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An Airborne Antinomianism

I do not consider myself a germophobe until I step into the airport. After passing through security, the transformation from my typical non-chalant form into the hypochondriac, hyper-germ-aware version of myself is complete.  I swear I can see the cold and flu germs traveling in the recycled air from the vents into my body.

On a normal basis, I take very little to no thought of the air I breathe; I simply let my diaphragm do its thing. However, in airports and on planes, I suddenly become deeply inquisitive at all the unseen particles that are passing into my body.

I wish that all heresies had a clear odor alerting us to their dangers. While some clearly signal their entry into the theological air we breathe, others sneak in undetected and unnoticed.  While there are no new heresies, the old ones tend to shed their names and sneak incognito back into our Churches and cultures dressed in more fashionable and timely clothing.

I fear that there is an airborne antinomianism spreading through our churches and the greater Christian culture in America. Even more so, I fear that few even know or care what antinomianism even means. Because it has been sneaking in under the guise of grace and the gospel, we have become so accustomed to it, we don’t even sense the strangeness of the air around us and within us.

Antinomianism Described

The word antinomianism, beside being a great spelling bee candidate, gives us clues as to the content of the heresy.  It literally means “against the law,” and it describes a wrong view of the gospel in which the law does not matter since Jesus has come and fulfilled it. While the term itself came into use in the sixteenth century, the antinomian heresy long predated the term. This view takes the right principle of justification by grace alone through faith alone and uses it as a wedge between belief and the Law. The two are thus set against one another and torn apart in a way they were never intended to be.

The law is an extension of God’s character. It emanates out of His values and His views, His preferences and the things which are distasteful and discordant with His perfection. As such, it is not be thrown out as something of the Old Covenant.

In fact, Christ Himself addresses the topic directly with His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19. ESV.

Notice that the conversation regards those within the household of God, within the kingdom.

Christ is the only human who has ever or will ever fully and faithfully follow the entirety of the Law; therein lies the Christian’s hope. He has fully done what we can never do. He has secured a way to right relationship with the Father for those who could not and would not follow His law.

However, Christ’s fulfillment of the law, while being our hope, has not kicked the Law out of our scope. Rather, He champions the Law and gives us His Holy Spirit to help us even move beyond the Decalogue and into an internalized more intimate relationship with the stuff of the Law, as seen in the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.

Christ loves the law and died that we might become the kind of people who long to keep the law, albeit failingly and in fits and starts.

Antinomianism Disguised

While I have yet to hear someone introduce themselves as an avowed antinomian, I hear notes and hints of it all over in conversations with Christians.

In his classic, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls antinomianism by a different name: cheap grace. Throughout the book, Bonhoeffer contends for costly grace over and against cheap grace, a version of grace without transformation, a form of easy-believism that had become widespread in Germany. In cheap grace, the Christian begins to presume upon the grace of God, using it as a cart blanche to do whatever pleases him or her, knowing it will be forgiven because of an intellectual assent to the gospel.

A few decades later and a continent over, A.W. Tozer spoke up against the dangers of this insidious heresy (among others)  in his book The Pursuit of Man. Using his own language, Tozer talks about divorcing gift from shift. In antinomianism, whatever its clothing or era, the entire focus becomes the gift of free of grace in the gospel.  Of this truncated gospel, Tozer writes the following.

“Faith is thus conceived as a kind of religious magic, bringing to the Lord a great delight and possessing mysterious power to open the kingdom of heaven.”

While proponents of the true gospel would entirely agree to the free gift of God, they would also say that the gospel of God received in power will inevitably lead to a shift of life through the ongoing process of sanctification.  Christ saves us, but He also cares deeply that we become conformed to His likeness, and the Law does indeed show off parts of His character. The Law is not our means of salvation, but it is a roadmap for our sanctification.

Widespread throughout the current Christian milieu is a heavy-focus on the grace of God; however, largely missing from conversation is the ongoing process of being comforted to His will, of deeply internalizing the Law because it shows us more of the One whom we are to love supremely.

Antinomianism Diffused

I am growing to love Origami, Legos and football. While I have never been naturally inclined to any of these, I am deeply inclined to my husband and children who love them.  To love my husband means that I seek to spend time doing things that he likes to do. As such, I am slowly warming up to football (or, at least the second half). To raise my children means that I am enter their worlds and meet them where their hearts like to hang out. In their current phases of life, that means that I know where to buy the best Origami paper for ninja stars and strange animals and that I can identify all the best Lego mini figures by feeling around the sealed mystery pack bags.

We diffuse this airborne antinomianism by spending time with Christ and in His Word. The more time we spend with Him, studying His manner life by reading the Scriptures inspired by God, the more we will begin to sniff out the odorless antinomian spirit that seems to be pervading the times.

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