Rewarding the Redeemed
A Perpetual Principle
The Scriptures reveal a perpetual principle in effect in every age of history since the fall of man. That principle is as follows: Eternal salvation is always by the grace of God through faith in the Word of God. The New Testament clearly teaches that this principle has been in effect in this present age since the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. For example, in Ephesians 2:8–9 the Apostle Paul declared, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Paul also identified the specific Word of God in which people of this present age must believe in order to be saved. That Word is the gospel defined in 1 Corinthians 15:14: “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and in which ye stand; By which also ye are saved … that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
The Scriptures also indicate that this principle was in effect throughout Old Testament history. Even then, in response to their trust in His Word, God saved sinful human beings by His grace and rewarded them.
The Bible presents Abraham as a prime example of an Old Testament person saved solely by the grace of God through faith in the Word of God. Having developed the truth that both Gentiles and Jews are justified freely by God’s grace and that, therefore, “a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:24, 28), Paul anticipated that some Jewish readers would challenge this teaching by demanding to know how Abraham was justified (Rom. 4:1).
Paul took his Jewish challengers to their own Old Testament Scriptures to see how the father of their nation was justified. He referred to Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). This passage asserts that God counted Abraham’s faith for righteousness. In response to Abraham’s faith God attributed righteousness to him.
But what exactly did Abraham believe unto righteousness? The context of Genesis 15:6 provides the answer. Abraham and Sarah had no children and were getting beyond the normal childbearing age. When God communicated with him in Genesis 15, Abraham expressed his anxiety concerning their childless state. He was concerned that a servant would inherit all his possessions (vv. 1–3).
In response to Abraham, “the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came unto him” (v. 4). Through that Word, God promised that a servant would not be Abraham’s heir. Instead, a child born of Abraham and Sarah would inherit Abraham’s possessions. God also promised that Abraham’s physical descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven (vv. 4–5).
Genesis 15:6 records Abraham’s response to this Word of God: “And he believed in the Lᴏʀᴅ; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The only thing Abraham did on this occasion was to take God at His Word. He made no other commitment to God than that of placing his trust in Him to fulfill this word of promise. God graciously justified Abraham solely in response to his faith in this specific Word of God to him.
On the basis of this Old Testament example of Abraham, Paul drew the following conclusion: “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4–5).
The Bible indicates that God graciously rewarded Old Testament believers with past and future blessings in response to their faith in His Word.
In light of Abraham’s example, it is obvious that justification was one reward blessing to Old Testament believers (Rom. 4:4–5). Justification is the judicial act of God whereby, as the judge of the universe, He declares believers to be completely righteous in His sight and therefore acceptable to Him.
The divine cause of justification is God’s grace (Rom. 3:24; Ti. 3:7). The human cause is faith (Rom. 3:28, 30; 5:1), not the law or works (Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:20, 28). Thus, no person in Old Testament times was justified through the law. God did not give the law as a means of eternal salvation (Gal. 3:21).
Besides making believers legally righteous, justification saves them from God’s wrath (Rom. 5:9), guarantees their future glorification (Rom. 8:30), saves them from any charges designed to threaten their salvation (Rom. 8:33), frees them from the guilt of all kinds of sin (1 Cor. 6:9–11), and causes them to inherit the hope of eternal life (Ti. 3:7).
Another reward blessing to Old Testament believers was regeneration. Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit whereby He imparts new spiritual life to believers by giving them the new nature (a new, favorable disposition toward God, [Ti.3:5]). Regeneration refers to the restoration of a lost condition. Before the fall, mankind had spiritual life (a personal relationship with God) because they had a favorable disposition toward God. But in the fall mankind died spiritually post their personal relationship with God) because they lost their favorable disposition toward God and replaced it with a disposition of enmity (the sin nature) against God (Rom. 8:7). Through regeneration, the Holy Spirit restores spiritual life (a personal relationship with God) to believers by giving them a new, favorable disposition toward God. This restoration has a biblical synonym, born again (new birth, Jn. 3:3–8).
Several things indicate that Old Testament believers were regenerated. First, Jesus told Nicodemus that the only way into the kingdom of God is through regeneration (the new birth, Jn. 3:3, 5). His declaration in Luke 13:18–29 that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets will be seen “in the kingdom of God’’* makes it obvious that, as Old Testament believers, they were regenerated.
Second, the fact that Jesus told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” (Jn. 3:7), when the Old Testament economy was still in operation before Christ’s death, indicates that regeneration was available in Old Testament times to those who would believe.
Third, the acts of faith performed by such Old Testament believers as Noah, Abraham, David, and Moses indicate that they were spiritually alive.
Fourth, the Scriptures reveal that “circumcision of heart” could take place in Old Testament times. The Old Testament indicated that the circumcised heart is characterized by genuine love for God (Dt. 30:6) instead of persistent rebellion against Him. For that reason, Moses issued the following command to the Israelites of his day: “Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked” (Dt. 10:16, cp. Acts 7:51). Jeremiah gave the same command to his countrymen who had already had physical circumcision (Jer. 4:3–4).
A.B. Davidson indicated the significance of heart circumcision when, referring to Jeremiah’s command, he wrote, “The need, not of a reformation, but of a fundamental regeneration, is clear to the prophet: ‘Break up the fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.’”* Thus, circumcision of heart was an Old Testament reference to regeneration.
A Blessed Future
Old Testament believers will be rewarded with a blessed future. This future will involve several blessings.
First, Old Testament believers will be rewarded with bodily resurrection from the dead. In Daniel 12:13 Daniel was told, “thou shalt rest.” In this context the word “rest” refers to physical death.* Then Daniel was informed that he will “stand.” Here the word “stand” indicates bodily resurrection after death.* Next Daniel was told that he will be resurrected “at the end of the days.” Since the major time period considered in this 12th chapter of Daniel (vv. 1–7) is the Great Tribulation (cp. Dan. 12:1 with Mt. 24:15–21), it would appear that “the end of the days” refers to the end of the Great Tribulation when Christ will come out of heaven in His glorious Second Coming (Mt. 24:29–30). Daniel 12:2 refers to a resurrection of some people to everlasting life at that time. Since Daniel was an Old Testament believer, this implies that Old Testament believers will be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ after the Great Tribulation.
Second, Old Testament believers will be rewarded with glorification. Romans 8:30 teaches that God glorifies all whom He justifies. Since, as noted earlier, God justified Old Testament believers in return for their faith, it can be concluded that He will glorify all of shim.
Third, Old Testament believers will be rewarded with a place in the future Millennial Kingdom of God. Jesus taught that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other Old Testament believers will be seen in the kingdom of God (Lk. 13:28). As a result of their being resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ, Old Testament believers will be able to enter the kingdom with Him.
Fourth, Hebrews 11:8–16 indicates that Old Testament believers will be rewarded with a place and blessing in the future eternal state.
Old Testament believers are illustrations of the principle stated in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”