In our last article, we saw how the Moral Law of God is still applicable today for both Christians and non-Christians. We also saw that the Law has three principle uses: Firstly, the Theological use, which paints the righteousness of God and reflects our own unrighteousness; secondly, the Pedagogical use, which restrains especially the unregenerate from giving full expression to their depravity and at the same time drives them to Christ; and thirdly, the Moral use, which lights the path for the Christian’s journey and prods him along the way.
Not everyone, however, will agree with everything we say. Charles C. Ryrie who represents the majority of Dispensationalists today, for example, insists that "The law was never given to Gentiles and is expressly done away for the Christian" (Balancing the Christian Life, [Moody Press, 1969], 88). Moreover, Dispensationalists normally drive a sharp wedge between justification and sanctification, so that a person can be justified without being sanctified. This is well illustrated in the book by Zane Hodges, entitled The Gospel Under Siege. Under such a system of theology, a person can be regenerated but not converted. He is a "carnal Christian," and he will be saved as by fire. Thus, for the Dispensationalist, even if the Law is still applicable, obedience is not necessary for salvation. Sanctification is obtained by obedience to some biblical instructions; sanctification is optional, therefore, obedience is optional.
The appropriate term to describe such kind of teachings would be ‘antinomianism.’ This word comes from two Greek words, (anti), meaning ‘against,’ and (nomos), meaning ‘law.’ The classical Dispensationalist is a theological antinomian. No Reformed and truly Calvinistic person can be a theological antinomian. I hope that none who reads this bulletin is a theological antinomian, for the Lord said: "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:19).
Having said so, however, experience teaches us that we live in a day when many a professing Christian is a practical antinomian: affirming that a Christian must obey the Law, but yet often circumventing the Law. Let me suggest five ways in which this is commonly done. Let us be reminded of the wicked devices in our hearts. Let us repent where we have failed; and let us be careful not to persist in circumventing the Law lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (see Hebrews 3:13). It is true that many of us could circumvent the Law not only on account of the corruption of our natures, but also on account of ignorance. But let us bear in mind that no one who ignores the Law of God or circumvents it as a matter of conscious practice can credibly call himself a Christian. No one ought to claim to be a child of God who does not have a desire to obey Him, and so to consciously choose obedience rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin. It is my hope, therefore, that as you read the five points, you will not only be instructed as to what is involved in an obedient Christian life, but you will see the real state of your soul.
Narrowing the Scope of the Law
The Lord Jesus, in His exposition of the Moral Law of God, made it a point to correct this error. Thus He taught His disciples that the sixth commandment is not only about bodily murder but also about hatred and slander (Mt 5:21–22); and in the same way, the seventh commandment is not only about illicit physical relations but also lust of the eyes and heart (Mt 5:27–28).
At one time, after I became a Christian, I totally disregarded the fourth commandment. Sunday was time for shopping and extra time for study. I knew there is a fourth commandment, but it never occurred to me that it had anything to do with me since I was studying and not working (or so I thought). Similarly, it never occurred to me that I could break the eighth commandment without committing shoplifting or breaking into someone’s house to steal. I was even employed once by a lecturer of the Computer Science department of the university to break the protection scheme of an expensive Artificial Intelligence program. I was successful and even bragged about it. That was five years after I made profession of faith! It never occurred to me that the Psalmist is describing a Christian when he says that "his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night" (Ps 1:2). Never did I meditate on the law, nor did I know that the Westminster divines expounded on the Law in the catechisms (not that I knew there was such a thing as the Westminster Assembly—although I was baptised in a church that has the Westminster Confession of Faith as her doctrinal standard).
What about you? Are you also ignoring the Law by failing to see its larger scope? Or worst, do you know, for example, the expositions of the Law in our Catechisms, but are simply ignoring the fine points in your Christian life? Realise that, for you who know the requirements of the Law, your failure to take heed to it is exceedingly sinful, for our Lord says, "But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Lk 12:48).
The second way in which we circumvent the Law is by a failure to obey wholeheartedly and with the right reason. The Pharisees during the Lord Jesus’ days were adept at this. They saw the Law only in terms of its external requirements and so they went about strictly fulfilling it to the letter externally, to gain righteousness or to show off their righteousness. They received the severest of the Lord’s indictment: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (Mt 23:23).
How does this apply to us? Do you honour your father and mother by giving them a regular allowance, but shrink from giving of your time to help them with some chores they require to be done? Do you appear genial and loving before your brethren in church but are full of anger and unreasonableness before your subordinates at work? "It is a sad thing to be Christians at a supper, heathens in our shops, and devils in our closets" (Stephen Charnock).
Spurgeon wrote of an occasion when he was in Venice and, since it was his last day there, he wanted to buy some souvenirs to bring back. To his dismay, he discovered that all the shops were closed because it was a Roman Catholic saint’s day. His regret however soon vanished when he peered into one of the shops and discovered people inside. Then he discovered that the front door was close to give the appearance that the owner of the shop was observing the saint’s day, but the shop was really opened and customers could get in by the side door. He could buy all the souvenirs he needed.
Does this speak of you too? That outwardly, many see you as a very righteous person, but inwardly there are all the dead man’s bones. Are you the white-washed sepulchre that our Lord spoke about? Has the Law become your outward façade so as to render you exceedingly sinful? For their hypocritical religiosity, Israel and Judah were called Sodom and Gomorrah by our Lord (Isa 1:9–15). Hypocrites do not inherit the Kingdom of God. Their portion includes weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 24:51), not "everlasting joy." Let us therefore be especially watchful against this sin in our lives.
Minimising the Severity of
The third common way of circumventing the Law is by minimising the severity of breaking it. This happens when a person, who has transgressed the Law, thinks that his sin is minor; such as is evident when someone who lied says: "I only told a small lie"; or when someone who pilfered funds entrusted to him says: "It was only a couple of dollars!" This attitude is fuelled by several decades of evangelical preaching that emphasises love without holiness or justice; and forgiveness without repentance. It is true that there are degrees of severity in the Law: murder, for example, is certainly more severe than lying. However, we must not fail to realise that every sin against an infinite God is of infinite severity and deserves nothing less than eternal damnation. This is why only the Son of God and no one else could pay for our sin. Thus, the severity of breaking any of God’s laws must be appreciated and, often, drastic actions must be taken to counteract habitual sins and strong temptations to sin.
Our Lord teaches us: "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee," and "And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee" (Mt 5:29a, 30a). Does this appear to you as unnecessarily harsh and unchristian? If so, you have not really appreciated the demands of the Law, and cannot really appreciate the value of Christ’s death, and are possibly still foreign to Christ.
Sin must be recognised for what it is. It is an affront against God. And sin by a believer is nothing less than rebellion against our King and Lord. Thus, drastic actions may be called to fight against sin and temptation. Is your television a cause of your sloth and lack of time for the Word of God. Get rid of it! Are there some materials in your house that is a source of temptation to you? Burn them! Is your relationship with an unbeliever causing you to sin against God? Cut off the relationship before it is too late! "It is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell" (Mt 5:29b, 30b). The Lord is of course not teaching that we are saved by keeping the Law, or that we could loose our salvation by breaking the Law, but He is saying that one who continues to minimise the severity of sin and continues to sin cannot possibly be a true believer.
Now then, let us seek not to allow the deceitfulness of sin to lull us into thinking that there is such a thing as a harmless sin. A little cut on the toe may be a small thing for most people, but it has resulted in the necessity to amputate the entire feet for countless diabetics. The ‘little sins’ in your lives, tolerated by a attitude of thinking that "[God] is altogether such an one as thyself" (Ps 50:21), may become a full blown gangrenous infection which shows itself on the Day of Judgement.
Applying the Law Relatively
The fourth, and one of the most common, way of circumventing the Law is to interpret and apply it relatively. This was the problem of the Pharisee who prayed: "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican" (Lk 18:11). This Pharisee was blind to his own sins because he felt that he was doing well since others were worst than him. He failed to see the blackness of his heart because he had a preconceived idea of what is black and then he looked at himself against the deep blackness of his preconception.
Ask an average unbeliever if he is a sinner, and he is likely to tell you that he has never committed robbery or murder. Do you wonder why he does not simply say ‘yes’ or ‘no’? Yes, the answer lies in the fact that the godless man will always think relatively that he is not really bad. It is a mark of unbelief not to view oneself against the absolute Law and holiness of God, but against the sin of others.
But beloved, is this not also your problem, when you reason that you are not so bad although you are late for work, because your colleagues are all later than you? Or do you bring your office stationery home for your private use and take no notice of it because everyone else does the same? Would not you be practically taking God’s Law into your own hands and determining how you ought to be judged? O, the sinfulness of sin that exalts the sinner to the place of God!
Let us be particularly careful to detect this manifestation of antinomianism in our lives. Beware! It appears in many guises. It may appear in a holier-than-thou attitude in your conversation with those you perceive to be less stringent in their view of the Law or less disciplined in their Christian life. But conversely it also appears when someone confesses a sin to us, and we try to ease the other person’s conscience by saying "It’s alright, I had done the same myself too." And again it appears when you hear a sermon condemning sin, and you straightaway imagine in your heart that the preacher is referring to someone else without considering if it is true of you too.
Applying the Law Situationally
Finally, perhaps the most common way in which the Law is circumvented is by applying it situationally. This was the problem with King Saul, when he tried to excuse himself for his failure to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice, by blaming it on the fact that the people were dispersing from him and he could not wait (1 Sam 13:11–12). On another occasion, he failed to obey the Lord’s command to destroy the Amalekites entirely and tried to excuse himself by claiming that the people had kept the sheep and oxen to sacrifice to the Lord (1 Sam 15:15).
Are we sometimes like that too? I once heard a lecturer of a Bible college suggesting that it is permissible to use pirated software at home, whereas in the office, only originals should be used. When I asked him what was the difference between using it at home and in the office, and pointed out that using pirated software is a breaking of the eighth commandment, he went into a long discourse on how unfair Americans are to sell their software at such high prices so that poor Asians cannot afford them. But what about you? Have you not also interpreted the Law of God situationally, to your favour, and to your convenience? Have you used your office photocopier to copy materials for use in church and explained it away by reasoning that it is for God’s work? Sadly, I did just that—until I heard my conscience screaming and I had to pay back what I owed as I repented before the Lord.
Let us also watch carefully for the manifestation of this attitude towards the Law for it appears most subtly in many ways. It is probably operative when the first thought that comes to mind when sin is indicted is an excuse. In other words, when the word "BUT" is the first word that comes to mind when someone points out a sin you had committed, or when your conscience troubles you about something you had done: "But he started it first"; "But I did not hurt anyone"; "But I had no choice—my father would kill me if he finds out"; "But it was for the sake of the company’s reputation"; "But she never told me the truth either"; etc., etc. It is operative also when we read some Puritan expositions of Law and, finding that we are unable to live up to the biblical standards propounded, begin to excuse ourselves by charging the Puritans of being legalistic or outmoded.
Beloved, let us remember that the Law of God is in heaven forever settled fast (Ps 119:89). Let none of us re-interpret the Law to suit ourselves, or we become, for all intents and purposes, not just antinomians but atheistic ‘Christians.’
Beloved, how do you fare? Do you see yourself pictured in the portrait of the antinomian painted above? Could this be the reason why your Christian life has been miserable and stunted? Is it because of sin,—which is lawlessness? Listen to the words of Isaiah: "Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear" (Isa 59:1–2). And listen to the words of the Lord through Jeremiah: "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you" (Jer 5:25). If you are not enjoying God and the blessings which in this life do accompany your salvation (WSC 36), it is almost certainly because of your sin. God does indeed accept us as righteous in His sight for the righteousness of Christ imputed on us, but any of us who sins habitually and knowingly has no right to claim justification. No one who is antinomian in his Christian walk ought to claim eternal security in Christ. "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him" (1 Jn 3:6). Sanctification must necessarily follow justification.
Weep, O you who are out of Christ, for the misery that sin will inflict upon you in this life and the life to come is unimaginable. Call out unto the Saviour before it is too late. Let not Satan and sin have the final victory over you for then shall you be cast into "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:41).