How Was A Jew Saved In The Old Testament?
by Arnold Fruchtenbaum
If you were a rabbi in Judea in the first century and I asked you how I might obtain eternal life, how would you explain it? In other words, what was the difference between a "believing" and a "non- believing" Jew, both attempting to follow Mosaic Law?
The difference between a believing Jew and a non- believing Jew (assuming we are not dealing with idolatry, which was no longer a Jewish problem in the first century B.C.) would be recognizing the true purpose of the Mosaic Law. The believing Jew would put his faith in the God of Israel, trusting Him for his salvation as did Abraham, when God reckoned it to him for righteousness (Gn. 15:6). Once the believing Jew put his faith in the God of Israel, trusting Him alone for salvation, he would then view the Law as a rule of life for one already saved rather than a means of salvation.
The unbelieving Jew, however, would view the Law as a means of salvation, thus trusting in his own works. That is why Paul spent so much time in the Book of Romans distinguishing between salvation by works of the Law versus grace through faith. The unbelieving Jew has put his faith in his own works to (try to) earn salvation, whereas the true believer realizes that he can do nothing to commend himself before God, thus resting and relying upon God's mercy.