A pastor asked me this excellent question: “Is it believed that when a person placed his faith in the Lord during the pre-cross dispensations, was he given eternal security/sealed with the Spirit, etc. or is that unique to the church age?” After I sent an initial reply, he followed up in this way: “Can you supply me with any Scriptural support for your position? I have always believed OT saints were saved by faith alone (Abraham, et al.), but that they were not regenerated (born again), permanently indwelt, sealed, etc.”
My Position: The New Birth Started with Adam and Eve
I must admit that most conservative NT and OT scholars teach that the new birth did not start until the ministry of Jesus (or Pentecost). In their minds, OT believers had “salvation” (whatever that was) but not everlasting life. Most NT and OT scholars think that the OT believers had no concept of bodily resurrection either.
I am convinced that when Abraham was justified (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-3), he was also born again, and he was thus eternally secure. The same with all OT saints.
In the church age, there are four major ministries of the Holy Spirit that occur when someone believes in the Lord Jesus for everlasting life: regeneration, indwelling, baptizing, and sealing, or RIBS. When someone believes, he is regenerated (born again), indwelt permanently by the Holy Spirit, baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ, and sealed forever (made eternally secure).
Two of those ministries did not begin until Pentecost after Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, appeared to many, and ascended to heaven. Those ministries are the two in the middle of RIBS, permanent indwelling and baptism into the Body of Christ. But the other two ministries, regeneration and sealing, go all the way back to Genesis 3.
Proof That Regeneration and Sealing Were True of OT Saints Too
John 8:56 is important. The Lord Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day.” That is, Abraham knew he was eternally secure, and he knew that he would spend eternity in a resurrected body in the kingdom of the Messiah.
Abraham, like Moses and some other OT saints, met the pre-incarnate Lord face to face on many occasions.
Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham was looking forward to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 11:10) and hence the eternal kingdom.
Hebrews 11 also says Moses was looking for eternal rewards (Heb 11:26). There could be no certainty of eternal rewards unless he was first sure that he had everlasting life and that he was eternally secure.
1 Samuel 10:6 is where the Lord told Saul, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” Being turned into another man refers to the new birth.
1 Samuel 3:7 says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him.” The reference to knowing the Lord also refers to the new birth.
One of the new covenant promises is that in the coming kingdom, “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer 31:34). At the time Jeremiah wrote that, people in Israel were telling their fellow Jews, “Know the Lord.” But on the new earth every Jew will know the Lord. In the time of Jeremiah, knowing the Lord referred to possessing everlasting life. And in the eternal state, knowing the Lord will also refer to having everlasting life.
Another proof is easy to overlook. When the Lord Jesus evangelized people, what did He promise them? He said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 5:24; 6:47). He did not say, He who believes in Me will have everlasting life after I have died, risen, and ascended. He promised everlasting life as the present possession for people who believed in Him.
But the Lord Jesus ministered during the Law of Moses. The Church had not yet been born. The church age awaited His death, resurrection, and ascension. But the new birth was taking place all during the ministry of Jesus, that is, during the OT economy. The church age does not begin until Acts 2.
If OT saints were not born again or sealed, then the eleven apostles did not yet have everlasting life, and they were not yet eternally secure. But the Lord said they were secure. See Luke 10:20 as an example, or Matt 19:28; John 13:10; 15:3.
A little considered verse is John 3:10: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?’” The words these things refer to Jesus’ teaching about the new birth and the ministry of the Spirit. Nicodemus should have known these things.
I should note that people prior to the ministry of Jesus not only had the witness of the OT, they also had the witness of teaching prophets. Surely the OT teaching prophets told many to “know the Lord.” But their oral ministries for the most part are not recorded in the OT. At the time of Jesus that was true as well. The Jews in that day had the writings of the OT, but they also had the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and His disciples. The preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus was not written down until after the Church was born.
For more on regeneration in the OT, see this 1994 article by Zane Hodges and this 2001 article by Sidney Dyer.
The new birth started in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve sinned. The Lord met them and gave them the first mention of the gospel (Gen 3:15). Surely the Lord said more than is reported in Gen 3:15. He said enough so that Adam and Eve would believe in Him and have everlasting life.
I don’t think we give OT saints enough credit. They all believed in the coming Messiah for everlasting life, or else they were not yet OT saints. There never has been some other way to be born again. And there is no salvation without everlasting life. That is what salvation is (compare Eph 2:5, “made alive” and Eph 2:8, “you have been saved.”)
I believe many if not most of the OT saints even believed that the coming Messiah was going to die on the cross for their sins. See, for example, the words of an OT believer to Mary: “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:34-35). Simeon knew that Messiah would die. So did Isaiah (52:13–53:12). So did Moses (Gen 3:15). They knew these things because they had everlasting life and were sealed by the Spirit and at times were indwelt by and filled with the Holy Spirit.