At the blog “Meet the Puritans,” Patrick Ramsey and Danny Hyde have written a pair of posts elucidating a difficulty with the way the difference between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace is sometimes articulated. They quote E.F. Fisher saying that the Covenant of Works says, “Do this and live,” while the Covenant of Grace says, “Believe and live.” Ramsey, taking issue with Fisher, quotes John Ball saying that Leviticus 18:5 must be expounded “evangelically,” and also refers to Luke 10:28. He says that Fisher’s point is that we are justified by faith and not by works, which is true, but that Fisher should not use Leviticus 18:5 to make the point. Leviticus 18:5, he says, is saying the same thing the New Testament is saying when it extols godliness in such passages as Matthew 7:14 and 1 Timothy 4:8.
But isn’t this precisely the same contrast that Paul makes in Galatians 3:12, when he states that “the law is not of faith” and then quotes Leviticus 18:5? He contrasts that to the righteousness which is by faith in the previous verse, “the just shall live by faith.” He makes the strong contrast between these principles, of justification by works and justification by faith alone, stating clearly that the works principle is the principle taught in the Law of Moses. Paul cannot, in Galatians 3, be referring to Pharisaical misunderstandings of the Law, as some will assert, since in the same discussion he says things about God’s good purpose in giving the law (namely, to reveal their sin and lead them to Christ; see Gal. 3:19). It’s not misusing Leviticus 18:5 to contrast the righteousness which is by the law to the righteousness which is by faith, since this is precisely the use to which Paul puts it there.