A strange creature has crept into the church under the moniker of “radical grace” and “spiritual freedom.” It has had a home in the human heart since the very beginning, where the mankind’s federal parents first questioned what God clearly required of them (Genesis 3). It’s message is plastered naturally at the end of most pop songs and cheesy chick flicks, along the lines of “Just follow your heart” or “Be true to yourself.”
Oprah is not the only adherent to this whimsical doctrinal system I assure you. Yes, in some way, every man desires to be a law unto himself.
The technical theological term for this deep-seated desire is “antinomianism.”
Antinomianism literally means “anti-lawism” or just “against the law.” “Antinomianism” is a Greek word coined by the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther. Luther saw excesses in the Reformation that sprung out of a desire to combat the Roman Catholic Church’s blatant legalism. In 1539 Luther wrote against such error in his book, Against the Antinomians. Later Lutheran theologians affirmed Luther’s stance in the Formula of Concord (1577) outlining the three biblical uses of the law: 1. To reveal sin 2. To establish moral guidelines for the society at large 3. To provide a rule of life for those regenerated through faith in Christ.
The third statement is where the primary rub comes in for the classic Antinomian theologian. The portion of the Law which this stance is set against is the moral law, or the Ten Commandments.
The whole crux of the issue is the denial of the moral law’s use as a rule of life for the believer. Since Jesus redeems one from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), Antinomians believe He also frees us from any obligation of keeping the moral law. The moral law has virtually no value to the Antinomian because he sees the law as void with the coming of Christ and the New Covenant. License to sin and disobedience is typically the natural effect of such theology in one’s life.
An equally heretical and polar opposite theology of antinomianism is legalism. Legalism, as expressed in the Roman Catholic ideology of Luther’s day, swings the pendulum the other way and makes keeping the Law the primary means by which a person must be saved. Both systems of thought have a deeply flawed understanding of the Law and Grace.
Antinomianism is serious error, and a damnable heresy according to Jesus Himself.
In Matthew 7:13-14 it is the condemning charge of Jesus towards a wildly popular group of prophets and preachers:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
“Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” Yeah you have the private jet, an internationally renowned ministry, and even miracles proceed from your crusades, but you are lost if you live as if I gave you no law to obey. Or as Jesus said in even simpler words “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ yet you do not do as I say?” (Luke 6:46)
If you don’t know Him as Lord then you don’t know Him as Savior.
The New Covenant is not the end of the Law. Rather it is the fulfillment and clearer expression of God’s perfect law (Matt. 5:17-18). Christ is the reason the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Law are no longer necessary (the book of Hebrews bro!). Now thankfully, because of Him, we no longer have to sacrifice our pet goats or boycott Red Lobster. But Christ never indicated the complete abrogation of the moral Law with His coming. In reality, He clearly upheld it as the pre-eminent model of a truly Christian life (Matthew 5:21-48)
The OT prophecies pointing to the New Covenant show it to be “a law written on the hearts” of the covenant community, and not just the stone tablets of Mt. Sinai (Jer. 31 :31-34).
Paul expressed these same concerns is his book to the Romans. Remember this is the same apostle who tore into the legalistic Judaizers of the Galatian church (self castration, anyone?). Yet Paul was also explicit in his condemnation of the possibility of antinomianism: “Do we then make the law void through faith. Certainly not! On the contrary we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)
The argument minded Antinomian may retort, “What about Romans 6, ‘we are no longer under law!'” When Paul says we “are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), he is not nullifying the law. Rather he is saying: 1. We are not under law as a covenant of works like Adam was 2. Keeping the law cannot now justify us 3. We won’t be condemned for falling short of the law 4. We’re now under grace, the covenant of grace, for our hope and eternal life.
These beautiful divine truths do not make us “lawless” by any means! Instead they make it possible for us to love Christ and obey His law through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:4). As Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones used to say, “If the ‘grace’ you have received does not help you to keep the law, you have not received grace.”
What you see in the NT is a correction of a common OT misconception. The grievous error the Pharisees and teachers of law committed was by making the law an exhaustive rule book for earning God’s favor. God’s favor is free (Eph 2:8) yet the road it puts us on will cost us our life (Luke 9:23-24). With His death and resurrection Jesus, Christ reinstates a clear vision of Love driven obedience and Spirit-led law keeping. As always, we should let Him have the last word on this matter:
“If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).