Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Antinomianism, some thoughts

(this would take more than there's space in the comments section, thus it becomes a post)

Two thoughts on antinomianism. Thought one, dealing with the logic issues embedded in the argument. There is, one must admit, a logical argument for antinomianism. It is good logic to say that, if I have been forgiven for all past, present and future sins, then I'm really free to continue sinning.

However, as the good lawyers, Mr. Carr and Mr. Stokes probably know, not all logical inferences are true. I may look outside my window, see that the sidewalk is wet and conclude that it has rained. This is a logical inference correctly made. (after raining, the sidewalk gets wet. the sidewalk is wet. it rained.) Clearly, though, there are more options to the sidewalk getting wet than rain. My neighbor could have sprayed it with his garden hose. It could be melted snow. An elephant from a passing circus parade could have sprayed it with it's nose. Simply because something follows logically does not, in fact, ensure it's veracity.

(To placate my freshman year logic professor, let me say here that the problem is actually in the pre-argument assumptions. that is what, in fact, leads to false, although logically correct conclusions.)

So this is the first problem in the antinomian argument: grace is a license to sin. Yes, it is logically correct to say so, but that does not ensure its truthfulness, or, to put it another way, it does not ensure ontological validity.

The second thought is more theologcial. The reason why the above, although logically correct, is not true is due to the nature of how it is that we receive this grace through faith.

We do not receive our "own" grace apart from Christ. It isn't as if we receive a get-out-of-hell-free token when we are saved by grace through faith. Rather, we partake in God's own righteousness in Christ, by the Spirit. That is, when we become Christians (Christ-followers, people of the way, etc.) we are, by the Spirit, united to Christ. Paul uses this language 164 times in his letters. That is, the language of "in Christ."

The Church Fathers & Mothers talked about this "union in Christ" as the reason for the "great exchange" between him and us. All that is ours is now Christ's, and all that is Christ's is now ours. So, our sin & rebellion becomes Christ's, and his righteousness, his intimacy with the Father, his death & life, his power, his Spirit are now ours.

But this exchange only happens because we are united to Christ by the Spirit. ("How," you might ask, "am I 'united' with Christ? I'm right here! I don't see me united with anything!" The answer is, you are united with Christ by the Spirit. Difficult to see, the Spirit is.)

Now, Luther talked about not being able to have only "half" of Christ because of this union. What half was he talking about? The half that the antinomians wanted to take: grace, forgiveness, righteousness . . . all those "good" things that came through faith alone. But because we only have those "goods" in our union with Christ, we also have the "bads" (as antinomians might say) that come from our union with Christ.

What are those things? Obedience, death to self, etc. Why do we have those as well? Because of the "great exchange". Remember, that's how we got to participate in Christ's righteousness. It is also why we now participate in Christ's obedience to the Father, even unto death. This is the crazy, wonderful thing! We are united to Christ, by the Spirit! We now have no choice but to do what Christ is doing: being obedient to the Father. That obedience does not earn us anything, it is the corollary to our salvation.

And not some insipid corollary that goes like: "Well, Jesus did such nice things for you, don't you think you 'owe' him? Don't you think that the least that you can do is stop sinning, for a least a little bit?" Rather, this is a corollary that has its base, not in sentiment, but in the reality of our union with & in Christ, by the Spirit.

The problem of the Antinomians (or at least one of the problems) is that they lost the theological understanding that their salvation came through their union with Christ. This is a very relational understanding of what happened to us in Christ. Instead they got it in their head that salvation is more about forensic or Federal issues. That is, there's some great judge that must be placated, and so, Christ placated Him by giving us all get-out-of-hell-free tokens that Christ "earned" by shedding his blood. If that's your understanding of what happened, it's extremely easy to go down the antinomian road.

Sadly, some of my more "reformed" brothers (and here I use the term in the extremely narrow understanding that the Westminster Confession of Faith is the definition of Reformed Theology) find themselves in trouble because, while they wholly hold to "salvation by grace alone," they hold to it in this forensic/Federal sense, and have to fight all the time on why antinomianism isn't the right way to go.

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