Getting Our Terminology Correct

I have been reading a book recently that I have found very helpful.  It’s a book about homeschooling, and I have found that the reflections on putting my focus on Christ and on our discipleship above our academic worries to be a good reminder for me. I needed that message because I feel academic and extracurricular pressure from other homeschoolers.  It makes me feel like we’re not doing enough, but I don’t think I could ever feel like we’re doing enough.

I digress though.

As I was reading this book, I came across a chapter entitled, “Legalism, Antinomianism, and Holiness.” That’s some pretty heavy terminology.  The author does her best to give simple definitions of what each one is, but I think she misses the mark, and when she does, she has redefined the terminology in a way that is incorrect.

It reminded me of how we must be careful.  We must be as simple as possible as teachers, but we cannot afford to give a wrong definition or we may be leading someone down the wrong path.

In the book, the author defines the terms this way:

LEGALISM: A heart attitude that says I’m right and you’re wrong based upon my own personal standards.

ANTINOMIANISM: One who leans very heavily upon cheap grace while ignoring the need to walk in obedience to the scripture.

I know that some of you who are reading this are surprised by the simple definitions that the author gives.  Then the author goes on to say, “There is a beautiful and delicate balance in Scripture of grace and truth. Both are essential.”  While this statement is okay in itself, in context, the author is implying that both legalism and antinomianism can be corrected by just leaning a little more towards the center.

This is just not true because, at heart, legalism and antinomianism are simply two different fruits that come off the same tree. Both are wrong positions that need corrected, not by balance, but by exposing the false position to the gospel.

Both legalists and antinomians are defined by not understanding the joy of obedience to the moral codes of the Bible.  They are characterized by a lack of love for God’s precepts. Instead, they see obedience as a list of “have-to” items.  They feel like they must work for God’s blessing and that God’s love for them is conditional.

The main difference between them is where this attitude takes them.  Legalists, with much weariness and duty, put on the works of the Bible and add to them, much like the Pharisees of second temple Judaism.  They embrace that they must obey for God’s blessing, and so they obey.

Antinomians, on the other hand, reject virtues and laws.  They say that a God who justifies by grace wouldn’t require obedience to his laws.  They reject the God they see  requiring holiness for a God of their own making.

These aren’t just ditches that you can fall to in trying to walk uprightly.  These are key misunderstandings of the gospel and of God’s work in our lives.  The best that we can do is to pray to love God and his word more dearly so that we don’t find ourselves developing the wrong ideas about God.

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