Paul's Passing Thoughts

The “Legalism” Myth and Why Antinomianism and Justification by the Law are the Same Thing

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on January 24, 2015

Good evening everyone welcome to False Reformation Blogtalk radio. This is your host Paul Dohse. This is a special live presentation for tomorrow night’s episode because I will be out of town attending a conference.

Therefore, tomorrow night’s weekly Friday episode will be prerecorded here tonight. If you would like to add to the show or ask a question call 347-855-8317.

Per the usual, I will say “This is your host Paul. You are live on Blogtalk what is your comment or question?” With that, just start talking—identifying yourself is optional. Also per the usual, we will be checking in with Susan to get her feedback on tonight’s show.

Now, on to our topic. Let’s summarize the commonly accepted narrative of our day. The Reformation’s justification by faith saved Western civilization and stands in stark contrast to its two primary nemeses: “legalism,” and “antinomianism,” with antinomianism being the lesser evil by far.

Legalism is attempting to be justified by the law, and antinomianism is the belief that there is no use for the law—it only condemns. In other words, Christians are not obligated to the law in any way, shape, or form. The word means literally, “anti-law.”

This is the theses for tonight’s show:

Point 1: There is no such thing as legalism.

Point 2: Antinomianism is really justification by the law—they are the same thing.

Point 3: The Reformation’s justification by faith is really justification by the law.

Point 4: Therefore, Protestantism is both justification by the law and antinomianism because the two are the same thing.

Point one, there is no such thing as “legalism.” Without a doubt, this is proffered as kingdom enemy #1. However, the term is found nowhere in the Bible, nor is the concept found anywhere in the Bible. What is it? What’s the technical definition according to Protestant orthodoxy?

So-called legalism is the idea that Christians can do a good work. Legalism is closely associated with the Reformed truism, the imperative command is grounded in the indicative event. The primary criticisms of legalism are “it jumps directly from the command to obedience.” This is also known as “fruit stapling.”

Closely associated with the legalism myth is the anti-legalism truism, “all change comes from the inside out.” That’s yet another truism among Christians that is accepted as absolute gospel out of hand. But what does it mean? I’m not saying that there is no truth in the statement, but what do they mean by it?

Listen carefully; I want to interject a principle of deception. Readily accepted truisms that sound good and not subjected to scrutiny are stepping stones that take you to a place of other people’s choosing. They know where you are going, but you don’t. No person anywhere or at any time ended up in a mass grave apart from this concept. No person was ever duped out of their lifesavings apart from this concept. No person has ever wasted years gifted to them apart from this concept. This concept applies to every strata of life.

So, what is meant by this anti-legalism myth truism? It is the idea that all good works must be filtered through the inner person before they appear outwardly. This dissects the role of the believer, if the dreaded legalism is to be prevented, into two categories: active and passive. The active is understanding only, and the passive is the actual manifestation of the outward work.

This necessarily requires an understanding of what is meant by “heart change.” Heart change is your capacity to see only. It defines faith as something that only perceives outwardly. So, the ONLY active role of the Christian is to SEE reality in a kingdom of God way, or at least what they define that to be. This is known as, watch it—we here it all the time: “a Christian worldview.”

So let’s pause for a summation thus far: in order to prevent the dreaded legalism myth, we must know that the only active role of the Christian is to have a proper worldview, or a proper perception of reality. This is faith, and the growth of faith is heart change. Got it?

This results in works being separated from the Christian and manifested by Christ. This prevents “legalism” which is the supposed errant belief that Christians can perform a good work, and thus, watch it, here is another one, “possessing a righteousness of our own.”

Are you getting this so far? So, in less than 700 words so far, we have defined: legalism; fruit stapling; faith; heart change; and Christian worldview. The Christian’s active role is to see according to the right worldview, his passive role is to WATCH…here is another one…here it comes…”what Jesus has done, not anything we do.”

Let’s now add this: typically, those who are supposedly guilty of legalism will only believe that Christ died for our sins, while denying that Christ lived a perfect life to fulfil the Old Covenant law for us. This is the Protestant/Lutheran/Calvinist formal doctrine of double imputation. Christ died for our justification, and lived for our sanctification so that His perfect obedience to the law of Moses can now be applied to our life through faith alone in our sanctification, or Christian living if you will.

That’s the “indicative,” viz, all works are grounded in what Christ did, not anything we do. Therefore, when you see a command in the Bible, it must be seen in its quote…”gospel context” of double imputation. The imperative shows us what we cannot do, but rather what Jesus has done for us. Hence, “the imperative command is grounded in the indicative event.” Supposedly, when Jesus commands us to be perfect, He is driving this point home that perfection is the standard and we cannot be perfect.

Side note: What Jesus is really doing is telling us to be who we are, viz, perfect. “But Paul, we sin!” Hold that thought, we will address that.

Another side note: Christ didn’t have to obey the law perfectly in order to prepare our works for us, the Holy Spirit did that before the foundation of the world:

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

1 Corinthians 6:11 – And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

The works were prepared by God and sanctified by the Holy Spirt before the foundation of the world, and Abraham was justified 430 years before the law of Moses—Christ did not have to obey the law for us and clearly, we are the ones who “walk” in the pre-prepared works sanctified by the Holy Spirit before the world was ever created. The more you study election, the more you realize it’s just another angle on trying to get it into the heads of Christians that law and justification are mutually exclusive.

So, in the closing of our first point let us define so-called legalism: it is the belief that a Christian can do a good work. See, among myriads of examples, the Calvin Institutes book 3, chapter 14, sections 9-11 and Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. “Paul, the Heidelberg Disputation has 28 theses, which one?” Answer: All of them. Pick one.

Now let’s define antinomianism. That’s actually in the Bible. That’s actually a biblical word. What does it mean? “Antinomianism is the English transliteration of the Greek word, “anomia” which means “anti-law.” As we have discussed on this program before, “law” is a biblical word that really just refers to the full counsel of God. Antinomianism for all practical purposes is “anti-godly wisdom.” As we will see as we move along, the best meaning is “anti-love.”

In the biblical sense, antinomianism has no reference to justification. Because law and justification/righteousness/salvation are mutually exclusive, the bible would actually endorse an antinomian view of justification. The only biblical reference point antinomianism has regards sanctification, or the Christian life. Antinomianism is the absence of law in sanctification.

Curiously, the Reformers, both past and present, define antinomianism as the absence of law in justification. Remember, in Protestantism/Calvinism/Reformed soteriology, law is justification’s standard. This is a segue right into the definition of antinomianism according to the Reformed.

This is where the Reformed pound the pulpit against antinomianism and vehemently deny that they are antinomian. Some Reformed guy even wrote a book titled “Friends of the Law” expounding on the Reformed virtue of upholding the law of God. But of course, why wouldn’t they? They think law is the standard for justification! No law, no justification.

But here’s the dirty little secret: justification, which according to them is synonymous with perfect law-keeping, is justification by faith alone right? So, if the perfect demands of the law have to be maintained in order for there to be any justification, Christians cannot remain justified in sanctification unless the demands of the law continue to be met. Right?

That creates a problem: how can the perfect demands of the law continue to be met in sanctification, or in other words: the Christian life? The dirty little secret is that justification by faith alone (also known as simply “justification by faith”) also pertains to sanctification also.

Aside: Some in the Reformed camp, actually many, claim that antinomianism is a misnomer because mankind is helplessly enslaved to chronic self-justification. Someone who believes in throwing the law away so that grace may abound is a description of someone who is an anomaly. Elyse Fitzpatrick wrote an article advocating such a view that went viral. According to the view, man’s natural bent is to attempt to justify himself through law-keeping.

Aside to that aside: This teaching can be particularly cruel and confusing to many born again Christians because the new birth results in a desire to obey the law. Fitzpatrick et al are now charging that such a desire to please God is sin. Follow?

Well, how does one live by faith alone in their Christian life? That is the money question; that is the lynchpin in this study, and now moves us to the biblical definition of justification by law. This is a very biblical concept that saturates the Scriptures.

What is scriptural justification by law? What is the specific definition? Here it is: justification by law (JBL) makes law the standard for justification. The law’s perfect demands must be fulfilled at all times in order for anybody to be considered righteous. There is only one problem; obviously, no person can keep the law perfectly. So, what to do?

Answer: faithfulness to a ritual or authoritative tradition is added to the law as a qualified faith-act that fulfills the law for man. JBL is NEVER an attempt to keep the law perfectly because everyone knows that’s impossible; hence, faithfulness to a system that appeases the law is implemented. In the case of the JBL that drove the apostles nuts, it primarily came from the Jewish culture that was heavily influence by Philo.

Let me demonstrate from Scripture how this worked:

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

Herein is the biblical definition of JBL: clearly, it is a ritual or tradition that replaced the necessity for being justified by keeping the whole law. It is a faith-based ritual that appeases the law. In this case what is it? Right, circumcision. Paul said “no,” if you want to be justified by the law you are obligated to keep the whole law because the law is not appeased by ritual. Circumcision, so they thought, was atonement for sin certified by the authority of leaders and their established traditions.

More than likely, circumcision was the ritual that got you in, and then you had to follow other traditions in order to keep the law satisfied:

Galatians 4:9 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Get it? The law is replaced and dumbed down with easy-to-keep rituals, customs, and traditions as a way of fulfilling the whole law and apparently atoning for sin according to whatever system you have signed up for. In some cases, it may be believed that these customs inaugurated by the authority of men actually abolish the law rather than fulfill it. But whatever it is matters not—the results are the same.

This brings us to the inevitable problem with such systems: the finer points of the law are disregarded because the ongoing demands of the law must be met to keep yourself saved. Besides, the law can’t be kept perfectly anyway, and focus on the accepted customs is what keeps you saved.

This is why JBL is antinomianism, because it voids the law by the traditions of men in sanctification in order to appease the law for justification. Let’s look at a prime example of this:

Matthew 5:17 – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 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. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Why would one relax the law in their Christian living? Because in justification by law the law isn’t for sanctification it’s for justification. That’s almost too obvious when you state it that way. And in regard to where this passage comes from what is the Sermon on the Mount about? Right, sanctification. The cross or justification is nowhere in that sermon. It’s a message about Christian living. Also, the dominate theme of the message is a warning against replacing the law of God with tradition. How many times in that message do we read, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…”?

Let’s look at some other examples:

Romans 2:17 – But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Galatians 2:17 – But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

Side note: many in our day in-fact say that we are found justified in Christ by professing that we are what? Right, “sinners.” We hear it all the time!

Next, let’s look, as promised, at how antinomian justification by law leads to anti-love. This is because one biblical definition of love follows: love is an endeavor to learn God’s law and truthfully apply it to life:

Matthew 28:18 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

John 14: 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. 25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

There is no surprise then that the Bible links antinomianism with lovelessness. It is impossible to love God and others without obedience. If there is law in justification that must be continually appeased, we must fear the motives for our obedience in sanctification, we are still enslaved to the law and its demand for perfect law-keeping. But if there is no law in justification and justification is a finished work, we are free to aggressively love in sanctification without fear that our justification will be harmed. Motives for obedience are a non-issue because law-keeping does NOTHING for our justification—the two are mutually exclusive. The only motive left is love. This is why justification by law is antinomianism leading to lovelessness:

Matthew 24:11 – And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.

The word for lawlessness in this verse is “anomia.” Love will grow cold because of anomia. Why? because love and obedience are mutually inclusive and there is only obedience in sanctification—not justification. Elsewhere we read:

Psalm 119:70 – their heart is unfeeling like fat, but I delight in your law.

Lastly, why is Protestant justification by faith really the justification by law resulting in loveless antinomianism that the Bible warns us about? Because law is the standard for justification, its demands must be continually met during the Christian’s life, and “faith alone” ritualism fulfills the law on behalf of the Christian.

In the 1st century it was circumcision, now it is a baptism into church membership where we can find a continuing cover for sin. If we are faithful to the local church and disavow any “righteousness of our own,” the righteousness of Christ will continue to satisfy the law in our stead. It’s really the same justification by law resulting in loveless antinomianism that has plagued God’s people from the very beginning. In fact, we even hear notable Calvinists like John Piper in our day claim the following:

If you are not being accused of antinomianism, you are probably not preaching the gospel.

Why are they right about that? Because it is antinomianism—it replaces our obedience, and frankly our love as well, with the obedience of Christ. Also, it is supposed that justification and law are mutually inclusive because Jesus keeps the law for us. However, the Bible continually states that we justified APART from the law and “apart” means “totally separate.”

Who keeps the law is not the issue; the law period is the issue.

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