The word was first coined by Martin Luther who had trouble with a disciple of His who started complaining about Luther’s teaching being legalistic because of His emphasis on the law of God in Christian living. Luther responded with calling this sect Antinomian. After this, Protestants from about every stripe began to use the term for those who fell off the narrow road into the opposite ditch of legalism.
Just as the legalists have their warning passages in Scripture so too the Antinomians. Jude in his little book deals with this error, he tells us “certain people have crept in… who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Although Jude would have loved to talk about more positive things concerning their common faith (vs. 3), he felt compelled to address this dangerous error. People were coming into the church and putting a distorted emphasis on grace that allowed people to live in unrepentant sin. We might call these 1st century Antinomians.
We see this error today when people treat the commands of Scripture as options. We see this today when a cheap grace gospel is preached that says: You just need to assent to the facts about Jesus but you don’t need to embrace Him as Lord. You don’t need to repent of your sins, all you have to do is believe the facts about Jesus. You don’t have to take up your cross and follow Him to be His disciple; in fact you don’t even need to be a disciple. We see this error when Christians believe that God’s moral prescriptions have no place in Christian living today. We see this in churches that ordain practicing homosexuals; we see this in churches that baptize and accept into the membership people who are living publically in rebellion to God’s Word.
Let’s be clear and make a qualification: Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Jesus came not for the righteous but for sinners. The gospel is a free offer for people who are broken and bruised by the fall. Jesus is the friend of sinners. But when Jesus saves us he rescues us from a lifestyle of sin (1 Cor 6:9-11; 1 Jn 2:4). A gospel that leaves people unchanged and continuing in rebellion to God is a dangerous ditch. As Calvin said, “no man can embrace the grace of the Gospel without betaking himself from the errors of his former life into the right path, and making it his whole study to practice repentance.”
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior… Jesus Christ our Lord” (Jude 24-25).
John Goodell is the pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Grant Nebraska. By God's grace he came to know the Lord as a young adult. John attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney and is a graduate of New Geneva Theological Seminary in Colorado Springs. John is happily married to Angela and enjoys all six of his children (two in college and four at home).