Many have a false understanding of the Covenant of Works that tries to say that we can neatly divide up the Covenants with their “respective” Testaments. The Covenant of Works is analogous to the Older Testament and the Covenant of Grace with the New. This is a false way of looking at the Covenants in many ways including the fact that it sets the Older and New Testament against one another as if the are different expressions of God’s Will and have no real relation. This belies a Marcian understanding of the God of the Older Testament and the God of the New Testament, whether purposefully or by unclear language. We cannot place a gulf of responsibility between the people who lived during the times of the Testaments as if they have different ways of salvation. The Covenant of Works is just as much “alive” today as it was for Moses. Paul makes it clear that the people in the Old Testament were saved the same way that you and I have received the gift of eternal life, through the imputation of Christ’s Active Obedience, his righteousness, by his death on the Cross, resurrection, and ascension. Look at Romans 4:14-16. Paul says:
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
As we see here Abraham and all his descendants were saved by Faith, just as we are today. For Abraham was saved by Faith in that which was to come and by this faith Christ’s Righteousness was imputed to him just like it was to you. Therefore the Covenant of Grace “existed” prior to Christ’s coming in time. As well as those who are not under the Covenant of Grace are still going to be judged by the Covenant of Works (as we all will be, this will be explained more fuller in a later post).
Another misunderstood way of looking at this is that the Law has been destroyed or abdicated in favor of a Gospel that has no law, for in this administration of the Covenants their is no Gospel in the Law and no Law in the Gospel. This is a false way of understanding the place of Scriptural commands in the two Covenants for one because God is the “CEO” in both Covenants. He is the chief administrator so his law does not change substantially but what does happen in the Covenant of Grace is that we have now been freed to follow God’s Law as a sign of Love not as a sign of Duty. This is a thing we will look more closely at when get into discussing the Covenant of Grace imparticular but it is something that it is good for us to recognize now in speaking of the Covenant of Works.
Next we will look at how the different Covenants are “administered” throughout Scripture.