by Aaron Budjen
The Lord Jesus died on a cross approximately 2000 years ago. The evidence for this event is overwhelming. For those who place their trust in the Lord Jesus for their eternity, the meaning of this event is generally defined as the forgiveness of sins. Jesus died on the cross so our sins would be forgiven. According to 1 John 2:2, "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." Jesus died to take away the sins of the world, and the sins of those who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus for who He is, and for what He came to accomplish. Our God no longer holds our sins against us, because of what Jesus did on our behalf. It is unusual to find someone who is a part of the Christian world who would deny this reality. The problem however, is that there are many other things people in the Christian world believe that contradict this truth. Many Christians will believe contradictory doctrines because they are afraid other people will use the forgiveness they have as an excuse to sin.
If our God no longer holds our sins against us, then there is no penalty that our God will impose on people when they sin. If He does impose a penalty, there is a very important contradiction that needs to be addressed. What penalty can He impose that will be consistent with the seriousness of sin? Is the penalty of sin death, or is it not that bad any more? If the penalty is not the death of God manifested in the flesh, then the seriousness of sin has been reduced. This is what the majority of people in the Christian world believe. They do not take sin seriously. The truth that God does not hold our sins against us means that sin is so evil there is no alternative but the forgiveness that has already been given to us through the execution of the Messiah. This is not an uncommon difficulty for people when they consider the complete forgiveness of sins. The concern that commonly develops is how do we get people to stop sinning? If there is no penalty for sinning, then why would someone stop committing sin? This is a very important question that needs to be asked if a Christian is going to mature in his faith.
There is no penalty that can be imposed on an individual that will stop them from sinning. It is possible that an individual's flesh can be managed if it is threatened enough, but threatening an individual does not address the concerns of a person's heart. Our God is concerned with the condition of a person's heart, not the behavior of their flesh. The behavior of a person's flesh is the embodiment of what they believe in their mind, and of what they struggle with in the deepest part of their being. Threatening an individual with shame, guilt or divine intervention that will cause pain or loss will not deal with the issues in a person's heart. Threats of withholding blessings or divine favor will not deal with the issues in a person's heart. People sin because they have a heart problem. People will not stop if they are promised enough carrots, or told that spiritual beatings will cease. For a person to address the sins in his life, he must deal with the true reasons why he commits sin.
Consider an example of adultery. If you are not married, assume you are for a moment. How would you feel if your spouse came home after a busy day and expressed to you that they struggled with the sin of adultery? Perhaps you would rather not know, but they might be very excited to tell you about their victory over this temptation. They might tell you something like, "I didn't commit adultery today because I didn't want God to punish me." Or perhaps, "I didn't commit adultery today because I didn't want to miss out on a potential reward in Heaven." Other reasons might include, "I wanted to be pleasing to God", or "I wanted to show God how much I appreciate what He has done for me." Or of course my personal favorite excuse, "I didn't commit adultery today because I really want God to bless me. Considering that of course, I think He should think about delivering that blessing before the next temptation is presented." Now, I don't know about you, but if my wife said any of these things to me, I would feel violated. She might not have committed adultery, but the heart attitude that she would be expressing would be, in my opinion, horrifically evil. These are the same reasons or motivations that people give in the Christian world to say no to sin, and I sincerely believe that these supposed motives are an expression of a totally evil heart before God.
I certainly do believe we should anticipate a reduction of sin in a believer's life. In my opinion, there is no opportunity for argument when it comes to this. To me, the argument has to do with how will this occur? What will be the dynamic behind such expectations? I am not going to explain in this paper how I believe this will occur. Instead, what I would like to focus on is the fact that some people use their freedom in forgiveness to indulge their flesh, and others indulge their flesh through religious pride when they say no to sin, for reasons similar to what I described in the previous paragraph. In my opinion, there are three categories of people. The first is a person who does not care about knowing their God and pursues a life of sin, directly violating the law of God. The second is a person who believes they obey the law of God, but are consumed with the sin of religious pride. The third is a person who has had their heart transformed and is not led by their flesh, or a system of law. Instead, he is led by the Spirit of God on the basis of peace in his heart, through the inheritance he has received in Christ.The first type of person I defined above can be described as an, "Antinomian", or, "Antinomianist." The word, "Antinomian" means that a person is against law. A person who rejects the law of God and has no interest in knowing God is definitely against His law. The third type of person is often accused of being an Antinomian because he does not believe that any law has any purpose in his life as a child of God. Instead, he believes he is to be led by the Holy Spirit, through Him meeting the deepest needs of his heart.
I sincerely believe that it is the second type of person who is truly an Antinomian, because he is using the law for a purpose for which it was not intended to be used for. They believe that the law was given so he can say no to sin for reasons similar to those I gave in the adultery example above. Those who use the law for a purpose that it was not intended to be used for, are against the law. Those who use the law for a purpose it was not intended for, use it as an excuse to indulge their sinful desire for religious pride. To me, they are the ultimate Antinomian.
The law of God was given to us for several reasons. The most commonly understood reason was to show us that we cannot live a life of repentance and obedience, to the extent that we will accomplish the demands of the law. The intent of this purpose is to lead us to absolute despair, so we will recognize we have no hope outside of the grace and mercy of God. Therefore, this reason is to demonstrate that a person is sinful, that he does not love God and that he has no faith in Him.
Another important reason for the law of God was to give prophetic references to show us how He would accomplish the salvation we now have. My favorite example of this is the laws of Passover. The laws of Passover were prophetic in the sense that Jesus was our Passover Lamb as was expressed in 1 Cor. 5:7. Just as the Passover Lamb died to set Israel free from the bondage of Egypt, Jesus died on Passover and set us free from the bondage of the world. There are many prophetic fulfillments that are related to the laws of Passover.Another important reason for the law of God was to give foreshadowings of our new life in Him. The Sabbath law is a very good example of how He foreshadowed the rest we experience in Him, every day, because of the work He did for us. Paul referred to the Sabbath law in this context in Colossians 2:16,17. A similar passage is found in Hebrews, Chapter 4. There are many reasons why our God gave us His law, and we should use the law for the purposes that He gave it.
The law of God was also given to stir up more sin in the world. There are three fundamental ways this is accomplished. The first is through the natural rebellion of humanity. Many people have a personality, such that if a person tells them what they should do, they will respond by doing the opposite. Or, if a person tells them what not to do, they will again do the opposite. This comes from a person's desire to be their own god, and not be under the authority of anyone else.
The second way the law stirs up sin is by giving us more things to think about not doing. Paul used the example of coveting in Romans 7:7-11. Through his desire to obey the command not to covet, it stirred within him a greater amount of coveting. This is because the continual attention given to what we should not be doing eventually leaves us in a vulnerable condition to be tempted. For example, when we have our focus on not sinning, we will believe we are not fully accepted by our God. When we believe we are not being accepted by our God, our need for acceptance can be tempted through sin. There are many things people covet because they believe they will be accepted if they posses them.
The third way the law stirs up sin is through a person's belief that he is being obedient. When a person believes he is obedient to God, the sin of religious pride will be stirred up within him. In this context, it does not matter what the law is. The law can be given by God, or it can be a law of someone else's derivation. The effect still will be the same, because the dysfunction is with us as people, not with the law people try to obey.
In Galatians 3:24,25, Paul referred to the law as a tutor, or schoolmaster that leads a person to Christ. The law can still be used for this purpose today. For a person to trust in and rely on the forgiveness of God, he needs to recognize his need for forgiveness. When a person is confronted with the requirements of the law, he can see that he does not love God, know God or have any faith in Him. With that acknowledgment, a person can be the recipient of the mercy of God. When a person receives the mercy of God through the Lord Jesus, the purpose of the law has been fulfilled in his life. To then return to the law for guidance in how we live will result in the same conclusions. When you use the law for the purpose of leading you to Christ, you don't return again to the law after you have come to Christ. If you do, it will again stir up more sin that will likely show itself as sinful religious pride.
Not everyone responds well to the purpose of the law being to show us our need for mercy. The reason why is because many people believe they are relatively good, especially when they compare themselves with others. They can still respond to His mercy, because of the few sins they believe they commit. With this confession, I believe a person can be saved. The few sins a person recognizes within himself, can be used to demonstrate to him that he has a lack of faith. When a person comes to Christ under these circumstances, the reverse problem can easily result. If a person comes to Christ with the belief that he is obedient to some aspects of the law of God, he can easily reverse his position when he receives salvation. A person can be saved when he recognizes his lack of faith through his failure to repent and obey, but he will then suffer from religious pride, because he then believes he has faith, because of the other aspects of his life that leads him to believe he is repentant and obedient. The relative percentages will often remain the same. For example, if a person acknowledges that he fails to obey 10% of the law, and he is saved through this recognition, then he can begin his Christian life being 90% obedient to God. This is a powerful deception that results in a significant amount of religious pride in an individual.
A very important purpose of the law is to show an unbeliever that he does not have faith. Unfortunately, there are many people who will then try and use the law to show they have faith. They do not do this because of where they fall short, but because of where they succeed. There are many people who will be impressed by a person's repentance and obedience as a Christian. The Christian might testify that once he was kind of bad, but now he is not so bad, and he does works for God. Some might be impressed by that, and there might be a legitimate transformation that took place in the individual. However, for someone who truly knows the law of God, the problem is not what he does that shows he has faith, it is all that he fails to do that shows he has no faith. Someone who doesn't know the law can be impressed, but someone who does know the law can be disgusted. The law was never given, to, "prove" a person's faith by works. This is a false belief that leads a person to use the law for a purpose for which it was never intended for. In this way, I believe a person is against the law of God. He is an Antinomian because he uses the law as an excuse to commit the sin of religious pride. The law of God was given to show us our lack of faith, not the presence of it.
When it comes to the complete forgiveness of sins, there are many Christian leaders who believe in it, but they won't teach it because they are afraid it will give people an excuse to continue in their sin. One popular Christian leader whose beliefs reflect those of a large percentage of Christian leaders in the world is John Macarthur. In the early 1980's he taught about the complete forgiveness of sins, but later he changed what he was teaching. He said, "historically, such teaching has consistently led to the error of antinomianism - a practical disregard for the law of God and a callous lack of concern for violating it." I do agree with him that it will lead to such an error in many people's lives. When it comes to the first category of people I described we are certainly in agreement. However, I also believe that those who use the law for a purpose it was not intended for are also disregarding the law of God and have a callous lack of concern for violating it. What is more important to me, is that I have found that some people will follow through with the intent of God, so they can begin to truly know the love that He has, and to truly know Him for who He is. If a person does not believe in His complete forgiveness, I do not know how it would be possible for him to know His love, or to know Him for who He really is. Therefore, I believe it is better to continue to proclaim the truth about forgiveness, because it is better for very few people to grow to know their God for who He is, than for no one to grow to know who He is. If no one grows to know who He is, the maximum level of maturity a believer will ever experience will be an experience of being consumed with religious pride.
By Aaron Budjen
August 30, 2011
The Sin Question (Explains what "dead to sin" and "dead to the Law" really mean)
Atonement and Propitiation (MP3 messages by Aaron Budjen; free download; clear explanation of the two) [offsite link]