Saved by Law, works, or grace? Cause and effect: a clarification

Generally speaking, people seem to have a lot of confusion about how a person is saved.  This holds true for those outside of the Church and even within.  

Were the Old Testament saints saved by keeping the Law?  If we are saved by grace alone, why do we have to obey Jesus?  Isn’t that trying to earn our salvation through works?  Do we cooperate with God in our salvation….He does the saving but we have to do our part too?

These are the sorts of questions I hear people asking, and questions I myself once had. So for today’s post, I thought we could just go over how it all works, and hopefully clear up any confusion readers may have.  

The Old Testament saints were saved by looking toward the future Messiah and trusting in Him for their salvation.  Yes, they knew a Messiah was promised (Genesis 3:14-15). The confusion seems to be based around the Law that was given to Israel.  Israel was a theocracy.  It was an object lesson for the whole world; how God was showing the way to Himself.  Yes, they were chosen and set apart, but they were not all automatically saved.  Some in Israel were true believers, and some were not.  Some gentiles were true believers, and some were not.  Being born into the nation of Israel was not an automatic get into heaven ticket.  Israel, being a theocracy, had three types of law: moral, civil, and ceremonial.  The civil laws were what set them apart from other nations and kept them from mixing paganism with God’s ways.  Some of those laws seem nonsensical to us like not mixing types of textiles.  They were pictures and visible lessons to Israel.  They were to be set apart for God’s use and to remain pure.  The ceremonial laws were what governed their worship. The civil and ceremonial law does not apply to us today. It was special and specific for Israel in the Old Testament times.  But the moral law does.  God does not change, and therefore His moral law does not change.  The confusion comes when people do not understand the three types of law and lump them all together.

Old Testament saints who were saved by their faith in the coming Messiah kept the Law out of obedience.  Obeying the Law was the result of a changed heart because they were saved, evidence if you will, not because they were trying to be saved.  Getting the cause and effect on this is essential to a right understanding of the order of salvation.  They were still saved by grace through faith, just as we are today.  But they were living in a theocracy and therefore submitted to the civil and ceremonial law out of obedience to God.

After Jesus came and lived a perfectly sinless life in obedience to the Father by dying on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice, the Law was fulfilled.  When someone is saved, they are given credit for what Jesus did (imputed righteousness) and their sins are credited to Christ, who paid for them with His death.  It is a swip-swop.  After this point (Jesus death and resurrection), the ceremonial and civil law was no longer in effect, but the moral law still is.  When someone is saved today, they are saved by grace through faith alone just like the saints of the OT.  And just like the OT saints, they will submit to God in obedience to His moral law because they have a new heart with new desires.  No, it is not trying to earn salvation if you are obeying God.  It is the new nature at work.  A new heart doesn’t wonder why they have to obey.  A new heart longs to obey!  

Before the cross and after the cross, God’s people are saved by believing in Jesus the Messiah and trusting in His finished work on the cross to cover their sins. What naturally follows is obedience flowing from a changed heart and gratitude to the One who paid the price. God didn’t operate one way in the Old Testament and a different way in the New Testament.  It is the same salvation.  God is immutable; He does not change. 

I hope this was helpful if you have been confused on this issue.  Remember, false religion says that we have to participate in our salvation by doing good works.  Some religions try to be tricky by saying it is God’s grace AND our works together that save us.  No.  That is not what God has said.  We do nothing.  It is Christ and Christ alone who did the saving work,, and it is the Father who draws us and gives us the gift of belief, faith, and repentance……then we obey and perform good works as a result of a changed heart.


Soli Deo Gloria!


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