How many people were saved in the New Testament Gospels? You might say, “there’s no way to know for sure.” Well, there were times when Jesus declared unequivocally that a man or a woman was saved. It was a rather rare event. Let’s look at each in turn (though we won’t get to them all today), and we’ll discover something remarkable. The first example of this taking place is with the disciples of Jesus; you should not be unsurprised to find that Jesus says that those with a clean heart are blessed (Mt 5:8) and that He also states that His disciples are clean because of the Word that was preached to them (Jn 15:3). Thus, the disciples are declared by Jesus Himself to have been saved; said another way, the disciples are sure to see the Kingdom of God. Now, those who will see the Kingdom of God are those who have righteousness; we know this because Jesus says, also in the Sermon on the Mount, that no man will see the Kingdom of God if he does not possess greater righteousness than the Pharisees (Mt 5:20). Perhaps, you think this is a low bar? A little hop upward and we’ve outdone the Pharisees? Well, the history of Josephus and the scriptures claim that the Pharisees were extremely rigid in their adherence to the scriptures: they were diligent in their observance of the days called Holy by the LORD, they tithed with exactness, they memorized the Law, they used it as the means of interpreting their daily lives, and they compassed the world to make converts to their religion–by any modern standard, these men are examples of uprightness and would likely appear in the diaconate of respectable Churches. All the pharisees shared these traits including Saul of Tarsus who would later be called Paul, yet Christ declares that their righteousness is not sufficient to enter into the Kingdom of heaven. So make careful note that the standard set by Christ is nothing short of absolute perfection–He asks that we become perfect with respect to righteousness (Mt 5:48).
Bearing in mind that we expect only the perfect to enter in to the Kingdom of Heaven, we must wrestle with this amazing claim made by Jesus as He engages with the Pharisees: “Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you” (Mt 21:31). What harlot? What tax collector? In Luke 7, we meet a harlot. She was a sinner and she sinned many sins (Mt 7:37, 47). The Pharisee that ate with Jesus was surprised that Jesus didn’t seem to know her and surmises that Jesus must not really be a Prophet or He would have stopped her from touching him–the Old Testament teaches that anything an unclean person touches becomes unclean (Nm 19:22). But Jesus not only lets her touch Him, He declares that He is allowing her to touch Him because she is clean. What the Pharisee didn’t know or understand is that Jesus knew her many sins and frankly forgave them all (Lk 7:47). Jesus declares aloud, even before the Pharisee, “thy faith hath saved thee” (Lk 7:50). She was saved. Her righteousness was greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees, though the Pharisee that ate with Jesus wondered at her great number of sins.
How is it possible that a woman like this should be declared so boldly to have righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees? Jesus clarifies this issue perfectly for us by saying, “thy faith hath saved thee” (Lk 7:50). The righteousness of this harlot is the righteousness of faith–of that we are sure (I say “is” on account of the resurrection because God is the God of the living and not the dead). Is this righteousness different from that of Pharisee? Yes, in every way. Paul says that the Pharisee is seeking to justify himself by doing well, expecting to be paid back by God for his good behavior (Rom 10:3). You see, the woman was not surprised that Jesus knew all her sins; the fact is that her presence and her posture are indicative of the fact that she acknowledges her sins before God. Her’s is the righteousness of faith apart from the works of the Law (Rom 3:28). She isn’t looking to her good behavior to save her, but, instead, she’s looking to Jesus. Because of this faith she has in Jesus, the Son of God, righteousness is imputed to her in the same way that righteousness was imputed to Abraham when he believed (Gn 15:6, Gal 3:6, 9). Her’s is a righteousness that doesn’t have its origin in doing the Law of Moses, and it is a righteousness that makes her perfect, opening the door to the Kingdom of God. Paul himself declares that it was written for us that Abraham had this imputed righteousness (Rom 4:23); this is because this same imputation of righteousness is what we partake of in believing in Jesus (Rom 4:11, Gal 3:6, 9). That righteousness is greater than the righteousness of the Pharisees (Mt 5:20). The righteousness of faith is perfect righteousness (Heb 10:14).