Monday, May 28, 2018

The Danger of Antinomianism

I set before you in my previous post some characters from the book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity. Derek Thomas describes this book as "one of the most important theological texts of all time." The book, first printed in 1645, contains a dialogue between fictional characters discussing matters of eternal importance; matters that deal with a man’s eternal soul and his hopes of eternal life. Evangelista is the Gospel minister carefully applying Gospel truths to a legalist by the name of Nomista and an antinomian by the name of Antinomista. Previously, we looked at Nomista and the dangers and subtleties of legalism. We are always in danger of fixing our hope upon our own actions rather than upon Christ alone.
Equally insidious, however, is the one who vainly believes he has eternal life, while insisting he is exempt from the Law of God. He shouts loudly, “We are not under the Law but under grace!” Evangelista addresses Antinomista: “If either you, or any man else, shall under a pretense of being in Christ, exempt yourselves from being under the law of the ten commands, as they are the law of Christ, I tell you truly, it is a shrewd sign you are not yet in Christ; for if you were, then Christ were in you; and if Christ were in you, then would he govern you, and you would be subject to him.”  
As with legalism, antinomianism can be subtle. Satan has many tricks and tools to lead a man to perdition. A man can believe in justification by faith alone and yet deny the Christ upon whom we must believe. Antinomista argues, “Me thinks, when a man is perfectly justified by faith, it is a very needless thing for him to endeavor to keep the law, and do good works.” At this a fourth character speaks. It is Neophytus, a yet unconverted but sincere seeker of Christ. “I do much marvel that this my friend Antinomista should be so confident of his faith in Christ, and yet so little regard holiness of life, and keeping of Christ’s commandments, as it seems he does.” 
To this Evangelista replies: “If our friend Antinomista do content himself with a mere gospel knowledge, and yet is not fetched in by the power of Christ, let us pity him, and pray for him.” 
And so, we have the Law/Gospel balance. We are saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. But as Martin Luther said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” Salvation is wrought through the work of Christ apart from the works of the Law. At the same time, with saving faith comes deliverance from the power of sin. The Christian loves the Law of God as His standard of righteousness. He obeys, not as a means of gaining any form of merit from Christ, but because Christ has so captivated his heart that he delights in reflecting the beauty of holiness. His grief over sin is not because he fears the consequence of sin but because he has dishonored the One he loves.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Subtlety of Legalism

Acts 16:31 NASB - "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” 
There are two great enemies of the Gospel of Christ. Both are dangerous and potentially damning to the soul. One is antinomianism, which denies the proper place and use of the Law in the life of the believer. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The other is legalism which places confidence in the works of the Law and human effort as the means of salvation. Both can be very subtle, which is what makes them so dangerous. 
In the book, “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” there is an interesting dialogue between an able minister of the Gospel by the name of Evangelista, and a legalist by the name of Nomista. Nomista is certain of his salvation and takes exception to Evangelista’s suggestion that he may be among the thousands who believe themselves to be Christians, but have actually denied the Gospel. Nomista’s defense of his conversion is revealing and describes just how subtle legalism can be. In fact, Evangelista warns that there is a touch of this legalism in us all. “Many poor ignorant souls amongst us, when we bid them to obey and do duties, they can think of nothing but working themselves to life; when they are troubled, they must lick themselves whole, when wounded, they must run to the salve of duties, and stream of performances and neglect Christ.” 
As Nomista describes his experience, he speaks of having been convinced of the futility of his religious condition, and was told by a minister that he must listen to godly preaching, keep the Sabbath, leave off swearing, beware of lying, and read good books.  He began spending the Lord’s Day in public and private exercises of worship and keeping God’s Commandments. Many Christians observed this change and offered the right hand of fellowship. He still felt empty, however, and realized that it was all external; that he wasn’t changed inwardly. So, he gave himself to performing duties not only outwardly, but also inwardly from the heart. He was careful to govern his thoughts and passions and suppress the risings of lust and gave himself to hearing and praying from the heart. But then he realized that God required not only active obedience, but also passive—that he had to be willing to suffer. He began to be troubled at his impatience under God’s correcting hand and his inward murmurings. He gave himself to quietly submitting to the will of God. He soon became troubled over his sleepiness, drowsiness, and heaviness in prayer and in other duties. Another minister told him not to worry, that even the best of Christians have their failings. God will accept the will for the deed; and wherein you come short, Christ will help you out. So now he felt confident that what he could not do Christ would do for him.
Do you see what was lacking in Nomista? He was trusting in his actions as the basis of his salvation. Is his experience like yours? Salvation is not doing our best and trusting Christ to do the rest. Salvation is faith in Christ’s righteousness ALONE and trusting in His atoning sacrifice ALONE. The Gospel demands faith in Christ ALONE. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”