Wright is concerned that faith not be viewed as a means of “getting in” to the covenant. He writes, “Faith…is never and in no way a qualification, provided from the human side, either for getting into the God’s family or for staying there once in” (What Saint Paul Really Said, 160). For Wright, justification—the divine declaration regarding who is “in” the covenant—is not based upon works of the law, but rather upon faith. Faith, while indeed the “badge” of true covenant membership, is not the means of entering into the covenant; it is simply the sign that one is already in. Wright’s logic here regarding faith as a sign parallels that of Reformed thought regarding works. For the Reformed tradition, works are not the means of “getting right with God,” but are a sign that one is already right with God. Wright adopts the same logic, but applies it to faith.
One might wonder why Wright is so insistent that faith not be viewed as a means of appropriating the blessings of the covenant. I think the answer to this question lies in the parallel relationship between faith and works. The manner in which faith function in Paul's system, is parallel to the way in which "works of the Law" function in the system of Paul's opponents. Paul’s position that "justification is by faith" is in direct opposition to his interlocutors insistence that "justification is by works of the law." If Paul views faith as a means of getting into the covenant, then it naturally follows that Paul’s opponents viewed “works of the Law” as a means of getting into the covenant. And if the latter is true, this very much suggests that Paul was battling against some form of proto-Pelagiansim. Even if--as Dunn insists--"works of the Law" refers primarily to ceremonial works such as kosher laws and circumcision, it is easy to see how such a system would lead to legalism, if not outright Pelagianism.
For my part, it seems fairly evident that Paul views faith as a means of appropriating the blessings of God’s promise. Even granting Wright’s definition of justification (which I don’t), Paul’s wider soteriological language clearly links faith to salvation in an instrumental way (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:10-14, Galatians 3:14, etc.). Faith is not merely a “sign” that accompanies one who is already saved, but is in fact the necessary precondition for one to be saved.