Christian Freedom and Antinomianism

 

by Mike Ratliff

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one–who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:28-31 ESV)

Antinomianism: The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace.

I grew up as a Southern Baptist, however, I was not a Christian until January, 1986 a few months after turning 34. After that, my wife and I were members of 5 different SBC churches in the Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Kansas City areas. I am sure that not all SBC churches teach the exactly the same thing, but the ones we were part of definitely discounted the Law of God. Sadly, I think that most of the antinomian teaching out there is centered in a misunderstanding of what is meant in Sacred Scripture by the term Christian Freedom. 

As he was saying these things, many believed in him. So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:30-32 ESV)

What did our Lord mean by this? Who will know the truth? Only those who are truly His disciples or who are “for real” disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ will know the truth. Notice that this freedom our Lord is speaking of comes as the result of knowing the truth. Is our Lord telling us that if we know Him that we can ignore the Law or is this something much deeper? 

I was a software developer and programmer for many years as well as a network engineer. Now I work as a database administrator. In each of these functions we run into problems which demand a solution. One of the skills I have had to develop over the years is that of a problem solver. There are times that a problem is so complex that it takes several days if not weeks to solve. When I have one like this it can also mean that if I don’t solve it then we will have larger problems in some very sensitive areas in our organization. Therefore, the pressure is on to solve the problem as soon as possible, but also to be very careful to do it correctly.

There have been times when I am working on a problem when it seems as if no matter what I do I cannot solve it. I try everything (I think) and nothing works. It can cause one’s hair to turn gray along with affecting appetite and the ability to sleep. When I am in that mode I have become a slave to the problem. There are times when I think I have the problem solved, but it turns out that it still isn’t right. I thought I had broken free from the slavery of the problem, but I haven’t. I am still a slave. However, what usually happens is that I force myself to set it aside as I do something else like walk or go to lunch. It is amazing how easy it is to see the error in my problem solving after I set it aside and come back to it after not working on it for a little while. In any case, I solve the problem. I have broken free from the slavery of the problem.

While the problem remained unsolved I was a slave to it no matter what else I may be doing. However, once the correct solution is found then freedom comes. Freedom comes from knowing the truth. There is no freedom apart from knowing the truth because slavery to the problem goes on and on until the right solution is found. 

What was Jesus telling the Jews who had believed in Him? He was telling them that they must listen to Him so that they would know the truth and that this truth will set them free from the tremendous religious problems they have created for themselves through their legalism. Christian freedom has to do with finding the truth in Jesus Christ and being liberated. However, some take that “idea” and run with it. They go too far. They say things like, “Well, I’m saved and, boy, the Lord’s going to take care of me so I’ll just do what I want to do.” This is Antinomianism. Are there boundaries to our Christian Liberty or Freedom? 

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)

Ah, you see, there is a danger there in taking our Freedom too far. We can become enslaved to the flesh. I contend that most Christians are so enslaved to their flesh that their spiritual acuity is next to nil. Many misinterpret Romans 6:14, turn to self-gratification and simply become more and more enslaved to their flesh. 

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:14 ESV)

My brethren, this must be understood if we are to become the Spirit-filled believers God desires. Sin is not something with which we can trifle. If their sin does not bother a person then there is problem if that person professes Christ. Being free from sin does not mean that we are free from the actuality of it. Being free from sin means that the penalty for it has been paid by Christ. All in Christ have died in Him. Each of them was crucified with Him. However, they still live because of God’s quickening of them at salvation. Christians must take the truth of their newness of life with all of their sins atoned for and learn to walk this life in the reality of mortifying their sin in actuality. 

Another aspect of our Christian Freedom or Liberty is that we are free from the ceremonial and dietary portions of the Law. That stuff was all fulfilled in Christ. However, we must remember that there are weak and strong Christians. The stronger Christian’s conscience is clear of guilt for doing things like eating what was called unclean in the Law. However the weaker Christian’s conscience still condemns him or her for this sort of thing. This is where the stronger Christian should park their freedom or liberty for the sake of their weaker brethren. Yes we are free, but we should also should work to not offend. 

Coming from the Southern Baptist “tradition,” I still have a problem seeing the drinking of wine or beer as sinful. I struggle with this because my conscience is still very much geared to how I was brought up and lived for many decades. However, I know that the Bible does not say that drinking wine or beer is a sin. I know this. What it does say is that we should never do anything in our freedom that may cause a weaker brother to stumble. If my drinking wine would offend another Christian then I must abstain. The sin in drinking wine is to violate the conscience of a weaker brother. The sin is to damage our testimony. Therefore, we must take the high road.

We are free, but we must not give offense. We must maintain a clear conscience before God. Our freedom or liberty should never get to the place where we exercise it to the wounding of another believer. We must never use our freedom to hurt other people.

SDG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

29 thoughts on “Christian Freedom and Antinomianism

  1. It is a sin to drink if you become intoxicated. Every individual has a different threshold. Unless you check your blood levels or just have an arbitrary one drink rule, how would you even know if you were intoxicated? Plus like you said about “weaker” brothers. Many of us that were saved out of drinking want absolutely NOTHING to do with it, therefore it would be a sin for you to drink in front of such a brother. Another thing that I think about is this , if I were to drink, what testimony would that give to my unbelieving neighbors on trash day when they see the empty bottles? They don’t know when or how much I drank. Did I drink it all last night or over several weeks? Its just one of those things that more times than not is sin so its best to avoid altogether. Just my 2 cents.

  2. The same point goes for the old Levitical dietary law. I had roommates who still keep the Levitical dietary law. If I eat some shrimp or ham in front of them, then I may offend them. If I know that certain foods may offend them, then I should not eat those foods around them because it may cause them to be offended.

    My own father still kept the old Levitical dietary law, and I did what the Bible said to do. …….. Don’t order pork chops or shrimp when having dinner with my dad. This is a great Biblical principle which also applies to a Christian’s day of rest. If one man believes that Saturday is more favorable in the eyes of the Lord, then the Lord will honor each man on whatever day because what each man does he does unto the Lord.

    I personally believe that every day belongs to the Lord and everything in it, and that Romans 14 is clear about our New Testament freedom which sanctifies every day. Our true rest happens when we stop walking according to our flesh, we die to the world, and admit that we are totally incapable of saving ourselves. Regeneration is impossible without genuine repentance.

  3. What is it called when people believe that forgiveness is always readily available and easy? I don’t recall God’s forgiveness as being readily available and without some kind of chastising. God did forgive me, but not without some kind of intense humiliation or chastising. I can recall God setting his face against me for quite some time. If He had not made it clear that He certainly does have indignation against sin, then I would not know His severity. It was as if I was being held in constant derision…. all day. Like God had completely shut out my prayer and made me a laughing stock, a continual target of everyone’s reproach. This was humiliating, but very necessary.

    If I had not known what it was like for God to set his face against me, then how would I have understood His sovereignty or His severity? I am thankful that He eventually forgave me.

  4. When you strive to please God in your own life and repent of sins and also obey any calling away from things that are not sin but can be hinderences, well then you are confronted with another challenge. How can you walk in humility about your victories and reject the temptation to judge others.

    In some ways that battle is more difficult than the sanctification process itself. I have never completely won that battle and, for instance, I still have a slight problem with Christians that drink. It’s not as bad as it used to be but it is still there. It is self righteousness, I know.

  5. I’ve been in a Bible study on James and it is sobering how often God emphasizes the need for good works to be coupled with faith. So many believers I know have become antinominian and embraced all manner of unholy living. What a tragedy. I understand the need not to become legalistic, but we should not cross the line that grace means I can sin with abandon either…Grateful for His Grace, Wendy

  6. Two sides of the coin, I think. We are not subject to the law (out of duty), but neither does grace give us a license to sin, or to make sin a habitual lifestyle. Christ said if we love him, we will keep His commandments (out of love, not responsibility).

    One comment about alcohol, and as I used to drink, I’ll do my best not to come across as judgmental. I think Scripture makes a clear contrast between being drunk (with alcohol), and being filled with the Spirit, much as there is a clear contrast between flesh and Spirit. It is not difficult to see how alcohol fuels the flesh, although many who do drink tend to “get technical” on what exactly is “drunk” for them. For example, my dad’s college roommates never “got drunk” – they just “got a little high” (and then came back to the dorm and slept in their own puke – gross!). I’m thinking of the verse that says “make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” Ultimately, it comes down to who makes the decisions in our lives? Do we ourselves, or do we submit our will to His? I know for me, that’s a daily struggle without my adding a “flesh-booster” such as alcohol to the mix! :)

  7. Good post Mike. Our son did this and we just cringed. We finally let him know that if he loved his sin instead of hating it, (since he went to extremes on the drinking and etc.,) then there should be a red flag. You don’t love your sin! You do not live like the world and love it! There will be a change on the inside! The things you use to love, you will hate. Its an inversion. What men call good, God calls bad, for the most part. He now realizes he falls into the stony ground hearer camp. Atleast he sees it that far, so some progress was made. We just keep praying. We recently had a pastor tell us that he thought that some people are saved and we just don’t know it because its the secret things of the Lord. He thought that bad fruit still wasn’t overridden by what the Lord may of done and we just don’t know it because of the horrible way the world is now. He claimed the world could beat you up so bad that you really could be saved but just very weak in the flesh. Only the Lord knows I guess.

  8. Paul and Luann,

    I don’t think a person could be in Christ and not be convicted of their sinfulness, at least to some degree. I think of myself here and how I lived before God saved me. I also know that most professing Christians are enslaved to their flesh and that kills their fruitfulness. God knows, we don’t.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  9. So who is right? The preacher that tell us that salvation can be one of the secret things of the Lord? Or what this preacher says?

    The cause of all the miseries in the world!

    (J. C. Ryle, 1890)

    It is my firm conviction, that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving religion. The first thing that God does when He makes man a new creature in Christ–is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner.

    I have an equally firm conviction, that a low and imperfect view of sin–is the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the extent and dangerous nature of his soul’s disease–you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. I believe that one of the chief needs of the Church, is for clearer and fuller teaching about sin.

    Sin is the corruption of the nature of every man. Therefore, every person born into the world, deserves God’s wrath and damnation! Once let a man see his sin, and he must see his Savior–in order to obtain rest for his soul. He feels stricken with a deadly disease–and nothing will satisfy him but the Great Physician. He hungers and thirsts–and he must have nothing less than the Bread of Life.

    Sin, in short, is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race–of every rank and class and name and nation and people and tongue! Sin is the plague of nations, the divider of churches, the destroyer of family happiness, the cause of all the miseries in the world!

    It is my thorough conviction, that the extent and vileness and deceitfulness of sin–are a subject which is not sufficiently brought forward in the religious teaching of these days. It is not pressed on congregations in its Scriptural proportion. The consequences are very serious!

    We may depend upon it–men will never truly come to Christ, and stay with Christ, and live for Christ–unless they feel their sins, and know their need of a Savior. Those whom the Holy Spirit draws to Christ–are those whom the Spirit has convinced of sin. Without real conviction of sin, men may seem to come to Christ and follow Him for a season—but they will soon fall away and return to the world. The words of one are most deeply true, “The consciousness of sin is the true pathway to heaven.”

  10. Here is a thought. You were saved before the foundations of the world. Now does that mean that your not ‘really’ saved until you know you have been regenerated? Some people don’t know when they were regenerated. If you were one of His sheep before the foundation of the world and your name is in the Lambs book of Life, and you die for some reason before you know you are one of His, do you think thats what the preacher meant??

  11. The problem with all this is, if someone comes up with a moral code to add to the Gospel to “ensure salvation”, then they have to:

    1) Make sure the code is clearly stated in the Bible as required for salvation, and
    2) Make sure they are doing it to a high enough “level” to ensure their salvation

    Then you have a false gospel of works.

  12. Chris,

    I don’t see where anyone is doing that. Our understanding of this is that a genuinely saved person will be changed, not perfect, but in a state where their sin is abhorred and they cooperate with God win killing it.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  13. “The problem with all this is, if someone comes up with a moral code to add to the Gospel to “ensure salvation”,”

    They are legion in our time. The true salvation seeker must not only reject any moral code as it pertains to salvation, he must recognize that his “moral code” is absolutely bankrupt and without remedy.

    Only Christ, and only Christ alone, can by faith redeem a lost sinner. The code you seek IS stated clearly in the Bible – see Rom.3:23. And as far as doing it at a high enough level – see Jam.2:10.

    So he is saved by grace and kept by grace. So why does his life change? Because the Spirit of God has now inhabited him and he is a new creation. But these new works do not save or even keep him saved, they are visible manifestations of the truth that he is saved.

    Away with all works and cling to Christ, that will bring forth fruit that brings glory to our Great Redeemer!!

  14. Works based righteoussness is a cancer for saved Christians in the church more than anything else. Period.

    If its not preached subtly from the pulpit…. then it still floods the minds of the people as they leave the Church.

    Lord have mercy on me!

    Jeff

  15. No, I am referring to all of Romans.

    Romans 4 specifically. Also Romans 8:29-31

    Keep in mind Romans was being preached to a Church that probably would be considered more mature than Corinth.

    Quite often we as people break out our theology between justification and sanctification. Romans reminds us that our entire lives should be seen as something that is from God and not ourselves.

    Its about trust first. Obedience too easily becomes man made. Trust and then obey. Much as Abraham as we was told by God to offer the sacrifice of his son.

    Works based rightoussness is cancer and is seen as the stumbling block that people too easily follow.

  16. Wendy is right in what she said. However, the term antinomian is used as much today as a critique as it is a reality as people hang on to man made works based righteoussness

    Faith and works should not be separated but yet and simultaneously Paul completely beats down works based righteousness and tells us everything is from God and than our only righteousness can be found in Christ.

    jeff

  17. Jeff, the reason we break them apart is that they are two different pieces of our salvation. Do not confuse them. We are commanded to obey and work out our salvation and be holy, etc, but you are saying forget it, just kick back. At least that is what I am reading from your “input” here. You cannot have sanctification without our obedience.

    Let me make it very clear to you son, no one here is preaching works based righteousness. What we teach here is that we are changed enough at our salvation so we can obey God and we are commanded to do so. Therefore, you can go on and on and on ad nauseam all you want about antinominianism being a virtue, but is heresy.

    Yes we work, but it is by faith that we do so. No argument there, but we must still obey.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  18. Mike,

    If I may offer a scenario, the person that truly believes the Gospel, but reveals no evidence of a changed life, at all. Based upon this, you’d declare such a person as unsaved, guaranteed?

    I won’t do that. If they believe the Gospel, then they aer saved, even with no outward evidence in works or a changed life.

    But then I’m one of those hated “free grace” people.

  19. Chris,

    I don’t hate any person nor do I guarantee that I know who is saved and who isn’t. Only God knows that. However, it is just as much a mistake to go the other way. You cannot say that ALL who profess Christ are saved. That is spurious reasoning.

    It is for this reason that we must preach the REAL GOSPEL and DISCIPLE those who profess Christ. I do not want to have to stand before my Lord and give an account of why those who followed what I taught are in Hell because I didn’t tell the truth. We cannot sugarcoat this. Tell the truth and let the Holy Spirit convict. Those who are His will repent and believe.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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