Does the Old Testament Teach Salvation by Works?

According to Genesis 15:6, Abram did not buy righteousness with his faith. Rather, God gave Abram righteousness, which means right standing or acceptability before God. The biblical message is clear and consistent in both testaments: The curse of condemnation and death that rests on everyone because of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12) cannot be removed and exchanged for righteousness through any number of good deeds one might do. The exchange can be effected only by God as a free act of His grace in response to a person’s faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:16-17; 4:1-25; GaI. 3:6-9).

What matters in this exchange is not the quality or degree of faith, but rather God’s grace; faith is not a means to earn acceptance with God. The apostle Paul considered Abraham a model of transforming faith, even though the content of Abraham’s faith was different from Paul’s. Abraham simply trusted God and His promise to give him a son and then other descendants. Presumably Abraham would have supplemented God’s promise here with that of Genesis 12:1-3, trusting that his offspring would be vast, not only in number but also in significance, bringing blessing to the world. The content of Abraham’s faith was not inconsistent with that of Paul, only less specific. Also, Abraham believed what God would do and Paul believed what God had done.

Finally, the New Testament explains that faith itself cannot purchase or serve as the foundation for acceptance with God. Only the cross of Christ can purchase our salvation. But since the eternal and timeless God is sovereign over events, He could apply the work of Christ to Old Testament believers in response to their faith, even though they had no specific knowledge of Christ.

This post is an excerpt from the Apologetics Study Bible by Holman Bible Publishers. It is used with permission. You can purchase this resource in its entirety here.


Published February 21, 2018