Old Testament believers (3)

We are looking at salvation with reference to Old Testament believers. In this third study we are going to look at the subject of faith.

Faith comes from God

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Heb 11:6)

Eph 2:8 tells us that we're saved by grace through the action of faith. Not only is it impossible to please God without faith, it's impossible to be saved without faith. Faith is necessary for salvation.

Where does faith come from? Is it possible for us to put our own faith in God? No. In our lost state we neither seek God nor understand God (Rom 3:11). All true faith in God comes from God.

Heb 11 contains a long list of Old Testament believers who were commended for their faith. Where did their faith come from? It came from God. God gave them faith in himself, even as he gives us faith in himself. These were people who knew God and walked with God, and they'll be with us in heaven (Heb 11:39–40).

Abel: the first to be born again

Genesis is a book of beginnings; there are many spiritual truths revealed in the early chapters of Genesis. When Adam and Eve sinned they died spiritually, and God was left without human fellowship. But that situation soon changed. Eve gave birth to sons—Cain and Abel—and God chose to save Abel.

Gen 4 tells us that in the course of time Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the crops he had grown, but Abel brought an offering of fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. God looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but not on Cain and his offering. Did that happen by chance? No. Abel brought his offering to God by faith.

Heb 11:4 says:

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

God had chosen Abel to be saved and he had been reborn spiritually. He was now indwelt by the Spirit of God and knew what God wanted (1Co 2:11); and God used him to teach spiritual truth. Abel bringing fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock would have meant the slaughter of firstborn lambs.

When God looked with favour on Abel and his offering, he was showing that justification (people being declared righteous by God) would come through faith in the death of a firstborn Lamb—ie his Son, Jesus Christ (Joh 1:29; Heb 1:6)—and not by their own works (Cain's labour in the fields). That message is still being preached today (Eph 2:8–9).

Abel: the first martyr

Not only was Abel the first to be saved by faith, he was also the first to die for his faith. When Cain saw that his brother had found favour with God he became angry. He then took him into a field and killed him (Gen 4:6–8). Why did he do that? The apostle John tells us:

Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. (1Jo 3:12)

Abel was born again and belonged to God, and was now living the life God wanted him to live. Cain, on the other hand, still belonged to the evil one, and was following the evil one's ways (1Jo 3:10).

Having shown that God's people will be saved by faith, the Bible then shows they'll be persecuted for their faith. Where does persecution come from? It comes from the evil one, and from the hearts of those in the world in whom he reigns.

Jesus said:

'If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: "A servant is not greater than his master." If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.' (Joh 15:18–20a)

Satan, and those in the world whom he moved through, persecuted Jesus to his death; and many of our Lord's followers, over the centuries, have met with the same fate. There are areas in the world today where, if you commit your life to Jesus Christ and are baptized, you could be put to death, and often by members of your family—as Abel was (Mat 10:34–36).

Persecution is such an inevitable consequence of faith that God teaches it from the beginning of the Bible. He wants us to know that those who put their faith in the Lamb of God will be persecuted—not necessarily murdered, but persecuted in some way (2Ti 3:12).

The cost of faith

Persecution began with the first man to be saved, it's continued throughout history, and will end with the final and greatest outpouring of Satan's wrath against the Church under the Antichrist (Rev 13:1–10). How long did Abel live after bringing his offering to the Lord? Not long, but we'll see him in heaven—which will never end.

Heb 11 says that some of the Old Testament believers faced jeers and flogging; others were chained and put in prison. Some were stoned; some were sawn in two; some were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated. But they were all commended for their faith—and they will all be in heaven.

Faith is necessary for salvation, but it can be costly.

Michael Graham
October 2009
Revised July 2013

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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