So, the Old Testament was about works-righteousness and the New is about faith?
Absolutely not! While it is true, the Nation of Israel, perhaps, made that which God introduced a kind of works-righteousness, it was never the intention of the system. And what is it about faith that makes us righteous? Faith in what…And faith in whom? If this is simply about God doing it one way in the past and a different way today, then what gives us confidence that He will not change it again?! “No,” I say, it has always been about faith.
Way back in Genesis (if we can think of the individual books as a case-study in history) God shows up and speaks to a pagan, idol worshipping, wretched Gentile called Abram (later called, Abraham). God says to Abram, “Get up, go over yonder to a place you’ve never seen, let alone been; leave everything you know, and do as I say, and I will make you a great nation.”
Abram “believed God” and was made to be in right-standing-with-God (righteous) because of it. What was it that Abram believed about God that made him righteous? It was not because he was going to be a great nation (which he never saw in his own lifetime) and it was not even that God promised him something (amazing as that is in and of itself), but it was that Abram believed that God is, by definition – that God is who He says He is. Because God spoke to him and called him did Abram believe, and that belief is called “faith,” which is what made him to be in right-standing-with-God.
As time goes on, humanity is not living out of the faith which Abraham utilized, and God called Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, to be another instrument of faith. Upon changing Jacob’s name to Israel, the Nation of Israel was born, which partially fulfills God’s promise to Abraham. Yet, because Israel’s children did not have the faith of Abraham, God instituted the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments). These soon – in Leviticus and Numbers – became over 600 and included sacrifices, and a Temple to be the center of religious activity. Now watch this: These institutions were never a replacement of faith, but evidences of it. One must “believe God,” as Abraham did, in order to expect that laws and sacrifices would please God. The act of law and sacrifice was an outward expression of an inner reality. They showed that the person “believed God.”
Later, Israel replaces the faith these acts were supposed to exhibit with a religion that was neither socially nor individually righteous, and the faith of Abraham was again without expression.
In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is on the scene as the Person of Faith. He, like Abraham before Him, “believes God” is who He says He is and carries with Him that faith to His cross. By the time we get to ‘The Acts,’ the letters, and Revelation, this faith carries us, not to Moses, but back to “Father Abraham” (Genesis) and fulfills completely the promise made to Abraham by God. And as Abraham “believed God” so we “believe God” in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, history reveals that faith has always been the means by which one is found to be in right-standing-with-God. This fact has not changed and will never change until the end of time (when faith is no longer needed).
Incidentally, this historical faith conversation could have begun at the Garden, where Adam and Eve could have simply “believed God” about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil!