Free From the Law?

The following quote is taken from Dr. Sinclair Ferguson’s new book The Whole Christ; Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Crossway Publishers).  By the way, this is a great book!

In the chapter “Faces of Antinomianism” Ferguson describes the true misunderstanding and danger of antinomianism.  He contends that the solution is not found in directing others to place themselves under a rigid obedience to the moral law.  That would miss the point.  I’ll let him explain.

Antinomianism means “against law” (“anti” – “against” and “nomos” – “law”).  The concept is illustrated well in the following phrase:

“Free from the law, O blessed condition,

I can sin as I please and still have remission.”


“Antinomianism has an everyday and mundane form, for example, in the professing Christian who responds to his passenger’s anxious glance at his speedometer with a ‘We’re not under law; we’re under grace.’

At one level it would be appropriate to say: ‘Actually you are under law – Indiana Law, or Pennsylvania Law, or Scots Law – and there is a flashing light behind you to prove it!’

But in terms of our theology of the Christian life, responding ‘But you are under the law’ would in any case not really deal with the problem.  It would miss its real heart.  For the deepest response to antinomianism is not ‘Your are under the law’ but rather

You are despising the gospel and failing to understand how the grace of God in the gospel works!  There is no condemnation for you under the law because of your faith-union with Christ.

But that same faith-union leads to the requirements of the law being fulfilled in you through the Spirit.  Your real problem is not that you do not understand the law.  It is that you do not understand the gospel.  For Paul says that we are ‘in-lawed to Christ’ (1 Cor. 9:20 – 21).  Our relationship to the law is not a bare legal one, coldly impersonal.  No, our conformity to it is the fruit of our marriage to our new husband Christ.

Practical antinomianism has many forms today.  One of them is the secular gospel of self-acceptance masquerading as Christianity.  ‘Since God accepts me the way I am, I ought not to get straitjacketed by the law of God – what God wants is that I be myself.’  This has very concrete expressions in what are euphemistically described as ‘lifestyle choices’; ‘This is how I am, God is gracious, and [implied: unlike you, if you disagree with me] he accepts me as I am, and therefore I will remain as I am.’

At one level the problem is indeed rejection of God’s law.  But underneath lies a failure to understand grace and ultimately to understand God.  True, his love for me is not based on my qualification or my preparation.  But it is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are.  Rather he accepts us despite the way we are.  He receives us only in Christ and for Christ’s sake.  Nor does it mean to leave us the way he found us, but to transform us into the likeness of his Son (Rom. 8:29).  Without that transformation and new conformity of life we do not have any evidence that we were ever his in the first place.

At root then antinomianism separates God’s law from God’s person, and grace from the union with Christ in which the law is written in the heart.  In doing so it jeopardizes not simply the Decalogue; it dismantles the truth of the gospel” (pp 153 – 154).