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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Neither Justified Nor Condemned by the Covenant of Works

And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. 1 Corinthians 15:49NKJ

Question 97 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?" It gives the answer, "Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience." Last time we saw how the moral law ought to benefit all those who do not currently believe in Jesus Christ. This week we begin to consider how God's law is a blessing to all those who do.

First, notice that all those who are regenerated and believe in Christ are delivered from the moral law as a Covenant of Works. Thus, this deliverance from the Covenant of Works was not something that began in the New Testament. It began with regeneration. When the Holy Spirit regenerates a sinner He immediately gives him saving faith, and when a person believes he is immediately justified by God. In that instant His status goes from "cursed" to "justified."  Consequently, the moment Adam and Eve believed the good news of the gospel of salvation they were no longer under the curse of the law as a Covenant of Works but justified by free grace (Larger Catechism 70-71). When did Adam and Eve believe in Christ? In Gen. 3:15, God promised that the Seed of the Woman (Christ) would overcome and bring in everlasting salvation. By their faith in that promise, Adam and Eve experienced deliverance from the curse of the Covenant of Works. As soon as they believed in the coming Seed, who was Christ, they were truly no longer under the moral law as a Covenant of Works. Eventually, as promised, Christ came and accomplished their (and our) deliverance from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13), but the blessing of that deliverance was the real possession of every believer long before He came (Gal. 3:6-9). 

Second, the salvation enjoyed by believers is, in part, the state of being delivered from the moral law as a Covenant of Works, so that "thereby they are neither justified nor condemned." We have previously looked at what it means to not be condemned by the moral law as a Covenant of Works, but what does it mean to not be justified by the moral law as a Covenant of Works? As we have already seen, Adam was the mediator of the Covenant of Works for himself and all his seed. He failed by breaking it, and as mediator his failure brought its curse upon all whom he represented. Original sin is the direct result of the human race's failure in the Covenant of Works.  All are born sinners because we are all under the curse of that Covenant, which was declared by God when he warned Adam "in the day you eat of it you shall surely die," (Gen. 3:17). Thus, all that the Covenant of Works can do for any of Adam's posterity, "descending from him by ordinary generation," is condemn them (Larger Catechism 22).

However, Jesus Christ did not descend from Adam by ordinary generation and so He is not under the condemnation of the Covenant of Works. Jesus Christ came as "the last Adam," "the second man," (1 Cor. 15:45-49). These titles teach that Jesus Christ, like Adam, is a covenant mediator. Jesus also came as a covenant head of a group of people who would stand or fall according to His covenant faithfulness. However, unlike Adam, the people Jesus came to represent were already under the curse of another covenant. And so, part of Christ's work was to free us from the bondage of condemnation of the Covenant of Works, so that He could justify us under the terms of a new covenant, which is called the Covenant of Grace. Thus, the covenant that Jesus mediated to His people was not the old, or even a second Covenant of Works, but it was the Covenant of Grace, which Christ made with the Father on our behalf, before the world was (see Larger Catechism 31). And so the first part of the answer to this question teaches us that we are neither condemned nor justified by the moral law as in a Covenant of Works, but our salvation is by the mediatorial work of Christ in the Covenant of Grace. Accordingly, our reward is far greater than the unending life on earth held out to Adam in the Covenant of Works. In the Covenant of Grace, Christ has made us fellow heirs of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, His own adopted brothers and sisters so that we too can call God "Abba, Father!"


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