Antinomianism


Antinomianism, (Greek anti, “against”; nomos, “law”), doctrine according to which Christians are freed by grace from the necessity of obeying the Mosaic Law. The antinomians rejected the very notion of obedience as legalistic; to them the good life flowed from the inner working of the Holy Spirit. In this circumstance they appealed not only to Martin Luther but also to Paul and Augustine.

The ideas of antinomianism had been present in the early church, and some Gnostic heretics believed that freedom from law meant freedom for license. The doctrine of antinomianism, however, grew out of the Protestant controversies on the law and the gospel and was first attributed to Luther’s collaborator, Johann Agricola. It also appeared in the Reformed branch of Protestantism. The left-wing Anabaptists were accused of antinomianism, both for theological reasons and also because they opposed the cooperation of church and state, which was considered necessary for law and order. For similar reasons, in the 17th century, Separatists, Familists, Ranters, and Independents in England were called antinomians by the established churches. In New England, Anne Hutchinson was accused of the doctrine when she said that the churches were preaching “the covenant of works.” The Evangelical movement at the end of the 18th century produced its own antinomians who claimed an inner experience and a “new life,” which they considered the true source of good works. (Encyclopedia Britannica)

An antinomian is one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation. (Marriam-Webster dictionary)



The relationship of the Christian to the laws of God can be a very controversial issue. By our very nature, as fallen and sinful creatures, we are prone to rebel against God's law. Luther hated any reference to God's law being in any way applicable to the life of the Christian. In fact, he expressed the opinion that the book of James should not be included in the canon of scripture. Calvin, on the other hand, taught that we are still morally responsible to keep God's moral laws. He taught that we are not saved by keeping God's laws but that they give us moral clarity with regard to what is right and wrong. They give mankind a moral standard by which to live in both our private lives and within the culture with other people.

These two Reformers represent a modern battle that still goes on regarding this issue. Some Christian leaders teach that we are to have nothing to do with God's laws since we are under grace. They teach that we are under the law of love taught by Jesus. Yet, when asked how this view applies in real life they really can't provide consistent concrete moral principles we are to live by nor how any are to be applied within the culture. Many who hold to this view believe that the laws were given solely to the Jews and we are now under a new dispensation of grace. Some go so far as to teach that we are not even under the obligation to keep the Ten Commandments.

The problem with this view is that much of Western Civilization was built on the laws of God, both the Old and New Testaments. If we jettison the laws of God we wind up undermining the common law of our nation which was built on biblical moral principles. The Christian leaders following the Reformation debated over what the proper teaching should be on this and they stated their position in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Chapter 19 - Of the Law of God.

Section 1.) God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.(1)

(1) Ge 1:26,27; Ge 2:17; Ro 2:14,15; Ro 10:5,12,19; Gal 3:10,12; Ecc 7:29; Job 28:28.

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Section 2.) This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables;(1) the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.(2)

(1) Jas 1:25; Jas 2:8,10,11,12; Ro 13:8,9; Dt 5:32; Dt 10:4; Ex 24:1. (2) Mt 22:37-40.

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Section 3.) Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances; partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits;(1) and partly of divers instructions of moral duties.(2) All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the new testament.(3)

(1) Heb 9; Heb 10:1; Gal 4:1,2,3; Col 2:17. (2) 1Co 5:7; 2Co 6:17; Jude 23. (3) Col 2:14,16,17; Da 9:27; Eph 2:15,16.

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Section 4.) To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.(1)

(1) Ex 21; Ex 22:1-29; Ge 49:10; 1Pe 2:13,14; Mt 5:17,38,39; 1Co 9:8-10.

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Section 5.) The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof;(1) and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God, the Creator, who gave it.(2) Neither doth Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.(3)

(1) Ro 13:8,9; Eph 6:2; 1Jn 2:3,4,7,8. (2) Jas 2:10,11. (3) Mt 5:17,18,19; Jas 2:8; Ro 3:31.

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Section 6.) Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned;(1) yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly;(2) discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;(3) so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin;(4) together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience.(5) It is likewise of use to regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin;(6) and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law.(7) The promises of it, in like manner, show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof,(8) although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works:(9) so as a man's doing good, and refraining from evil because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.(10)

(1) Ro 6:14; Gal 2:16; Gal 3:13; Gal 4:4,5; Ac 13:39; Ro 8:1. (2) Ro 7:12,22,25; Ps 119:4,5,6; 1Co 7:19; Gal 5:14,16,18-23. (3) Ro 7:7; Ro 3:20. (4) Jas 1:23,24,25; Ro 7:9,14,24. (5) Gal 3:24; Ro 7:24,25; Ro 8:3,4. (6) Jas 2:11; Ps 119:101,104,128. (7) Ezr 9:13,14; Ps 89:30-34. (8) Lev 26:1-14; 2Co 6:16; Eph 6:2,3; Ps 37:11; Mt 5:5; Ps 19:11. (9) Gal 2:16; Lk 17:10. (10) Ro 6:12,14; 1Pe 3:8-12; Ps 34:12-16; Heb 12:28,29.

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Section 7.) Neither are the formentioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it;(1) the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God revealed in the law requireth to be done.(2)

(1) Gal 3:21. (2) Eze 36:27; Heb 8:10; Jer 31:33.