One of the reasons Christians have a hard time understanding the Old Testament is that they read the stories as if God had a different standard for them than he does for us. We think that New Testament people were saved by grace, but Old Testament people were saved by doing good works. And we’re thankful, of course, that we get the NT option. But we aren’t sure what to do with the heroes of the OT.
For starters, we should realize that the “heroes” of the Old Testament came to God the same way we do—by grace. There has only ever been one path to righteousness—the absolute surrender of faith.
Noah is a perfect example of this, though it’s easy to miss if you’re reading too quickly. Genesis 6:9, after all, says that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.” Does that mean that he had no sin in his heart? Hardly. He ends his days in disgrace and nakedness, part of the same evil human race that grieved God’s heart so deeply.
So if “righteous” doesn’t mean that Noah did all the right things, what does it mean? What made Noah so special, anyway? Genesis 6:8 shows us: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” That word “favor” means “grace.” God didn’t save Noah because he was righteous. Noah became righteous because he received God’s offer of salvation. The grace came first. The righteousness followed.
That’s why the author of Hebrews, when remembering Noah, said, “By faith Noah … constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he … became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Heb. 11:7). Only after responding to God in faith is Noah declared “righteous.” The grace came first. The righteousness followed.
That is always the way people become righteous. God grants righteousness, as a gift, to all who will believe and respond in faith. All God asks is that we give an unqualified, unconditional “yes” to him.
Think of it like this: Imagine you wake up in an ambulance. You’re connected to all sorts of cords and machines, and the EMT says to you, “You’ve been in a terrible accident. But we’ve got you. We’re going to save you. Just sit back and let us work.” They’re not asking you to get up and assist them. They’re asking you to surrender to them.
Is this the posture you are in with God? You say, Well, I’m mostly surrendered to God. But there is no such thing as “mostly surrendered.” What good would it do if you “mostly surrendered” to the EMT? Yeah, I’ll just pull out one or two of these cords. It’s no biggie. I’m still “mostly surrendered.”