Apologeet.nlHeresies all Around us – Antinomianism
Part 3 – Antinomianism
Let’s ditch the Old Testament laws! We are no longer under the law, right?
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Still, in many churches, we find the commandments written on banners. What’s more, every Sunday many congregations read the 10 commandments aloud. But, if we aren’t under the law any more, we might as well stop reading the law all together.
Antinomianism has always been among us. It seems that Paul already battled these ideas in Romans 6. However, the term ‘Antinomianism’ only became known during the Protestant Reformation.
You might know that Luther’s two main teachings were on ‘sola gratia’ (by grace alone) and ‘sola fide’ (by faith alone). One of Luther’s co-workers, Johann Agricola, started to think hard about these two topics.
The church had become very legalistic, and Agricola decided that, since everything was grace, we could do away with the Old Testament laws. After all, Jesus was victorious. Sin was all forgiven. Somewhere, in 1537, when Agricola was established at Wittenberg, he wrote a number of propositions, published anonymously, under the title ‘Positiones inter fratres sparce’ (propositions spread under the brothers). He definitely didn’t mince his words when he wrote:i
Art thou steeped in sin—an adulterer or a thief? If thou believest, thou art in salvation. All who follow Moses must go to the Devil; to the gallows with Moses.
Long story short, Agricola was against (anti) the law (nomos) and therefore Luther called this heresy ‘Antinomianism.’ Luther didn’t agree with Agricola and wrote a book against the teachings of the Antinomians.
Away with the Old Testament
Even though many might argue that Agricola’s idea was new, we can see several similarities with much older ideas. Marcion, who lived around 85 – c. 160 AD, believed that the Old Testament—and most of the New Testament—was corrupted. He preached that God had sent Jesus Christ, who was distinct from the ‘vengeful’ Old Testament God. Because he believed that the New Testament God was full of love and grace, but the Old Testament God intolerant and judgmental. To stay clear from this seeming contradiction, Marcion decided what was real scripture and what not. His list included less than half the New Testament, and he totally banished the Old Testament.
The comparison between Marcion and Agricola is the law. By eliminated the entire Old Testament, Marcion effectively banished the law of Moses. Church Fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian spoke out against Marcion, and he was excommunicated by the church of Rome around 144 AD. The good thing about it all was that Marcion’s ideas basically forced the Church to respond to his canon, or his chosen scripture. It also forced the Church speed up the process of deciding what should be in the New Testament and what not.
Why is the Law Important?
Most Christians will admit that we can only be saved by grace alone. But the problem starts with explaining why we still think the law is important. I mean, if Luther placed so much emphasise on ‘sola gratia’ (by grace alone), why did he not agree on Agricola’s ideas of doing away with the law of Moses. Here is a nice challenge for you: Ask this question to Christians around you. You’ll get a lot of different answers, or maybe no answer at all.
Before answering the question, I think it would be good to read Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-20
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
You might understand the reluctance of Luther to say that we can dismiss the law, right? This is one of those bible passages were many Christians start to wonder: Is Jesus teaching that we need to follow the Old Testament? Is the Lord telling us that we need to become Jewish? Is He actually promoting legalism?
The short answer to these question is ‘no.’ The longer answer compels us to think a bit further. We have to think about that what Jesus did on the cross. Why did He have to die on the cross? Why did Jesus offer Himself up to become the ultimate sacrifice for us?
The answers to these questions aren’t complicated when you realise what the law is actually teaching us. The law is there to show us how severe sin really is. Just saying ‘sorry’ wouldn’t cover the severity of sin. There had to be a talion, a retribution to make up for all the harm and rebellion we, as humans, committed towards the most High God. The punishment should be equivalent or identical to the offence committed.
Luther knew full well—and so should we—that when we say that God’s law is meaningless, we basically say that sin isn’t that bad. Without the law, we can do whatever we want, even if it goes against God’s goodness and love. However, if God wouldn’t hold us accountable to the law, the conclusion could only be that He didn’t care about His creation. If we do not need to hold to the law things like hate, lying, stealing murdering and rape would be perfectly accepted. It would be acceptable here, but also in the Kingdom of God.
If we think that the law—which shows us God’s holiness and goodness—isn’t significant enough to treasure, we totally forget why Jesus had to die for us. By dismissing the law we will no longer consider the seriousness of our sins and their effects.
So how then, should we look at the law? Well, firstly we need to know that not all Old Testament laws are applicable to us as Christians. Most laws were written for the people of Israel. They were written to help them to become a great nation. Sure enough, there are many good principles in these laws. I mean, the laws on how to help the orphans and widows can help greatly in societies were there are no provisions at all. Also, the dietary laws seem to be very beneficial for our health. I mean, even in the middle of nowhere on Madagascar people rather eat beef than pork. And when the do eat pork, they cook it extremely well, because they know about the parasite danger. Not because they read it in a book, but because they all know someone who suffered the consequences of not cooking it well enough.
So, I am mostly thinking about the 10 commandments, summarised by the Lord Jesus in
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Living by the Law Through Faith and Grace
When I came to Christ, I thought that I wouldn’t have to live a Christ-like life. I understood perfectly fine that I was saved and made holy in the eyes of the Father, through the sacrifice of Jesus. Antinomianism seem to agree with my initial idea. After all, if Jesus’ grace is boundless, we wouldn’t have to try to live a good life, right?
But boy was I wrong! When we repent of our sins and turn to Christ for salvation, our life has just started. It is what the Bible say: We will be born again! That means we will have to learn many new things. We are like a baby, and God is our Father who cares for us. As a father, I love my children to bits, and just like to see them flourish and become good God-fearing people.
God’s longing is the same! He wants us to grow and to become adults in our faith. This growing part is called sanctification. It is the procedure of growing closer to God the Father, to grow deeper in our relationship with Him. Yes, even to become more like Him!
1 John 2:6
He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
The Lord Jesus knew the law by heart. He knew how to walk holy. When we say that we are His, we will have to live life like He did. A famous saying goes like this: Walk the talk.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Trust the Lord Jesus
So, do we strictly need to obey the law? Are we forcing our Sabbath rest on our neighbours? Are we frowning on those who skip a church service because they worked to hard the day before? Trust me, I’ve been there. I used to be a bread baker. During Christmastime, we worked very long days. One time I decided to get some extra rest on the Sunday morning. This was the text I received as an encouragement:
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is […]
No, looking at the law isn’t about being legalistic, it’s about loving and trusting Christ.
Watchman Nee saidii
God’s requirements have not altered, but we are not the ones to meet them. Praise God, He is the Lawgiver on the Throne, and He is the Law-keeper in my heart. He who gave the Law, Himself keeps it.
Putting the Law on the Throne
When we are legalistic about the law, we basically say that we do not trust the love of God’s grace and forgiveness. In other words, by being legalistic we think we have to do all these works to earn God’s kindness. But, we can never buy ourselves into God’s family!
Living Without the Law
On the other hand, when we think we can dismiss the law, we doubt God’s seriousness about His calling and commands. We make God into a fluffy sweet old man, who loves us so much that He wouldn’t be upset about our wrongdoings. He only wants us to feel happy and content with ourselves, right? But by not considering the law, we actually think we know better than God the Father. We reject His loving care. By dismissing the law we reject His loving discipline, and we end up thinking that we can manage just fine without Him. Like spoiled children who think they know better than their father’s wise guidance.
Christians are still obligated to obey and follow God’s commands. However, we have the Holy Spirit of God in us. The Holy Spirit gives us the power, and the longing to do so.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
God is pleased when we obey His law. Furthermore, obeying His law glorifies Him. Finally, our longing and cheerful compliance to follow God’s commands are evidence that we belong to Him.
1 John 2:3-6
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
The worth of teaching God’s law is not to place a heavy burden on believers. The law is there to show what will upset God, and it shows the things we are to stay clear from. God’s law is still our instructor to show us that we need Him.
Galatians 3:24-25 – Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
It shows us that we need Him in salvation but also during our sanctification. It helps us to grow in faith and to become more like Christ.
Please don’t fall in the trap of Antinomianism. Treasure the law and teach God’s commands to your children, so they may get to know Christ as well!
There is so much more to say about this topic. It very much feels like I just scratched the surface. Maybe, you have something to add, or maybe you disagree on certain things? Just leave a comment. Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel.
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God bless you, thank you for watching, and, Lord willing, we’ll see each other in the next video!
i Book of Concorde Online, XVII. The Antinomistic Controversy, 183. Distinction between Law and Gospel of Paramount Import, [internet] https://bookofconcord.org/other-resources/historical-introductions/17/ accessed on 28-12-2023.
ii Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life, chapter: Our End Is God’s Beginning, [internet] https://tochrist.org/Doc/Books/Watchman%20Nee/The%20Normal%20Christian%20Life.pdf, accessed 01-01-2024, p.68.