Antinomian – "a person who maintains that Christians are freed from the moral law by virtue of grace as set forth in the gospel."
Okay, I’ve said it, and if you’re honest to admit it, you’ve said it too. I’m talking about that old Baptist staple of wise theology. Ready? Here it is. "I’m not under law, I’m under grace".
Often during hair-splitting discussions with other believers about various behaviors such as social drinking, smoking, tattoos, piercings, and tithing, someone usually hand-brakes the debate with the "but aren’t we under grace now" question.
This grace versus law cliche has morphed into antinomian-ism, or "a disdain for law". Furthermore, when you hear someone say "I’m under the law, not under grace", you will often hear a more clarifying statement from them as well, "the law was inadequate, therefore we need grace", or something to that effect.
The Law restores the Soul
The catchy phrases we mindlessly use in our evangelical circles, however, become problematic when you consider Psalm 19: 7-10 (NASV)
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. 10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
So if David viewed the Law as perfect, how can we ever say the law is/was inadequate? How did God’s law transform from perfection to inadequacy.
In fairness to those who claim grace over law, it is a clear attempt to expose the inability of human accomplishments and attempts to satisfy God’s requirements. No doubt, this seemingly innocent phrase derived in part from a misunderstanding of a well known passage of scripture, Ephesians 2:8-9. 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Due to just plain, bad, theology we have mis-used Paul’s teaching of being "saved by grace and not of works" as the foundation of a antinomian doctrine. In light of Ephesians 2:8-9, we should duly note "that not of yourselves" is the antithesis of saving grace. In other words, it’s not the Law that is inadequate to salvation, it is the one who fails to keep the law who is inadequate.
Bad Law or Bad People?
If you’re reading this blog, take some personal time to study all of the occurrences of "law" throughout the Bible, specifically pertaining to the law of the Lord. (Psalms is a great place to start) You will find many glowing endorsements of the Law. Conversely, don’t allow the Pharisee’s treatment of the law adversely affect your view of it. Jesus pointed out their abuses in Luke 11:52 " Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered." In other words, in being "keepers of the law", the Pharisees were not keeping the spirit of the law. For example, we have all been dismayed at the manner in which modern day lawyers use the law to set guilty men free via the way of loopholes. The problem is not the laws of the land, but the keepers of the law who misuse it. Whenever justice is not realized in a situation, we scramble to change, fortify, and clarify the existing laws, but this is futile. It’s futile, because there is always a multitude of legal technicians who will circumvent the new improved laws. Again, it’s not the law that is imperfect and inadequate, it is humanity.
We often lament over such abuses when we say "but that’s not within the spirit of the law." Likewise, this was the fundamental error of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They knew the technicalities of the law while disregarding the spirit of the law. An example of this spiritual failing is in the way they enforced the sabbath law. By their technical definition, Jesus broke the sabbath by healing. However, in failing to recognize the spirit (purpose) of the law ; they ignored the intention of sabbath as a benefit for God’s people as opposed to something to weigh them down.
Law is Grace’s companion
According to David, the Law that he so loved was a key ingredient to his relationship to God. It wasn’t key because he had never sinned (failed to obey the law). David’s failings are well documented, and so is his loving relationship with God. David’s life is proof that you can fail miserably and make it back to God by virtue of a healthy respect for his Law. Assuredly, David’s struggles escorted his heart to a sanctuary of lawfulness not through forced obedience, but rather by a consistent savoring of the goodness of God’s law and it’s precepts!
In keeping Ephesians 2:8-9 close to the vest, we don’t shrug off grace, and we put human effort in it’s rightful rung on the salvation ladder. BUT in doing so, we should not attempt to strip the law of it’s powerful perfection! Dallas Willard solidifies this idea when he says, "Still, the law was given as an essential meeting place between God and human beings in covenant relationship with him, where the sincere heart would be received, instructed, and enabled by God to walk in his ways. God is the only restorer of souls. When those walking in personal relationship with him take his law into their heart, that law, as a living principle, quickens and restores connection and order to the flagging (weak, fatigued, or drooping) soul. But that never happens in the absence of the personal presence and gracious action of God (Grace) with the person involved."
He goes on to say, "Spirit, covenant, and law always go hand in hand within the path of spiritual formation, for it is the path of one who walks with God."
We who profess Christ are greatly served when we examine the way in which we think about matters of grace and law. Let’s be sure not to pit them against one another. Law is NOT the foe of Grace. Grace is NOT the cure for Law. The best way to think of it is this: Grace, originating from God, enables and empowers you and I to love His law, His perfect law. In response to the Antinomian way of thinking, grace does not free us from the law, rather grace frees us to embrace, love, and live the law! In this way, we ARE under the law BY grace.