A Question I Was Asked:

What is 'Antinomianism'?

The Question:

What is "Antinomianism"?

UK Apologetics Reply:

You ask, 'What is Antinomianism?'

'Antinomianism' (a term coined by Martin Luther, from the Greek anti, "against" + nomos, "law") is defined as holding that, under the gospel dispensation of grace, law is of no use nor obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation. This however, is a somewhat naive reasoning, suggesting that even moral responsibility for ones failings of life may be abandoned; it is to set out in the right direction, but then to go too far.

Although the concept is related to the most vital Protestant belief of Sola Fide ('faith alone'), where justification is through faith alone in Christ, it is taken to an extreme in antinomianism. Indeed, there is wide agreement within Christianity that "antinomianism" is a heresy, although it must be said that exactly how the term "antinomianism" is to be defined can sometimes be a matter of disagreement. So the term "antinomian" actually emerged - from Martin Luther - very soon after the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and no less than Martin Luther was an outspoken critic of antinomianism, perhaps most notably in his Against the Antinomians (1539). The term, then, means, 'lawless,' or 'law-rejecting.' We may see how this term could be (wrongly) applied to Protestants with the claim that 'the law is done away,' or 'put aside' but true antinomianism is to go much further, abandoning moral responsibility for ones actions, actually, it is to embrace 'universalism' (all will be saved, no matter what).

We may note that the Roman Catholic has a whole host of religious duties which they are supposed to regularly carry out (but most of the time probably fail to fulfil), for Protestants this amounts to legalism and flies in the face of many comments of both Jesus and Paul, yet the Catholic adherent possibly sees a form of antinomianism in the Protestant with their full appreciation of the liberty that is in Christ, but that is a theological misunderstanding. True Antinomianism is to reject law, but not to replace it. But the Christian knows that the Law of Christ must move into the gap. Of course, this is not another law which can be written as a code of so many points (as with the ten commandments), it is a whole spiritual approach which places Christ as central; it requires the involvement of the Holy Spirit.

So what is 'The law of Christ'?

It could be said that the law of Christ is a commandment of love and life. When asked what the greatest commandment in the law was, Jesus had this to say,

'Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."' (Matthew 22:36-40).

"A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34).

'For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.' (Romans 8:2).

'Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.' (Galatians 6:2).

To understand, and to apply the Law of Christ, is to go above and beyond the law. The ten 'dos and donts' of the Ten Commandments could never fully fill the heart or understanding with the love of Christ. The 'sermon on the mount' (Matthew 5-7) - which revealed the insufficiency of Old Testament law - is a good starting place to learn more of this spiritual law of love which is to guide and lead the true disciple of Christ. We should always remember that the Pharisees already had the Ten Commandments which they kept to the letter, but those laws did not prevent them from persecuting Jesus! Jesus did not come to tell us that those ten commandments were enough, rather, the 'sermon on the mount' tells us that those laws fell well short! Jesus came to give us something far better - Himself!
Robin A. Brace. January 17th, 2012.