Q340 : How Did the Old Testament Law Relate to Righteousness?

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Q340 : How Did the Old Testament Law Relate to Righteousness?

In Deuteronomy 6:25 we read:

Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.1

I'm puzzled about the conditional “if” in Deu 6:25, “. . it shall be our righteousness if we observe . . .” That statement puzzles me. Why the conditional if?

I'm assuming that righteousness here refers to right standing with God or salvation and not right living.

You said that the law was never kept except by Christ. So does this mean that Israel could not be saved until Christ came since they could not keep the law themselves? If true then what was grace all about in the Old Testament?


1.Acts 18:1-11, NKJV


Acts 18:1-11Unless indicated otherwise, all Scripture references are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

A340 : by Tony Garland

It is my view that "righteousness" in Deu 6:25 refers to right living — which is also related to "right standing" before God, but not salvation.

By living "rightly," individuals obtained greater favor from God (blessings, rather than curses) and demonstrated a measure of sanctification. Since law-keeping is an all-or-nothing proposition (Deu. 27:26; Rom. 3:19-20; Gal. 3:10; 5:3-5; 6:13; Jas. 2:10) it was never possible to appear truly (self-)righteous before God (Gal. 6:13): the condition required to merit salvation apart from grace. (Note that "merit" and "salvation" cannot be found together where sin exists—hence the need for grace.)

One big distinction between law and grace: the law is temporal (Galatians 3:24-25) whereas grace is eternal. Nobody was ever saved on the basis of the law—they were saved based on faith in what God had revealed. In the Old Testament—after the giving of the law—faith was expressed, in part, by observing the law.

At Sinai, God revealed the law to the Jews and those who desired to please God sought to "practice" the law—even if it could not be kept. (The law itself recognized that fact in that it contained provisions for failing to keep the law: e.g., Lev. 4:2, 13-14; 5:15-18.) So nobody every merited true righteousness by the law. Instead, just as in New Testament times, people were saved by grace through faith.

In the case of Abraham, his faith was in God's promises (Genesis 12; 15). God's grace was extended to individuals who exercised faith—just as happens now. After Abraham, with the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, an individual's actions in relation to that new revelation (the law) provided another means of exercising faith—by attempting to follow what God desired.

In that light, the crucifixion of Christ needs to be viewed within a timeline running from creation to the end of time. At all points in time, sinners are saved by (God's) grace through faith—they exercise faith and God grants them imputed righteousness which they have not earned. After the cross, that imputed righteousness is made possible by the past work of Jesus on the cross. Before the cross, that imputed righteousness was made possible by the future work of Jesus on the cross.

Grace is needed whenever God extends favor to creatures who do not merit favor. That has always been the case ever since the fall—whether with OT Israel where the law was practiced or with the NT church.

Since fallen mankind has never merited God's favor, salvation has always been by grace. In that light, grace in the OT was no different (or less essential) than it is now. One difference, though, is that God's grace is perhaps more evident since the cross (John 1:17). What changes is 1) the content of saving faith based on progressive revelation—what God revealed about the cross and what needed to be believed to be saved; and 2) the expression of faith—how to respond to God's instructions (e.g., observing the law of Moses, observing the law of Christ). But the basis of God's grace providing unmerited salvation was always the work of Christ on the cross—either in expectation or in retrospective.

The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various dispensations. It is this last point, of course, that distinguishes dispensationalism from covenant theology, but it is not a point to which the charge of teaching two ways of salvation can be attached. It simply recognizes the obvious fact of progressive revelation. When Adam looked upon the coats of skins with which God had clothed him and his wife, he did not see what the believer today sees looking back on the cross of Calvary.1

I discuss the issue of salvation across both testaments in my article, Does Dispensationalism Teach Two Ways of Salvation?a.


1.Ref-0056, 115


Ref-0056Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995).

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