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How were people in the Old Testament saved?

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:4-6

In the early pages of the Bible, the key to the secret of Old Testament salvation is found in Abraham.  God promised Abraham and his wife Sarah a son, but by the age of 80 years old, the elderly couple felt they had run out of time. So Sarah gave Abraham her handmaiden, Hagar, so she could act as a surrogate mother. Ishmael was born.

God showed Abraham that Ishmael was not the one He promised, so to encourage Abraham, God took him outside one night and showed him all the stars, saying, “All those stars will be as numerous as your family tree one day.” It was at that moment that Abraham believed that God would do as he said and Abram’s belief credited his account with righteousness.

Salvation comes when we are saved from our unrighteousness. By having the unrighteousness erased from our spiritual account and righteousness credited in its place.  Right then we are in the “black,” to use an accounting term, instead of the “red” being in debt to God.

Abram knew God—knew “of” him and met him personally—but here in Genesis 15 he believed in him, especially such an unbelievable promise (having a child in his 80s and a legacy of millions to follow).  Abram had faith in God and His word. Abram’s trust gave him the credit of righteousness, which means he was in right standing with God.

He had a saving-trusting-believing faith.

God did not hold Abram’s sin against him any longer because Abram trusted him so much. So in the Old Testament, people were saved by believing in God, trusting him to work out all the details needed for their righteousness.
Today our belief in Christ credits us with righteousness. It’s the same thing as those in the Old Testament, only a different focus on the Godhead.

The difference is New Testament believers trust that Jesus completed everything needed for the forgiveness of sins and Old Testament believers trusted God to complete everything needed for the forgiveness of sins in the future, which he later did through Jesus Christ.