Friendly Riots and Sweet Baby Jesus: The Dangers of Antinomianism

I’ve seen only one riot first-hand. But it was a friendly riot. A Christian riot. So it was okay, right?

Christian-AntinomianismIt wasn’t the naked young men streaking through campus who most disappointed me. It wasn’t the destruction and theft of property, the illegal bonfire blazing in the middle of campus, or the smoke bombs detonated in the girls’ dorms.

What most bothered me about the friendly riot at my Christian college was its effect. Campus police called for back-up and heard the static of law enforcement scanners from neighboring Indiana towns: “Let’s go arrest those Christian hypocrites.”

Here’s the context.

A scheduled campus-wide power outage at 1am early in December 2004 turned into a hedonistic free-for-all. An all-campus email distributed by school officials alerted students to the impending blackout. Streetlights would blink off. Emergency lights would flick on in dorms. Students should plan for the outage.

And they did—with military precision.

As soon as the lights shut off, young men from one of the large dorms lit a bonfire in the middle of campus. Students flocked to it like moths to a flame. So did campus police. With the cruisers thus occupied, another commando group used bolt cutters to crack the chains which stapled life-sized Nativity figures to the ground. The next morning, campus police spotted one of the wise men and his camel placidly adjusting to life atop the Dining Commons.

Streakers sprinted through dorms, smoke poured from the hallways of a girls’ residence hall. Muddy butt-cheek marks lined the floor-to-ceiling glass of a certain campus building.

Christian Antinomianism-Friendly-RiotAs I sat in my dorm room watching “Band of Brothers” on my laptop with a couple of friends, I heard outside the shrieks of hundreds of frolicking students and the throbbing wail of police sirens lacerating corn-stubbled fields. For two Antinomian hours, the students at my Christian university lived without laws.

And the saddest thing?

They kidnapped sweet Baby Jesus.

It doesn’t take a friendly riot (a riot in which no one is injured) to show that some believers embrace a questionable amount of license as they walk a path of grace from earth to heaven.

Antinomianism is a problem in many Christian circles.

What is Antinomianism?

In short, it means lawlessness. In fact the word comes from two Greek words, “anti” which means “against,” and “nomos” which means “law.” So Antinomians are against laws or constraints–to a greater or lesser degree.

In Christian circles, we describe this as “license,” which is to say that some folks believe that because they have been saved by grace, they can sin all they want. Conduct no longer matters because they only need to have faith. Few Antinomians are this blatant in their expression, but taken to its extreme, Antinomianism results in sinful living which displeases God and harms other people.

Why It’s Bad

A.W. Tozer defined the dangers of Antinomianism this way (hold onto Baby Jesus):

Fundamental Christianity in our times is deeply influenced by that ancient enemy of righteousness, Antinomianism. The creed of the Antinomian is easily stated: We are saved by faith alone; works have no place in salvation; conduct is works, and is therefore of no importance. What we do cannot matter as long as we believe rightly. The divorce between creed and conduct is absolute and final. The question of sin is settled by the Cross; conduct is outside the circle of faith and cannot come between the believer and God.

Such in brief, is the teaching of the Antinomian. And so fully has it permeated the Fundamental element in modern Christianity that it is accepted by the religious masses as the very truth of God.  Antinomianism is the doctrine of grace carried by uncorrected logic to the point of absurdity. It takes the teaching of justification by faith and twists it into deformity.

Christians who practice Antinomianism believe that because Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Law when he died on the cross (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15), there are no longer any moral laws that Christians have to obey.

What the Bible Says About It

I like how S. Michael Houdmann describes Antinomianism:

“The apostle Paul dealt with the issue of Antinomianism in Romans 6:1-2, ‘What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?’ The most frequent attack on the doctrine of salvation by grace alone is that it encourages sin. People may wonder, ‘If I am saved by grace and all my sins are forgiven, why not sin all I want?’

Christian Antinomianism“That thinking is not the result of true conversion because true conversion yields a greater desire to obey, not a lesser one. God’s desire—and our desire when we are regenerated by His Spirit—is that we strive not to sin. Out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness, we want to please Him. God has given us His infinitely gracious gift in salvation through Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). Our response is to consecrate our lives to Him out of love, worship, and gratitude for what He has done for us (Romans 12:1-2). Antinomianism is unbiblical in that it misapplies the meaning of God’s gracious favor.

“A second reason that Antinomianism is unbiblical is that there is a moral law God expects us to obey. First John 5:3 tells us, ‘This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.’ What is this law God expects us to obey? It is the law of Christ – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’ (Matthew 22:37-40).

“No, we are not under the Old Testament Law. Yes, we are under the law of Christ. The law of Christ is not an extensive list of legal codes. It is a law of love. If we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will do nothing to displease Him. If we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will do nothing to harm them. Obeying the law of Christ is not a requirement to earn or maintain salvation. The law of Christ is what God expects of a Christian.

Antinomianism when the lights go out“Antinomianism is contrary to everything the Bible teaches. God expects us to live a life of morality, integrity, and love. Jesus Christ freed us from the burdensome commands of the Old Testament Law, but that is not a license to sin, but rather a covenant of grace. We are to strive to overcome sin and cultivate righteousness, depending on the Holy Spirit to help us.

“The fact that we are graciously freed from the demands of the Old Testament Law should result in our living our lives in obedience to the law of Christ. First John 2:3-6 declares, ‘We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.’”

From http://www.gotquestions.org/antinomianism.html

Conclusion: Striking a Balance

We can place Antinomianism on a spectrum of belief like this:


Christian Antinomianism LawlessnessCan you see that both License (Antinomianism) and Legalism take an extreme view of Christian living, while Liberty takes the moderating position? That’s why this blog is called “Liberty for Captives”—we want to strike a balance.

Probably your church doesn’t hold too many friendly riots. But many churches emphasize the biblical teaching of grace to such an extent that they lose sight of the New Testament truth that we evidence our love for God by obeying his commands (1 John 2:3-6).

Yes, we are saved by grace, but grace never provides an excuse to sin.

Not even when the lights go out.

4 comments on “Friendly Riots and Sweet Baby Jesus: The Dangers of Antinomianism

  1. Yes! Balance, balance, balance……
    Oh I wish people and especially Christians could grasp this; the Bible is chock full of balance between freedom and responsibility. The Founding Fathers knew this quite well and this was how the Constitution was born; even though some were not Christians, they knew that there was a Creator who demanded responsibility in the midst of freedom. This is true freedom and will result in healthy and whole relationships between ourselves and with God. One just has to study the life of Christ to see the perfect balance Jesus struck when He dealt with situations and people. Trusting in the Holy Spirit and waiting on Him will produce this balance – this is a PROMISE!

  2. If there is one thing that I feel that God has been impressing on me over the last year it is that the Christian life is one that is lived in tension. We will always search for the cut and dry route of a prescriptive answer, “well obviously I need to follow these rules” or, “I am no longer under the law so I don’t have to worry about anything I do”. The answer though lays in both and neither, it is a wonderful paradox where in loving God and accepting what Christ has done for us we have gained that freedom, but desire to please Him through obedience. What the skeptic might see as a contradiction is what I have embraced as a beatiful paradox that invites me not to rely on myself but on the reality of God, and who He is. We often find ourselves caught between rival viewpoints when it comes to the Christian life, and most of the time these are false choices where we should be searching for the heart of God.

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