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Warning Against Antinomianism


The Word 'antinomian' comes from the Greek words, 'anti' (against) and 'nomos' (law), signifying opposition to the law. It refers to the doctrine that the moral law is not binding upon Christians as a rule of life, and was first used by Martin Luther (1483-1546) in refuting the belief of John Agricola (1492-1566), who denied that the believer was in any way obliged to fulfill the moral law. Agricola is alleged to have said that a man was saved by faith alone, without regard to moral character. Luther denounced this view as a caricature of the gospel, although Luther himself has been appealed to by antinomians in favor of their view.

Great minds have long been involved in this theological controversy, and both sides will always have their able exponents. Let us remember, however, that Scripture gives us a strong warning: "But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and striving about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain" (Titus 3:9).  While seeking to avoid "contentions" on the law, let us not avoid the plain emphasis of the Word of God concerning personal holiness, practical godliness and sanctified living unto Christ as Lord of our lives. These things are so important! They are not side issues! They are not "unprofitable and vain". Because some may pervert holy living by their self-righteousness (a 'holier-than-thou' attitude), this does not excuse anyone from obeying the precepts of Scripture.

By personal holiness' we do not mean 'inherent righteousnesss' for the sinner by nature has no righteousness to commend him to a thrice-holy God. "All our righteousness are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). We are all unclean, defiled and depraved in our natural condition. The Lord Jesus Christ alone is 'our righteousnesss' before God, as far as merit is concerned: "The Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). This is to us the emphasis of the gospel of grace. True righteousness is imputed to us by the grace of God and received by faith.

Only Jehovah can "justify the ungodly" and impute righteousness to the unbelieving sinner "without works" (Romans 4:4-6). This is a reality because the Son of God had our sins imputed to Him, 'that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). What a glorious exchange; Christ took our sins, we received His righteousness!
What happens in those who believe in Christ? This is the crucial question. Can the believer live as he pleases? Does the grace of God change our lifestyle? Is there such tension between justification and sanctification that no one really understands either? Let C.H. Spurgeon clarify the Biblical position:

"I trust that in my ministry I shall never keep back the doctrines of the grace of God, but I am anxious at the same time with equal clearness to declare the doctrine that good works are necessary evidences of grace. I am persuaded that if self-righteousness be deadly, self-indulgence is ruinous. Rowland Hill said he had spent a large part of his life in battling with the white devil of Arminianism, but he would now fight the black devil of Antinomianism. I desire to maintain always a balance in my ministry and while combating self-righteousness to war perpetually with loose living.

Antinomianism is a black devil indeed, a devil whose smutty fingers have defiled full man of the pure truths of our holy faith, and made even good men shy of receiving them. We must remember that though we are saved by grace; yet grace does not stupify us, but rather quicken us into action: and though salvation depends upon the merits of Christ, yet those who receive with them a faith which produces holiness".

Scripture makes it clear that there is a difference between 'works' and 'good works'. 'Works' are attributed to the natural fleshly man, the person outside of Christ and unrenewed by the Holy Spirit. These are the works Paul has in mind when he says; "Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9). Salvation is by pure grace, and is not merited in any sense by the works of sinners. Grace and works do not mix. But then Paul tells us what has happened t the truly regenerate person: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).

So good works are wrought in us by the same God who has justified us (cf Isaiah 26:12). The works of our own hands are called "dead works" (Hebrews 9:14), but these 'dead works' have been repented of, and the blood of Christ has "purged us" from them "to serve the living God". The true Christian then naturally (or supernaturally) produces 'good works' just as fruit trees produce fruit. Listen to J.C. Philpot:

"Spiritual readers, judge for yourselves. Is fruit generally insisted upon as the mark of union with Christ? Such fruits as self-denial, crucifixion of the flesh with its affections and lusts; laboring to know and do the will of God; repentance and godly sorrow for sin; mourning and signing over a backsliding heart; a prayerful, meditative spirit and that sweet spirituality of mine which is life and peace - are not these vital realities positively ignored, and not even named, much less insisted upon?

It would almost seem, from the general neglect of enforcing upon believers practical godliness, as if the elect might do anything they liked, and that we are saved, not from sin, but in sin; delivered not from the curse of the law to walk in obedience of the gospel, but almost to do any abomination in which the carnal mind delights" (Jeremiah 7:10).

Antinomianism is simply resting upon mere doctrinal truth, resting upon a mere knowledge of sin, without any vital experience of deliverance from sin in the daily lie. We must not only be sound however, in the Lord in our hearts, evidenced by a godly walk. "Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more" (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

Away with the modern idea of quietism and passivity (the teaching that all initiatives on our part are the energy of the flesh). This passivity has led us into lethargic inaction and spiritual laziness. The call of Scripture is to activity and duty: "Mortify (put to death) therefore your members which are upon the earth" (Colossians 3:5). "Put off" and "put on" are Paul's admonitions to us (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Written by: W.F. Bell

This article was taken from; "The Link" North North Road Chapel (Evangelical) Bideford England...Oct - Dec 1994, edition.


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