Antinomianism

P. G. Mathew | Saturday, May 27, 1995
Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew

Today I will speak on the subject of antinomianism. Antinomianism comes from two Greek words: anti means against and nomos means law. So antinomianism means against the law, against God’s moral law. It means lawlessness.

You know, Americans are a people who are interested in making life easier, and so we devise technologies that assist us in our pursuit of happiness and our pursuit of easy living. Americans like anything that is made easy. Dieting made easy means you can eat all you want and be slim. Exercise made easy means you can discipline your body while sleeping. Without sweating you can accomplish the benefits of physical exercise. So also we have salvation made easy, and Americans enjoy this salvation made easy. In other words, you can go to heaven while sinning. You can have your cake and eat it too. So churches are being packed with people who love this salvation made easy, and that is our subject today. Antinomianism, lawlessness is salvation made easy. The sales pitch is this, that you lose nothing while you are on your way to heaven. You can be lawless and go to heaven.

Now you may have heard of legalism. Legalism is the opposite of antinomianism. Legalism says that salvation is based on human good works apart from faith and apart from grace. Jesus condemned this view of the Pharisees. Paul condemned this view of the Judaizers, especially in the books of Galatians and Romans. But antinomianism says salvation is based on faith in God and therefore obedience to God’s law is not necessary at any stage in a Christian’s life. So these are two opposite ideas, legalism and antinomianism, which are totally opposed to the teaching of the Bible.

Antinomianism is not new. Throughout history you find antinomians who passionately violated the law of God. Some even worshiped the devil. Such people were called by various names, like Cainites and Satanites. They literally gloried in their sin. Martin Luther first used this expression, antinomianism, to refer to the views of his friend, Johannes Agricola, in the sixteenth century. Agricola taught that the moral law of God was in no way binding upon those who are justified by faith alone. So Johannes Agricola said Christians are entirely free from the moral law of God.

Of course, the New Testament anticipated this error, and dealt with it in several places. The New Testament teaching is that a Christian is freed from the law as a way of salvation, and in this sense a Christian is not under the law. Certainly that is true. No man can keep the whole law in order to be saved, because man is a sinner and so is incapable of keeping the law. However, the moral law of God continues to be our guide to holy conduct. A Christian is justified by grace through faith alone. He is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who enables him now to obey the law of God. This keeping of the law of God by a Christian is the evidence that he is justified and saved by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ.

Now there are several scriptures we should look at that deal with this error called antinomianism, or lawlessness. Jude 4 says "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” So you see that in the New Testament itself this heresy was manifested.

James also deals with this heresy in James 2, beginning with verse 14: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” Notice the claim . Any man can claim, I am saved, I am justified. You see that again in 1 John several times. People were making this claim that they were saved, that they were Christians, that they were justified. But James says, "Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God? Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.” In other words, the faith of the antinomians, faith without good works, is the faith of the demons.

Look at Galatians 5. In Galatians St. Paul argues for our Christian freedom, and yet he makes this point in the thirteenth verse of Galatians 5: "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.” You see, people were saying, "We are free! We agree with you, St. Paul, that we are not under law, we are under grace. We are justified by grace through faith alone, and therefore we ought to have no dealings with the moral law of God. The moral law of God is not our guide to holy conduct. In fact, we probably must demonstrate that we are orthodox, that we believe in salvation by grace through faith, by violating God’s law. Then we will truly pride ourselves on being people who are saved by grace through faith!”

In 1 Corinthians 5 you notice there was a man living an incestuous life. He was living with his father’s wife but the church was not dealing with this person because the church was probably influenced by this heretical idea that if you are saved by grace through faith alone, then it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. So we read, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.” The church was not upset with that. The church was not dealing with it. Why? Look at 1 Corinthians 6:12. There was a slogan going about in the Corinthian church: "Everything is permissible for me.” I can do everything. I don’t have to concern myself with keeping of God’s moral law. I am justified by grace through faith alone. Of course, St. Paul condemned that nonsense.

Turn to 1 John 1. The apostle John referred to this antinomian heresy in verse 6: "If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not live by the truth.” These people were claiming that they were saved by grace through faith alone, and that they were not under law anymore. They were now free, and they could do anything they wanted with their bodies - it didn’t matter.

And in 1 John 3:7 John says, "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.” Antinomianism is not the way of God. It is wandering away from the straight path that God has revealed to us, which is the path of righteousness. "He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” You see, there were teachers and leaders in New Testament churches who were heretics. They taught this "salvation made easy” idea, that you can go to heaven while sinning to your heart’s content as you live in this world.

1 John 2:18-19 says, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.” In other words, antinomians are antichrists. These were antinomian leaders, antinomian teachers, and they were kicked out. They were disciplined. They were sent out from the church of Jesus Christ in order that the church be kept pure. Antinomianism is a heresy.

Peter says the same thing in 2 Peter. 2 Peter, like Jude, was written to combat this heresy of antinomianism. In 2 Peter 2:19 we read: "They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity - for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.” This was the essence of their teaching. No wonder American churches, especially those of evangelical persuasion, are filled with people. The preachers are telling them, "You can be a Christian and sin.” Everybody likes that, you see. There is pleasure in sin. Everyone is interested in it.

You find this idea of antinomian teaching again in the book of Revelation. Revelation 2:2 says: "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” These were leaders who were going from church to church, teaching this antinomian heresy, this nonsense of salvation made easy. Look at Revelation 2:14: "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” These teachers were teaching it was okay to sin to your heart’s content. You were still saved. Jesus Christ, the Lord of the church, opposes that teaching.

In his book, Concise Theology , J. I. Packer distinguishes between various types of antinomianism. First, he says, there is dualistic antinomianism. What is dualistic antinomianism? It is based on the Greek idea that man is body and man is spirit, but man’s body, being matter, is evil. Salvation is salvation of the soul. There is not going to be any resurrection of the body, because the body is evil. Therefore it doesn’t matter what you do with your body and you may sin to your heart’s content. Go ahead! You are saved anyway. This idea is based on the dualistic thinking of the Greeks.

Secondly, Dr. Packer speaks about Spirit-centered antinomianism. It says, "What matters is not what the Scripture tells me. I am a spiritual person, filled with the Holy Spirit. I am above the law of the Scripture. I am led by the Spirit, and the Spirit overrules the Scripture. The Spirit can even contradict the Scripture. I am a spiritual Christian, and I am led by the Spirit. I do what the Spirit tells me, and I don’t worry about the Holy Scriptures.” That is the idea. Probably this is what the man in 1 Corinthians 5 said, because the Corinthian church took pride in being charismatic, and some charismatic Christians go astray in this fashion. The Holy Spirit is the author of the Holy Scriptures, and the Spirit leads us into truth. The Holy Spirit will never contradict the Scripture. In fact, he enables us to understand and obey the Scripture. So true spirituality leads us to obey the law of God, not defy it.

Thirdly, there is liberal antinomianism. Liberals are people who reject the Scriptures as God’s word. They have subscribed to the relativism of the secular world, saying that there are no absolutes and that there is no God. Thus, they say, there is no absolute law of God. So they deny the Scripture and live as they please. That is liberal antinomianism.

Fourthly, there is situational antinomianism. Situational antinomianism says that what you need is the inner motive and intention of love. As long as you intend to love, you may disregard the law of God. It says, "Yes, I love my neighbor’s wife, so I can disregard the commands that say, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ and ‘Thou shalt not lust.’ I can have an affair, and there is no question about it.” Well, this type of idea misrepresents what love according to the Scripture is. It is pure nonsense. True love fulfills God’s law by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fifthly, there is so-called Christ-centered antinomianism. The idea is that a believer is united with Christ, he is in Christ, and his life is hid with Christ in God. God sees Christ, who kept the law perfectly, and God sees no sin in the believer because God sees him through Jesus Christ. So the believer is therefore able to violate God’s law. It makes no difference to God. But that is all pure nonsense, isn’t it?

Sixthly, there is a modern type of antinomianism which I call "Jesus is Savior” antinomianism. People say that in order to be saved, you must receive Jesus as your Savior, but you do not have to receive him as Lord. So, as a "saved” Christian, you need not obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Your salvation is secure as long as you once upon a time received Jesus Christ as Savior by faith. No! That’s not what the Bible says. "If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) If you are truly repenting before God, you say, "I am sorry that I disobeyed you, and I now submit myself to your Son, Jesus Christ, who is the Lord of all.” But this type of "Jesus as Savior” nonsense is extremely appealing to Americans, and many, many churches are packed with people who believe this nonsense. They would say this: Keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for a Christian.

Let me tell you, all forms of antinomianism are condemned by the Scriptures and condemned by God. Turn to 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11. What is God saying to people who practice antinomianism? "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” That’s what the Bible says. Let’s turn to Revelation 21: 8. What does it say? "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars - their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

The Bible condemns it. The apostles condemn it. Jesus Christ condemns it. Antinomianism is a heresy that must be rejected. We are saved by grace through faith alone and we are saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit in order that we may keep God’s moral law. And keeping the moral law is the sure evidence that a Christian is justified by grace through faith alone. May God help us not to believe in antinomianism, but to believe in the true doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. Amen.

Copyright © 1995, P. G. Mathew

All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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