Several days ago, we read Dr Michael Horton’s response to Jason Hood’s article in Christianity Today which intimated that some Calvinists might be encouraging antinomianism, a heresy. Mr Hood had written:
In certain quarters of the evangelical world, being accused of antinomianism is increasingly considered to be a symptom of a healthy ministry. This belief has a long pedigree; no less an authority than Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed there was “no better test” of gospel fidelity than the accusation of antinomianism.
The call comes not only from him but also from Frank Turk at Pyromaniacs for a check on Calvinist teachings in this regard.
One of the theologians responding to Mr Hood was the Revd William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin), pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. In an article for The Gospel Coalition, ‘Two Ways to Realize Radical Obedience: My Indirect Response to Jason Hood’, Dr Tchividjian explains why these accusations of heresy are erroneous. Excerpts follow, emphases mine. I hope you will have time to read his article in full, including the readers’ comments.
… one way to gauge our love for God is obedience to his commands (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3). Where there is a profession of Christ without a practice of Christlikeness, concern is warranted.
The issue is how do we keep God’s commands? What stimulates and sustains a long obedience in the same direction? Where does the power come from to do God’s will and to follow God’s lead?
Our answer to these questions is determined by our understanding of the distinctive role of God’s law and gospel in the life of a Christian. Therefore, it is crucial that we get this right, biblically and theologically.
When John (or Jesus) talks about keeping God’s commands as a way to know whether you love Jesus or not, he’s not using the law as a way to motivate. He’s simply stating a fact. Those who love God will keep on keeping his commands … God wants a sustained obedience from the heart. How is that possible? Long-term, sustained obedience can only come from the grace which flows from what Jesus has already done, not guilt or fear of what we must do …
The fact is, however, that the only way licentious people start to obey is when they get a taste of God’s radical, unconditional acceptance of sinners. As Mike Horton points out here, in Romans 6:1-4 the Apostle Paul answers antinomianism (lawlessness) not with more law but with more gospel! … The irony, in other words, of gospel-based sanctification is that those who end up obeying more are those who increasingly realize that their standing with God is not based on their obedience, but Christ’s …
Now, hear me: The law of God has its rightful place in the life of a Christian. It’s a gift from God. It’s good. It graciously shows Christians what God commands and instructs us in the way of holiness. But nowhere does the Bible say that the law possesses the power to enable us to do what it says. You could put it this way: the law guides but it does not give. The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like and plots our course, but it does not have sanctifying power—the law cannot change a human heart.
… the law serves us by making us thankful for Jesus when we break it and serves us by showing how to love God and others. Only the gospel empowers us to keep the law. And when we fail to keep it, the gospel comforts by reminding us that God’s infinite approval does not depend on our keeping of the law, but Christ’s keeping of the law on our behalf. The gospel serves the Christian every day and in every way by reminding us that God’s love for us does not get bigger when we obey or smaller when we disobey …
Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the completed work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us …
J. Gresham Machen wrote, “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel; not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me.” The Gospel of amazing grace gets us in, keeps us in, and will eventually get us to the finish line. It’s all of grace!
Now, go and spread this defiant, scandalously liberating, counter-intuitive Word around the world…it’s waiting!
Tomorrow: R Scott Clark