Could people be saved a different way before Christ’ sacrificial death?
The key passage that answers the question, “Could people be saved in a different way before Christ?” is Romans 3:22-25.
. . .22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed . . . Romans 3:22-25 (NASB)
Romans 3:22-25 contains some very important theology; however, we are interested in only parts of this passage. Therefore, we will focus on verses 22-23, the first part of verse 24 and the end of verse 25. Verses 22 and 24 describe believers in the New Testament and verse 25 refers to believers in the Old Testament.
How Are People Saved and Go To Heaven?
In Romans 3:22 the Holy Spirit tells us that people who have faith in Jesus Christ have the righteousness of God. This is an incredibly important statement because it tells us how people become Christians. The verse states that people who believe in Christ are Christians and they are as righteous as God. The incredible statement is that we can be as righteous as God is righteous. But this only happens to those who believe in Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to believe in Christ? The answer is explained at “Searching For God” and “Is salvation by grace through faith alone?” In brief, someone who believes in Christ will believe that He is God, died for our sins, His physical body returned to life and He ascended back to heaven. That is the test of true faith. That is the message of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; 7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NASB)
Romans 3:24 adds, that believers are “justified as a gift by His grace.” The word justified means that Christians have been declared to be righteous. That is, God had declared our every action, work and behavior to be without sin. It is important to remember that God is called righteous (Psalm 71:19; 116:5). This means that Christians are judicially declared to be as righteous as God, but we still sin. God, the Judge, has declared “the guilty” to be permanently and forever guiltless. He has decided to consider Christians to always be righteous. For an understanding of how God can see us as holy and yet we still sin, please see the study, “Position & Practice – Discipleship Series.”
There Are No Exceptions
Now, are there any exceptions? Could people before Christ be saved in a different way? Could people before Christ be saved by someone else or maybe an angel?
Notice the end of verse 22 where we are told that there are no exceptions. The Greek word that is translated as “distinctions” is diastole. It also means “differences.” That is, there are no differences or exceptions. This means that there is only way to go to heaven. It is by faith in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 tells us the same thing,
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (NASB)
How Were People In The Old Testament Saved?
So, if there is no other way for people to be saved, how were people in the Old Testament saved? If the only way to saved is by actively believing in Jesus Christ how could people before Him be saved? The answer is given in verse 25. It says, “. . . in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.” This means that God patiently waited until Christ died on the cross to forgive their sins and declare them righteous. God overlooked their sins until Christ died for their sins.
A good illustration is someone using a credit card to purchase something. We use credit cards to obtain some item or product now, in the present, and then later we pay the cost of the product when we receive a bill from the credit card company. I think we understand how a credit card works. Now lets create an illustration. God forgave the sins of those who believed in the Old Testament on credit. We could say forgiveness for their sins was charged to a credit card and that credit card was paid when Christ died for their sins.
There is only way to way to go to heaven. It is though God’s grace alone, by faith alone in Christ alone. That is, only by God’s grace can we get into heaven. We cannot work our way into heaven. Believing in Christ is not a work. It is simply believing what is true. Christ is the only way to heaven. No angel can help. There are no other gods and no one else is even close to be a god.
And there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a Savior;
There is none except Me.
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other. Isaiah 45:21-22 (NASB)
Romans 4:2-5 gives us the example of Abraham who believed in God in Genesis 15:5-6 and here we are told his belief was credited to Him as righteousness. Notice that Abraham did no works. He did not try to earn his salvation by works. Because he just believed, God, in His grace, granted or credited him righteousness.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness . . . Romans 4:5 (NASB)
Here is an example of a person in the Old Testament who was saved and we will see him in heaven. It is important to understand the evidence of saving faith, real faith, is that they will serve and obey God. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Those who claim to be Christians and then drift away from God were never truly Christians (1 John 2:19).
Reference Links:Do I have to believe that Jesus is God to be saved?
Is salvation by grace through faith alone?
What does it mean to receive Christ?
Were people saved before the apostles?
Position & Practice – Discipleship Series
Should a person be changed when they become a Christian?
How can you know for sure that you believe in Jesus?
Can a Christian stray from the faith and still be a Christian?
What is the difference between holy and righteous in the Bible?