One common statement often made today is that the Old Covenant believers were saved by keeping the law and the New Covenant believers are now saved by grace. They were under the law and we are under grace. This is a statement I made myself for several years which is clearly a wrong understanding. This statement is very offensive to the Old Testament. Let me explain.
The Grace of the Old Testament
The Old Testament writers on several occasions repeatedly emphasize God’s grace to Israel:
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:4).
“And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).
“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” (Ex. 34:6).
“the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num. 6:25).
“Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!” (Ps. 119:29).
Here are just a few examples of how God was gracious to the saints of the Old Testament era. The last verse is a very interesting one. The writer asks for God’s grace to help him understand the law of God.
Another clear example of the grace of God in the Old Testament happened right before the Israelites entered the promised land. Moses reminded Israel to keep God’s law, “You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today” (Deut. 7:11). The reason to keep the law in Moses own words is because of grace, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deut. 7:7-9). The Old Testament believers attribute their obedience to grace just like we are today.
A Negative Response
The reason many people say the Old Testament is under law and the New Testament is under grace is based upon one verse in particular, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). Let’s examine this verse a little more.
The first thing that is evident from this verse is that it does not state that the Old Covenant saints were under law and the New Covenant saints are under grace. It does not make that claim. It is simply saying that the believers in Rome are not saved by keeping the law but they are saved by grace. We insert the Old and New Covenant believers into this verse. Rather Paul is speaking of a law-principle when he states, “you are not under law, but under grace.” He is simply denying the very idea that salvation can be earned by living according to the same standard. This is a message Paul writes about in the New Testament frequently that law keeping can never earn favor with God:
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[a] by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
God’s way to salvation since the fall of Adam has been all of grace, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). If we truly understand the effects of the fall then we easily conclude that it had to be that one. When Adam rebelled death (covenantal and spiritual) came upon him and the entire human race. The only hope for a dead person to walk is for them to first be made alive. A dead person can not make themselves alive. The covenantal and spiritually dead person can only be made alive by grace. This is true in the New Testament as it was in the Old Testament.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.