What is Antinomianism?

by Mike Ratliff

4 Πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ, καὶ ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. 5 καὶ οἴδατε ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ἐφανερώθη, ἵνα τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἄρῃ, καὶ ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν. 6 πᾶς ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει· πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν οὐδὲ ἔγνωκεν αὐτόν.
7 Παιδία, μηδεὶς πλανάτω ὑμᾶς· ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην δίκαιός ἐστιν, καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν· 8 ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν, ὅτι ἀπʼ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει. εἰς τοῦτο ἐφανερώθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα λύσῃ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ διαβόλου. 1 John 3:4-8 (NA28)

4 Everyone practicing sin also practices lawlessness and sin is lawlessness. 5 And you know that he was manifested to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 No one who abides in him continually sins; those who continually sin have not seen him or known him.
7 Little children, let no one deceive you; the one practicing righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous 8 The one practicing sin is of the devil for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. For this cause the son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:4-8 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Antinomianism means “opposed to law.” Antinomian views are those denying that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life. Dualistic antinomianism appeared early in the Gnostic heresies. The Gnostics taught that salvation was for the soul only, making bodily behavior irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health. The conclusion was that one may behave riotously and it will not matter. 

A “spiritual” antinomian puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Think of those who are continually telling us how God speaks to them audibly, directing them to say and do things rather than simply teaching and preaching God’s Word. 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 was common. The Corinthian church may have been in the grip of this error, since Paul warns them that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word (1 Corinthians 14:37; cf. 7:40).

Another kind of antinomianism begins from the point that God does not see the sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them. From this they draw the false conclusion that their behavior makes no difference, provided they keep on believing. However, 1 John 1:8-2:1 and 3:4-10 point us in a different direction. It is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.

Some dispensationalists have held that since Christians live under a dispensation of grace, not law, keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for them. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 clearly show, however, that keeping the law is a continuing obligation for Christians.

It is sometimes said that the motive and intention of “love” is the only law God requires of Christians. The commands of the Ten Commandments and other ethical parts of Scripture, although they are ascribed to God directly, are regarded as no more than guidelines that love may at any time disregard. However, Romans 13:8-10 teaches that specific commands reveal what true love is. The law of God exposes the counterfeit love that will not accept its responsibilities toward God and neighbor.

The moral law revealed in the Ten Commandments and expounded in other parts of the Bible is an expression of God’s righteousness, given to be a code of practice for God’s people in every age. The law is not opposed to the love and goodness of God, but shows what it is in action. The Spirit gives Christians the power to observe the law, making us more and more like Christ, the archetypal observer of the law (Matthew 5:17).

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “What is Antinomianism?

  1. Mike, I agree that there is a law that all men are to obey. I do not follow the convention of Thomas Aquinas who coined the tripartite view of the Mosaic Covenant. The Decalogue communicated what I call God’s universal law to the infant Hebrew nation with specific instructions and applications meant for them alone.

    Law in the Scripture may have one of several meanings and does not always refer to the Mosaic Covenant.

    Blessings in Christ, my brother.

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  2. Yes, I agree with you Manfred. I have had some very unpleasant encounters with Hebrews Roots Movement people and so I am most certainly not going there. On the other hand, I also am in conversation with those who say Jesus kept the whole Law and that is imputed to us, which is true, but I disagree with many of these people where they take it too far saying God doesn’t use our obedience in our sanctification, etc. Some on the other side say this obedience and becoming more and more obedient is a sign of Christian maturity and that is goal of our sanctification and that is also part of our assurance. I disagree here as well. Our assurance is based in the finished work of Christ. The Law given to us to keep is Christ’s commands, which are summed up in the the Law, but are not the Mosaic Covenant. We find much of it in the Sermon on the Mount for instance. Or His imperatives like, “Take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple unless you die to self, etc.”

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