Antinomianism & Legalism PDF Print E-mail


One of the greatest curses conceivable!' So asserts D M Lloyd-Jones. But what is 'antinomianism'? The word itself was first coined, I understand, by Luther. It is derived from the Greek, 'against law' or 'anti law'. By 'law', the reference is to the moral law (the ten commandments, or decalogue). And the crux of the matter has to do with 'the third use of the law'.

The 'first use' of the law is to convict of sin and drive the repentant sinner to the Lord Jesus Christ;

The 'second use' of the law is to restrain lawlessness in society;

The 'third use' of the law is to function as the rule of life for the believer. One of the most famous statements of this comes from the Puritan Samuel Bolton in his The True Bounds of Christian Freedom - 'The law sends us to the gospel for our justification; the gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life'.



The notion that a sinner can, by his own efforts, or by the power of the Holy Spirit in his life, do some work to obtain or retain his salvation. Some legalists think man has free will and can perform good works if he just sets his mind to it, thereby obtaining the favor of God. This type of legalist thinks that a sinner can believe the Gospel on his own steam. Other legalists think that a sinner does not have free will, that any good he does is done by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, and it is these good deeds done by the power of the Holy Spirit that obtain or help obtain, retain or help retain, his salvation. Both types of legalists, but especially the latter, may acknowledge that Christ's work of obedience is necessary for salvation, but both deny that Christ's work is sufficient for salvation. Both types of legalists assert that to Christ's work must be added the works of the sinner, done either under his own steam, or by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what makes them legalists: their shared belief in the incompleteness or insufficiency of the work of Christ outside of them. They may differ on what constitutes good works; they may differ on whether only God's law or church law as well is to be obeyed; but they agree that the work of Christ alone is insufficient for their final salvation.

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