, he would likely perish just like the rest of the world. Unless God intervened and offered another means of salvation (as He did with Adam), Noah would have died lost-an unrepentant sinner. His quick obedience in building the ark, however, proved he had the proper faith. Faith supplemented by works. Today, saved people can refuse to do what God has commanded and they DON'T forfeit their salvation. Millions of regenerated believers disobey God's commands and their salvation is unaffected. Why? The difference is in the dispensations and also in what happens INSIDE the believer. You should be beginning to see, Christian, how you have a much more gracious age to live under with much better promises to claim than those of the past. We have many more privileges than Noah, but with the privileges come responsibilities.
In Genesis 15:6 Abraham finally exercised enough faith in what God had said and was saved. Before he heard the promises of having descendants and becoming a great nation, but he didn't fully believe them until chapter 15. God was showing Abraham that He was capable of keeping His word and was worthy to be trusted. In a larger sense God was showing mankind that no matter how great and seemingly unlikely to be fulfilled His promises are, He is fully capable of keeping them. Abraham was the first to trust God this far, and spiritually he is the "father" of all who exercise like faith and believe God for salvation.
Abraham's salvation is like ours today in only one respect: he was saved "by grace through faith" apart from works with righteousness imputed to his account. To receive salvation Abraham simply took God at His word. His faith and the faith of believers today is the same kind and in the same God, but here the similarities end. What Abraham believed God would do is drastically different from what one is to believe today. Abraham believed his "seed" would number as the stars in heaven, and God saved him for it. He believed nothing about someone dying on a cross for his sins or anything like that, he could only believe in what God had revealed to him. Furthermore, to show how different his salvation is from a believer's today note:
1. Abraham was not regenerated or born again. Nothing
happened inside him when he was saved. Dozens of things happen in a
born again Christian.
2. He was not a "son of God." Since he was not "born of God" he could not be a son of God, neither could he ever call God his father.
3. He did not receive the Holy Spirit permanently to indwell or seal him.
4. He was not placed in Christ nor was Christ in him.
5. He did not receive a new nature. All he ever had was the Adamic nature.
6. He had no completed atonement to eternally redeem him.
7. He did not go to Heaven when he died.
Though Abraham was saved by faith as we are today, clearly the salvation his faith brought him is not the same salvation we presently enjoy. James even tell us that Abraham's justification was not completed until he offered Isaac up in Genesis 22 (James 2:21)! He was imputed righteousness in chapter 15 and thus saved, but he was not fully justified until he performed the WORK of offering Isaac in chapter 22. James doesn't hesitate to tell us Abraham was justified by works after he was saved (James 2:21). On the contrary a believer today is justified the instant he trusts Christ for his salvation. All of the eternal aspects of salvation occur instantly and simultaneously when he believes. Paul, in Romans and Galatians, uses Abraham as a figure of Church Age salvation, but he is only that, a figure; not an exact picture. Abraham was saved when he believed God was going to do something He SAID He would do (Rom. 4:20-22), and so are we saved, but again, what we are to believe is very different from what Abraham believed.
Suppose someone today sincerely believed God would give him descendants that number as the stars of heaven as the basis of his salvation, would such faith save him? Hardly. No matter how much he believed it he would remain lost. Not because he didn't have enough faith, but because he had it in the wrong promise. God has revealed much more to man since the days of Abraham, and man is required to believe and act on the more recent revelation (Jesus Christ) to be saved. At this point you may be thinking, "Yes, but Christ said Himself that Abraham saw His day and was glad (John 8:56), so he must have believed on Christ." Now wait a minute. First of all Christ's words refer to Genesis 22 when Isaac was offered, not Genesis 15 when Abraham was saved; and second, Abraham did not in some supernatural sense gaze into the future and see Christ on the cross. He saw Christ's day in that he believed Isaac would be resurrected from death, not by supposedly seeing the future crucifixion of the Son of God by a miraculous vision.
Abraham not only believed God was able to resurrect Isaac, he believed God WOULD resurrect him after he was slain! He was glad because by faith he saw the resurrection of his "seed" and was convinced God would fulfill all of His promises to him through this resurrected seed. Abraham saw in Isaac a figure of a "son" slain because of sin and later resurrected, but he did not see the figure fulfilled in Christ. Of course, with the Scriptures as hindsight, we can see both clearly.
Isaac's son Jacob also desired the promises. This is evident when he bought his brother Esau's birthright for a bowl of pottage. Even though Jacob was a "supplanter" and "deceiver" most of his life, he still had an eye for the promises God gave to his fathers (Gen. 28:10-22; 35:9-15). Esau, the first born, did not think the birthright was worth much or he wouldn't have sold it. That God would later identify Himself to Moses as the God of "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" testifies of their saving faith in Him. Because of their faith all three of them are still alive even though they are physically dead, for "God is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Matt. 22:32).
Jacob's twelve sons further inherit the promises and become the twelve tribes of Israel. How many of these twelve and their descendants in Egypt trusted God for the promises is unknown. Certainly Joseph did, and likely most or all of his brethren, but we know of no passage that proves it. The Bible doesn't tell us everything we may like to know, but it tells us everything we NEED to know. Every believer must be careful not to let emotion or opinion influence his quest for sound doctrine. Assumed doctrines nearly always lead to heresy, so if a believer can't reasonably show something is true with Scripture, don't assume it is true just because it sounds "scholarly."
In summary, salvation during the 2500 years from Adam to Moses was by grace through faith with works indicating and fulfilling the faith. There was no new birth then or any of the Church Age doctrines that go with it because it was not yet available (John 7:39). Neither did those saved go to Heaven when they died (with the exception of Enoch and later Elijah who are special cases). Though faith was to be in God, it had to be in a promise God had revealed. To believe God existed was not enough; one had to believe and act upon what God had revealed to him for the person to be saved. What God said to Adam, He didn't say to Abel; what He commanded Noah (ark), He did not command Abraham, etc. Each person had to believe what was relevant to him.
As for works God required a certain degree of personal righteousness of all (Noah preached righteousness while building the ark, 2 Pet. 2:5), and also obedience of any personal commands He might give. At least up until Abraham, to only believe the revelations, commands, and promises was not sufficient, each person had to act on them and continue doing so, to secure his salvation. As in every age each individual is responsible for following his conscience and coming to God for salvation when he realizes he has broken it (Rom. 2:15). Faith was, of course, the major component in this salvation equation, but for many works were also essential. The works were really an indicator the person had the right faith. If a person had faith but was unable to perform the works (sacrifice, etc.), God likely took this into consideration. But if a person acted like he had faith and really didn't and still performed works (like Cain), he remained lost. Faith had to come first, and it motivated the works. Of the millions of people who lived during this period (around 2500 years), we can only find two or three dozen in the Scriptures we can say with any assurance were truly saved.
The method of salvation during this period was not fixed; each person's responsibility was simply to do what God said. As we have seen God required different things of different people, unlike today where every Christian is saved by believing a consistent gospel. Again, there are not as many details in the Bible as we may like to have concerning salvation before the cross, but enough is there for us to see how it is different from our's today. This will be further manifested in the next section where we look at salvation in the Dispensation of Law under the Mosaic Covenant.
God's requirements of the Israelites at the first Passover (Ex. 12) plainly show how works were involved in their salvation. No matter how much faith each Israelite had, if he neglected to put the lamb's blood above and beside the door, the firstborn in the house was doomed to death. God told them in no uncertain terms they MUST APPLY the blood (works) before He would pass over them (Ex. 12:13). Faith alone was not enough (Ex. 12:7)! It is true their salvation was based on faith in the shed blood of a lamb, but until the blood was applied as required, the faith was ineffective for the salvation of the firstborn. Today, Christ Himself (who is the fulfillment of the Passover figure), through the Holy Spirit, does the work of applying His blood to the believer. The first Passover is one of the strongest indications that under Law certain works were a requirement for salvation.
The physical salvation of the firstborn during the Passover was a picture of the spiritual salvation of each individual Jew during the Dispensation of Law. It testifies, again, that one is saved by doing what God has said to do. Nearly 1500 years later the Passover is revealed as a picture of the "lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world," but, again, this was unknown to the Israelites in Egypt. They were passed over only because they did what God told them to do They didn't fully understand the Passover's present meaning and had no knowledge at all of its future significance. The Passover was preparing the Israelites for the new covenant God would make with them in Exodus 19, which was solely conditioned on works.
After leading them out of Egypt and providing their every need in the wilderness, God officially established His covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. Again, this covenant is conditioned entirely upon works. Israel as a nation and also each individual was to keep all the requirements of the law, and when they failed, offer the proper sacrifice or possibly forfeit their salvation. The punishment for individuals who failed to obey was being "cut off from among his people" (Ex. 31:14). This "cutting off" was often physical death (Num. 9:13; 15:30-31), but more than that it was being cut off from the promises and covenant connected with Israel. In effect, cut off from salvation or the opportunity to obtain it. We will see as we go along that works play a larger role concerning salvation under the Law than it did before.
The Mosaic Covenant and the Dispensation of Law was for the most part a series of rules, regulations, conditional blessings, curses, laws, statutes, commandments, memorials, etc., which were in the larger sense designed to show man his evil nature and sin (Rom. 3:20). But to the Israelites of the time it was a religious system based on strict obedience with little or no mercy for the lawbreaker. Paul said it was "not of faith, but the man that DOETH them shall live by them" (Gal. 3:12), indicating its demand for obedience. Faith alone could not deliver the "sinner." In fact, "faith" is only found two times in the whole Old Testament (Deut. 32:20; Hab. 2:4), and in both places it refers to a man's own faith, not the saving faith God provides believers today (Eph. 2:8-9).
What God demanded of Israel was for them to do what they promised at Sinai (Ex. 19, see chapter 1), obey His every word. If they obeyed as a nation, He cared for and blessed them as a nation; if they refused, He eventually cursed and scattered them. This is clear in Deuteronomy chapters 28-30. Concerning individuals, however, salvation was not so clear. If an Israelite (or proselyte) feared God, wanted to please Him by trying to obey all His laws, and offered the proper sacrifices when he failed, at that moment one could assume he was in a saved state. Unlike today, there was no clear and simple faith "formula" given. Since nothing spiritually happened inside these people to "preserve" them and they had no promise of security to claim, their salvation was not unconditionally permanent. It appears if one at any time had a lack of faith, works, or both to a certain degree, his salvation was in jeopardy. Only God knew who was saved for certain at any given time. The individual in most cases likely did not know exactly where he stood regarding his salvation. At one point God told Elijah only 7000 Jews had not bowed their knee to Baal out of all the millions of Israel. The others had broken the covenant and apparently forfeited their salvation (if they had it to start with) by worshipping a false god.
When works are involved in salvation it is difficult to know where one stands with God. The person seldom, if ever, had complete assurance that he was accepted because a future failure could cost him everything. All he could do was trust in God and to the best of his ability do what God required of him. When he failed he must repent, offer the appropriate sacrifice, and beseech God for forgiveness and restoration (Psalm 51). In contrast, every believer today can have absolute assurance of salvation because he is not trusting any in his works but in the shed blood and works of another, his Lord Jesus Christ
In Exodus 34:6-7 God told Moses concerning salvation He was "merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving inequity and transgression and sin...," but the Lord goes on to say that all of these blessings "...will by no means CLEAR the guilty"! In the Old Testament when someone was saved and forgiven according to God's mercy, grace, longsuffering, goodness, truth, etc., he was still not cleared from his guilt. This is an important lesson. Remission and forgiveness of sins is NOT redemption. In the Old Testament God did forgive people and treat them as such but only with a view of the redemption Christ would later purchase on Calvary (Rom. 3:25). With the atonement that could "take away" their sins and clear them not yet available, salvation was only a decree, and the individuals remained inherently guilty. They were only forgiven sinners, not regenerated, justified, redeemed Christians. This is the main reason Old Testament saints didn't go to Heaven at death. Even though righteousness was imputed to their account, they were still in every other way guilty sinners.
The best way to see how salvation worked under the Law is to examine the lives of some people who lived during that period and study what the Scriptures reveal. Again, salvation is somewhat elusive and hard to consistently pin down under the Law, but the study of a few representative individuals will help one understand how different it is from Church Age salvation. Clear statements of salvation, like Abraham's (Gen. 15:6), are very rare under the Law. For the most part one is only left to assume the salvation of many individuals by noting circumstantial evidence that suggests (but does not prove) their salvation. One can conclusively prove the salvation of very few people in the entire Old Testament.
While he was in Egypt, Aaron saw God do many mighty things through himself and Moses. He saw firsthand the character, power, and salvation of the Lord and took part in the greatest Exodus in history. Everything was looking good, but a few weeks later when they were in the wilderness, things changed. After God had made His covenant with Israel (Ex. 19) and revealed His laws (Ex. 20-24), Moses again went up to Sinai for more instructions (Ex. 24:18). While he was on the mount "the people" got restless, and they demanded Aaron to make them "gods" to worship (Ex. 32:1). (Man must worship something. If he refuses to worship the true God, he will worship a false one, even if it is himself!) After all he had seen and all God had done through him and for him, Aaron was quick to entertain Israel's idolatry and instructed them to bring gold. Out of this gold he made a calf and the people said, "These be thy gods, O Israel," and they had a feast and offered the calf a burnt offering (Ex. 32:4). How quickly Israel and Aaron abandoned their God.
The Lord told Moses what Israel was doing, and filled with wrath He was ready to consume the whole nation (Ex. 32:10). Furthermore, He was especially angry with Aaron, enough to destroy him (Deut. 9:20). Now, what about Aaron's salvation? Could someone who readily broke the first two commandments still be saved? Even though Aaron may have been coerced into the situation, he still chose to encourage the people in their idolatry rather than rebuke them. Moses brought up the promises God had previously made and the Lord repented of offering to consume Israel, including Aaron, but after Moses came down and saw the idolatry himself, he too was filled with wrath (Ex. 32:19)! Moses confronted his brother, and Aaron, afraid, tried to wiggle out of the blame (vs. 22), but the damage was done. Moses charges Aaron with bringing a great sin upon Israel.
If Aaron died at this time, where would he go? Are you sure (chapter and verse)? Moses knew the dire consequences of this sin and was willing to have his name blotted out of God's book if it would atone for Israel, including Aaron (Ex. 32:32). Moses' actions indicate that the salvation of all those involved was on precarious ground since he was apparently willing to sacrifice his salvation for theirs. They had either lost their salvation or were on the verge of losing it because God said He would only blot out those who sinned against Him (vs. 33). What a harrowing thought, to have one's name blotted out of God's book, but God said He WOULD do it! At least some names were blotted out! In Psalm 69:28 this book is called the "book of the living" and is connected with righteousness. Furthermore, this book must also concern spiritual life after death, not just physical life. Remember, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
As for Aaron, however, we still can't prove he lost his salvation. Yes, he was among those who greatly sinned against God, but, also, he was of the tribe of Levi and among those who went out and slew his brother, companion, and neighbor (Ex. 32:27-29), indicating he was again on the Lord's side. Killing one's family and friends if need be would require much consecration (vs. 29), and apparently Aaron had it. He knew what he did was wrong, but when given the opportunity to do right he repented and joined with those who follow the Lord. Needless to say Aaron was not killed that day, but the status of his salvation during his great sin is unknown.
Maybe Aaron lost his salvation when he made the calf (a lack of faith, and the wrong works) and gained it back when he fought on the Lord's side. Maybe he didn't lose it at all, but apparently about 3000 did and died that way (vs. 28, 33)! If God blotted them out of his book and they died in that condition, they were certainly lost. See what we mean when we say salvation under the Law is indefinite and "shifty"? Many today may arrogantly claim, "Of course Aaron was saved, and it was impossible for him to loose his salvation because Romans chapter 3 says... etc. etc.," but this PROVES nothing. We are interested in what the Bible says, not in the opinions of someone who refuses to divide the Scriptures or is guided more by emotions and "historic positions" than a desire for the truth.
God, again, graciously used Aaron (as High Priest) in spite of the events in Exodus 32, and after serving Him for 40 years Aaron was stripped of his priestly garments and sent to the top of Mt. Hor to die. God told Moses Aaron would be "gathered unto his people" (Num. 20:24) just like Abraham was and Moses was later (Deut. 32:50). So, in the end, everything indicates Aaron died saved and right with God; but if he died that idolatrous day at Sinai, the Lord only knows.
God was long-suffering and put up with Samson's "indiscretions," but when he gave up the secret of his strength, God left him (Jud. 16:20)! Even though Samson was a conceited, self-indulgent, self-gratifying, woman-chaser nearly all his life, his name is recorded with the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. The only time he called upon God for anything other than right before his death was because he was thirsty (15:18), yet he is recorded among the most faithful in history. Fascinating. How are we to understand this? Of course, only by grace.
God was exceedingly gracious to Samson. He gave him many opportunities to serve Him and was very patient with his behavior, but when his hair was cut, in essence dissolving his Nazarite relationship with God, God left him. The Scriptures plainly say, "...the Lord was departed from him." Now, was Samson still saved? Can you prove it? Nearly everything he did in the past was from a selfish or vengeful motive. Furthermore, he despised his Nazarite position and neglected to remove his uncleanness and guilt with the proper sacrifices, then he allowed his hair to be cut. Was he saved while the Lord was departed from him? God only knows, but the tone of the passage is not very promising. However, in faith Samson repents (16:28) and begs God to remember him by returning and restoring his strength. Here, the right faith is seen, and if he lost his salvation, it was returned. We know he died saved from Hebrews 11:32.
After following the Holy Spirit and defeating the Ammonites (11:6), Saul's character began to change. First, he usurped the office of a priest by offering a sacrifice himself (13:9), then he made a rash and senseless vow causing Israel to sin and jeopardizing his son Jonathan's life (14:24, 32, 44), and after that he refused to strictly follow God's command to "utterly destroy" Ameleck (15:3, 9). As a result of this God rejected him as king (15:23) and took the Holy Spirit away from him replacing Him with a devil (16:14). The rest of Saul's life was spent trying to recapture what he had lost through disobedience. He relentlessly pursues David, his soon to be successor, and after consulting a witch (28:8), finally dies of suicide on a Philistine battlefield (31:4). Did Saul die saved? God only knows.
The Lord told David He took His MERCY from Saul (2 Sam. 7:15). This is not at all a good sign. On the other hand, Samuel told Saul that when he died he would be with him (1 Sam. 28:19, and, of course, Samuel is saved (Heb. 11:32). However, Samuel may have only meant Saul would be with him in death, not in the same place or state as he after death. We cannot prove it either way. When Saul was on the right path and in fellowship with God it would be very reasonable to conclude he was saved. But when he rebelled and forsook God's ways, he may have fell from his "saved" state. During the latter part of his life he had very little faith. The Holy Spirit left Saul never to return (except to protect David 1 Sam. 19:23); Christian, can He leave YOU (Eph. 4:30)? Anyone who says salvation is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament is simply ignorant of the Scriptures.
However, after Solomon became king, Joab suddenly became "religious." When David was near the end of his days, his eldest son, Adonijah, wanted to be king (1 Ki. 1:5) and Joab joined him in his attempt (1:7). David got wind of Adonijah's plan and quickly crowned Solomon king (1:43), putting Joab on the wrong side. With David's sudden abdication and the crowning of Solomon, Joab knew he was in a "pickle." With all his past actions and his present allegiance to Adonijah, he knew his life wouldn't be very highly esteemed (2:5-6).
After Solomon had Adonijah killed, Joab, believing he would be next, ran to the tabernacle, grabbed hold of the horns of the alter, and, in effect, pled the blood! He went there as a place of sanctuary, hoping to receive mercy (like Adonijah had previously), but Solomon had him killed on the spot (2:31). There is very little to indicate the salvation of Joab until he asks for mercy at the brazen alter. Was he saved there? He appeared to be trusting in the blood of the substitute lamb that was burning on the alter and wanted to die beside it (2:30)? This is as close as it gets to "looking forward to the cross" in the Old Testament, but apparently his "faith" wasn't enough. Joab did not receive the Holy Spirit and is not said to "sleep with his fathers" as David or be "gathered unto his people" like Abraham. He is only referred to as dead (11:21) like the "rich man" in Luke 16:22.
When David was finally made king, he reigned with prudence and wisdom, and God made the previously mentioned unconditional and far-reaching covenant with him concerning his kingdom and seed (2 Sam. 7). Again, everything was going well for David; that is, until he eyed Bathsheba (11:2).
The events concerning Bathsheba led David to commit adultery and murder; two sins no animal sacrifice will atone for. Those were both capital crimes against God's law and demanded death (Lev. 20:10; Num. 35:30-32). David knew faith in the shed blood of the lamb would not redeem him (Psa. 51:16), and he didn't even attempt to offer it. When confronted with his unpardonable sins, David confessed and repented and God did not require his life (2 Sam. 12:13). Ordinarily, repentance or no repentance, the adulterer and murderer must die (Lev. 20:10; Ex. 21:14); but God, by His abundant grace, spared David. This shows that David is an exceptional case in the Old Testament, not typical at all. For His own reasons God granted David "sure mercies" (Acts 13:34); the closest thing one will find to eternal security in the Old Testament. Remember how God took His mercy from Saul in 2 Sam. 7:15 and then promised David He wouldn't take his mercy from his seed? There is clearly a difference, and it is by grace-pure grace. David is a type of the New Testament Church Age believer. Still, David was NOT born again, sealed by the Holy Spirit, or made a new creature in Christ; he simply had a promise from God of "sure mercies," and this promise secured his salvation.
Whether David fully understood these "sure mercies" is not clear, but understanding them is not necessary for them to be effective. Many today do not realize the riches of the salvation they have, but, nevertheless, the riches are still there. David did know, however, that the Holy Spirit could be taken from him and he begged God not to do it (Psa. 51:11). He knew his sins warranted such action, but he dreaded the thought of losing his precious comforter which represented communion and fellowship with God. This great dread of losing the Holy Spirit is one reason David is called "a man after God's own heart." As many of his psalms testify, he dearly loved the things of God and the presence of God. Obviously, David is an exception to the rule dealing with salvation under the Law. He was given "exceedingly great and precious promises" that God did not give to any other person in the Old Testament, including Abraham and Moses.
See how hard it is to pin salvation down under the Law? We can look at the apostle Paul and see clearly where he was saved in Acts 9; we have no problem seeing 3000 others get saved on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2; we can with the utmost confidence believe everyone who receives Jesus Christ in him has eternal, everlasting life, but the salvation of many prominent characters in the Old Testament is hard to positively determine.
Remember, in the Old Testament salvation was an EXTERNAL decree by God when certain conditions were met; it was not finalized until Christ purchased eternal redemption at Calvary. Church Age salvation is an INTERNAL act of regeneration performed by the permanently indwelling Christ through the Holy Spirit. The external decree of salvation could be rescinded because of disobedience or rebellion, but the internal new birth cannot be undone. The former salvation is indefinite and variable according to God's good pleasure, and the latter is permanent, invariable, and fixed because of God's good pleasure. Who are we to take issue with God's methods? Our duty is not to question but believe and obey all that He says.
The five individual cases we have examined above reveal how varied salvation could be under the law. Faith had a part, and works had a part, but only God determined how much of each He required to decree each person saved. There were no fixed requirements. God evidently took many things into consideration before salvation was decreed: what had been revealed to the person, how much "light" the person had, how much opportunity the person had to do what was required, what the person did with what he knew, etc. God is a God of mercy and grace, but still, His justice and holiness must be satisfied. Since there was no new birth to distinguish the lost from the saved, God saved those who did (and continued to do) what He said.
At first it appears Aaron had the proper faith and acceptable works, but at Sinai he lacked both. Samson had the Holy Spirit, but after many evil works He left him; however, after he exercised faith, the Holy Spirit returned. Saul had some good works but a lack of faith, and the Holy Spirit left him never to return. Joab had a little faith and evil works but in the end went to the altar to "plead the blood" for mercy. And David had some evil works and unbelief, but at other times he had good works and much faith. He further prayed that the Holy Spirit would not leave him, and He never did. What a collage of "experiences." The Holy Spirit leaves one and later returns; He leaves another but does not return; and He could have left a third but didn't! Does this sound anything like New Testament salvation? How could anyone say salvation is the same in the Old Testament as in the New?
In summary, salvation under the Law was fundamentally different from our's today. Then, faith backed by works were required; today, faith alone is sufficient. Then, nothing spiritual happened inside a believer; today, many things happen. Then, salvation was only decreed on credit; today, it is internally and spiritually applied. Then, believers didn't go to heaven when they died; today, all believers go there. Then, the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell and seal believers; today, He does both. etc. etc. Do you now see the fallacy of those who claim salvation in every age is the same? It is not even the same between different dispensations in the Old Testament, let alone the same as today's.
David's son, Solomon (who after years of faithfulness forsook God and worshipped devils [1 Kings 11] and died leaving no record of ever having repented! Another interesting case), spoke the definitive statement concerning Old Testament Salvation. In Ecclesiastes 12:13 he said, "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." No mention of a redeemer or cross; no mention of redemption or regeneration; no mention of believing on or receiving anybody; just fear God and keep His commandments. What commandments? Whatever ones God has revealed and made valid for the person and time. This is as plain as it gets (see also Micah 6:7-8).
In the next chapter we will move into the New Testament and examine salvation there. We will look at the transitional change from the Law to Grace and study the changes in salvation this new dispensation brought about.