The Injury of Antinomianism
This post is taken from the sermon 1/20/19 titled, "Natural Born Killers." For the complete sermon, visit our resources page.
"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." 2 Peter 2:1-3
Injury #1: Antinomianism conflates justification and sanctification.
Justification is our declared righteousness on the basis of Christ’s work for us. Sanctification is our growing righteousness through the Spirit’s work in us. We know that legalism conflates or merges these together. Meaning, in order for you to be justified before God, you need Christ’s righteousness and your righteousness. But antinomianism does the same thing, only the other way around. It says that because you have been declared righteousness (justification), you don’t need to grow in righteousness (sanctification). “True sanctification,” they say, “means that you don’t need to do—Christ has already done it, you just need to believe Him.”
Now, it is 100% true that in terms of justification, Christ obeyed all for me, Christ suffered all for me, Christ earned all righteousness for me. Martin Luther was right when he said, “What? Do we then [do] nothing [for justification]? Do we work nothing for the obtaining of this righteousness? I answer, Nothing at all. For this is a perfect righteousness, to do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing of the law, or of works, but to know and believe… [the] One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.”
Those who have been justified can never go to hell. You can’t lose your justification. Your righteousness is passive. You didn’t earn it. Christ earned it. And yet, justification is not the final goal of our salvation. The final goal is that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” This happens through sanctification. This happens as we grow in righteousness experientially. And this growing in righteousness is not something optional in the Christian life. If a person is not being sanctified, it is because they are not a Christian. What is sanctification ultimately? Christ in Me! The Puritan Thomas Goodwin argued, “The truth is, that as a man still grows up more and more gospelised in his spirit, so Jesus Christ is in him, and works out all things else, till there be nothing but Christ in him.”
Injury #2: Antinomianism fails to call sinners to repentance.
This is closely related to the first. It’s clear that these false teachers were not calling sinners to repentance, because they themselves were walking in open sin. 2 Peter 2:2 specifically says that instead they were leading many people in sensuality. But this type of faith, faith without repentance, is not genuine. The New Testament places both repentance and faith together as the necessary components of conversion. In Acts 20:20-21 Paul declared himself innocent of the blood of all men because, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything…testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is no such thing as saving faith without repentance. Repentance is the turning away from serving sin as your master and turning to Christ as your Master. Saving faith implies repentance and true repentance implies saving faith.
Injury #3: Antinomianism mutilates the grace and goodness of God’s heart.
One of the ironies of antinomianism is that its proponents claim they are protecting the grace of God in the gospel. But the reality is, they are actually mutilating it. When God’s law is cast aside, then God’s person is necessarily called into question. This was Satan’s great deception in the Garden. He tempted Eve to disobey God’s law. How? By questioning God’s character. He says in Genesis 3:5 “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, “you can’t trust the goodness of God or his commitment to your happiness…if you obey God fully, you’ll miss out and be miserable.” Sinclair Ferguson in his excellent treatment on this entire subject, says this in his book The Whole Christ: “The lie by which the Serpent deceived Eve was that 'this Father was in fact restrictive, self-absorbed, and selfish…neither his character or his words were to be trusted.' This, in fact, is the lie that sinners have believed ever since.” ‘Don’t obey the law, you will be miserable.’ Which can only mean that the God who formulated it is equally miserable. The law cannot not be abstracted from the character of the Person who gave it.
Injury #4: Antinomianism damages the church’s ability to evangelize.
When Peter says in verse 2 “because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed,” he means that when outsiders see the sensuality (v.2) the greed (v.3) the adultery (v.14) the boasting (v.18), they want nothing to do with this God. Paul makes the connection direct in Romans 2:23-24, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" Non-Christians will ridicule the gospel we preach and the God we say we love if live as antinomians.
Injury #5: Antinomianism is a denial of the miracle of regeneration.
When a person is born again in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, they undergo the greatest change that a man can ever undergo in this world. This change comes with certain promises. In Ezekiel 36:26-27 God declares, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” There it is. The promise of the new birth is that God would write His law on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10). His law. God gave us justification and sanctification in the new birth. When antinomianism disparages God’s law, it disparages the very work that God promises to do in our inner man.
Injury #6: Antinomianism divorces glorifying God from enjoying God.
The Shorter Catechism asks the question: "What is the chief end of man?" And answers: "Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." But the “lie” that these false teachers circulate is that if we pursue obedience in order to glorify God, then we must lose all our joy. Antinomianism divorces duty from delight, happiness from holiness. It makes us choose between two things that were never meant to be separated: God’s glory and our joy.
Injury #7 Antinomianism gives false assurance.
In verse 19, Peter tells us that these false teachers promised their followers freedom. In other words, they were giving assurance. They were saying, “I’m ok and you’re ok.” What were they doing? They were teaching in the church that a faith that denied the Master’s rule (v.1), a faith that was sensual (v.2), a faith that despised authority (v.10) is a saving faith. But this is a false faith. James specifically asks, “Can that faith save you?” (James 2:14). The answer is no. Faith that doesn’t produce good works is a false faith.
This is why the doctrines that these false teachers were so dangerous to the church. Peter gives one of the most terrible threats in the New Testament. At the end of verse 1 he says, “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” Antinomianism is just as dangerous to the church as legalism. Both are damning distortions of the gospel.
What Is the Cure for Antinomianism?
If I ended our polemic against Antinomianism here, it would be a complete failure. It’s not enough to do the negative work of showing the error; we must do the positive work of savoring the truth. So, what is the cure for Antinomianism? Look ahead to v.19. “They [the false teachers] promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” What did these false teachers promise the church? “They promise them freedom…” That could be a summary of their whole position: "Follow us, because we will give you freedom."
This was their good news, that was their gospel: Freedom.
What did they fail to promise? Christ.
They separated the benefits of Christ (ie. freedom) from Christ Himself.
This gets to the very heart of the gospel. The reason why the gospel is good is not because of the benefits that we receive from it. The gospel is not good primarily because we gain freedom, or peace, or forgiveness of sins. The gospel is good because we gain Jesus Christ Himself. Christ himself is the gospel. The false teachers were treating Christ as a means to an end. The main question they asked was this: “How can I get these benefits into my life?” The question they should have been asking is “How do I gain Christ Himself?”
More in The Well Blog
September 2, 2019Christian Hedonism in Church History
August 28, 2019Parenthood in the Local Church: Part 5, Discipline
August 19, 2019Parenthood in the Local Church: Part 4, Catechism