Antinomianism by Jack Kettler
In this study, we will seek to understand antinomianism. As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence and confessional support for the glorifying of God in how we live.
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
Definitions from two sources:
A name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life; the belief that obedience to God’s moral law is not necessary for the Christian. *
The word antinomianism comes from two Greek words, anti, meaning “against”; and nomos, meaning “law.” Antinomianism means “against the law.” Theologically, antinomianism is the belief that there are no moral laws God expects Christians to obey. Antinomianism takes a biblical teaching to an unbiblical conclusion. The biblical teaching is that Christians are not required to observe the Old Testament Law as a means of salvation. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He fulfilled the Old Testament Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). The unbiblical conclusion is that there is no moral law God expects Christians to obey. **
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states, “In fact, it was Luther who actually coined the word antinomianism in his theological struggle with his former student, Johann Agricola.” (1)
Scriptures against Antinomianism:
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)
“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.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
From Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Matthew 5:17-19 we read:
Verse 17, “He [Jesus] took care to revise and reform the laws of men; but the law of God he established and confirmed.”
It is noteworthy that Spurgeon says that Jesus came, “established,” and “confirmed.” This was his understanding of “fulfilled.”
Spurgeon continues in verse 18, “Not a syllable is to become effete (exhausted of energy; worn out). Even to the smallest letters, the dot of every ‘I’, and the crossing of every ‘t,’ the law will outlast the creation” Verse 19, Spurgeon says “Our King has not come to abrogate the law, but to confirm and reassert it.” (2)
“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.” (Romans 7:7)
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12)
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Timothy 1:8)
“Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4)
Antinomianism or LAWLESS from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
lo’-les (anomos): While occurring but once in the King James Version (1
Tim 1:9), is translated in various ways, e.g. “without law” (1 Cor.
9:21); “unlawful” (2 Pet 2:8 the King James Version); “lawless” (1 Tim
1:9); “transgressor” (Mk 15:28; Lk 22:37); “wicked” (Acts 2:23 the King
James Version; 2 Thess. 2:8 the King James Version). When Paul claims to
be “without law,” he has reference to those things in the ceremonial
law, which might well be passed over, and not to the moral law. Paul was
by no means an antinomian. Those are “lawless” who break the law of the
Decalogue; hence, those who disobey the commandment, “Honor thy father
and thy mother,” are lawless (1 Tim 1:9). The civil law is also the law
of God. Those breaking it are lawless, hence, called “transgressors.”
Those who are unjust in their dealings are also “lawless”; for this
reason the hands of Pilate and those who with him unjustly condemned
Jesus are called
“wicked (unlawful) hands” (Acts 2:23 the King James Version). The most notable example of lawlessness is the Antichrist, that “wicked (lawless) one” (2 Thess. 2:8). William Evans Bibliography Information (3)
The next essay explains the various manifestations of antinomianism:
Antinomianism: We are Not Set Free to Sin by J. I. Packer:
“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Christ] is righteous. – 1 JOHN 3:7
Antinomianism, which means being “anti-law,” is a name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life.
Dualistic antinomianism appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4-19; 2 Pet. 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.
Spirit-centered antinomianism puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 7:40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind-set.
Christ-centered antinomianism argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing. But 1 John 1:8–2:1 (expounding 1:7) and 3:4-10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.
Dispensational antinomianism holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 clearly show, however, that law-keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” says Paul (1 Cor. 9:21).
Dialectical antinomianism, as in Barth and Brunner, denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present-day utterances to his people, is evident here.
Situationist antinomianism says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of Scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at any time disregard. But Romans 13:8-10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.
It must be stressed that the moral law, as crystallized in the Decalogue and opened up in the ethical teaching of both Testaments, is one coherent law, given to be a code of practice for God’s people in every age. In addition, repentance means resolving henceforth to seek God’s help in keeping that law. The Spirit is given to empower law-keeping and make us more and more like Christ, the archetypal law-keeper (Matt. 5:17). This law-keeping is in fact the fulfilling of our human nature, and Scripture holds out no hope of salvation for any who, whatever their profession of faith, do not seek to turn from sin to righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rev. 21:8).” (4)
Protestant Reformer John Calvin on Antinomianism:
“Some unskillful persons, from not attending to this [the third use of the law], boldly discard the whole law of Moses, and do away with both its Tables, imagining it unchristian to adhere to a doctrine which contains the ministration of death. Far from our thoughts be this profane notion!
Moses has admirably shown that the Law, which can produce nothing but death in sinners, ought to have a better and more excellent effect upon the righteous. When about to die, he thus addressed the people, “Set your hearts unto all the words which I testify among you this day, which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you; because it is your life,” (Deut. 32:46, 47.)
If it cannot be denied that it contains a perfect pattern of righteousness, then, unless we ought not to have any proper rule of life, it must be impious to discard it. There are not various rules of life, but one perpetual and inflexible rule; and, therefore, when David describes the righteous as spending their whole lives in meditating on the Law, (Psalm 1:2,) we must not confine to a single age, an employment which is most appropriate to all ages, even to the end of the world.
Nor are we to be deterred or to shun its instructions, because the holiness which it prescribes is stricter than we are able to render, so long as we bear about the prison of the body. It does not now perform toward us the part of a hard taskmaster, who will not be satisfied without full payment; but, in the perfection to which it exhorts us, points out the goal at which, during the whole course of our lives, it is not less our interest than our duty to aim. It is well if we thus press onward. Our whole life is a race, and after we have finished our course, the Lord will enable us to reach that goal to which, at present, we can only aspire in wish.” (5)
The next passage is cited again for its importance and clarification of the law in the life of the Christian.
“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” (1 Timothy 1:8)
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible comments on 1 Timothy 1:8 explain Paul correctly:
“If a man use it lawfully; for if it is used in order to obtain life, righteousness, and salvation by the works of it, or by obedience to it, it is used unlawfully: for the law does not give life, nor can righteousness come by it; nor are, or can men be saved by the works of it; to use the law for such purposes, is to abuse it, as the false teachers did, and make that which is good in itself, and in its proper use, to do what is evil; namely, to obscure and frustrate the grace of God, and make null and void the sufferings and death of Christ. A lawful use of the law is to obey it, as in the hands of Christ, the King of saints, and lawgiver in his church, from a principle of love to him, in the exercise of faith on him, without any mercenary selfish views, without trusting to, or depending on, what is done in obedience to it, but with a view to the glory of God, to testify our subjection to Christ, and our gratitude to him for favours received from him.” (6)
Contemporary theologian, Sinclair Ferguson’s assessment is perceptive as a conclusion to this study:
“Within the matrix of legalism at root is the manifestation of a restricted heart disposition toward God, viewing him through a lens of negative law that obscures the broader context of the Father’s character of holy love. This is a fatal sickness. Paradoxically, it is this same view of God, and the separation of his person from his law, that also lies at the root of antinomianism. The bottom line in both of these -isms is identical. That is why the gospel remedy of them is one and the same.” (7)
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 89 is important:
Q: How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A: The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, 1 and of building, them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation. 2
1. Psalm 19:7. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
Psalm 119:130. The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.
Hebrews 4:12. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
2. 1 Thessalonians 1:6. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.
Romans 1:16. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Romans 16:25. Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began.
Acts 20:32. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Walter A. Elwell, Editor, The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House), p.58.
2. Charles Spurgeon, The Gospel of the Kingdom, Commentary on Matthew, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Revell, 1987 reprinted 1995), p. 52-53.
3. James Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Definition for “LAWLESS,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1915), p.1859.
4. J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, (Wheaton, Illinois, Tyndale, 1993), pp. 178-180.
5. John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), p. 419–420.
6. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 1 Timothy, 9 Volumes, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 12.
7. Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2016), p. 85.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com
For more study:
Antidote to the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent on the Doctrine of Justification (1547)
By John Calvin https://www.the-highway.com/antidote_Calvin.html