“ANTINOMIANISM: IS IT REALLY SO BAD?”
1. This evening I want to preach on the subject of antinomianism, and why it’s so bad. But first allow me to define the term. An antinomian is “a person who maintains that Christians are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel.” That’s the Webster’s Dictionary definition, and it’s pretty good.
2. Now let me read to you a theologian’s definition of antinomianism: “The label ‘antinomianism’ derives from the syndrome’s distinctive mark, namely the denial of the relevance of the moral law to true Christians because of the ability claimed for the Holy Spirit to separate persons directly and radically from the obligations of ordinary worldly existence.”
3. Passing over all of the historical intricacies related to antinomianism, let me just break the word up so you’ll see this term that Martin Luther coined. “Anti,” of course, means against, and “nomos” is the Greek word for Law. So, Antinomianism literally means “against the Law.”
4. My sermon for this evening will be a very superficial review of issues related to this subject of antinomianism, in the hopes that you will begin to see that which surrounds us and plagues so many Churches.
5. Turn, for my text, to Jude 4, where we see the end result of antinomianism. When you’ve found that next to the last book of the Bible, please stand for the reading of God’s Word: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
6. I maintain that this verse speaks of antinomians, which I think you will see as we progress through this sermon. Antinomians are sneaks, since they creep in unawares. Antinomians are not new, for they were before of old ordained to this condemnation. Antinomians are ungodly men, meaning they are not Christians, despite what they pretend. And antinomians, for all practical purposes, deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Their most distinctive trait? They turn “the grace of our God into lasciviousness.”
7. But what is “lasciviousness” that it’s a terrible thing for God’s grace to be turned into it? Translating the Greek word “aselgeia,” it refers to “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment.” Obviously, God’s grace doesn’t transform a sinner into such a man as this, so to pretend that it does is a great sin against God.
8. Let me list for you five headings, under which I will make relevant comments that will inform you, and that will surprise some of you.
1A. First, THE LAW
Since antinomianism stands against the Law, it’s only logical that we give the Law some treatment to make sure we understand why God gave the Law. Let me use as a source a sermon preached by Charles Spurgeon in 1857 titled “The Uses of the Law. His text is Galatians 3.19, “wherefore serveth the law?”
1B. “The first use of the law is to manifest to man his guilt. When God intends to save a man, the first thing he does with him is to send the law to him, to show him how guilty, how vile, how ruined he is, and in how dangerous a position. . . . The spirit of the law condemns us. And this is its useful property; it humbles us, makes us know we are guilty, and so are we led to receive the Savior.”
2B. “Now, the second. The law serves to slay all hope of salvation of a reformed life. Most men when they discover themselves to be guilty, avow that they will reform. They say, ‘I have been guilty and have deserved God’s wrath, but for the future I will seek to win a stock of merits which shall counterbalance all my old sins.’ In steps the law, puts its hand on the sinner’s mouth, and says, ‘Stop, you cannot do that, it is impossible.’ I will show you how the law does this. It does it partly thus, by reminding the man that future obedience can be no atonement for past guilt.”
3B. “And now, a step further. You that know the grace of God can follow me in this next step. The law is intended to show man the misery which will, fall upon him through his sin. . . . The law was sent on purpose to do that. But, you will ask, “Why that misery?” I answer, that misery was sent for this reason: that I might then be made to cry to Jesus. Our heavenly Father does not usually make us seek Jesus till he has whipped us clean out of all our confidence; he cannot make us in earnest after heaven till he has made us feel something of the intolerable tortures of an aching conscience, which has foretaste of hell.”
4B. “It was sent into the world to shew the value of a Saviour. . . . the law make Christ appear the fairer and more heavenly. I hear the law of God curse, but how harsh its voice. Jesus says, “come unto me;” oh, what music! all the more musical after the discord of the law. I see the law condemns; I behold Christ obeying it. Oh! how ponderous that price - when I know how weighty was the demand! I read the commandments, and I find them strict and awfully severe - oh! how holy must Christ have been to obey all these for me! Nothing makes me value my Savior more than seeing the law condemn me. When I know this law stands in my way, and like a flaming cherubim will not let me enter paradise, then I can tell how sweetly precious must Jesus Christ’s righteousness be, which is a passport to heaven, and gives me grace to enter there.
5B. “And, lastly, ‘Wherefore serveth the law.’ It was sent into the world to keep Christian men from self-righteousness. Christian men - do they ever get self-righteous? Yes, that they do. The best Christian man in the world will find it hard work to keep himself from boasting, and from being self righteous.” It is this last use of the law that pertains to our subject of antinomianism, the use of the law to keep Christian men from self-righteousness.
2A. Next, LEGALISM
1B. Derickson’s Notes On Theology, by Stanley Derickson, has this to say about legalism: “Legalism in the Bible is the attempt to keep the law to gain salvation. There are those today that relate legalism to many other thoughts. BIBLICALLY, legalism is keeping the law for salvation. Some charge that anyone that keeps a list of do’s and don’ts is a legalist. NOT SO! God keeps a list of do’s and don’ts in the Word, and He is not a legalist. Lists are not wrong! If a person is attempting to gain salvation by keeping those lists, then they are legalistic.”
2B. Derickson is correct in what he says. Legalism is primarily the attempt to keep the law to gain salvation. And in Galatians 3.2, Paul rebukes the Galatians, genuinely converted people, who allowed themselves to come under the influence of legalists who confused them about how they had themselves gotten converted! “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
3B. There is also a secondary legalism that plagues Christians. It is not the view that a sinner is saved by works of the law, but the view that a Christian is spiritual by works of the law, or that a Christian becomes mature by works of the law. The very next verse, Galatians 3.3, addresses that error: “Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” In other words, “Are you so foolish that you think what the Spirit started the flesh can finish, that the law can bring about your maturity even though it could not bring about your conversion?”
4B. So, legalism, in both its forms, is an attempt to use the law in an unauthorized and illegitimate way, a way that is not sanctioned by Scripture, a way that interferes with and excludes the vital work of the Holy Spirit, a way that relies upon one’s own flesh to accomplish what only the Spirit of God is capable of doing, either in regenerating the lost man or in maturing the believer.
5B. To restate, since so many these days are confused over this issue, legalism is not the use of the law. There are legitimate uses of the law. Legalism is the misuse of the law to obtain salvation or the misuse of the law to obtain spirituality and Christian growth.
3A. Third, LIBERTY
1B. In the epistles of the New Testament the word “liberty” is found 13 times. In 11 of those 13 verses the word “liberty” is translated by the Greek word “eleuqeria,” a word that refers to “the state of being free.”
2B. One of the verses in which this word is found is First Corinthians 7.39, and refers to a woman being freed from any legal restriction against remarriage because her husband has died. But the other places in which this word is found in the epistles it is referring to freedom from any obligation to adhere to the ceremonial requirements of the Law of Moses.
3B. This is precisely what is meant in Galatians 5.1, where our word “eleuqeria” is translated once by the word liberty and once by the word freedom: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
4B. So, liberty, rightly understood, does not refer to the Christian being so cut loose from any relationship with the Law that it can no longer used for moral guidance and insight into God’s will. On the contrary, liberty refers to being cut loose from any requirement to fulfill any ceremonial obligations, from ritualistic formality.
5B. And the reason behind this liberty is quite easy to understand. The formalism and ritual built into the Law of Moses pictured the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ was typified in the tabernacle and the ritual observances of the priesthood who ministered in the tabernacle. The same was true of the Temple. And the same was true of the various feasts and holy days. Each in their own way pictured some aspect of the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were types of which He was the fulfillment.
6B. So, if the Lord Jesus Christ has already come and died a sacrificial death, atoned for sins by the shedding of His blood, carried our sins without the camp, of what purpose is a Passover feast, or a Day of Atonement, or a Feast of Tabernacles? What’s the point of a morning and evening oblation in which lambs are sacrificed to atone for sins? Obviously, there is no longer any point to those observances, which is why Paul rejoice that they had been freed, they had been given liberty from obligation to observe those rituals, rituals that the Gentiles had never been obligated to observed, according to Romans 3.19.
7B. But does this mean the Law no longer has any purpose? Of course not. There are valid uses of the Law. The Law is a school master to point sinners to Christ, 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.” Romans 7.21-22 shows what use the Christian has of the Law: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” This is, as Spurgeon said, to keep Christian men from self-righteousness. Thus, there is an appropriate use of the Law when exercising liberty.
4A. Fourth, LICENSE
1B. Webster’s Dictionary defines license as “excessive or undue freedom or liberty,” and as “intentional deviation from rule, convention, or fact.” Now, it needs to be asked whether or not this excessive freedom or this intentional deviation from rule is what the grace of God produces in a person’s life. Or does this thing called license sound an awful lot like lasciviousness?
2B. You will remember that in our text we find the word lasciviousness, which refers to the “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment.” So, the two are in fact one in the same.
3B. With respect to God’s Law, which is the absolute standard of right and wrong, a perfect and spiritual representation of God’s righteousness, a legalist is a person who misuses the Law by seeking to make use of the Law to obtain salvation, or to misuse the Law by seeking to make use of the Law to obtain spirituality or Christian maturity.
4B. Liberty is the balanced Christian position that recognizes that God’s people have been set free from any constraint to obey the ceremonial or ritualistic requirements of the Law, while still making proper use of the Law to reflect God’s will in matters of holiness and righteousness and to keep one’s self from self-righteousness.
5B. But license is an abandoning of moral constraints, a breaking loose from any restrictions imposed by a higher moral authority. It’s behaving as if a person is his own highest moral authority and conducting himself as though he has the right to set his own course and dictate his own behavior.
6B. Let me read some verses from God’s Word to you so you can compare for yourself whether or not the grace of God produces such license as this:
1C. Mark 7, where Jesus speaks of that which comes from within a man to defile him. This, of course, cannot be the grace of God, which comes from outside a man:
20 And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,
22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness:
23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
2C. Roman 13.13: “Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” Here the word is translated “wantonness” and is contrasted with what the grace of God produces in a person’s life.
3C. Second Corinthians 12.21: “And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.” Here Paul indicates that those who have not repented of their “lasciviousness” are not converted.
4C. Galatians 5.19: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness. . . .” Sins typical of those who are not converted.
5C. In Ephesians 4 against contrasts the genuinely saved with the lost:
17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
20 But ye have not so learned Christ
6C. First Peter 4.3: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries.”
7C. Second Peter 2.7: “And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.”
8C. Second Peter 2.18: “For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.”
9C. And finally, our text, once again. Jude 4: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
10C. The Law is not be kept as a means of obeying God, as a means of pretending to be spiritual, as a means of earning or securing salvation. But the Law of God is extremely useful as a means to guide a person who has a desire to please God from the heart, in the same way a man who desires to drive at the speed limit will use the speed limit sign for guidance in his ongoing desire to comply with the local government’s wishes for responsible driving. To ignore the speed limit sign is to be lawless, is to exercise to lasciviousness.
11C. But what about those who not only ignore the Law, thereby showing that they are lascivious, thereby showing that they are guilty of license? What about those who are actually against the Law and opposed to it?
5A. Fifth, ANTINOMIANISM
1B. Listen to what John H. Gerstner, a theologian now deceased, says about antinomianism: “From the essential truth that no sinner in himself can merit salvation, the antinomian draws the erroneous conclusion that good works need not even accompany faith in the saint.”
2B. Gerstner goes on to point out that modern day antinomians, while they may not engage in reckless and attention grabbing sinning, exhibit one clear and dangerous misunderstanding of Bible truth. They do not believe that the grace of God requires good works. They believe that the grace of God recommends good works, but does not require good works. In this they are wrong.
3B. Turn to James chapter 2:
14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
1C. It is clear, here, that James is contrasting living faith, which saves, with dead faith, which does not save. And how can you tell the difference between the faith that saves and the faith which does not save? The faith which is real, from faith that is only an intellectual assent?
2C. Real faith always works. Dead faith doesn’t work. Saving faith always works. And though works do not save, faith that saves always works.
4B. My friends, do you see who the modern day antinomian is? It’s that southern California Christian who thinks you can skip out on Church for months at a time and still be a Christian. It’s that so-called evangelical who thinks there is no connection between salvation and growth as a Christian, that you can be a perpetually carnal Christian.
5B. And you would be flabbergasted at who some of these antinomians are. The first two presidents of the Dallas Theological Seminary believed that there is no necessary connection between salvation and growth in the Christian life. C. I. Scofield, author of The Scofield Reference Bible, taught that “a Christian may be carnal all his life and yet be a Christian.”
6B. My friend, it’s one thing to recommend virtuous living. But if a person believes that virtuous living is not necessary for the Christian, however imperfectly, however haltingly, that person is antinomian.  Because God’s Word says that faith, real faith, saving faith, works. You don’t work to get faith, as the Catholics do. But the faith that God gives is a faith that works.
7B. And it seems to be along this line of thinking that the Lord Jesus Christ said, in Luke 12.8-9, “Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.”
1. I think there has been antinomianism since God’s Law was given. Down through the ages the ways in which antagonism to and opposition to God’s Law have been expressed have changed.
2. To make sure we steer clear of antinomianism I’m going to preach a series of messages on the ten commandments over the next several weeks.
3. But the subtle ways in which antinomianism is seen these days are as follows: Antinomians don’t think Christians have to go to Church. But there is a moral imperative to gather with the saints. Antinomians don’t think Christians have to tithe. But there is a moral obligation to honor God with the first fruits of your increase. Antinomians don’t think Christians have to serve God. But God must be served. It’s the very reason He saves people. Antinomians think a person can be essentially dormant for years and still be a Christian. But faith without works is dead, being alone. No interpretation, just citation.
4. Now, the Antinomian will call me a legalist for thinking that such lawlessness indicates a person to be lost, but I am not suggesting that the Law be used to earn salvation, or that the Law be used to acquire spiritual maturity.
5. I just believe that the Law will be used in some way by the child of God to know God’s will about certain matters, to discern God’s direction with regard to certain issues. That does not make me a legalist. That makes me a historically consistent Christian.
Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), p. 92.
William K. B. Stoever, A Faire and Easie Way to Heaven: Covenant Theology and Antinomianism in Early Massachusetts, (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1978), p. 161.
Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 141.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Volume 3, Sermon 128, (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publishers).
Stanley Derickson, Derickson’s Notes On Theology, (Albany, OR: AGES Software, Version 1.0, 1997)
Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 316.
Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), p. 1109.
John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing The Word Of Truth, (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), p. 241.
Ibid., pages 268-269.
Ibid., pages 247-248.
Ibid., page 251.