"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16).
That the Old Testament saints were justified by faith is clearly stated in Hebrews 11. While the faith mentioned is not a specific faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was sufficient for their justification, and by it the Old Testament saints obtained witness that they pleased God (Hebrews 11:5). It is worthy of note that the "good report" in verse 2, "For by it the elders obtained a good report," and in verse 39, "And these all, having obtained a good report" is the same as the "witness" in verse 4, "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous," and "testimony" in verse 5, "For before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God."
The faith by which they were saved, while it did not embrace a crucified and resurrected Savior, due to the lack of knowledge and not being accomplished yet, was sufficient for that dispensation. For instance, who can imagine that Rahab understood or believe that a Jewish Messiah would come and die for her sins and be raised from the dead the third day, or that Moses' parents understood that Moses, though a proper child, would be the mediator of the Old Testament and Christ Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, or that Sampson understood and believed in Jesus Christ before He was born (Hebrews 11)?
However, their faith was a real, living faith and one, no doubt, given to them by God. For it is sure that their faith was a divine assurance, a supernatural evidence (Hebrews 11:1), not merely intellectual.
Rahab believed! She believed the report of the spies. Incredible, but she did and hid and protected them. This faith saved her and her household, but, of course, did not work a new birth in her soul.
Moses' parents believed God was going to spare Moses and let him live. This faith saved them and Moses. By faith Moses forsook Egypt. Faith crumbled the walls of Jericho.
This faith saved the Old Testament saints, but it was not an evangelical faith - faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet they were all justified by faith.
This brings us to the basic difference between Old Testament and New Testament faith and, consequently, the difference between their relationship with God. Old Testament faith was more of a faith in the providence of God, who would certainly do what He said and who was the only true and wise God. New Testament faith not only included that (Hebrews 6:6), but goes further to believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He died for my sins and arose for my justification; in other words, forgiveness of sins through a crucified Christ. This New Testament faith or evangelical faith is always accompanied by the new birth.
The faith of the Old Testament was marked by the element of the fear of God. The faith of the New Testament is marked by the love of God. Not that the Old Testament saints did not love God, for they did, but their faith and obedience was characterized by a godly fear, whereas, the New Testament faith is characterized by the love of God. The Old Testament emphasis is a godly fear. The New Testament emphasis is on the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. The former is a SERVANT of God, while true New Testament believers are SONS of God.
"Sons of God" is a New Testament expression. "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1). Sons of God have the Spirit of sonship or the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15-16; Galatians 4:6-7). John Wesley expressed this is his sermon on Christian perfection
It is of great importance to observe, and that more carefully than is commonly done, the wide difference that is between the Jewish and the Christian dispensation, and that ground of it, which the same Apostle [John] assigns in the seventh chapter of his Gospel, verse thirty-eight, etc. After he had there related those words of our blessed Lord, "He that believeth on me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water," he immediately subjoins, "This spake he of the Spirit, which they who should believe on him were afterwards to receive. For the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified." Now the Apostle cannot mean here (as some have taught) that the miracle-working power of the Holy Ghost was not yet given. For this was given: our Lord had given it to all his apostles when he first sent them forth to preach the gospel. He then gave them "power over unclean spirits to cast them out", power to "heal the sick", yea, to "raise the dead". But the Holy Ghost was not yet given in his sanctifying graces, as he was after Jesus was glorified. It was then when "he ascended up on high and led captivity captive", that he "received those gifts for men, yea, even for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them." And "when the day of Pentecost was fully come", then first it was that they who "waited for the promise of the Father" were made more than conquerors over sin by the Holy Ghost given unto them" (sermon #40, ¶ 11).
EVEN TODAY THE FAITH OF A SERVANT SEEMS TO BE A FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WHICH TURNS PEOPLE AWAY FROM SIN TO CHRIST, BUT NOT SUFFICIENT FOR THE NEW BIRTH. They fear God and work righteousness, but do not have the Spirit of adoption that cries, "Abba, Father."
The Corinthians believers were that way to a large extend. Note 1 Corinthians 3:3. Paul said they were yet carnal. They had never been anything else. "Carnal" here means unregenerate, but yet they are said to be babes in Christ - infants in the knowledge of the things of God. In this particular instance, babes does not refer to the new birth as in 1 Peter 2:2, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." A different word is used in Corinthians. These carnal believers at Corinth could be described as servants of god rather than sons. Also Acts 19 describes some disciples who were not born again.
Acts 13:43 speaks of Jews who followed Paul and Barnabas out of the synagogue who evidently were not born again, but who believed their preaching and were told to continue in the grace of God.
Mr. Wesley had this to say in a letter to Charles concerning justifying faith:
Is justifying faith a sense of pardon? No.
I. Everyone is deeply concerned to understand this question well: but preachers most of all, lest they should either make them sad whom God hath not made sad, or encourage them to say peace where there is no peace.
Some years ago we heard nothing about either justifying faith or a sense of pardon: so that when we did hear of them the theme was quite new to us, and we might easily, especially in the heat and hurry of controversy, lean too much either to the one hand or to the other.
II. By justifying faith I mean that faith which whosoever hath is not under the wrath and the curse of God. By a sense of pardon I mean a distinct, explicit assurance that my sins are forgiven.
I allow: (1), that there is such an explicit assurance; (2), that it is the common privilege of real Christians; (3), that it is the proper Christian faith, which purifieth the heart and overcometh the world.
But I cannot allow that justifying faith is such an assurance, or necessarily connected therewith.
III. Because, if justifying faith necessarily implies such an explicit sense of pardon, then everyone who has it not, and everyone so long as he has it not, is under the wrath and under the curse of God. But this is a supposition contrary to Scripture as well as to experience.
Contrary to Scripture: to Isaiah 50:10: "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."
Contrary to Acts 10:34: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with him."
Contrary to experience: for Jonathan Reeves, etc., etc., had peace with God, no fear, no doubt, before they had that sense of pardon. And so have I frequently had.
Again. The assertion that justifying faith is a sense of pardon is contrary to reason: it is flatly absurd. For how can a sense of our having received pardon be the condition of our receiving it? (Works, 12:112)
But what is the faith which is properly saving? Which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end? It is such a divine conviction of God and the things of God as even in its infant state, enables every one that possesses it to "fear God and work righteousness." And whosoever in every nation believes thus far the Apostle declares is "accepted of him." He actually is at that very moment in a state of acceptance. But he is at present only a servant of God, not properly a son. Meantime, let it be well observed, that "the wrath of God" no longer "abideth on him."
Indeed nearly fifty years ago, when the preachers, commonly called Methodists, began to preach that grand scriptural doctrine, salvation by faith, they were not sufficiently apprized of the difference between a servant and a child of God. They did not clearly understand that every one "who feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him." In consequence of this they were apt to make sad the hearts of those whom God had not made sad. For they frequently asked those who feared God, "Do you know that your sins are forgiven?" And upon their answering, "No," immediately replied, "Then you are a child of the devil." No; that does not follow. It might have been said, (and it is all that can be said with propriety), "Hitherto you are only a servant; you are not a child of God. You have already great reason to praise God that he has called you to his honorable service. Fear not. Continue crying unto him, "and you shall see greater things than these."
And, indeed, unless the servants of God halt by the way they will receive the adoption of sons. They will receive the faith of the children of God, by hisrevealing his only begotten Son in their hearts (Works, 7:198).
Once more. I exhort you that fear God and work righteousness, you that are servants of God, first, flee from all sin, as from the face of a serpent, being "Quick as the apple of an eye, the slightest touch of sin to feel;" and to work righteousness, to the utmost of the power you now have; to abound in works both of piety and mercy. And, secondly, continually to cry to God, that he would reveal his Son in your hearts, to the intent you may be no more servants but sons; having his love shed abroad in your hearts, and walking in "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (7:201).
Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures and instructed in the ways of the Lord - knowing only John's baptism. Though he was not born from above, he taught diligently the things of the Lord, but needed to be taught more perfectly the things of the Lord.
Acts 11:21 speaks of a great number TURNED UNTO THE LORD and after instruction and teaching from Barnabas, it is said much people were ADDED TO THE LORD.
Dear seeker after God, do not despair if you have not received the Spirit of adoption that persuades you that you are a child of God. Cry out in continual prayer and faith till you are added to the Lord!
Many, when they discover that the faith they have is not that true faith which regenerates the soul, give up in despair. The correct thing to do is to start from where you are. Thank God for bringing you this far and cry out to Him in prayer and faith for a greater faith, that you may go on from faith to faith till Christ is formed in you, till the spirit of bondage is replaced by the Spirit of adoption.