One of the terms which is often leveled at those who proclaim the free grace of GOD in the salvation of HIS elect is that of “antinomianism”. The term “antinomian” comes from a combination of the Latin “anti” (meaning against) and the Greek word for law, “nomos”. Literally the word “antinomian” means against law. In the study of theology, the term is usually used to specify those who do not believe that the ten commandments are the believers “rule of life”. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition is “1: one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation 2: one who rejects a socially established morality.”
There are many aspects of this subject which we will not deal with in the confines of this article but hope to point out the error of “true antinomianism” which we do not believe is what is usually defined as “antinomianism” either in the dictionary or most theological circles.
Most who roll out this term in common conversation or publications do not do so in order to fondly speak of those who they would label “antinomians”. Rather it is most often used with a bit of disdain and is quite often coupled with another pejorative term, “hypercalvinist” in order to administer a double whammy of sorts. This is the ultimate “put down”, (in the minds of those who fancy themselves as Calvinists), and is the means of supposedly marginalizing the teaching of those who are on the receiving end of this “stunning blow” delivered by the hands of these wise and learned teachers (as they would think of themselves).
It is only the ignorant and unlearned who seemingly can fully appreciate being set free from the law of sin and death. The more “wisdom” that men gain concerning the letter of the law, the less they magnify grace and the more duty and responsibility they load upon the backs of men. When a man can clearly see his own depravity he is made aware that he can find no comfort or help from the law, yet when men grow “wiser” in their own eyes, it is then that they return to it, somehow forgetting their own depravity which sets them at odds with it .
In order to fully comprehend the believer’s relationship to the “law” one must first comprehend the primary purpose for which the “law” was given. Those who find grounds to slay the dreaded “antinomians” are those who generally believe that the law was given to men as a guideline for proper conduct. We are quite certain that there is nothing in the law that can be construed as being immoral nor would we ever consider that the law is not holy, just, and good. Yet we cannot find any grounds in the scripture from which to conclude that the law was not primarily given to men in order to display their sinfulness and define it.
Paul said “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.” (Rom 7:7-8) He ultimately went on to say, “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (Gal 3:21)
It seems clear enough to us that he is plainly saying that the law cannot either define righteousness nor can it be used in any manner to produce righteousness. We are quite convinced that the ONLY righteousness which any of the sons of GOD shall ever possess or demonstrate is the perfect righteousness of JESUS CHRIST. “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” (1Cor 1:30) All that the law can do is uncover sin and demonstrate the inability of men to walk before GOD in righteousness.
Paul said that at one time he was a Pharisee, “a strict keeper of the law”. Yet he had no true spiritual knowledge of the law, thinking that all was well and he was obedient to it. “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. “ (Rom 7:9-10) Then he says “the commandment came” and “I died”. When the true nature of the law was revealed to him it stripped him naked and bare before GOD. “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” (Rom 7:11)
This is the “knowledge” which the LORD is pleased to give his children when they are awakened from the spiritual death they were born into. It does not matter what level of religious obedience that they may render or how moral their lives (comparatively to others) may be. When the “commandment comes” or the true, holy, and condemning power of the law is revealed in stark contrast to the depravity of their hearts they are rendered speechless before it and can find, in it, no help of any sort, nor any encouragement that they can obey it. The law reveals sin and death.
Those whom the LORD awakens cannot ever fully get over that knowledge, yet some seem to be able to quench it or hide if from plain view as they would go about in the flesh to supposedly “render obedience” to that which can do nothing but slay them.
Paul was convinced (as are we) that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1) This is not a “conditional verse” as I have heard some define it. He is not saying if we walk in the SPIRIT we can then have no condemnation as though our obedience should somehow produce the enjoyment of “no condemnation”. Rather he is saying that those who are the recipients of “no condemnation” are in CHRIST and the evidence of that fact is that they walk in the SPIRIT rather than delighting in the way of the flesh.
There are some who speak as if they think that it is “dangerous” to speak too freely and often of this freedom of the sons of GOD from the law. Yet Paul had no such reluctance as he went on to say “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2) He plainly said the same thing to the Galatians, “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” (Gal 2:19) “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7:6)
Notice that he did not say that the law is dead, but rather we are dead to it. The analogy that he uses is of the relationship of a husband and wife. As long as one spouse is alive the other is bound to them, but if one spouse dies the other is free. In like fashion the only relationship which we had to the law in time past (which was to be condemned by it) has been destroyed.
We have been crucified with CHRIST and are dead to the law that we should not be bound to live any longer under it. We are not simply divorced from the law which still breathes out threatenings and slaughters against us but we are completely delivered from it, and the marriage severed as by death. It has no hold upon us and we offer it no allegiance. We have been married to ANOTHER and HE is our LAW and our PERFORMER.
If a man was married to another and was to secretly visit the home of one to which he was formerly wed all men would call him an adulterer. Nor can we secretly take any delight in the one who only spoke words of condemnation to us. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom 6:1-3)
Not only have we been set free from the law itself, but from the power of the sin which it stirred up in us unto condemnation. Since we have been delivered from it by the blood of CHRIST, we are also delivered from any penalty or curse that it may wish to apply
Surely by now any who are not of my persuasion are breathing hard and ready to cast me to the moles and bats as one who would encourage men to sin. Yet Paul plainly said (and I believe) “How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” What he is describing is not “make-believe” or a fairy tale; rather, he is describing the work of the SPIRIT of GOD in the lives of his children.
Paul said “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:11-14)
He is not exhorting the Romans to make believe that they are dead to sin, but he says “reckon” it so. To reckon something is to clearly and plainly recognize it as truth. This is a fact, not a hope so arrangement if we “cooperate”. We have been given life in CHRIST, we are not under law, but under grace. Grace is the power that constrains the hearts of GOD’s children to walk in obedience unto HIM. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:3-5)
Now we can all read these same scriptures so the problem with agreement here is not in what the scriptures say but in what they mean and how these truths are manifested in the sons of GOD on a daily basis. Those who are quick to label us as “antinomians” cannot seem to find the “smoking gun” that would prove that we despise the law of GOD and delight in sin and licentiousness. Nor do we suppose that those who constantly remind us that the “moral law” is the Christian’s rule of life are ready to stone us for not observing the Sabbath. At least we are fairly sure that they won’t since they probably are restrained by the law of the land which would probably prosecute them for it.
The fact is that the grace of GOD is operable in the true sons of GOD regardless of their convictions and understanding on this matter. This serves to prove the fact that the fire and threats of the law is not that which produces righteousness in the sons of GOD.
We have purposely not defined “the law” thus far in our discourse. Those who believe that the moral law is the believer’s rule of life most often define this law as the “ten commandments”. We are quite certain that the ten commandments were given to the children of Israel and that they do indeed summarize and specifically state the written law. At the same time, we are also aware that this “coded” or written law was only given to the nation of Israel and is not THE law exclusively.
The scripture indicates that even the Gentiles, who were not given this written law were nonetheless under the law. So, the ten commandments cannot be “the law” nor can it be shown from the scriptures that any but the Jews were subject unto the “ten commandments”.
Paul said, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)” (Rom 2:12-15)
The law is much more pervasive than simply what was written in tables of stone on Mt. Sinai. All men, Jew and Gentile alike are by nature under the curse of the same law but only to the Jews was given the Mosaic law which cannot be separated into a “moral law” and a “ceremonial law” as the “anti-antinomians” tell us. They conveniently discard that part of the law they judge “inconvenient” and “fulfilled” and hold on to that which they feel will somehow produce in men now what it never could in times past.
When Paul speaks of the “law” from which we have been set free, he is speaking primarily about the Mosaic law in its jot and tittle, whether the “ten commandments”, the dietary laws, or those regarding the sacrifices. However, his consideration is not limited to that concept, but I believe he is also speaking quite often of our freedom from the “principle of law”, which is “do this and live”.
This is primarily what he has reference to in Romans 8:2. We have been set free from the principle of law keeping and now are operating under a new principle which is being wrought in and upon us by HIS SPIRIT. This new “principle” under which we are living is the “law (i.e.; principle) of the SPIRIT of life in CHRIST JESUS’. It is that which he spoke of in Galatians 2:20 where he said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)
No longer do we need the written law to remind us of the awfulness of sin but the SPIRIT of GOD who is come into the world to convince of sin, righteousness and judgement is that ONE which works in us mightily. HE has caused us to mourn for our sin. This is that which makes HIS people “poor in spirit” as HE convinces them of sin quite apart from any need to consult the ten commandments. This is the direct fulfillment of HIS promise, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” (Heb 8:10)
The only principle which the natural man could have any understanding of is that of the fear of punishment and the hope of reward. I think that it is clear in the scriptures that GOD’s people are called to serve him on the basis of a new principle. “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7:6) The principle of obeying the letter of the law is one which can only produce the outward show of obedience but cannot and does not produce anything which is the currency of the kingdom of GOD.
So, this kingdom which the LORD has established in the earth is not one which is structured around the old covenant or the Mosaic law. Rather it is that which is built upon that perfect law of liberty and only those who are the subjects of that kingdom are enabled to walk in accordance with it.
If one would be obedient to the law of the old covenant, then they must be found in perfect obedience to that law or else face its condemnation. However, if one should claim to be a subject of the kingdom of GOD, established by CHRIST, and yet still claim an allegiance to that law written in stone then they have denied the very principle upon which this kingdom is established and they are indeed true antinomians. Such as would use the law of Moses as a moral code by which they would have their lives ordered are deluded and appear to be those who are yet in their sins, and at the very least, opposed to the principle of grace.
“Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, ---How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.” (2Co 3:5-11)mam