The Antinomian Controversy: A Statement – Part 1

Okay, it’s confession time. I am an Antinomian. Gasp. That wasn’t so hard was it? For uttering that statement many might consider me a heretic; however, I believe that a thorough and consistent interpretation of Romans 6 and 7 will demonstrate my position. What is my position though? For our purposes, we will define antinomianism as:

Antinomianism: the doctrine that Christians, under the covenant of grace, are not bound to keep God’s moral law

That already should raise some eyebrows. How can I possibly say that we are not bound to keep God’s moral law? I believe that this position is not as radical as it has historically been made out to be. Let us begin with our exegesis of the text. We begin in Romans 6:

6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

In these verses, Paul asks a series of questions and then goes on to give a series of rejoinders. There are a few main points to consider; however, the two main dualisms in this passage are:

  1. Dead to Sin/Alive in Christ
  2. Dead to the Law/Alive in Grace

We start in vs 1-4:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The first question in vs 1 is should believers sin so that grace might abound? Consequently, this is often the exact charge made against antinomians by critics. “If you are against the idea that we have a moral obligation to follow God’s law then you believe you can do anything you want.” Paul’s answer to this question is an emphatic no. We are dead to sin, says Paul, so how shall we goon sinning. If you are dead then you cannot perform any actions whatsoever, so if you are a believer then you cannot continue in sin. It is impossible! Paul then goes on in vs 3-4 to give the importance and  meaning of baptism: that we are buried in the water with Christ and raised, metaphorically, from the dead to spiritual life. The scriptural definition of will is to have certain inclinations to preform certain tasks; therefore, the spiritually alive person has new desires and a new heart to obey God, not out of moral obligations placed on the believer, but out of love and faith.

Vs. 5-14 reads:

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

In this passage Paul makes two main points:

  1. Anyone who is dead to sin is free from sin
  2. Anyone who is no longer a slave to sin is not under the law

These points are of key importance to the antinomian case. For the antinomian, being out from under the law means  being in the covenant of grace, or the system in which man is justified by faith alone (Romans 5:1) and not moral obligations or law keeping. The death of Christ, Paul says, was death to sin once and for all. As participants in Christ’s death, we too are no longer alive to sin but dead to it. Not only are we dead to sin, but we are alive to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord! You may object to me here on the basis of vs 12-13; however, if one only remembers that in vs 1-2 Paul says that we are dead to sin, and consequently, dead to the law, then we no longer need to interpret vs 12-13 as being a moral obligation; rather, we should interpret them as being natural inclinations flowing from a changed nature (Ezekial 36:26).

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

We reach now our final passage of Scripture for this part. Again Paul emphasizes our freedom apart from the law and from sin through Jesus Christ; however, that does not mean that we can willingly sin. The crux of Paul’s argument is that we should present ourselves as instruments of righteousness; however, does that not mean we are bound to some moral obligation? Not at all. In fact, Paul even says “you have come to obey from your heart.” Again, obedience is not a moral obligation. It is something done out of love and even that which is done out of love is ultimately done through the sovereign will of God.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s