Studies in Romans Part VIII: Divine Faithfulness, Divine Judgment, and the Problem of Antinomianism -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.
BSac 130:520 (Oct 73) p. 329
Studies in Romans
Divine Faithfulness, Divine Judgment,
and the Problem of Antinomianism
[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]
The term antinomianism1 is often traced to a controversy that Martin Luther had with an old friend, John Agricola. Agricola had argued that Christians have been freed from the Law of Moses by the cross of Christ, and that, therefore, they are no longer required to preach and keep the Ten Commandments. He feared that, if the Law were preached,2 justification by faith alone might be confused with justification by works. Repentance, he taught, is produced not by the Law, but by the gospel. Now, while Luther’s earlier position is a matter for debate, it can hardly be denied that he urged the preaching of the Law, and for several reasons. First, it is to be preached to the unbelievers to awaken in them a sense of sin which might prepare them for the reception of the gospel. And, second, the Law is suitable for inciting the justified to good works. Luther also urged the preaching of the Law for the outward disciplining of the ungodly. It was these positions, held by both Melanchthon and Luther, that Agricola attacked, and from the attack and Luther’s response came the Antinomian Controversy. This controversy has long been forgotten, but the term antinomianism is still with us and has come to represent that particular perversion of the gospel that implies that, since believers are saved by the
BSac 130:520 (Oct 73) p. 330
free grace of God, they are not responsible to live according to the moral law of God, or, to speak more generally, to live in holiness.
This problem was a live one with Paul, as is evident from these words of the apostle from the Epistle to the Romans, the letter we have been studying, “And why not (as we are slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose condemnation is just” (cf. 3:8). And it is a live one today, as any preacher of the gospel of grace can testify. Indeed, there is in this fact a good test of one’s gospel. If it does not, when proclaimed, provoke accusations and charges of this kind, it may not be Paul’s gospel that is being preached.
Paul’s full answer to the question is not given here in chapter 3. He reserves it for chapter six, verses one through twenty-three. As Barrett quite correctly says, “It cannot be given here, because it rests upon the truths of the...
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