Practical Antinomianism

Early on in my journey into reformed theology, or that which has been influenced by the Reformation, I came into contact with a teaching collectively known as antinomianism, or simply the belief in or study of anti-nomos or anti-law. My first encounter with this, perhaps similar to most, was through the writings of John MacArthur, specifically his teaching on Lordship salvation as it contrasts with easy-believism. This issue became a bullseye for MacArthur because contrary to reformed or Calvinistic theology is that of Arminianism, which says that we are saved by our own free will, our own free choice. Subsequently, and perhaps obviously, if one can be saved by their own free will, then one can be unsaved by their own free will, which consequently leads to carnal Christianity and the no-lordship salvation. Most who are exposed to reformed theology have likely been exposed to this erroneous thinking as well. I was reminded of this easy-believism recently when reviewing Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Romans commentary on chapter 13:11-14, in relation to a recent post that was made.
11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Romans 13:11-14
Lloyd-Jones comments on this passage and the related issue of antinomianism,
Indeed, if I were asked to give my opinion as to the greatest cause of antinomianism at the present time, I would not hesitate to say it is ‘believism’. Lloyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 13; Banner of Truth, pg 212
Without question as in Lloyd-Jones’ day, perhaps moreso in ours today. This issue isn’t new, as those in the post-Reformation period dealt with it under the heading of Sandemanianism. But this isn’t the only way that the error of antinomianism can enter in, take root, and choke the gospel in the heart. Today, especially within reformed/Calvinistic theology, it is increasingly common to hear the term antinomianism lobbed against those who don’t hold to theonomy. Theonomy, or God’s law, despite being reduced to simply meaning those who hold to God’s law, is actually a belief in the perpetuity of the Mosaic Law into the present New Covenant age. Some theonomists believe that parts of the Mosaic Law are carried forward, while others believe that all of it should be implemented as legislation for nations today. Their application of antinomian label to anyone that rejects their belief in the continuance of God’s law is juvenile, it’s pre-school, and I’m being gracious here. While yes, there are those who hold to easy-believism as identified above, and likely there are a vast majority of others who are practical easy-believists, it is rare that anyone actual believes in no-law. Just a basic New Testament reading reveals commands for the believer today. Even in looking at the fulfillment of God’s law in loving Him and loving others, it is still a command (John 14:15). Furthermore, theonomists apply this label to those within their own reformed camp, which is again another fallacy.

Returning to Lloyd-Jones, he identifies two ways in which antinomianism plagues Reformed/Calvinistic circles and it has little to do with the rejection of Mosiac legislation for nations today (as with theonomists). First, he identifies intellectualism as a particular danger for Calvinists to, “become intellectuals, only concerned about the intellectual formulation and understanding of the doctrines of Scripture.” I remember when I first came to embrace the tenets of reformed theology, more than a decade ago now, that I had heard of the great danger of intellectualism, but had not quite grasped the meaning of that. Once the initial fervor of doctrinal understanding has worn off, what are you left with? Simply a shell; a tree without fruit; doctrines with no application. The goal is for our doctrinal understanding and knowledge to drive and lead to our worship of God, in turn this process sanctifies us. Doctrine can neither be divorced from our sanctification nor from our doxology. A chief error of this intellectualism, as Lloyd-Jones points out, is essentially a swelling of the brain and a shrinking of the heart. He writes
But if you say, ‘As long as I’m clear about the doctrine, and have my head packed with it, I needn’t worry about anything else,’ then you are guilty of antinomianism. Lloyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 13; Banner of Truth, pg. 211
There is an ever present danger among the reformed/Calvinistic of developing this form of antinomianism without even realizing it. It is far to easy to get into discussions or debates over doctrines for sake of gaining knowledge and insights as an end in themselves. Furthermore, it is easy to preach from the pulpit this same antinomianism. I am often reminded of an occasion years ago where after delivering a heart-felt and impassioned ‘sermon’ as a youth pastor, one of the young men said to me, very seriously and interestedly, “That’s really great, would you mind applying that for us.” The shock in my heart at this request, since I had not applied it to my own heart, left me speechless and a simple sarcastic retort of ‘how would you apply it’ or to that effect was all that I could muster. Preaching truths for the sake of preaching truths does little if it has not first been applied to our own hearts and second been upacked and applied to the hearts of our hearers.

A second, albeit related form of antinomianism that infects the Calvinist concerns the understanding of the doctrine of the perseverance (preservation) of the saints. Knowing as they do, that according to the Scriptures nothing can separate us from the love of God and knowing that election unto salvation is by the sovereign grace of God through the shed blood of Christ, which cannot be broken or undone, the Calvinist runs afoul by not working out his salvation with fear and trembling. Turning again to Lloyd-Jones, he writes
…but if you trade on that, if you take advantage of it and turn it into an excuse for laxity and for licence, you are guilty of this terrible thing known as antinomianism. And this has manifested itself many times among people who hold to what are called the doctrines of grace. Nothing must be taken for granted in this Christian life; there is always the devil. So you must always watch and pray, and not fall into the danger of allowing him to turn even a great doctrine like the final perseverance of the saints into an excuse for license and for sin. Lloyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 13; Banner of Truth, pg. 212
We’ve all seen this haven’t we? Maybe even experienced it in part or in full in our own lives. Simply look at how many of the more influential “reformed” preachers have fallen into grievous sin or worse recently. They were living as practical antinomians. Which brings us to summarize what we’ve seen so far and draw together both streams of antinomianism that we’ve discussed which are especially dangerous for the reformed/Calvinistic. The chief danger of antinomianism, for all men, regardless of how much doctrine or knowledge one acquires, is to so emphasize doctrine to the neglect of practice. Turning one final time to Martyn Lloyd-Jones for his analysis on the situation, we read
This attitude has, as I say, often wrought havoc in the history of the church. Men have been so keen to contend for orthodoxy that they have ignored the way in which they have been doing it; they have been unconcerned about how they have lived their lives. As a result, all that they have claimed to believe has been blatantly , flagrantly contradicted by their conduct. They have stated the doctrine perfectly, and talk fluently about justification and sanctification, and so on, but with no evidence of sanctification in their lives they have done grievous harm to the doctrine. This is one way in which antinomianism manifests itself. Lloyd-Jones, Romans Chapter 13; Banner of Truth, pg. 211
In the passage that led to this discussion from Romans 13:11- 14, we are reminded once again of the proper pattern of Scriptural arguments and the way in which we must apply them to our own hearts. That is, the indicative followed by imperative; doctrine and application; what Christ has done and what we are commanded to do in Christ. Only in this way, by understanding that the good news of the gospel or doctrinal knowledge is never to be held in isolation, rather it informs us and motivates our hearts to action. Conversely, we ought not fall into the other ditch, namely legalism, which lops off the indicative – or what Christ has done for us, ignores that we are ‘in Christ’, and lays the burden of works upon our shoulders. May God grant us the grace to be consistent, to most assuredly grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior – and this includes doctrinal growth, but may we not neglect to apply these truths to our own hearts and avoid the great danger and destructiveness of practical antinomianism.

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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