THE ANTINOMIAN HERESY
And the Need for Congregational Discipline
A Call to Repentance by
Gary Ray Branscome
The law is not meant for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, (1Timothy 1:9).
In my writing, I usually try to avoid theological terms (such as “Antinomian”) because I feel that unfamiliar terminology can be a hindrance, rather than a help, in communicating the truths of Scripture. In this case I have made an exception in order to make it clear that the heresy I am exposing is not something new, but is rather a tactic that Satan has used throughout history in trying to discredit the Gospel.
Therefore, let me begin by defining Antinomianism as the idea that (for various reasons) God’s Law no longer condemns sin and that one can, therefore, willfully indulge in sinful behavior without being condemned by God.
That idea is clearly contrary to God’s Word, and has been condemned by Christians throughout history. However, the reasons given by those who take an Antinomian position are not always the same.
There are some who claim that the Law has been done away with, or no longer applies in this era of history, and there are others who contend that since we are all sinners anyway, it does not matter what sins we commit they are all forgiven. Both of those claims contradict the clear teaching of Scripture as we shall see.
Matthew says: “For I tell you truly, Until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter or stroke will pass from the law, until everything has been fulfilled.”
[Comment: This passage plainly tells us that God’s Law has not been changed. It still condemns all unrighteousness (1John 5:7).]
1 Timothy 1:9 says: “The law is not meant for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful.”
[Comment: This passage plainly tells us that God’s Law is still in force, and even though it does not condemn those who repent and place their faith in Christ (the “righteous” Gal. 3:6), it does condemn those who are unrepentant and who, therefore, see Christ’s sacrifice as an excuse to keep on sinning (Hebrews 10:26-31).]
Galatians 5:18-21 says: “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under
the law. However the works of the flesh are obvious, which are;
fornication, sexual filthiness, sensuality… and such like: of which I
you, as I have in the past, that those who do such things will not inherit the
These verses plainly tell us that those who are led by the
Spirit will not be sinning willfully, and that those who
do sin willfully will not inherit the
[NOTE: New believers often go through a struggle with the flesh, and do things that they are sorry for later, but because they have a repentant heart they will be sorry when they fall short of what God wants, and will try to avoid repeating their mistakes. “God will not despise a heart that is humbled and sorry for sin,” (Psalm 51:17).]
The Root of the Problem
One reason for the modern resurgence of Antinomianism lies in the totally unbiblical belief that once a person is saved he can live in sin and still be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Now, it is perfectly true that just as we saved by grace, we are kept by grace. As it is written, we are “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (1Peter 1:5). However, God keeps us saved by keeping us repentant, not by letting us sin (1Corinthians 6:9-10). Once we come to faith in Christ a transformation takes place. The Holy Spirit comes into our heart and we are born again. As it is written, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new, (2Corinthians ). “Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and they are opposed to each other: so that you cannot do the things that you would,” (Galatians -17).
Going a bit deeper, one of the reasons for the prevalent belief that “a saved person can live in sin and still be saved” is the mistaken idea that we get saved by praying a prayer, rather than by personal repentance and faith in Christ. While praying the “sinners prayer” [Luke 18:13] can be a expression of repentance and faith in Christ, the people who pray it often do so because that is what they are being told to do, not because they really understand it or have placed their faith in Christ. As a result, many of the people who pray that prayer never really experience a change in their life, begin to attend church, or feel any guilt over sin. Worse yet, if the person who led them to pray the “sinners prayer” tells them that now, because they have prayed that prayer, they can never lose their salvation no matter what they do, even if they live in sin, they may wind up being more wicked than they were before.
As a result, those who assume that those people are saved because they prayed the “sinners prayer,” assume that they are still saved even though they are living in sin. Therefore, instead of warning them of God’s judgment [Hebrews 10:26-31], they tell them that they will not be happy or have God’s blessing on their life unless they have works — thus teaching that God’s favor depends on what we do, rather than what Christ did on the cross. And, that is pure works righteousness!
In attempting to find Biblical support for that unscriptural belief, those who have that mindset often appeal to 1Corinthians -32, “For he who eats and drinks [the Lord’s Supper] unworthily, eats and drinks condemnation to himself… That is why many among you are weak and sickly, and many sleep… But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we will not be condemned with the world.”
They claim that the people spoken of in this passage are saved people who are being punished because of their sins. However, verse 31 tells us that the people being punished have not judged themselves (as the Publican did, Luke ). And, if they have not judged themselves, then they have never acknowledged their sin and sought God’s forgiveness. Therefore, they are unrepentant. And, if they are unrepentant, then they are not “saved” people, but church members who have never repented. In fact, it is impossible for a saved person to partake of the Lord’s Supper “unworthily,” because the same blood of Christ that “cleanses us of all sin,” is what makes us worthy (1John 1:7).
True repentance is the work of both Law and Gospel. The law shows us our sin and need of forgiveness in Christ; the Gospel assures us that we have that forgiveness in Christ. In the sight of God there is no difference between an unrepentant Pharisee (who is convinced that God accepts him as he is), and an unrepentant homosexual (who is convinced that God accepts him as he is). In both cases they are unrepentant, and the only difference between them is the means that they use to convince themselves that God accepts them.
Isaiah 57:15 For the high and lofty One who lives forever, and whose name is Holy, says; I live in a high and holy place, with him who has a humble heart and is sorry for sin.
Ezekiel 14:6 The Lord GOD says; Repent, and turn away from your idols; and turn your backs on all your abominations.
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Hebrews 11:6 Without faith [in Christ] it is impossible to please God.
[Comment: The first two verses tell us that true repentance involves a sorrow “for sin” that will lead us to turn our “backs” on sin. However, because it is impossible to please God apart from faith in Christ, repentance is incomplete without faith in Christ (Heb. 11:6).
Because those who are truly saved have a repentant heart and do not want sin in their life, just as it is impossible for someone who is truly repentant to “live in sin,” it is impossible for someone who is truly saved to “live in sin” (Galatians 5:16-17). I am not saying that those who are saved will never sin (even the desire to do evil is sin, 1John ), but I am saying that they will be sorry if they sin, and will cry out to God for forgiveness (1John 1:8-9).
The Bible has two distinct messages. The Law is God’s message to the unrepentant, and is intended to convict the unrepentant of their sin and show them their need for forgiveness (Romans -20). The Gospel is God’s message to those who repent and look to Christ for forgiveness (Romans 5:1, 1John 1:8-9). The Apostle Paul referred to these two messages as the Law and the Promises (Galatians 3).
The Law is not made for those who repent (1Timothy 1:9), but for those who harden their hearts in unrepentance (Hebrews -31). And, because God designed the Law to reach the lost, every part of it is important. One part condemns those who sin sexually, while another part condemns thieves etc.. And, one passage that condemns those who sin willfully (Antinomians) is Hebrews 10:26-31. “If we sin willfully or deliberately after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins remains, But only a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire, that will devour the enemies of God”. Those who are unrepentant need to hear that message! And, if we explain it away we are guilty of doing something the Pharisees did, namely making the Word of God of no effect (Mark 7:13).
In the fifth chapter of Corinthians, Paul tells the congregation how God wants us to deal with someone who is sinning willfully, yet is unrepentant. Notice that the condemned man is not just guilty of transgressing man made rules, but of a sin that required the death penalty under the Law of Moses (Leviticus ). Also notice that he is not to be condemned in order to make him bow to congregational leadership, but to save his soul by bringing him to repentance (verse 5). And, to save his soul the congregation is told: “Expel that wicked man from your congregation,” (1Corinthians ). Do not, “associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler; do not even eat with such a man,” (1Corinthians ).
And, we know that it worked, because in Paul’s next letter to the Corinthians we are told that the man repented, and, therefore, could be readmitted to the congregation (2Corinthians 2:6-8).
The fear and love of the Lord is to “hate evil” (Psalm 97:10, Proverbs ).