This post is a companion to the Heretics podcast found on the Podcast tab at the top of this page; and a continuation in our series of looks at the ancient heresies of the church and a refutation of them using good theology and hermeneutics.
This is going to be a fun one, because the heretic we look at today just might be you; dun, du, daaah!!! The reason I say that, is because we are looking at a theology that is held purposely by some Christians, and accidently by scores of others: antinomianism.
An awesome Scrabble word, antinomianism was originally coined by Martin Luther in defense of his correct exposition of the Biblical understanding of soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. This is a theology that has been traced all the way back to the 2nd century Gnostics, because they ruin everything good and right in the world; and finds some of its justification in 1st century Apostolic teaching. Marcion, who we’ve looked at; was almost assuredly an antinomian, as would almost every heretic who denied the validity or divine origination of the Old Testament.
So what is this boogey-man of a theology? Simply put; it is the denial of any relevance or purpose, upon the New Testament believer, of the Old Testament Law. νομος (pronounced nom-os) is the Greek word for law (one of them anyway). To be anti-nomos is therefore, to be anti-law.
The adherents of this theology see the Old Testament law as abrogated by: repeal, fulfillment, or even replacement. Acts 21, and the accusations leveled against Paul are typically one proof of this idea; likewise would be the examples given by Paul in Galatians of the “uselessness” of the Law, as well as the discussions of Jesus over and against Moses as in 2 Corinthians 3:7 – 18.
So why is this theology/philosophy of life a problem?
For starters, the antinomians fail to keep the Law/Gospel distinction in salvation. The Law does not in practicality and should not in our theology stand in opposition to salvation by grace through faith; as if there were two kinds of Biblical salvation. Instead, both the Law and the Gospel work together as two sides of the same salvific coin that brings us to Christ. Galatians 3:19 – 24 is one excellent passage that explains this as it points to the hand in hand working of God through both the Law and faith. Without the Law showing us our need for a Savior, convicting and convincing us of our sin, we would not seek the grace of God available in Christ.
Further, while the antinomian rightly believes he is saved by grace through faith with nothing of himself added as Ephesians 2:8 – 9 make so clear; he fails to read the next sentence wherein the believer, thusly redeemed, is to set about the business of doing actual work for the Kingdom of God. How are these works defined? These works are defined by God’s Law.
My good works are the things that I do as a Christian that demonstrate a love of God and a love of my neighbor. Jesus pointed out in Matthew 22:36 – 40, that those two actions are a summary, not of the Gospel, but of the Law. I cannot define what it means to love God, which is my goal as a Christian, without the standard God has given me in regards to: worship, life, and function in general. Likewise, without God’s commands, I cannot define how I actively love my neighbor from any objective basis. Any definition I give, apart from God’s Law, would be unique to me and therefore subjective on its face.
Furthermore, the Law is good as Paul himself explains in 1 Timothy 1:8 – 11 as well as Romans 7:7 – 12. This is because the Law is an expression of God’s righteousness; that is why Jesus never sought to overturn it. Instead, Jesus praises the Law, both in His earthly ministry and in His apostolic empowered ministry as Matthew 5:17 – 19 explains.
Beyond this baseline misidentification of goodness; the antinomian position ignores at best, and at worst rejects; the clear commands of Christ. We are to love God more than anything else as Jesus Himself says in Matthew 10:37 – 38. We are also to love one another as Jesus issues that command in John 13:34 – 35. If we are to define those commands by anything other than God and His word; we will have engaged in idolatry. And ironically, every Christian knows idolatry is sinful and wrong precisely because it is condemned by God; wait for it………in His Law (Exodus 20:4 – 6).
That bridges us to the last problem with antinomianism which is its inability to uphold righteousness for the believer. By denying the effectiveness or validity of God’s law as it is expressed throughout the Old Testament, the antinomian heresy removes the Godly standards God has handed down. Without consistent and objective standards of righteousness, we have no real way of defining our sanctification. And if we cannot define what constitutes sanctification, we are incapable of walking Christianly in this world.
For starters, we are called to live “well” as Paul exposits throughout Ephesians 3, 4, and 5. Paul lays this out, because we are to be different from the world around us, and he is not alone in his explanation or justification. John the Baptist asked the religious leaders for proof of their conversions in Luke 3:7 – 8; John the Apostle warns us of loving the world, and by extension our sin in 1 John 2:15 – 17; and Peter extols his readers to be holy as God is and reject the lusts of the world in 1 Peter 1:13 – 16.
Will any of that be accomplished by abandoning the Law and walking as we see fit? The Scriptural answer is clearly no; just as Paul shows us in Romans 6:1 – 7. In other words, we must be diligent as Christians to guard our hearts and our doctrine, lest we fall into the trap of the world of laisse fair living and deny the Godliness the Law points to (Jude 3 – 4).
So how do we uphold the Biblical truth? We start by keeping the Law/Gospel distinction rightly in our own minds. We see the 2 sides of the coin at work in our hearts and minds and rejoice that God is completing His work within us as Philippians 1:6 rejoices. We recognize first, that we are different than the world around us, and therefore no longer have a desire to walk in its ways. We have the Holy Spirit indwelling us because Christ has redeemed us without any added work or benefit from us as Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 21. But we also realize our good working is for a purpose; that we would glorify God not just in our eternity later on, but in our present walking in the here and now like 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20 explains.
Then, and only then, are we placed into a position, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to recognize the great work God has done. Our salvation was not accomplished with trite or base things that could be bought and sold in this world; rather our salvation was accomplished by God through the precious blood of the Lamb as 1 Peter 1:17 – 19 points out. When I realize this, I rejoice in the change that has been wrought in me, the new creation of 2 Corinthians 5:17, and I seek to honor both: the sacrifice, and the charge of God to work in His Kingdom as His commissioned ambassador from Matthew 28:19 – 20.
Secondly, we have to remember that our standard for everything in this world is external to me (unless you have memorized the entire Bible). We have to keep our minds on the goal of rightly walking after Christ (Ephesians 5:1 – 2); and in order to do that, we have to keep our minds on the right standard that defines both what that goal looks like and how it is accomplished. That standard is Scripture alone, because only Scripture has the power to reveal my heart and God’s mercy; to separate me from myself at the base level just the way Hebrews 4:12 – 13 tells us. Only in the revelation of Christ (Hebrews 1:1 – 2), can I define my righteousness, as it has been wrought in Christ (Romans 5:1 – 5); so that my works as a new creation can be pleasing to the Father as they have been done in honor of His Son.
And this is true; not because I am good, but because He, and He alone, is. My works do not save me, they reveal my salvation; this is the point James is making in 2:14 – 26. If my faith does not move me to action, it is not a faith that saves. But, if my faith moves me to Godly action, i.e. love of God and love of neighbor; then it proves the presence of the Holy Spirit and my faith has been shown to be valid as all tests of faith do; be they James 1:2 – 4, 1 Peter 1:6 – 7, or Romans 5:3 – 5.
Finally, our corrective should always be that of holy living. God has saved us; and He has done so without our help (Romans 5:6 – 11). God has done this, not because we were good (Romans 3:23), we were terrible. Instead, God has saved because He is good; therefore, we must be careful how we walk in this world (Ephesians 5:15 – 21). Our goal should be to see our faith set down deep roots (Colossians 2:6 – 7), so we may produce beautiful fruit (Galatians 5:22 – 23) that glorifies God in everything that we do (Colossians 3:17).
This is our goal, precisely because we recognize the great work that has been done for us. And exactly because as 1 John puts it in 1:8 – 10: our sin is real and terrifying, but He can and will cleanse us from it. That is why we rejoice as in 1 John 2:3 – 6 in the keeping of His commands: not because we are afraid of the consequences, not because we need to in order to secure our salvation, not because to do otherwise would boot us out of God’s Kingdom; but because He has saved us and we love Him with every fiber of our being.
He will not cast us out as Jesus taught in John 6:35 – 40, instead; He will set us free (John 8:36), and we love and cherish that freedom. We use that freedom, day in and day out; to glorify our Savior and praise His great name and work. To do less would be to ignore the call of our hearts and forsake our new selves in Christ.