This discussion came up in Bethel:
In the Old Testament, the Israelites are God’s chosen people to carry out His purpose of redemption through Christ and to be a blessing to all. Abraham was credited for his faith. “If God is a loving God and loves everyone, what happens to those people in the Old Testament who are not His chosen ones? If they just happen to be born into a foreign family and not a descendant of Abraham are they just doomed? Is there no hope for them?” This is perplexing because the New Testament teaches that all can come into the family of God through Christ, but the Old Testament paints a different picture.
I have a few thoughts on this, but first let me affirm that this is a very difficult question. This is quite perplexing and near impossible to understand. So, that leads to my first answer which relates to the sovereignty of God. God is in control of all things. People may wander and ask, “Is God in control of who has eternal life in Him?” This question could lead to that answer. Certainly, if the Israelites were God’s chosen people and one is raised and not an Israelite then how can they be saved? Below is a section of Romans 9:
6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. 7 Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[b] 8 In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. 9 For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”[c]
10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]
14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f]
But even that passage is showing that salvation is still about faith. Even for the Israelites it was about faith. If you read the first few chapters of Romans the Bible is saying that we are saved by faith and the law was given to show us that we must have faith. Romans 3:23 and 6:23 are important in this matter. So, even the Israelites were not given a free pass.
Galatians is a key letter in this discussion:
23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
(from New International Version)
In the first century there were Jewish people who thought that the Christians should live by the law. These people had a show down with Paul in the letter to the Galatians.
Okay, so we are saved by faith, not by works which would include keeping the whole law. (see also Eph 2:8-9) But I started this blog entry talking about God’s sovereignty. See the passage below:
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
(from New International Version)
I believe that there is no way for God to not be entirely and completely in control. God is God. But how do we reconcile our free will? I think that God is so awesome that He can bring together our freewill and His sovereign plan. So, God being outside of time, and knowing all things, knows who will receive, trust and commit to Him, given the opportunity. This is the individual’s freewill. Then, in our timeline, God makes sure that can happen. I don’t believe anyone is lost who wants to be found. The Bible say that if we seek God, we will find Him. (Deut 4:29) But we are still told to preach the Gospel to all nations as we are God’s instruments. Many times we pray that many others will come to know Christ, but we may be forgetting that God will answer your prayers with you sharing the Gospel. In the Old Testament God called Jonah to declare repentance to a pagan land. That was Old Testament mission. In the New Testament we see God communicate Judaism and then the Gospel to Cornelius. (Acts 10) It seems that God worked supernaturally in Cornelius’ heart. I have heard and read stories of Muslims in extremist countries who have a dream about the cross and a Savior. So, though we are God’s instruments, He is not limited to us. God may reveal Himself to someone and then send them to a missionary or a missionary to that person. God’s ways are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55) Some may have some basic understanding of the Gospel that is supernaturally revealed by the Holy Spirit even though they may not understand Jesus or the Gospel in a way that we would expect. Who knows, in the Old Testament time God may have revealed to a tribal people in southern Africa that they are a sinner in need of a Savior. The heart of the matter is that God is sovereign and we are saved by faith. Lastly, we are most accountable as we do know the Gospel. We are also accountable to follow the great commission.
A source: Easy Chairs, Hard Words by Douglas Wilson
I hope this helps more than confuses. It is a difficult topic to grasp.