Thursday, September 25, 2014

Legalism and Antinomianism - two sides of the same coin?

Legalism can occurs in many forms in the church today. Some may insist conformation to a certain church practices, or a certain membership of a sect before one can be saved. This is a big heresy because by depending on our own efforts to achieve our own salvation, essentially we are saying we reject the redemptive work of Christ. Galatians 2:21 clearly says:
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Gal 2:21 NIV)
In fact, when we say somebody has “fallen from grace”, that does not mean that he has committed a public sin, but Galatian 5:4 says, it means that person is depending on his own efforts to achieve his own salvation. Furthermore, legalism always have the tendency to major on the minors and minor on the majors.
You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Gal 5:4 NKJV)
The other extreme can also occurs in church today. It is the form of complete liberalism or antinomianism. It is a form of living in total disregard to the righteousness of God even as someone who allegedly professes to be a follower of Jesus.

Someone who practices antinomianism would say to himself since God loves to forgive so much, why not give him more opportunity to forgive? If forgiveness is guaranteed, that means we already have the total freedom to do whatever we want including sinning as much as we want. Or an antinomian may think, since God is so loving, He would not judge me or he may say, well sin may not be so bad after all as it teaches valuable lessons. Or he may justify his basis for indulging in the sinful vices of the world by saying that he needs to stay in touch with the culture around him.

As Roman 3:8 and 6:1 says:
Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—"Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved.
(Rom 3:8 NIV)

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
(Rom 6:1 NIV)
However, someone who justifies his habitual sins or has totally no regard to God’s righteousness actually does not really understand the seriousness of sin.

As the Life Application Study Bible comments:
“God's forgiveness does not make sin less serious; his Son's death for sin shows us the dreadful seriousness of sin. Jesus paid with his life so we could be forgiven. The availability of God's mercy must not become an excuse for careless living and moral laxness.”
Similarly Gal 5:13 exhorts:
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Gal 5:13 NKJV)

In fact, freedom or license to sin is no freedom at all, because once we misuse it to indulge in sinful behaviors, it is no longer a freedom. It binds us and enslaves us to bondage to Satan or our own sinful habits. Christians, by contrast, should not be slaves to sin, because they are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service to others.

Titus 2:11-13 brings even a step further to say that the grace of God, when properly understood actually teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Tit 2:11-13 NIV)
This is in line with Paul’s command in Roman 13:8 and Galatians 5:13-14 that it is imperative for Christians to remember that although we are no longer under the Law (Rom. 6:14) to attain salvation, we still need to fulfill the Law of love.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
(Rom 13:8 NIV)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
(Gal 5:13-14 NIV)
In other words, we are perpetually “in debt to Christ” for the lavish love he has poured out on us. The only way we can even begin to repay this debt is by fulfilling our obligation to love others in turn. Because Christ's love will always be infinitely greater than ours, we will always have the obligation to love our neighbors (2).

My understanding is that actually legalism and antinomianism are two sides of the same coin – and in both cases, they are threats to the Christian life because they promotes self-focused or self-centered obsession rather than giving glory to God. If we are self-centered on our efforts to achieve the ultimate good (salvation), we always have the tendency to be proud of ourselves, and tend to look down on others who could not achieve what we achieve. We feel a sense of superiority: self-indulgence.

On the other hand, if we totally disregard God’s righteousness, thinking that since God has already taken care of my after-life, my life here on earth is mine to enjoy and to navigate in any way I want so as to maximize my self-fulfillment and gratification on my short life here on earth – again, self-indulgence. The only way to get out of these two extremes is to always focus our gaze on Christ on the Cross – his sacrifice for mine, because of my wretchedness and utter hopelessness as a result of the devastating consequences of sin, and therefore I am forever indebted to Him, and forever be grateful to Him, and therefore, my life is now His, and only in Him, I can live my life to the fullest, in serving Him by serving others.

1.    Life Application Study Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996
2.    Antinomianism. In: Dictionary. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). Available at URL: Accessed 16 September 2014

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