Misunderstanding the Law: Antinomianism and Legalism

The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way In, The Christian Faith, Mike Horton has some helpful notes that help steer Christians clear of both antinomianism and legalism.  Here are a few parts of a longer section:

In many respects, antinomianism and legalism share the same misunderstandings of the law.  Like human laws, God’s laws are not abstract principles for living but are stipulations in a covenant.  God’s law functions differently depending on the type of covenant.  In a covenant of law, the principle is, ‘Do this and you shall live; break it and you shall die.’  The basis of blessings and curses is personal fulfillment of the covenant’s terms.  However, in the covenant of grace, the basis is the personal fulfillment of the law by our representative head and his bearing of the covenant curses on the cross.  In this exchange – our sins imputed to Christ and his righteousness imputed to us – we are pronounced just according to the fullest letter and spirit of God’s law.  No longer capable of condemning us in God’s courtroom, the law directs our steps in the way of faith-filled gratitude.  Antinomianism and legalism seem to assume that the only function of the law- even in relation to believers – is that of condemning those who fail to keep it.  Neither recognizes sufficiently the completely new relationship that the believer has to God’s law.”

“Now written on our heart and not merely on our conscience, the law is cherished by believers.  They long to keep it, not as a way of attaining life but as a way of living the life that they have been given by grace alone.”

The entire discussion is on pages 673ff in The Christian Faith.  (FYI, if you’re interested in a detailed outline of this book, here is one I put together).

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

2 thoughts on “Misunderstanding the Law: Antinomianism and Legalism”

  1. Legalists and Libertines…I’ve always thought of both as see-sawing siblings since once a legalist is tired of the law they “backslide” while someone sick of lawlessness becomes a legalists. The cycle can only be broken through Christ and the Gospel!


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