Law, Grace and Antinomianism

“The law sends us to the gospel for our justification; the gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life”. – Samuel Bolton

“In some respects an opposite error to Popery, “…the Antinomians … make all sanctification to be justification … the Papists make all justification to be sanctification; therefore we would learn to distinguish these two, yet not so as to separate them.” James Durham

“But do not some abuse the grace of the gospel and turn it into wantonness? Answer: Yes, some do, ever did, and still will do so. But it is only the ill-understood and not believed doctrine of grace that they abuse. The grace itself, no man can abuse, for its power prevents its abuse. Let us see how Paul, that blessed herald of this grace (as he was an eminent instance of it) deals with this objection (Rom. 6:1, etc.). How does he prevent this abuse? Is it by extenuating what he said (Rom. 5:20), that grace abounded much more where sin had abounded? Is it by mincing grace smaller so that men may not choke upon it or have too much of it? Is it by mixing something of the law with it, to make it more wholesome? No, but only by plainly asserting the power and influence of this grace, wherever it really is, as he does at length in that chapter. This grace is all treasured up in Christ Jesus, offered to all men in the gospel, poured forth by our Lord in the working of faith, and drunk in by the elect in the exercise of faith. And it becomes in them a living spring, which will, and must, break out and spring up in all holy conversation.” – Robert Traill, Justification Vindicated (Puritan Paperbacks, Banner of Truth, 2002), p. 41.


“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” – 1 John 3:7

Dualistic Antinomianism (Gnostic) This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behaviour as irrelevant both to God’s interest and the soul’s health…

Spirit-centered Antinomianism …puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct.

Christ-centered Antinomianism …argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing.

Dispensational Antinomianism …denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written.

Situationist Antinomianism …says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogue and other ethical parts of scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are mere rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at times disregard.

(J.I. Packer, Concise Theology)

Paul’s concise answer to antinomianism:

“By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:1-4

Dr. Michael Horton, professor of theology at Westminster Seminary, California has this to say about Paul’s answer:

“What’s striking is that Paul answers antinomianism not with the law but with more gospel!  In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little!  They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.”

“The ultimate antidote to antinomianism is not more imperatives, but the realization that the gospel swallows the tyranny as well as the guilt of sin.  It is enough to save Christians even in their failure and not only brings them peace with God in justification, but the only liberation from the cruel oppression of sin.  To be united to Christ through faith is to receive everything that we need not only to challenge legalism but antinomianism as well.”

I have yet to find in scripture that you can become an antinomian heretic by preaching too much grace! What I do believe is that when we are truly growing in grace and all that it means, there is a corresponding growth in what I call ’gospel driven’ obedience.


7 responses to “Law, Grace and Antinomianism

  1. I think the Bible says plenty about Christian living. Paul after expounding greatly about justification and undeserved mercy in Romans starts chapter twelve with, “therefore brethren present yourselves a living sacrifice, holy to the Lord”. That is because he has laid down the condition of man, totally ignorant of God and without His life in Him. In chapter four he talks of the blessedness that we who had no single bit of godliness in us are accounted righteous by believing in Christ. Whoever would continue to sin after knowing Christ really does not know about the gospel of justification .

    We should understand that sin is bondage and it separates us from God. To use an analogy I have heard Paul Washer use many times, the sound of keys does not mean anything if we are free men; but if one is locked up in a dungeon there is not a more hope arousing sound. If we acknowledge sin as being locked up in a dungeon away from the glory of God, and understand the price that has been paid to free us from that bondage, there is no way such a soul would want to continue in the ways of the dungeon.
    The most empowering tool for me in scripture for the mortification of sin is Zechariah.12v10,

    “and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced and mourn as one who mourns their first born and shall be in bitterness as one who is in bitterness for their only son”.

    Can I who acknowledge my guilt against God and understand the wrath of God I have deserved, look on Christ in all His self abasement lay His life to crucifixion by puny men on a cursed cross to drink the Hell that should be mine, and have all the wrath I should drink forever in Hell poured out on Him by His own Father whom I hated too; can I look at such a Christ on that cursed tree only because of my sin and still be indifferent about sin? Can I look upon Christ pierced and still wink at the sin that pierced Him and shake hands with it? God forbid! Never. No!

    I think the nature of the gospel is that we who once hated God and walked contrary to His ways, are forgiven and our hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh. We once were ignorant of His ways and hated His very nature, but He has borne us again to a new nature, one that does not delight in sin anymore, but “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (Matthew.5v8), and though there is still indwelling sin in us because of our mortality, yet we want none of the sin and desire the fruit of the Spirit. God does work in us to desire His will and gives us power to do it (Philippians.2:13).
    We like to say that we are saved by grace but sometimes forget (how) that grace saves us. I normally share that I am saved by works, but not my own. We are saved by Christ’s works. He paid a terrible price for our sin, and I maintain that a soul concious of these truths can not be indifferent about sin.


  2. “In other words, antinomians are not people who believe the gospel too much, but too little! They restrict the power of the gospel to the problem of sin’s guilt, while Paul tells us that the gospel is the power for sanctification as well as justification.”…

    Gospel driven obedience…good description.


    • ‘Gospel driven’ obedience is something I don’t get right all the time for sure. I know he doesn’t love me any less when I don’t obey, but he also doesn’t love me any more when I do, like we humans might be prone to do with our own children, or at least communicate our love that it seems that way to our kids – that if they are more obedient we seem to love them more.


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