Dare to be Misunderstood

Not that you or I are preachers, but “has your preaching ever been misunderstood for being antinomian? Such an accusation may be a good indication that you’re really preaching the Gospel.” An interesting test from a blog I read (at that link there is a quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones’ commentary on Rom 6:1, which explains more).

Which is worse? To err on the side of legalism & justification by works, or to err on the side of antinomianism? Obviously, the bible condemns both, but what does it have to say about teaching one vs. the other? On the one hand, the Galatians were including the work of circumcision with their doctrine of justification, and Paul famously says:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

On the other hand, here’s Jesus’ warning against teaching antinomianism:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

So obviously, aim for the perfect, balanced truth, and strive to communicate that truth faithfully, but taking account for the fact that people will misunderstand, I think a preacher would want that misunderstanding to land in the antinomian rather than legalist camp.

11 Responses

  1. The gospel is full of grace and truth. So I would expect a complete message to offend on both counts.

  2. Well, I think you answered your own question left on my blog.

    To respond to The Forester; I believe that antinomianism and legalism are twin errors, but I also think that to be misunderstood for being antinomian is a better indication that you are actually preaching the Gospel. The key word here is “misunderstood.” It should be a rare case that a preacher of the Gospel could be “misunderstood” as preaching legalism…more often than not it wouldn’t be a misunderstanding at all – it would be a reality.

  3. “The gospel is full of grace and truth”

    Are you equating truth with law? See John 1:17 ESV:

    For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

    vs. KJV:

    For the law was given by Moses, BUT grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

    I have wondered before (and never resolved) how strongly are law and grace/truth opposed to each other in that verse? Should that “but” be there? Most modern translations don’t seem to have it. What does the Greek say?

    As for “I would expect a complete message to offend on both counts”, I’m not sure a legalistic sermon would be offensive to our carnal ears. The Bible describes the Cross (the gospel) as an offense, but does it ever talk about legalism that way? I think this is the point, that legalism is more dangerous than antinomianism, and aiming right down the middle is aiming too close to legalism.

    Of course as Rick reiterated, the key word is “MISunderstood”, and I don’t know if it’s actually possible to gauge how an audience will misunderstand you. You do your best to clarify and pre-emptively deflect misunderstanding, and what’s left is unpredictable. If you think you can predict it, you would reinforce clarification on one side, until the unknown is unpredictable.

  4. No ifs ands or buts in the Greek. Well, all except one that I have in my Bibleworks and that is the modern Greek New Testament, presumably what you would buy in an Athens Christian bookstore today.

    Of course, none of the Greek texts that exist have appeared out of whole cloth. Our texts are constructed from manuscripts or manuscript fragments of varying lengths. Surprisingly, the “but” appears in just one variant. The sheer weight of the hundreds and hundreds of witnesses against the single reading that has the “but” has killed it. (Although that one fragment, a papyrus from around 200 AD, is one of the earliest we have).

    So, why is it in the KJV? Ask Erasmus, that free-will Arminian, whose DIY Greek text [Textus Receptus or Received Text, and one that I don’t have available] was used to translate the KJV. Presumably he put it there. Because I doubt that King James’ scholars would have added it just ’cause.

    Do I see a “King James only” as one of your toBlog entries down the road?

  5. just ’cause

    Funny you should say that: T-bird informs me that her new interlinear doesn’t have ‘but’, but it does have ‘hoti’=’because’, and the linear transliteration thus reads:

    Because the law through Moses was given, the grace and the truth through Jesus Christ came.

  6. Nobody translates that ‘hoti’ as ‘because’ other than her interlinear. In context the ‘hoti’ means ‘for’.

    ‘Because’ there is iffy [I think you get a non-sequitor] in that it can erroneously be used to yield “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ because the law was given through Moses”.

    ‘Hoti’ as ‘for’ then connects both the law and gospel to these gifts mentioned in verse 16. Although you gotta be careful lest you start to view law as grace. That’s not what is being said here. At least, not in my view.

  7. Bruce is right, the oti connects 16 and 17. Truths of 16 depend on truths of 17. Since 17, therefore 16. Dig?

    As for the mysterious “but”…

    Should we really understand the relationship of law and gospel based on whether or not there is a “but” in this verse?

    I don’t think anything at ALL hangs in the balance about this “but”.

    However, note that it says that the law was GIVEN through Moses, but grace and truth …. through Jesus Christ. The word is “ginomai”. It’s translated as “came” but that’s not really what it means. I mean, it doesn’t mean that grace and truth kind of walk along side by side with Jesus, and as he came into the world, they kind of came along like a package deal.

    The word is “ginomai”, which in its most basic literal sense means “become” or “come into being”. It can be substituted for the simple verb “to be” in some cases, so sometimes it just means is. But this root meaning is still in play. Something comes into being or begins to be true when you use this verb. We may translate it simply or in different ways, but what John is saying here is really rich.

    Moses gave us the law. The law already existed and was in the world and condemned us. But Moses lifted it up; he gave it to us. He didn’t bring it about or create it, he simply gave us what was already true and out there.

    But now Jesus has come. He has brought about that grace is possible. He gave birth to grace and truth. He brought them into existence out of nothing. He created them by what he did, so to speak. They came into existence because of him.

    And of course we understand that without Christ grace is not possible. And without Christ, the fullness of God’s self revelation is not possible, thus Christ brings about grace by sacrificing himself for us, but he also brings about the fullness of truth by being the Word incarnate, by revealing God to us through his person and work. Sure, grace and truth were in the world before Jesus was incarnate. But those had not been fully revealed, those had not been accomplished until Christ.

    There was grace in the OT, but only that which was purchased by Christ’s death some years later. There was truth because it was God’s revelation, but that revelation was preparatory for what was to come, namely Christ.


  8. PS

    Strong law and strong gospel while kept strong, distinct, and yet together, upholds both.

    Law convicts of sin and turns us to Christ because it shows us our need for him.

    Gospel upholds law, because without the gospel, no one would be able to keep the law. Only Christ kept or will keep the law perfectly in this life. Thus the gospel maintains that his righteousness is the only righteousness that counts.


  9. Note also that ginomai shows up as “accomplished” (or KJV fulfilled) in the infamous Matt 5:18

  10. PS, I keep hearing everybody say “Law AND Gospel, Law AND Gospel”, and I agree, yes we need both, we need a biblical balance. But nobody seems to be interacting with my hypothesis that the Bible says that teaching legalism is worse than teaching antinomianism. There is plenty of conviction in the Bible for doers of legalism and doers of antinomianism. There are any number of condemnations of teachers of legalism; Gal 1:8 is only the strongest. But I can’t think of any other condemnation of teachers of antinomianism than Matt 5:19, which is not all that strong.

  11. Rube,

    Re: 10

    Much of James is a clear argument against antinomianism.

    In some ways you’re right that legalism is worse than antinomianism, in some ways you’re…not exactly right.

    I mean, you’re right. Telling people that their obedience earns heaven for them is an outrage to Christ’s accomplished work on our behalf. It’s putting him to an open shame. It’s saying that his work isn’t enough, we need to add to it. It’s drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

    Some forms of antinomianism – well, their error stems from a combination of the gospel of faith alone and their own desire to sin. So some say that since Jesus paid the penalty and they can just believe in him and be saved, therefore they don’t have to be obedient to God at all.

    That doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t. But when you examine this, it’s quite a serious error for the implications involved. However, it’s not one that I think anyone will hold for very long. It’s totally counterintuitive.

    I mean, if God saved you, and you’re glad about it, you’ll be grateful to him for it. It’s just very natural. This gratitude expresses itself in obedience…eventually. Not perfect obedience mind you, but obedience. That’s why works are the fruit of faith, and faith without works is dead.

    So we don’t have to worry about a true believer really holding to antinomianism very long. Just ask ’em if they think God would mind if they murdered someone. If they don’t think he would mind, tell them to put their money where their mouth is. Problem solved.

    That’s why antinomianism is really not all that serious a threat, because it’s one of those things you can only really hold in theory, but never in practice.

    Meanwhile, legalism is incidious. People hold it in practice like crazy. In fact, the whole world holds to it outside of Christianity. That I can save myself is a time honored tradition for all those who hate Christ.

    Both errors are manifestations of sin and wicked unbelief. But legalism is the bigger threat to people because it’s so tempting.

    And why is it so tempting? Because it puts our salvation in OUR hands. Just like Arminianism. Boy, we love to think highly of ourselves. Give me a law to follow, and I’ll do that, and then I can feel good about myself.

    Ok, don’t smoke, drink, or go to movies, and God will accept you.

    Sweet! I can do that.

    But God doesn’t want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to feel good about HIM! He wants us to marvel at his love for us, which he so painstakingly revealed to us at such great cost.

    And it’s funny. They say that God didn’t actually decree sin. Yeah, that whole master plan of redemption that showed us how much he loves us – yeah, he didn’t really care one way or the other if he got to show us that. He had no vested interest in it.

    Anyway, God doesn’t want us to be impressed with ourselves. He wants us to be ashamed at ourselves, yet confident in Christ before him in his presence, where we stand blameless in Christ by grace through faith.


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