Monday, January 11, 2010

Lordship: The Death Blow to Legalism and Antinomianism

The apostle Paul was often misunderstood and falsely accused of evil for preaching the good news of justification by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He was especially misunderstood and mistreated by the legalistic Jews who thought that the good news of Jesus Christ was a message against the people and against the Law. “When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, ‘Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place…” (Acts 21:27-28).

Paul was perceived as being anti-Semitic (against the Jews) and antinomian (against the Law) because of his preaching of the gospel. The root word for Law is nomous. If we say that someone is autonomous we are saying that he is self-ruled or self-governed. Auto means self and nomous means law. So to say that someone is antinomian is to say that he is against the Law – he is against being ruled or governed. This was the accusation brought against the apostle Paul from the legalistic Jews. They accused Paul of antinomianism – being against the Law and preaching against the Law. For the legalist, the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is seen as antinomianism. The legalist perceives the gospel to be that which nullifies the Law and therefore that which gives a license to sin.

However, the apostle Paul proved that the good news of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ was that which actually established the law and not that which nullified it (Romans 3:31). Listen! Even the Lord Jesus Christ said that He didn’t come to abolish the Law – He said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

The Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law completely. He upheld the Law in principle through His sinless life; He upheld the Law in penalty through His sacrificial death; and He upheld the Law in probity through His supernatural resurrection. Probity means integrity or uprightness. The supernatural resurrection showed the Law to be that which is good and it showed the Person of the Law, God the Father, to be just, good, and right in all His dealings. Therefore when we exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we do not nullify the Law but establish the Law by trusting in the One who completely and perfectly upheld the Law through His life, death, and resurrection.

But for the life of him, the legalist cannot comprehend that faith establishes the Law. The legalist cannot see how grace isn’t the same as antinomianism. So after establishing the truth of imputed righteousness through the grace of Jesus Christ who upheld the Law on our behalf, whose grace is greater than multiplied sins, the apostle Paul anticipated the false accusation of antinomianism – “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase” (Romans 6:1)?

You see, the legalist would attempt to carry Paul’s message of justification by grace through faith to what he believed to be its final conclusion and would inevitably come up with the charge of antinomianism. The legalist would reason: if justification is by grace through faith then the Law has been nullified and men have a license to sin.

The legalist believes that the only remedy against sinning is the Law. The legalist also believes that God cannot be pleased apart from works of the Law. So the legalist adds Law to justification in violation of the plain and clear teaching of the Scripture. So the legalist, being under the Law, has not died to sin because the power of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56), and so there is no deliverance from sin through the Law.

However, the legalist has no real understanding of the working of the gospel so he sticks with his faulty logic rather than looking into how the gospel actually is not that which gives men a license to sin. What the legalist needs is an explanation of the wonder working power of the gospel.

So Paul answered the question that would be raised from the legalist – “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it” (Romans 6:2)? God in His wisdom and power has designed salvation in such a way that those who are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ have died to sin so that there is no way that the gospel of grace promotes sin or gives a license to sin.

May it never be” is a strong and forceful way of saying that the gospel is not that which promotes or perpetuates sin. So the legalist is immediately confronted with the truth that his understanding of the gospel is wrong. If he would examine the gospel closely and see how faith in Jesus establishes the Law, puts one to death in Christ, and raises him with a new life principle under loving and loyal obedience to Jesus as Lord, the legalist would understand how the gospel doesn’t promote sin. Jesus said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Any man under the principle of being ruled by the Law is doomed because by the Law comes the knowledge of sin and no flesh shall be justified in God’s sight through the works of the Law. However, any man under the principle of being ruled by the Lord because of his love for the Lord is blessed and justified because we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law and that we are justified without any cause in us by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We love Him because He first loved us.

Can’t you see how loving loyalty to Jesus as Lord because He loved us and gave Himself up for us doesn’t make one lawless? This is how it works: while unsaved we all lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest (Ephesians 2:3). Our life principle was under the lordship of sin and the principle of Law cannot give life to a sinner but actually gives power to sin. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

You see, God put us to death with Jesus our Lord who did fulfill the principle of the Law and died on our behalf so that he could put to death the lordship of sin in our lives and raise us up with Jesus to walk with a new life principle – loving loyal obedience to Jesus as Lord.

Salvation restores that which was lost – obedience to God through obedience to Jesus and is what the Bible calls the obedience of faith. Salvation is a Lordship issue! Lordship is the death-blow to legalism showing it to be the lie that it is.


Craig and Heather said...

Thank you for sharing this.

I was recently introduced to the belief in sacraments (water baptism and regular participation in the Lord's Supper) as proof of salvation and it really has been frustrating.

With all of the references to baptism and Jesus' instruction to partake of communion in remembrance of Him, I can see why the teachings of the particular denomination I've just encountered emphasizes it. But, the teaching really smells like another form of legalism to me--only using NT ordinances instead of "The Law".

Strangely, the concept of "Lordship" seems lost on the folks who seem to espouse the sacramental approach. They tend to be angry and pushy and two individuals completely tossed aside the concept of looking for spiritual "fruit" as evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit to be "legalistic" and "works".

While I see the participation of the Christian rites as a matter of loving obedience, I don't feel I'm earning anything--just doing what I'm told. The Lord has been good to repeatedly show me that the point of the "sacraments" is to remind us of Jesus and our betrothal to Him as His bride.

Anyway, I do appreciate this post as it is yet another confirmation that if we focus on anything other than the Person of Jesus Christ and His finished work, we are toying with not only legalism, but idolatry as well. :(


olan strickland said...

Water baptism and regular participation in the Lord's Supper have no justifying ability for then salvation would be by works and not by faith. You are right Heather, these are ordinances not "The Law."

Participating in the ordinances because of loving loyalty is the essence of Lordship. You can see how Lordship deals a death blow both to legalism and antinomianism.