So, what about those folks of the Old Testament?
I have heard so many grace teachers say that the people of the OT were under law and that their salvation was based on their performance. No! No! No! It was grace from the beginning!
The topic of salvation is a large one and I can only share what I think, not as much support as I would like. But I will say strongly that I believe salvation was based on faith in the Savior, not on the system of sacrifices or on keeping the law. If we look at just a couple of things, you will see what I mean.
First, the animal sacrifices never saved anyone or solved anything. All they did was point to the coming sacrifice and cover the sins of the people in the meantime. God made a point of the need for covering from the very beginning of sin. Animals died to provide coverings for Adam and Eve. But their sins were not washed away by the blood of animals.
Nor did keeping the law ever save anyone. First, no one actually did it perfectly. Paul says that breaking one commandment makes a person guilty of breaking all. In other words, one sin is as bad as many. So keeping the law was out of the equation.
So, how were the people of the OT saved? By grace through faith! Abraham’s faith, Paul says, was counted as righteousness. He looked to the Lord for his provision. They looked forward to the cross just as we look back on it.
David understood this. He said,
Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Psalm 40:6
Instead, David notes, the sacrifice acceptable is the broken life that looks to the Savior.
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. Psalm 51:16-17
And who is the Savior? The Lord is our only Savior! This is why it is so important to us that we proclaim Jesus as God. God Himself became the sacrifice for us. Mystery? Sure! But it is absolutely true!
Isaiah understood. He shared the words of God.
I, even I, am the LORD, And besides Me there is no savior. Isaiah 43:11
There is no savior besides the Lord. So He was the Savior of the people of Israel and He is our Savior. We understand that the Lord came to us in the Person of the Son, but that understanding changes nothing. We may have more information than the folks of the OT, the benefit of hindsight, but there is one way of salvation.
Paul made it very clear:
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Hebrews 10:4
One sacrifice—His. One Savior—Jesus.