We have previously looked at the teaching of the New Perspective of Paul (NPP) and noted that Justification, and the status of an individual sinner with a holy God, has been moved out of the centre of biblical teaching. Theological concepts long understood by evangelical Christians have been radically redefined – these include ‘gospel’, ‘justification’, ‘faith’, ‘works of the law’ and even the nature of ‘grace’.

To combat such teaching, and other teachings which might redefine certain theological concepts, it is needful for believers to understand more clearly the biblical concepts on Covenant., Law, works of Law, the Gospel; otherwise any new novel teaching can lead Christians on the wrong path and outworking of the Christian life.

The church is currently under threat from two directions. On the one side, we face the pressure, especially endemic to our age, of antinomianism (literally, being ‘against law’). Many churches are wilting under the pressure to set aside biblical commands. On the other side, the church faces the danger of legalism – making law-observance instrumental in justification – leading to the loss of the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. The problem of legalism in first-century Judaism is a misuse of the law and so raises the question of the law’s proper use. Related to this, believers must understand the relationship of the law to the biblical covenants, and the relationship between the law and gospel.

We begin by examining the meaning of “Law” in Apostle Paul’s writings. Paul uses the word ‘law’ in a variety of ways. It can refer to Scripture, in the sense of the Pentateuch or the whole of the Old Testament (1 Corin. 9:8-9; Rom. 3:21), and can also have a general meaning of ‘principle’ (Rom. 3:27; 7:21, 23,25). Its predominant use is in reference to the Mosaic law, specifically to that which was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and here Paul also distinguishes between moral and ceremonial aspects of this law (Rom. 5:13-14; Galatians 3:17; 4:24) and also contrasts the two covenants. In this respect, we need to explain why covenant and commandments are so intricately tied together. Law as covenant and law as command are linked to one another.

The law commands, but is powerless, because of sinful flesh, to enable human beings to fulfil its requirements (Rom. 8:3-4). ‘Grace’, in Paul’s writings, refers not only to God’s unmerited favour, but also to God’s powerful work in the lives of His people (Rom. 12:3,6). Those who are ‘under grace’, then, are able to fulfil ‘the righteous requirement of the law’ (Rom. 8:4), while those who are under the law apart from grace are ruled by sin. They know the holy commandment of God, but are unable finally to carry them out. God’s grace operates in justification (Rom. 1 – 4), in sanctification and the believer’s obedience to the law.

God’s relationship to HIs people can be understood in terms of two basic covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. A covenant describes a formal relationship between two or more parties – a covenant is a binding relationship.
The covenant of works was made with Adam in the Garden of Eden. It promised blessings to Adam and his family if he perfectly kept the commands of God. Adam’s continuation in the covenant relationship depended on his perfect obedience. When Adam sinned, that particular covenant relationship was broken – God pronounced the curses of the covenant and drove the man and the woman from the garden, from His presence and from access to the tree of life (Gen. 3:14-24).
In the midst of God’s pronouncement of the covenant curses, He gave the promise of an offspring of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen.3:15). This is a clear reference to Christ and a beginning to God’s covenant of grace. It is a covenant of grace because it depends not on what Adam and Eve and their other descendants do. Rather, it depends on what He, the offspring, does. The rest of Scripture traces the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace most explicitly is seen in the covenant God makes with Abraham – God promises to bless Abraham with countless offspring and through him to bless the nations.
The book of Exodus makes clear that God’s covenant with Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses is a continuation of the covenant of grace that God made with Abraham.
However, the picture is complicated by the fact that the Mosaic covenant highlights l;aw, or the ‘legal’ aspect – ‘Do this and you will live.’

The Mosaic covenant was a part of the covenant of grace and so in its essence was gracious. In the Mosaic covenant however some form of reminder of the principle of the covenant of works remains, even if it is not itself strictly speaking a covenant of works. The Mosaic covenant is ultimately subservient to the new covenant in Christ Jesus.

The law reveals God’s standards of righteousness, and in so doing it guides God’s people and restrains evil. In this sense, the law was a gracious gift to Israel, as it directed corporate and individual life. The law convicts sinners and drives them to Christ. The law is also a guide to Christians in their daily life and obedience to God. The problem with ‘works of the law’ is not the demand of God, which is holy and good. The problem is that, because of sin,no fallen human being can meet God’s demand for righteousness. Outside of Christ, who is the completion of the law and the one sufficient atonement for sin, all human striving is legalism.

The Lord willing, we shall share on ‘Justification by faith’ and ‘Imputation’ subsequently and see how these theological concepts tie up with the Law, Covenant and the Gospel.


‘Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone’ – Westminster Shorter Catechism.
Justification is an ‘act’ of God’s free grace. It is not a work. It is not an ongoing process. It is a legal declaration in which God, the holy and righteous Judge, declares that sinners are forgiven and righteous in His sight. God’s legal declaration is effected in making individual sinners innocent in the eyes of the court. It puts them in a right relationship with God. Justification does not make them morally righteous. It declares them righteous in a legal sense. Furthermore, it is not provisional, not rescinded, and it is a once-for-all declaration.

‘Righteous’ carries with it the meaning of both status and moral quality. God declares a sinner righteous – that is, in a right relationship with Himself (status). Yet that declaration must be according to God’s perfect standard, which of course the sinner cannot meet. Thus the sinner needs an external righteousness, a perfect righteousness that is given to him. The perfect righteousness is the clean robe that covers the sinner’s righteousness, which is like filthy rags. God Himself must cover them; God Himself would clothe His people with righteousness – this is God’s gracious provision for His people – the concept of imputation comes in here and this would be discussed subsequently.

When Scripture says that we are justified by faith, it is emphasising that we have been declared righteous not because we ourselves are righteous. Being justified by faith does not mean that we are justified on the basis of our belief, on account of our belief, or on the ground of our own believing – that would just be another way of saying that we are justified by something we are or do. To say that we are ‘justified by faith’ means that faith is the instrument or means,by which we receive God’s gracious justification, a declaration based on something outside of ourselves.

The doctrine of justification by faith is not merely that we are justified by our faith as opposed to our works. It is not that our faith saves us rather than our works, or that our faith is the basis of our salvation, rather than our works. Rather, the doctrine of justification by faith says that we are justified by God’s grace, not because of our works, but because of Christ’s work – the saving benefits of which we receive by faith.The reason for which God accepts us and pardons us is not found in us! It is not because we were good. It is not because we were better than others. It is not because God foresaw good works in us. It is not because God foresaw faith in us. Justification is based upon what God saw in Christ and credited to our account, which is called ‘imputation’. This is a glorious, radical truth – God pardons those who do not deserve to be pardoned, declares righteous those who are unrighteous and accepts those who should not be accepted. The biblical understanding of justification by faith is that radical! Far from being an ahistorical, individualistic, human centred doctrine (as claimed by NPP), justification by faith is God-centred and God-glorifying. It exalts God, not man.

Those who trust in Christ are justified by God’s grace as a free gift. Human sin, which has caused all to fall short of God’s glory, means that none can earn God’s favour. For God to save anyone, it must be by His own provision. Furthermore, God’s way of justifying sinners upholds His righteousness and justice, which demand that sin be punished. But God satisfied His justice by pouring out His wrath on His Son as a substitutionary atonement. Thus Romans 3:21-26 makes clear that justification has to do first and foremost with the vertical relationship between God and man, and the question of how a holy and just God can pardon and accept sinners.

No wonder Martin Luther declared: justification is the ‘doctrine on which the church stands or falls’. One of the most critical doctrines of the church is ‘justification by faith’ and to distort this doctrine or to sideline it is very serious indeed. As believers, we must uphold and defend the critical and essential doctrines of the church and not allow the evil one and those under his influence to cause confusion to God’s people.


Reformation teaching has historically held that the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness is vital to the Christian faith. The issue of whether righteousness was infused or imputed was at the heart of the Protestant/Catholic debate during the time of the Reformation.
The ‘active obedience of Christ’, that is, Christ’s obedience to the Father while He was on earth, is imputed to those who trust Christ alone for salvation. There is no hope without it because God demands perfect obedience to HIs law and only Christ obeyed the law perfectly while He was on earth.
What human beings need is not just to have their sins forgiven, rather, they also need a righteousness to present to God in order for God to declare them to be ‘righteous’. Since even our best righteousness is ‘like filthy rags’ (Isa. 64:6), the only righteousness that meets God’s standard is the perfect righteousness of Christ – hence the need for the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to those ‘born again’ and united to Christ.

The language ‘imputed’ is merely another way of saying ‘reckoned’ or ‘counted’, as when Scripture states, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, 4-6,9,22). Depending on the context, it can mean to be credited to one’s account (when used as a bookkeeping term) or to have a particular status as a result of the judgement rendered by the court (in legal context).

When God makes the legal declaration ‘justified’, or ‘righteous’, in HIs sight, His own justice requires a basis for this declaration. Since sinful human beings do not meet God’s righteous standard, they can only be declared righteous by having Christ’s righteousness reckoned (or imputed to them). The importance of this goes back to God’s covenant with Adam. Adam was created without sin in an ‘upright’ (Eccles.7:29) or ‘righteous’ state. But he had not attained to a glorified and immortal state (as evidenced by the fact that he fell into sin and eventually died). To continue in fellowship with God and ultimately to attain to glorification (complete conformity to the image of God/Christ, which was God’s intention in creating man in the first place), Adam needed to obey God perfectly. When he failed, not only did he die (spiritually and ultimately physically), but he also plunged all humanity into sin and death (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). From the beginning, God’s standard is perfection.

As the second Adam, Christ not only needed to atone for sin, but in order to secure salvation for His elect, He had to succeed where Adam failed. He had to keep the commandments of God perfectly. Those who are ‘in Christ’ – that is, who are united to Christ as their corporate representative and head – receive His righteousness and find life. Those who are ‘in Adam’ are subject to Adam’s penalty, spiritual death and condemnation.

The Bible actually teaches a threefold imputation – the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, the imputation of the sins of Christ’s people to Christ, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to His people. Imputing something to someone else does not make that person what is imputed. When the sins of Christ’s people were imputed to Christ, Christ did not become actually sinful. So, when Christ’s righteousness is imputed to His people, they do not become perfectly righteous. Legally, God declares them to be righteous (‘justified’), even though they personally do not meet God’s perfect standard. As those who are united to Christ and therefore receive His Spirit, they begin the process of being transformed into the image of Christ ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (2Cor. 3:18). Yet even God’s ongoing work of transformation will leave them in this life falling short of the glory of God. Thus the only hope for a relationship with God is the imputation of – God’s reckoning to our account – the perfect righteousness of Christ. It is relevant to note that NPP rejects the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The clearest – and most dangerous – departure from Reformation teaching is the rejection of the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.