Category Archives: Antinomianism

The False Gospels of Antinomianism, Legalism, and Liberalism

fingers pointing

When Hollywood or political figures create a buzz for Christians, it is usually because we (Christians) are against what they have said or what they are doing.  We know these as commonly termed culture wars. A culture war is something where (at least) two sides sit opposed to each other and believe that what is best for society is their side and their view points.  Several culture wars are happening currently in Western society, and I would go so far to say that this is indicative of God’s judgment on our society.  This post is not a theological discourse of the judgment of God, so suffice it to say that in reading Romans 1, God gives people what they want, and that is often the very judgment of God.  Romans 1:21-25 says:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen. (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

God gives people what they want when they don’t want Him – He gives them exactly the thing that they think will make them happy.  The point?  It won’t make them happy, only God can make them happy.

We as Christians see different culture wars happening and we are prone to lash out on social media.  We have a stigma about us that we are haters, judgmental (I assume in a condemning way, although when most people use this term, they don’t *actually* know what the Bible says about judgment), and bigots.  Of course, the irony is that in their accusations of us being intolerant, they want us to be tolerant.  The problem for them is that they cannot tolerate our views, so the tolerant become the intolerant.

The reason for writing this blog post is to warn and exhort believer’s to only post truth.  Post the whole truth or none of it.  If we want to be the light of Christ to the world, we must give the whole truth of who Christ is.  I generally see three categories of postings from Christians in response to cultural wars:

  1. Your sin is wrong!  The Bible says that is wrong, you shouldn’t do it, etc. etc.  (Legalism)
  2. (In response to #1) Just come to Jesus as you are, find His love for you, and He will take care of you because He loves you! (Antinomianism, also called “easy believism”)
  3. Just have faith, in whatever it is you believe in, and in the end we will all reach the same God (Liberalism)

I will give a short answer to each of these categories.  Before I do, let me be clear: we need clarity.  And we also cannot be silent.  As a theme of my last few blog posts, I have sought to articulate the need for defending the true faith of Christianity as opposed to what we see in much of Christianity today – “pop-culture Christians” who could care less about right thinking.  In doing so, I have challenged believers to think highly about everything.  We don’t have anything better than what the Bible has to say, so in our thinking highly about particular things, we ought to primarily and most importantly be thinking biblically and theologically about every issue.  After all, everything bears the weight of representing and reflecting the glory of God.  To that end, we as Christians have something better than each of these three responses above.  We have the whole truth.  Let’s be clear truth communicators, and remember, giving only part of the truth of the gospel is changing the gospel, which then it becomes no gospel, at least no Christian gospel.

1. Legalism

Legalism is that way of thinking that demands Christians hold to the Old Testament law in order to receive divine favor.  This way of thinking demands of people to become holy, so that you will be holy.  I hope the problem with this jumps out at you, but if not, here is what is wrong with this thinking – it is backwards!  The gospel is not to call people to conform to our moral code so that they will be saved.  Instead, the gospel calls people to Christ so that they can repent and turn away from their sin, and then they will be saved.  Apart from the Holy Spirit giving someone a new heart that wants to worship God and only God, we cannot and should not expect sinners to want to conform to our standard of morality.

In the story about the woman caught in adultery (John 8), the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus and ask Jesus if they ought to stone her, because after all, the Old Testament law says she should be stoned.  Jesus responds with “let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her (v. 7, ESV).”  Jesus was denying validity to legalism and its demands.  Legalism demands righteousness before salvation.  The gospel that saves says that righteousness only comes after salvation.  This is the point Jesus makes.  And don’t forget, Jesus absolutely does deal with her sin.  The last thing He tells her is “go, and from now on sin no more (v. 11, ESV).” 

Our response to culture and to people on social media ought not to be legalism in its demands.  Yes, it is true that their sin is wrong, but that isn’t our message, it is only the beginning of our message.

2. Antinomianism

Antinomianism is also termed “easy believism” because it essentially tells people to come to Jesus just as you are, and you can stay just as you are.  In the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, antinomianism is defined as “an ethical system that denies the binding nature of any supposedly absolute or external laws on individual behavior.  Some antinomianists argue that Christians need not preach or practice the laws of the OT because Christ’s merits have freed Christians from the law.”

In response to the legalists, I have seen person after person, usually a well meaning brother or sister in Christ, rant about those ranting.  They will post something to the effect of this: “I am tired of seeing believers post against this issue because our message isn’t that, our message is love and we should love people and call them to Jesus and He will take care of them”.  Just like in legalism, this is only partly true.  In this system, though, we tell people to come to Jesus and that your sin won’t condemn you in Him and in Him you will have a better life.  This message is missing one huge aspect of the gospel – the gospel starts with us as sinners.  Jesus saves us from sin, from our former life.

In John 8, the antinomian would have Jesus only tell the adulterous woman “neither do I condemn you”, which Jesus actually does say to her (v. 11a).  But that isn’t all that is said – Jesus calls her to repent from her sin by adding “and from now on sin no more” (v. 11b).

Our message to non-believers and to culture is not a message of easy believism, rather it is a message of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  We ought to be careful that we don’t attempt to sugar coat the gospel in attempts to draw people in, only to “lay the hammer” on them once they are in by telling them they need to change their entire way of thinking and way of life (repentance).

Legalism says you must be righteous to be saved.  Antinomianism says Christ was righteous for you, so it doesn’t matter what you do before or after you believe, as long as you believe, you will be saved.

3. Liberalism

Liberalism is the increasingly popular idea that everyone is on the path to God, we just all take different roads to get there.  I see this posted by people who claim to be Christians, and I just cringe.  Our message is absolutely not a universal approach to God and to deep questions of existence.  Simply looking at John 14:6 will answer for us why – Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (ESV, emphasis mine).”

I recently taught a group of high school students this truth.  In it, I used what I think to be a helpful illustration.  Liberalism and pop-culture seeks to say that we are all on the path to God, we just use different approaches.  I use the illustration of a mountain.  In liberalism, we are all at the bottom of the mountain, and God, or nirvana, or reincarnation, or whatever you believe about the end or eternity, is at the top of the mountain.  We are all – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, ect. – on the same mountain, we just take different roads to get to the same point at the top.

The true message of Christianity is 100% against this idea.  I like the illustration of a maze.  In a maze, everyone starts out at the same starting point.  To get to the end, there is only one way that leads out.  Other ways may seem right, but in the end, it only leads to a dead end or may even lead you back to the starting point.

The message of Christianity is that only the God of the Bible will satisfy your soul.  Your sin will not satisfy you now or for eternity, so repent of your sin, but turn to Jesus Christ, who will satisfy your soul, now and for eternity.  There are many other religions in the world, but only one has God rescuing people out of the mess of life and out of sin and into the state of true blessedness, now and forever.

As Christians, let’s not mix our messages.  Let’s not preach a one-sided gospel.  We have something better – we have the whole truth of God’s Word and the gospel.  The true Christian gospel is not legalism, it is not antinomianism, and it is not liberalism (all-inclusivism).   So, don’t fall into the trap of appearing to be any of those, because each of those will only lead people either away from God or into something that isn’t really God.

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