Antinomianism

WE ARE NOT SET FREE TO SIN

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Christ] is righteous. 1 JOHN 3:7

Antinomianism, which means being “anti-law,” is a name for several views that have denied that God’s law in Scripture should directly control the Christian’s life.

Dualistic antinomianism appears in the Gnostic heretics against whom Jude and Peter wrote (Jude 4–19; 2 Pet. 2). This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and to the soul’s health, so one may behave riotously and it will not matter.

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. In the first 150 years of the Reformation era this kind of antinomianism often threatened, and Paul’s insistence that a truly spiritual person acknowledges the authority of God’s Word through Christ’s apostles (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 7:40) suggests that the Spirit-obsessed Corinthian church was in the grip of the same mind-set.

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. But 1 John 1:8–2:1 (expounding 1:7) and 3:4–10 point in a different direction, showing that it is not possible to be in Christ and at the same time to embrace sin as a way of life.

Dispensational antinomianism holds that keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for Christians, since we live under a dispensation of grace, not of law. Romans 3:31 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 clearly show, however, that law-keeping is a continuing obligation for Christians. “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” says Paul (1 Cor. 9:21).

Dialectical antinomianism, as in Barth and Brunner, 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. The inadequacy of the neo-orthodox view of biblical authority, which explains the inspiration of Scripture in terms of the Bible’s instrumentality as a channel for God’s present-day utterances to his people, is evident here.

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 any time disregard. But Romans 13:8–10, to which this view appeals, teaches that without love as a motive these specific commands cannot be fulfilled. Once more an unacceptably weak view of Scripture surfaces.

It must be stressed that the moral law, as crystallized in the Decalogue and opened up in the ethical teaching of both Testaments, is one coherent law, given to be a code of practice for God’s people in every age. In addition, repentance means resolving henceforth to seek God’s help in keeping that law. The Spirit is given to empower law-keeping and make us more and more like Christ, the archetypal law-keeper (Matt. 5:17). This law-keeping is in fact the fulfilling of our human nature, and Scripture holds out no hope of salvation for any who, whatever their profession of faith, do not seek to turn from sin to righteousness (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Rev. 21:8).[1]

[1] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993). pp. 178-180.

The Faith of Jesus vs. Faith in Jesus

I recently read an essay by David Flusser that I had not previously been familiar with; perhaps I had read it before, but for some reason it never struck me till now. Flusser writes,

“This scholarly digression has been necessary in order for us to arrive at an understanding of the dual nature of the Christian religion, which comprises both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus. The first aspect, that of Jesus’ faith, consists of the tenets of Christian love and ethics. These were a special development of the new Jewish ethical sensitivity that developed in the period of the Second Commonwealth, and while this aspect of Christian behavior and feeling stems primarily from Jesus’ own preaching, it was also influenced by contemporary Jewish ethics and theology. The latter aspect of the Christian religion centers around what is known as the charisma of Christ. The primary motifs of Christian messianism and Christology are also derived mainly from Judaism, and I would venture that their point of departure lay in the acute self-awareness of Jesus himself. As already stated, this latter belief in the metahistorical drama of Christ and especially in the idea of redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection became the cornerstone of Christian religious experience and until very recently was a kind of conditio sine qua non for calling oneself a Christian.”[1]

I agree with Flusser that both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus derive from (and indeed, remain) Jewish thought. I also believe, however, that it is a unique requirement of post-Yavneh Judaism to view Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus as separate, and that Christian thought is correct in viewing them as rightly composite. Similarly, healthy Christian thought ought to view both the faith of and faith in Jesus as being essentially Jewish in nature. It is the truth, however, that redemption is through Christ’s death and resurrection, and this is a cornerstone of True Religion that at this point, Christianity uniquely holds vis-à-vis contemporary Judaism.

As Flusser rightly concludes:

“By its very nature, moreover, Christianity cannot really renounce offering its salvation to all [Jew as well as Gentile].”[2]

This observation follows faithfully in the footsteps of the Apostles, who felt it urgent to inform their Jewish brethren regarding the identity and the redemptive action of Yeshua mi Natzeret.

Flusser also rightly observes, though this is MUCH more difficult to digest and to parse without falling off the precipice of supersessionism: “The authentic Christian interpretation of itself is that it is the true religion of Israel and that without faith in Christ no one can be redeemed….” (65). Of course, this conclusion is further complicated by Christianity’s large scale rejection of Torah (and in many circles of Israel herself). But we must wrestle with two equal and polar truths: theologically speaking (emphasizing its focus on Christology) Christianity is true, while theonomically[3] speaking Judaism is true.

Said another way, while we cannot conclude that God has two paths to salvation, we may truly state that Christianity can authentically declare to all, “You need the Savior,” while Judaism might with equal authenticity declare to all, “You need the Torah (way of life).”

It is these two parallel truths that grip me much more powerfully than any emphasis on distinction within the utilization of Torah, precisely because they are of primary importance. In other words, it is part of accepting Yeshua as Messiah to acknowledge that He is fully God and fully man, while it is also part of accepting Torah as prescriptive to acknowledge that the Torah contains within it distinctive commands relative to gender, ethnicity, time and place.

There are two great propositional battles in our day (there may be more, but these two have captured my attention), one within Christianity and one within Judaism. We must articulate a cogent reading of Scripture that at the same time acknowledges the Redemptive nature and necessity of Jesus Christ, and avoids supersessionism and anti-nomianism. Stereotypical Judaism denies the divine nature and requisite redemptive action of Messiah, while too much of Christianity denies the requisite relevance of Israel in the on-going redemptive plan of God and ignores the continuing necessity of God’s law in the process of sanctification.

It is clear that in our time the Holy Spirit is placing these two concerns upon the hearts of many believers. Unfortunately, to date the believers so energized have often split into various camps frequently equally critical of one another. All seem aware of both propositional battles, but emphasize varying approaches.

I wish that we could all begin by acknowledging our unity: we are one Body in Messiah, and He is both fully God and fully man. Furthermore, He did not come to replace God’s Law as delivered from Sinai, but to explain, apply, and fulfill its righteous demand. God’s Law then, remains prescriptive for all God’s children and in fine Jewish tradition, let’s allow it to be interpreted and applied variously across time, place, denominational and ethnic lines as the Holy Spirit seems to permit.

I’m sure, we will variously disagree on the manner of its application, but if we can agree on the divine identity and redemptive necessity of Messiah, as well as on the continuing necessity of the Law for the progressive sanctification of the believer, as being pivotal truths, I believe we will observe a wave of unity that will push before it a consistency in character and application not seen among the Body of Messiah since the first century of this era, which will in turn result in a similarly unprecedented lifting of the partial hardening that has been upon God’s Chosen People since the days of the Apostles.

My argument is this: unitatem in necessariis; in non necessariis libertatem; in omnibus caritatem – in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.[4] In other words, unity and peace require an agreement upon Truth, but secondary things like halakah (way of walking out God’s commands), can be left in the hands of the local inheritors of the authority of the Apostles to bind and loose, so long as the essentials are maintained.

I believe that any de-emphasis of the need of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile to:

  1. believe in the divine nature and redemptive action of Jesus of Nazareth, and
  2. obey God’s law since it continues to be “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness”

will unnecessarily sacrifice essentials for sake of non-essentials and obstruct the Unity of the Body of Messiah.


[1] David Flusser. “Christianity,” in 20th Century Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2009), 61 (this quote from p. 63).

[2] Ibid. 65.

[3] For deeper discussion of theology vs. theonomy see http://jcstudies.com/resourceDetailFree.cfm?productId=570

[4] Often mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo, Richard Baxter (who widely distributed it among English-speakers), or Philip Melanchthon, this phrase is first found in the writings of Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), Archbishop of Split, in book 4, chapter 8 (p. 676 of the first volume) of his De republica ecclesiastica libri X (London, 1617).

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I read this in a recent article on Relevant magazine:

This is how Christ won over his followers: By setting an example and investing in people’s lives through loving relationships. We should do the same.

That statement was accurate till the author put a period at the end of it. Jesus won over his followers by example, relationship, and teaching… And then we could accurately and helpfully end the article with, “We should do the same.” I don’t get the push to over-emphasize actions against right-thinking or true belief. Yes, “faith without works is dead.” But works without faith is dead too!

I was struck several weeks ago by this statement in Mark:

So as Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things. (6:34)

After teaching all afternoon, he then fed the 5,000. But notice where he started; seeing they were suffering, having compassion on them, he began to teach. What was the focus of his ministry? Mark 6:6

Now He was going around the villages in a circuit, teaching.

I am absolutely in agreement that our lives give witness to the truth, the value, and the efficacy of our beliefs, and that if our actions are inconsistent then all our thoughts and words will be largely wasted (and in some cases totally wasted), but we find the guidance for understanding proper action in having right beliefs.

What do I mean?

Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.

(J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ. 232)

I am seeing a large percentage of an entire generation of believers become swayed into wrong thinking and beliefs by over-emphasizing action above belief. They are reacting to legitimate wrongs/injustices, but not doing it in a Christ-like manner. And in the long-run this will do more to harm our Christian witness than to help it; it will erode our ability to truly help people. We’ll find ourselves giving them fish instead of teaching them to fish, to put it over-simply. (And I completely agree there is a time to just give them a fish, or two, or three…)

I don’t say these things as one guilty of prioritizing words over actions, but as someone who daily pours out my life in the service of the hurting, as one whose home is open both to temporary residents and to constant visitors, and as one who teaches all who will listen to do the same. But along the way, I insist on the truth so far as I am able, because otherwise I’m only applying band-aids instead of healing hurts.

The Decalogue Was an Expression of Grace

“First, Christian readers in particular should note, as the preamble to the Decalogue points out, that, although the requirements of obedience to the covenant as expressed in the Ten Commandments are central to Israel’s identity as God’s people, they hold neither chronological nor theological priority. YHWH gave Israel the Decalogue, and its extension in the Torah as a whole, only after YHWH had redeemed and delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage in fulfillment of an unconditional promise made to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This commentary will return to this fundamental observation repeatedly because it is essential as a corrective against Christian misunderstandings and caricatures of the Torah and of the Old Testament as a whole.”

– Mark Biddle, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy, p. 103

Questions & Answers with Scriptural Proofs

Question: When we were chosen for salvation?

Answer: Before the foundation of the world.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…. Eph. 1:3-5a

Question: Who did God choose before the foundation of the world? Jew only, Gentile only, or Jew and Gentile alike?

Answer: Jew and Gentile alike.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh … remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Eph. 2:11-12

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel….This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…. Eph. 3:6-11

Question: How were the Gentiles to participate in salvation?

Answer: By participating in the covenants of promise made to Israel; by being united to the commonwealth of Israel. By being “brought near.”

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, …remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Eph 2:11-13

Question: Does God have one people or two?

Answer: “Christ’s reconciliation entails uniting all people, whether Jew or Gentile, into his one body, the church, as a new creation.”[1]

“There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph. 4:4-6

Question: What are the two main themes of the book of Ephesians?

Answer:

1) Christ has reconciled all creation to himself and to God, and

2) Christ has united people from all nations to himself and to one another in his church. [2]

Question: In light of having been saved, what kind of lives ought we to live?

Answer: Live of holiness and blamelessness, striving to imitate Christ in all that we do.

I therefore…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…. [Y]ou must no longer walk as the Gentiles do…. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.…

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires… Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. … Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…. Eph. 4:1 – 5:15

Question: Where do we find the way of light?

Answer: It is portrayed in the laws of God and in the life of Jesus who lived out those laws perfectly.

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life. Proverbs 6:23

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O LORD, and teach me your rules.

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.

Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God.” Psalm 119:97-115

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Question: Does God have one way of life for the Gentile and a different way of life for the Jew?

Answer: There is one law which condemns all, whether Jew or Gentile, if they do not follow it; likewise there is one law which instructs all, whether Jew or Gentile, once they become children of God.

There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you. Ex. 12:49

One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you. Num. 15:16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. … Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. Rom. 1:16-18, 32

Question: Where is the decree of God that Paul refers to in Romans 1:32?

Answer: In the Torah.  e.g., Lev 19:11; Lev. 18:22; Lev 20:13…

 

Question: What is sin?

Answer: Sin is lawlessness.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4

A quote from John Wesley:

I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God has taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith.

Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to everyone that believeth.”

The “end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to everyone that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims.

But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more —

Closer and closer let us cleave
To his beloved Embrace;
Expect his fullness to receive,
And grace to answer grace.[3]


[1] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2260.

[2] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 2258.

[3] John Wesley, Sermon #34 – The Original Nature, Property, and Use of the Law

Clean or Down the Drain?

Many students of  Scripture consider Mark 7:19 to be a slam dunk indicating that God considers all food clean and available for eating. Rabbi Dr. John Fischer provided the most succinct analysis of Mark 7:19 that I’ve ever encountered. This is significant because analyzing the passage can be a very complicated exercise.

His article “Jesus Through Jewish Eyes” is excellent it’s entirety, but the Appendix “Are All Foods Clean? or Down the Drain!” can be found by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

A Strictly Literal Rendering of Mark 7:19

"…because it enters not of him into the heart but into the belly, and into the drain goes out, purging all the food."

Contextual Analysis of Mark 7:19

1.  "Food" by definition in Yeshua’s context is only what is kosher!

2. The context of this text deals with hand-washing not eating food or what is kosher.

3. The point of the passage (as emphasized by Mt. 15:20b) is "eating with unwashed hands—not eating non-kosher food—does not make a person unclean."

The American Dream is Dangerous

I heard this morning that the United States is now the third largest mission field in the world. How did this happen? Amazingly to most of us, the Torah anticipated just such a scenario:

[T]he author [of Deuteronomy] was writing to well-to-do landowners. He was concerned that they remember from whence they came and on whom they needed to rely. He treated their economic prosperity as a threat to their required humility before God. He sought to counter this tendency to self-sufficiency by reminding them of their past slavery; and of their dependence on God for a bountiful harvest. He limited their ambitions by emphasizing the need for sabbath rest, and sabbath years. The requirement to rejoice and hold feasts also served to restrict their utilitarianism. He believed that they themselves were not ultimately responsible for their prosperity, and that they would be in the position of the widow, fatherless and alien if tragedy befell them.[1]

Something about the way I’m wired means that everywhere I look I see the consequences of bad theology. To me it’s like looking at heat under infrared, the connections are so glaring and direct. America was settled on the basis of a dangerous and diabolic theology called Manifest Destiny (more on that in another post), and when the impetus of that cooled a new twist was thrown into our lives during the 1950s. Having driven men to misinterpret the Torah, the Adversary now drove them to ignore it. Loosed from our moorings, without an eternal standard of morality, we lost any ability to accurately recognize injustice, and lost the benefit of the practical life instruction God had included for His people.

These days, gratitude is a thing of the past; I see more athletes pound their own chest after a great play than point a finger toward heaven. I hear even pastors talk about how they were a “champion for Jesus” and you can be one too, if you’ll just pull yourself up by your own boot straps and take the initiative like they did.

Today overwhelming percentages even of the well-to-do can be described as fatherless, and waves and waves of people feel lost and alien in their own culture. We have lost our way and substituted the American Dream for the biblical prescriptions; often by reinterpreting biblical language to support our misguided priorities.


[1]Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 106.