works of law and works of grace

In a recent blog I argued that Christianity is all grace.  The OT Law, by contrast, was a covenant of works.   It did not function on the premise of grace or faith but human achieving.  Paul makes this crystal clear in Galatians.

Gal 3:10-14 (ESV)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”- so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

And this is no isolated verse, though if it were it would be sufficient.  Other texts reveal the same teaching (Deut 27:26; Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:11; Roms 10:5; Lk 10:25-28). I underline this for many attempt to tell us, in the face of ample and clear biblical witness, that Law was a covenant of grace.  Emphatically, not so.

The simple fact is that the Mosaic Law was a covenant of works depending for its success on a righteousness achieved by man rather than a righteousness given by God; obedience brought blessing and life while disobedience brought curse and death.  It proved to be an abysmal failure leading ultimately to the curse of exile.  Thus, OT hope, realising the weakness of the OC, looked to a future when God himself would ‘work righteousness’ (Ps 103:6; Jer 51:10; Isa 33:5, 45:8) and ‘bring salvation’ (Isa 46:1).  This future salvation arrives of course in Messiah (Lk 1:67-80, 2:29-32, 19:9; Acts 13:23-51).  Today, is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2; 1 Pet 1:10).  Now is the realisation (at least in part) of the eschatological (end-time) salvation (1 Pet 1:10), righteousness (Roms 1:16-18), faith ( Gals 3:23, 25), and grace (Jn 1;17; 1 Pet 1:10; Tit 2:11) which the OT anticipated.  The Law may well have come through Moses but grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17).  Christianity is Christ and Christ is grace.

So stark and clear-cut is this contrast between old covenant law-works and new covenant gospel-grace that Paul can write:

Rom 4:4-5 (ESV)
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift [or, not counted as of grace] but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness

Rom 11:6 (ESV)
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

and again

2Tim 1:9 (ESV)
who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

Law and Christ are different in principle.  Now it is just at this point that the question arises: does this mean that there are no ‘works’ that are expected (even demanded) of a Christian?  Has the gospel no obligations?  If God saves me by grace can I live as I like (Roms 6:1)?  Paul’s answer is ‘God forbid’  (Roms 6:2).

And it is as well we hear this apostolic consternation and denunciation and grasp it, for some Christians in their zeal to say that ‘works’ have no place in the Christian gospel go quite wrong at this point.  In their well-intentioned effort to maintain the biblical distinction between ‘law and grace” or ‘works and faith’ they teach ‘doing or works’  is always law and ‘done and faith’ are always gospel; works, they say, have nothing to do with gospel.  This, however well motivated, is a false dichotomy.  It is not the biblical paradigm.  Paul clearly expects the gospel to produce righteous living (Roms 6).  Paul’s opposition is not to ‘works’ per se, but to ‘law-works’.  And by ‘law-works’ he means specifically the ‘works’ of the Mosaic Covenant and more generally ‘works’ that rest on the same premise as this covenant.  And the premise is all important.  The ‘law-works’ Paul opposes are those that are undertaken as a means of gaining a righteousness before God that will merit eternal life.  The Mosaic Law offered life through righteousness achieved (this do and live).  And it did so by demanding obedience but offering no grace to obey.  It laid the responsibility firmly on unaided humanity, humanity ‘in the flesh’.

The Law ever assumes man in the flesh; life is not the starting point of the Law, it is the goal (Lev 18:5; Gals 3:10-14; Roms 7:14; Cf. Gals 3:3).  However, that which ‘promised life’ brought only death, for flesh, to which law was addressed, could not and would not obey (Roms 7:9-11) indeed the Law simply provoked flesh to sin all the more (Roms 7:5, 7-9).  Thus, Paul asserts:

Rom 3:20 (ESV)
For by works of the law no human being (better, ‘flesh’) will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Thus, the ‘works’ that Paul condemns and opposes are works that proceed on the basis of human nature seeking by its own righteousness to inherit (merit) eternal life.  Such are ‘the works of the law’.  When by my own ‘goodness’ I seek to gain a place in heaven, my ‘goodness’ is mere worthless ‘law-works’.  When I think I can ‘earn’ or ‘merit’  or ‘gain’ God’s favour by my own efforts, or believe I can somehow work my passage to heaven, I am attempting to ‘justify myself’ and  ‘trusting in myself’ before God.  I am looking for a way to put God in my debt (Roms 4:4).  And God will have none of it.  Quite apart from the futility of any efforts by me to achieve the righteousness God’s glory requires (Roms 3:23) God will simply not allow any man to have a basis for boasting before him (1 Cor 1:29; Roms 3:27; Phil 3:3).  And so we read:

Eph 2:8-10 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Yet, note carefully, this very text, which excludes all ‘works’ from salvation and insists instead that we are God’s ‘workmanship’ goes on toobserve that those saved by grace through faith are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’.   ‘Good works’ are the very substance of the life that God has mapped out for those saved by grace.  And this text in Ephesians is by no means an isolated reference to the ‘good works’ of the believer.  Even if we limit our scan of the NT to the specific phrase ‘good works’ we find it is demanded and designated of Christians no less than twelve times (Acts 9:36; 1 Tim 2:10,5:10,5:25, 6:18; Tit 1:16, 2:7,14, 3:8,14; Hebs 10:24; 1 Pet 2:12).  Now, these are not ‘works’ that are dismissed and denounced but ‘works’ that are decreed and demanded.  In a word, these are not ‘law-works’ but ‘gospel-works’.  They are not ‘dead’ works of the flesh but the living fruit of the Spirit (Cf Acts 13:2).  They are ‘works of faith’ (Cf. Gals 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; Jas 2:18,22).  That is, they are ‘grace-works’ (2 Cor 9:8; Acts 14:28; Eph 3:7).  Once again Paul expresses clearly what ‘grace-works’ are:

1Cor 15:10 (ESV)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

The differences between ‘works of the law’ and ‘works of grace’ now become obvious: law-works find their source in man whereas grace-works find their source in God; law-works base their hope in man whereas grace-works base their hope in God; law-works seek to gain life through works whereas grace-works express a life already possessed by grace; law-works have life as their goal while grace-works have life as their ground; law-works seek to earn salvation while grace-works seek to express salvation; law-works are our workings to impress God whereas grace-works are God working in us to please him.

The differences between the two are as wide as eternity.  One works for salvation and the other works from salvation.  In one the source is man and his arrogance and in the other the source is God and his grace.  One damns and the other saves.

Allow me, in conclusion, to make one final important observation.  We can only produce ‘grace-works’ if we stand entirely confident in our justification by grace through faith.  If our ‘works’ do not arise from the assurance that we are God’s children being simply the faith-response of gratitude to grace, then our ‘works’ will inevitably be law-works; if they not arise from the assurance of standing in grace then they must inevitably arise from an attempt to earn that standing.  To make the same point in another way: if we do not stand strong in our initial justification by grace through faith then our fitting justification by works (Jas 2), that is grace-works, will collapse into a  false justification by law (Gals 5:4) that is, law-works'; we will be ‘severed’ from grace (Gals 5:4)

Christianity is Christ and Christ is the gospel of grace.  Christianity is grace from first to last, including ‘grace-works’.

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9 Responses to “works of law and works of grace”

  1. November 27, 2011 at 1:44 am

    I enjoyed your post. Without getting “to in depth” what would you tell someone who says that we are still under law and they use scriptures such as Romans 3:27, 1 Corinthians 9:21 and John 14:15,21.

    After all, how can there be any commandments to be followed without a law? I’m not arguing against grace at all so please don’t misunderstand (or maybe I’m misunderstanding you??? because you are right – without grace we have no hope whatsoever), but would it not be right to say that the Gospel is a law since people will be judged by it? (Mark 15:15,16; Romans 2:16)

    Grace and truth came through Christ, but how can there be truth without objectivity and how can there be objectivity without an objective (a law) to follow (John 1:17; Matthew 7:21)

    Overall I enjoyed your post. I’m looking forward to reading more of them. Take care.

    • November 28, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Hi Eugene

      Thanks for commenting.

      The answer at one level of course is very simple – Scripture explicitly says believers are not under law (Roms 6:14,15; 1 Cor 9:20; Gals 3:23, 4:21, 5:18 Cf Hebs 7:11-14) having died to it (Roms 7:4,6.9; Gals 2:9). In fact, even before conversion, Scripture distinguishes those under law (Jews) from those without law (gentiles) (Roms 2:12; 1 Cor 9:21). If we listened to Scripture without prejudice (and which of us does) then we would not put believers under law.

      The longer answer, that takes into account years of theological turmoil, is of course more complicated. Firstly we must define what Paul means by ‘law’. Although, at times he means the Pentateuch, the OT, and a principle or rule, he generally means the Mosaic Covenant. Most probably agree on this. What does Paul intend by this rubric? Firstly, I think he means an era (from Moses to Christ), secondly he means a people for that era (Israel, redeemed from Egypt, and all who wish to join the covenant people), and thirdly he means a principle (the principle of works).

      For Paul, Law was a covenant that offered life upon obedience and death upon disobedience; it was a command with a sanction.

      If this definition of Law is largely right and I believe it is then it is not correct to say that every command equals law. There were many commands given between Adam and Moses but we are told that law did not exist then (Roms 5:13). Adam was given an explicit ‘law’ – don’t eat the forbidden fruit ‘for in the day you do you will surely die’ (a command with a sanction) which he ‘transgressed’ (transgression is sin that breaks an explicit law). There were no further divine ‘laws’ until Moses according to Roms 5 and here we have a law that not only carried the threat of death but also the promise of life). For me, these kinds of definitions must be kept in mind if we are to think of ‘Law’ in the technical way Paul often uses it.

      Now for the specific texts.

      Rom 3:27 (ESV)
      Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

      It is popular today to understand ‘law’ in these three references to the Mosaic Covenant. I don’t think this is Paul’s intention here. I think he is playing with the word ‘law’ and here intends it to be understood as ‘principle’. The Mosaic Law far from excluding boasting, encourages it for it works on the principle of human merit, it is a ‘law of works’. Christ and the gospel however function on the principle of faith in Christ and a righteousness from God. There can be no boasting here other than in God. That the ‘law of faith’ refers to gospel-faith seems to me to be solidly based. The immediately previous verses have three times spoken of faith in gospel realities. Those who see ‘the law of faith’ as a reference to the Mosaic Law understood properly understood have failed to grasp the context and flow of the argument not to mention the wider context of Paul’s thinking. For example he says categorically in Gals 3 that ‘the law is not of faith’ (Gals 3:12). In the chapter he regularly juxtaposes faith and law.

      1Cor 9:19-23 (ESV)
      For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

      Here we should begin by noting that Paul expressly says he (although Jewish) is not ‘under law’ and points out that gentiles never were. Should any insist that Jewish cultural laws (circumcision, dietary laws etc) be imposed on Christians he would strenuously resist this as ‘another gospel’. However, while Paul lived in a particular culture he would go out of his way to accommodate as much of that culture as he felt legitimate in order to create no unnecessary barriers to the gospel. Here we should note too he is speaking of his behaviour with non- Christians. Quite where he would draw lines is hard to tell. For example he gives advice in 1 Corinthians that seems to make clear he would not eat in a pagan temple since the meal was expressly being offered to false gods. I assume he would eat kosher food when among Jewish people. However, if someone like Peter withdraws from eating with gentile Christians because of pressure from Jewish Christians he will oppose Peter to the face.

      John 14:15-21 (ESV)
      “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

      As I say above I do not think a biblical imperative= law. A command and a ‘law’ are different things, especially when Paul is using ‘law’ in terms of the Mosaic Covenant. This call from Jesus to obey his commands is not on the principle of ‘law’. It is not ‘do this and live’ rather it is ‘because you do live obey my commands’. Or perhaps better, ‘because you will live you will keep my commands’. In the earlier part of the chapter he has spoken of himself as the Vine and his disciples the branches. They find their life in him, and by abiding in him. The ‘abiding’ will in fact be possible only through resurrection life of Christ and thegift of the Spirit. They will live, not by obeying, but, because he lives. We are back to grace-works.

      People seem to me to be judged by what they do with what God reveals to them; those under law judged by law; those without law judged by its demands written on their heart; those who know the gospel by how they respond to it (of sin… because they believe not in me).

      I try to get believers thinking of obedience as something different from law-keeping a) because I think Scripture does b) because when we think of obedience in terms of law-keeping we easily end up in a slave-mentality. We cease to think of God as Father whom we are before in love and start to think of him as a Law-giver with all the thunderings and threatenings of Sinai that this implies.

      Eugene, this is a fairly long answer but I hope it helps outline where I am coming from. Feel free to discuss issues further.


      • November 29, 2011 at 12:12 am

        I 100% agree that obedience should not be confused with law keeping. My only issue with (and not with you in particular because I have had this conversation with others) the idea of “no law” is the idea that many teach of a law being a reality is a bad thing.

        I also agree that the vast majority of the time law and works are mentioned (Romans 6:14; 7:1-6, etc) the scriptures are referring to the Law of Moses and not common works/acts of obedience as some try to construe.

        But for one to not be under the Law of Moses is not the same as not being under Law at law (1 Corinthians 9:21; James 2:8). Without law there can be no judgement. Also I believe Genesis 26:5 does mention law before Moses’. And the verse does distinguish between commands and laws.

        Again – please don’t confuse my stance of there being a law of accountability having anything to do with us not having a desperate need for grace through faith.

        Thanks for your time in responding John.

        Take care and I look forward to reading more posts.

      • November 29, 2011 at 8:15 am

        Thanks Eugene.

        Where you wish to use ‘law’ with a small ‘l’ I probably would prefer to simply say the demand or obligation or responsibility of a relationship. I think the day of judgement assesses our faithfulness to the relationships of life in which God has placed us. But this is to get into another big topic.

  2. 5 Nick
    November 29, 2011 at 5:36 am

    I see you’ve gotten to my main question in your response to Eugene. The “Law” is none other than the Mosaic Law, the Torah, so when people go around saying “Law”=”human action” that’s a false definition and equivocation. To say the Law was a “covenant of works” is also misleading, for it projects an incorrect concept upon the term.

    In reality, the Mosaic Law was the antithesis of “human achievement” and the epitome of grace (as you define ‘grace’). The entire Judaizer heresy was built on the premise God predestined one to be born a Jew precisely because God loved them more, apart from anything they did. This heresy got so bad that Jews began to think they could live in sin and God would never abandon them (“let us sin so that good may result”-Rom 3:4; 6:1). If anyone does not understand that the Jews considered themselves by nature superior to the Gentiles, they will fail to understand the heresy.

    The “human achievement” thesis fails because it fails to realize “human achievement” would apply equally to Jewish achivements as to Gentile. It makes no sense to restrict it to Jews. Galatians 3:10, which you quote, proves this by saying the “works of the Law” in the OT quotation “cursed is everyone who doesn’t do these works” is from the Torah. In other words, cursed is anyone who subscribes to the Torah but doesn’t keep the 316 individual commands and instructions (called the 316 Mitzvot).

    It is also a serious error and myth that the Mosaic Law promised eternal life for keeping it – that’s nowhere to be found in Scripture, and it contradicts Galatians 3:15-18 and Galatians 2:21, among other texts. That’s an error as serious as Judaizing that crept into the Protestant Reformation. Such a misunderstanding is only magnified in light of the fact there was no Mosaic Law for the first 2000 years of human existence, meaning they couldn’t “work their way to heaven” even if the pre-Mosaic folks wanted to!

    When you say:
    “Thus, the ‘works’ that Paul condemns and opposes are works that proceed on the basis of human nature seeking by its own righteousness to inherit (merit) eternal life. Such are ‘the works of the law’.”
    This is very incorrect. You’ve blatantly equivocated with the term “works of the Law” to mean something the Bible never says, and in fact the opposite of what the Bible is saying.

    It is impossible to exegete Scripture or do a systematic theology when one is (unintentionally) equivocating with their terminology. The Bible never uses the term “(Mosaic) Law” as a synonym for “human achievement”, and thus neither can be said for “works of the (Mosaic) Law”.

    • November 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm


      It is certain we will disagree profoundly here. I wish it were not so. I wish that you held substantially to the gospel that I believe for I fear our differences are of wide and of eternal significance.

      I’m glad we agree ‘law’ is not simply human action. I knew we would agree on this. However, I do believe it is a covenant of works on the basis of the Scriptures cited.

      It is true that Judaism had two sources of confidence. Their lineage in Abraham and their possession of the Law. In The NT their confidence in both is attacked (Roms 2). Their confidence in election, however, finds its roots in the Abrahamic Covenant rather than the Mosaic. Their mistake was not in rejoicing in God’s electing grace but believing it lay simply in ethnic identity (or blood). They did not grasp that ‘not all Israel were of Israel’ and that ‘not the children of the flesh were sons of Abraham but children of the promise’ (Roms 9) God did elect, but not on the ground they supposed. In fact, from a human perspective, ‘the elect according to grace’ (Roms 11) would be recognised by their faith in the promise (and accepting the righteousness of God that comes through faith Ch 10). The Judaistic mistake (in terms of election) was an assumption of election by birth alone, independent of faith. Abraham’s true ‘sons’ were of faith (Roms 4). Paul’s criticism of Israel in terms of election relates to their lack of faith rather than their lack of works. Indeed, he points out, it was their very confidence in their works that caused/signalled their lack of faith (Roms 10:1-4). It is true, Jesus points out to Jews presuming to be children of Abraham that they were only children of Abraham if they did the ‘works’ of Abraham, however, even here contextually it seems the ‘works’ are faith in God’s Word of the coming in Messiah; when God spoke, Abraham did not reject the truth but believed it and rejoiced to see the day of Messiah – so too would the Jews if they were truly Abraham’s children (John 8).

      Let me add that I do not for a moment deny that faith if it is real will be revealed in works of obedience and that if these are absent then so too is genuine faith. James clearly makes this point (as does Paul). But that is not the flow of argument re false hopes in election in either Paul or John. In each the emphasis is on believing in Christ. In fact, ‘works’ blind Israel to the grace that is theirs in Christ. Thus Jesus says:

      John 6:28-29 (ESV)
      Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

      The other great confidence/advantage they had was in being the recipients of God’s Law (Roms 2). They prided themselves in being disciples of Moses (Jn 9:28). Despite the claims of modern scolars, it is clear that they saw their efforts at keeping the righteous demands of the law as meritorious. They ‘trusted in themselves’ that they were righteous. They did not grasp that righteousness must be a gift that comes from God rather than a righteousness that they achieved. To quote one text of Paul’s:

      Rom 10:3 (ESV)
      For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.

      Re ‘The “human achievement” thesis fails because it fails to realize “human achievement” would apply equally to Jewish achivements as to Gentile. It makes no sense to restrict it to Jews. Galatians 3:10, which you quote, proves this by saying the “works of the Law” in the OT quotation “cursed is everyone who doesn’t do these works” is from the Torah. In other words, cursed is anyone who subscribes to the Torah but doesn’t keep the 316 individual commands and instructions (called the 316 Mitzvot).

      I am not sure where we are differing here. I totally agree with your last sentence and, I believe, the rest of the paragraph. Indeed it is precisely my point. The Law demanded perfect righteousness and no-one could achieve this. Israel was given every spiritual advantage (a cultivated Vine) but still rebelled greviously against the Law. Indeed, in seeking to kill Messiah, they were revealing just how hard and sinful the human heart is, even when given every advantage. In Roms 3 Paul builds upon the sin of the most privileged to prove the guilt of the whole human race.

      Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
      Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

      The point is, God gave a Law that could lead to life but it led instead to death for none achieved it, nor could. Any attempts to gain/merit/earn/inherit life by human goodness perish on this rock. The ‘experiment’ if you like was tried and failed, as it was destined to do; God never gave the law to enable humanity to earn life but to prove to humanity it never could and so demonstrate that salvation must be by grace.

      ‘It is also a serious error and myth that the Mosaic Law promised eternal life for keeping it – that’s nowhere to be found in Scripture, and it contradicts Galatians 3:15-18 and Galatians 2:21, among other texts. ‘

      Here, I demur. In the OT, the Law promised life (as the various texts I cited in my post point out). Paul ‘upgrades’ this ‘life’ to ‘eternal life’ for in the NT life and death take on eternal dimensions. That he means ‘eternal life’ is clear since his contention is that ‘life’ is not through works but faith. It is patent to me that the life through faith of which he speaks in Galatians and Romans is ‘eternal life’ although if I remember Nick you view it more as new birth than eternal life (seeing eternal as conditional on obedience). I simply do not think this is the paradigm with which Scripture works. Of course sometimes ‘eternal life’ focuses particularly on the future (arguably so in its uses in Romans and Paul in general and synoptics) but at other times it refers to the present experience. John in particular uses it in the present possession sense and indeed uses life and eternal life interchangably (Jn 3:36;5:24). Of course John speaks of ‘life’ more than any other NT writer. The distinction in my view is not between ‘life’ and ‘eternal life’, both refer to the same life, however we must look at the perspective of the writer to see whether he refers to life/eternal life as in the present or the future. The same can be said too of gospel words like salvation, redemption etc.

      The bigger question here is one of understanding the perspective of any individual book. For instance, in Romans Christ is risen and has resurrection life (though not viewed as seated in heaven) and the moral logic of that for us. Thus we have in Roms 6

      Rom 6:4-5 (ESV)
      We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

      This sense of life still future, but ours by faith in Christ just now, is part of the Roman’s eschatology. In Colossians Christ is viewd as in heaven and we are on earth. Our life is hid with Christ in God. In Ephesians Christ is risen and seated in heavenly places and we are there with him now and so on. salvation in Paul is normally in the present whereas in Peter and Hebrews it is normally its future sense in view. The issue is the already/not yet Kingdom tension.

      Re your final two paragraphs, I do not think Paul’s objection is merely to the laws themselves, though he does object to these, but to the fact that they were being employed as ‘saving-works’. It is not merely the particulars of the law that Paul opposes but the principle of law, a principle that I have cited a number of texts to prove means ‘this do and live'; it promised life upon human achievement. Paul’s argument to Judaizers is that if they insist on any law (particulars) as part of salvation (they insisted on circumcision and some food laws at least) then you must insist on them all for the law is a covenant and we are not at liberty to pick and choose. And to insist on the covenant is to put ypurself under its premise – this do and live; it is to accept a works-based salvation.

  3. 7 Nick
    November 30, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    Hi John,

    The good news is, it seems we do actually agree on a large part of this. It seems to me the issue comes down to whether the Mosaic Law is a “covenant of works” which promises eternal life for perfect obedience.

    First some key points we agree upon:
    (1) Judaism had two sources of confidence: Abrahamic lineage and Mosaic Law ownership.
    (2) You seemed to agree “works of the Law” means the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah

    I think this paragraph highlights one fundamental point needing discussion:
    In the OT, the Law promised life (as the various texts I cited in my post point out). Paul ‘upgrades’ this ‘life’ to ‘eternal life’ for in the NT life and death take on eternal dimensions. That he means ‘eternal life’ is clear since his contention is that ‘life’ is not through works but faith. It is patent to me that the life through faith of which he speaks in Galatians and Romans is ‘eternal life’ although if I remember Nick you view it more as new birth than eternal life (seeing eternal as conditional on obedience).

    The first issue to clarify is what you mean by Paul “upgrades” this ‘life’ to ‘eternal life’. It is my *central contention* that the only “life” the Mosaic Law promised was “health & wealth” – not eternal life or even spiritual life. Thus, when Paul quotes Deuteronomy in Galatians 3:10, the very context of Deuteronomy 27 “life” is “health, wealth, land, children, food”. So God by saying “Do this and live” is literally understood as “Keep the 613 Mitzvot and you will be blessed with old age, land, family, and money”.

    Within that in mind, *if* every Jew from Moses to Jesus kept the 613 Mitzvot perfectly, their reward would be old age, money, and family. Keeping the 613 Mitzvot perfectly would never give them eternal life because that was never one of the many promises of the Mosaic Law.

    Given that, I read Paul as saying – paraphrasing Romans 3:28 – “man gets eternal life by faith in Christ, the one and only giver of eternal life, and not from the 613 Mitzvot which only promised health & wealth”. So anyone looking to attain eternal life from keeping the 613 Mitzvot is as impossible as someone trying to find money growing on trees.

    This further translates into:

    -“Righteousness of the Law” – Keeping 613 Mitzvot – Promising Health & Wealth (temporal life)

    -“Righteousness of Faith” – Believe in the Gospel – Promising Eternal Life

    You seem to be reading Paul as saying just the opposite: keep the 613 Mitzvot to attain eternal life, but since nobody can do that, we need a “Plan B” (The Cross). This I don’t believe is Biblical, and this making the 613 Mitzvot a “covenant of works” is the root of the Imputation of Active Obedience error (which you rightly reject).

  4. 8 Jerry Costolo
    January 25, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Hey Brother,

    Have you come across this link yet?


    The blogger has kindly gathered together a series of articles laying out an NCT response to classical covenantalism. I think you’ll enjoy.

  5. January 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Jerry

    No, I haven’t. I will enjoy reading them, I’m sure. Thanks for link.

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the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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