The Distortion of Lawlessness

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1–2).

- Romans 6:1-14

Legalism is one pitfall that we can fall into in our attempt to live in a manner that is pleasing to God. There is also an opposite extreme that has threatened the church for as long as legalism has. Some professing believers have thought that since we “are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14), we need not bother with the law at all. We may do what we please even if it is condemned in Scripture. This error is known as antinomianism, which simply means lawlessness — being against law.

While it is true that Jesus has redeemed us from the curse and penalty of the law of God, and while our relationship with the Father is now defined by our union with Christ and not a written code of regulations, it does not follow that our Lord’s moral commands are now somehow optional. Our God is a commandment-giving God, and both the Old and the New Testaments are filled with regulations that reflect eternal moral and ethical principles. Jesus said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:16). Moreover, Paul’s teaching on grace in Romans 6:14 cannot mean that God’s law has become negotiable, for in verses 1–2 he tells us that we miss the point of grace entirely if we think it means that we can sin with impunity.

As with legalism, antinomianism occurs in several different forms. One is a crass libertinism that thinks grace gives us a free pass to do anything we want. First Peter 2:16 forbids this, telling us not to exploit our freedom in Christ to cover up sin.

Crass libertinism can be present in the lives of some professing Christians, but a more common form of antinomianism is what Dr. Sproul calls gnostic spiritualism. This kind of antinomianism says that there is a secret knowledge or leading of the Spirit that can circumvent the revealed, written will of God. How many times, for instance, have we heard people excuse abandoning their marriage vows for an adulterous relationship because the Spirit “led” them to do it? This is not right (obviously), as God the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion or contradiction (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Antinomians also attempt to find loopholes in the law of God. Just as the Pharisees used a law mandating the support of the temple to get out of taking care of their parents, so antinomians often try to avoid the laws they do not like by falsely and selectively appealing to other ones (Mark 7:9–13).

Coram Deo

Of all the types of antinomianism, we are perhaps most prone to look for loopholes in the law of God. So, for instance, we may excuse certain behaviors because there is no express command in Scripture against them, even though our intent and attitude in doing such things is clearly and undeniably sinful. May we take care in reading Scripture that we never look for ways to get out of the demands it places upon us.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 4:5–8
Psalm 119:97–104
Matthew 27:3–10
1 Timothy 1:8–11

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343