Were the Old Testament saints spiritually dead? Or were they born again saints?
What does spiritually dead mean? It means that you are not born again.
Christians use this term to mean different things with disagreement among denominations. Probably the most popular understanding is that it is used to affirm a relationship with Christ, typically through baptism. John 3 is often quoted with the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus. A technical study of the word “born” here is surprisingly deep, with the meaning changing between the masculine and feminine use of the word.
We understand the phrase “born again” here to be more properly translated “begotten again,” signifying a process of birth, a process of transformation. When we recognize we are a sinner and look to follow Jesus, we begin taking steps to transform our lives, our characters, our activities – everything to try to (Romans 12:1) “present our bodies a living sacrifice, acceptable to God.”
The Bible calls us “new creatures” and because Jesus sits besides us as our Advocate (1 John 2:1), we have the ability to approach God as sons, as family. We do everything we can to suppress our own will and do only the will of our Heavenly Father. Starting this process does not mean we will never fail, and in fact, the Bible in no way teaches “once saved, always saved,” which is more wishful thinking than biblical fact. We know this for sure because even the great Apostle Paul warned against faltering in the race and constantly had to keep on guard (1 Corinthians 9:27) or he would be disqualified from securing the prize of immortality in heaven.
Being begotten of the holy spirit puts us on the pathway to walk as closely in Jesus’ footsteps as we can. This opportunity for sonship was not available until Jesus actually completed his earthly sacrifice, so none of those who lived before his death had this way available to them – including, obviously, those who were God’s faithful in the Old Testament.
The Bible refers to “saints” as those who lived after Jesus died, who were faithful until their deaths (they did God’s will as closely as they possibly could) and who will receive the “crown of life” upon their deaths and resurrection. That crown of life signifies an esteemed position in heaven as part of the “bride of Christ” who will assist Christ in reconciling all of resurrected mankind back to God.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. ” 2 Corinthians 5:18,19
There are no Old Testament “saints,” only those who through faith are promised a reward after their resurrection on earth. They were not “born again” in the sense that they would have never heard the name of Jesus (although the Hebrews as a nation expected a Messiah to deliver them) and therefore, the way of sacrifice was not opened up to them. While they were never promised a heavenly reward for their faithfulness, they were very much acceptable servants before God in their past life and absolutely have the promise of resurrection for a future life.
To learn more about what it means to be born again listen to, “Are Christians Really Born Again?”