ReVision

Antinomianism

This is a disastrous course for the life of faith.

Ecclesiastical Winds (3)

“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” Deuteronomy 4.5, 6

The blessing of God’s Law
When God gave His Law to the people of Israel, they were a people who had been chosen and delivered by the grace of God alone (cf. Deut. 7.7, 8). God had graciously promised to Abraham that He would create from him a people to know His blessings, and to share those blessing with all the families of the earth (Gen. 12.1-3). When He brought His people out of Egypt, He gave them His Law so that He might preserve them in life as He defined it (Deut. 7.24; Lev. 18.4, 5). Boiled down to its essence, all the Law of God – the commandments, rules, precepts, statutes, judgments, and testimonies given through Moses – directed Israel to love God with all their soul and strength (Deut. 6.4) and to love their neighbors as themselves (Lev. 19.18; cf. Matt. 22.34-40).

There is no sense – none whatsoever – in which God intended that His Law should be for Israel’s attaining salvation. He saved them before He gave them His Law. His Law marked out the spiritual, personal, social, and cultural parameters for a life of goodness, beauty, truth, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Lord. That is, God gave His Law so that His saved people might increase in the experience of salvation, knowing fullness of life in Him, according to His Word, and bearing powerful witness to the nations of the world.

Later, when Israel would ask for and God would grant a king, the king’s first duty was to write in his own hand a copy of all the Law of God, which he was to read from every day. The purpose was that “he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel” (Deut. 17.19, 20). Sadly, we have no record of any king of Israel or Judah ever undertaking this most foundational mandate.

However, our Lord Jesus Christ, when He ascended to glory, took His seat at the Father’s right hand, and was given His Kingdom (Dan. 7.13-18; Ps. 110), He poured out His Spirit into His chosen and saved people, and continues pouring Him out, for the express purpose that the Spirit should write the Law of God on the hearts of those who are being saved, that they should understand and do all the will of God therein revealed (Ezek. 36.26, 27). Believers in Jesus Christ are not saved by keeping the Law; however, they are not truly saved without keeping it. The Law of God remains holy and righteous and good (Rom. 7.12). It defines the terms of love for God and neighbor (Matt. 22.34-40; 1 Jn. 5.1-3); and keeping and teaching the Law is crucial for fruitful living in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19).

It is thus a great tragedy to see the widespread indifference to, neglect of, and even scorn for the Law of God among Christians in our day.

Antinomianism defined
Antinomianism is the ill wind of doctrine that downplays, and in some expressions, completely eliminates, the Law of God as part of the divine economy inaugurated through Jesus Christ. Antinomian pastors and teachers explain that the Law of God has been rendered useless or at least unnecessary to Christians. They quote a distorted excerpt from Paul by insisting that “we are not under law, but under grace” (cf. Rom. 6.14). Paul was explaining that the Law is of no use for saving us; antinomians extend Paul’s meaning by insisting that the Law has no place whatsoever in Christian life. The Law has been supplanted, antinomians explain, by the “new commandment” of Jesus, that we should love one another as He has loved us (Jn. 13.34, 35), as if by this word Jesus were somehow negating His previous words concerning the ongoing validity and Kingdom necessity of learning, obeying, and teaching the Law of God (cf. Matt. 5.17-19).

Antinomians thus reject the Law of God and replace it with a vaguely defined ethic of love, which encourages a kind of Christian situational ethics grounded in feeling right and hoping for the best. They ignore the fact that all the writing apostles appealed to the Law of God in all its expressions, thus demonstrating that they believed the Law had continuing validity and important applications for their day.

Antinomians do not typically mount a direct attack on the Law of God. Their approach is more subtle and episodic. They neglect to unpack the Law in their preaching and teaching. Whenever any aspect of contemporary culture seems to be finding widespread acceptance among believers, even though it is contrary to explicit teaching in God’s Law, antinomians explain that the Law was “then”; now we have to be more loving, you know, like Jesus. And when they cannot avoid the Law in their preaching and teaching, they explain it as God’s “former way” of saving His people, a way that has now been replaced by merely believing in Jesus Christ.

Problems with antinomianism
Antinomianism eviscerates Christian ethics, withers Christian spirituality, and discourages consistent Christian living. Because the Law of God speaks to every aspect of life – spiritual, personal, interpersonal, social, and cultural – taking the Law away leaves the Church with little in the way of consistent, effective, and Biblical foundation for living in the world. It drains all meaning out of the word love, and thus cuts all Christian instruction off from its proper end (1 Tim. 1.5). It fails to embrace the lawful uses of the Law of God which Paul explains in his epistles (cf. 1 Tim. 1.8; Rom. 7.7-12; Rom. 8.5-9; etc.). Neglecting the Law of God – in our reading, meditation, study, and obedience – and teaching others to do the same makes the prayers of all who sail on this course an abomination to the Lord, which might help to explain the shriveled and pitiful state of prayer in the Church in our day (Prov. 28.9). Because such neglect creates a vacuum of consistent, energetic, transformative love throughout society and culture, it encourages lawlessness, lovelessness, and the spread of every kind of wickedness (Matt. 24.12; Prov. 28.4).

Setting aside the Law of God for a poorly-defined ethic of love-like-Jesus denies and bypasses the work of the Holy Spirit, rejects the teaching of Christ and the apostles, departs from the historic emphases of the Christian tradition, undermines the authority of Scripture and all the counsel of God, and promotes a form of experientialism that twists in whatever shifting winds of doctrine may blow against the sails of our soul.

Get grounded in the Law of God. It is the acorn to the oak of all Scripture, and the spiritual jet stream of the Wind of God.

For reflection
1. Why must we not neglect the Law of God in our walk with and work for the Lord?

2. What makes antinomianism such an appealing ill wind of doctrine?

3. We’re not saved by keeping the Law, but we’re not saved without keeping it. Explain.

Next steps – Preparation: If you have not done so before, memorize the Ten Commandments, which are the rock bottom foundation of the Law of God.

T. M. Moore

In case you missed it, our ReVision series, “Which Works?” is devoted to helping you learn how to understand and keep God’s Law as the works of old ordained for believers. You can download this study for free by clicking here. If you need further convincing on the importance of God’s Law for the life of faith, order a copy of our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here.

Our book Restore Us! can show you how and why to seek the Lord for revival. We’re offering it at a special price through this month. Just click here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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