The word antinomian comes from an ancient Greek word that literally meant “against law.” Dictionary.com defines antinomian as “a person who maintains that Christians, by virtue of divine grace, are freed not only from biblical law and church-prescribed behavioral norms, but also from all moral law.” In other words, an antinomian sees himself as under no obligation to follow any type of moral code. He is completely free.
The father of antinomianism was Johannes Agricola. He, like Martin Luther, was a German Reformer, but they disagreed on whether the law permanently bound the Christian. Agricola’s position was that the purpose of the law was to drive Christians to the cross and repentance, at which point they were no longer under any law, either Levitical or moral. Luther, on the other hand, believed that the law had a place in the Christian’s life. The law initially drives a Christian to Christ, and it continues as a tool to move the believer to ongoing renewal and maturity. Luther publicly opposed Agricola’s teaching in “Against the Antinomians,” published in 1539.
The antinomian position can be seen as an extreme version of easy believism. It’s true that we are saved by grace through faith, but the believer must always contend with the sinful nature (Romans 7:20). Scripture teaches that, after faith, there must be a corresponding way of life that pleases God and is filled with good works (Colossians 1:10–12). We are to confess our sin to the Lord (1 John 1:9), and to define sin we must have a standard.
The basic idea behind antinomianism, that there is no moral law God expects Christians to obey, is manifestly unscriptural. “His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), but Christ does have commands. Ephesians 4 gives an obvious moral code, and the antinomian cannot simply ignore these directives:
Put off falsehood (verse 25)
Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry (verse 26)
Steal no longer (verse 28)
Work, doing something useful (verse 28)
Share with those in need (verse 28)
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths (verse 29)
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice (verse 31)
Sadly, many Christians today live an antinomian lifestyle, even if they do not consider themselves antinomian. They claim a saving belief in Jesus Christ but fail to live out that belief scripturally. Sin is sin, even under grace. Romans 6:15 warns, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!”
James also speaks clearly of the believer’s need to live righteously. He even speaks of a “law”: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right” (James 2:8). James goes on to challenge those who believe they can live as they please: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18). To James, it matters a great deal how we live: “A person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). The antinomian is wrong to think he is under no law whatsoever.
It is good for us to periodically examine our own lives in terms of whether we are living an antinomian lifestyle in some respect. Are we walking in morality, integrity, and love in every area of our lives? Or do we in some ways relax our morality, presuming that “grace” will cover our sin? “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” (1 John 2:3–6).