The Resurrection Body: Continuation and Transformation (1 Corinthians 15:35-58)


Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | April, 7, 2013


Text:

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”  36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.  

38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.  39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.  40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.  41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.  42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.  44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.  45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.  46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.  47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 
Notes:

Have you ever met someone in the church or in some other Christian venue who believed they had already arrived spiritually?  They thought they had the answer to all questions about the bible, about the church, and especially the end times.  Not only that, they believed their particular experience was the equivalent of heaven on earth, that they had effectively conquered sin in their life, had overcome illness and perhaps even death itself.  For them, the second coming of Christ was not something to look forward to, but something that was essentially unnecessary. That is the condition of the Corinthian church to which Paul addressed this passage.

Most of us would not consider ourselves to have already “arrived” in this way, yet we may have some misunderstandings either because of false teachings that abound in various quarters or lack of teaching on this topic. So I believe there is something for us to learn from this passage. I pray that through it we will find new hope for the future and new purpose for the present.

Paul is seeking to correct the Corinthians’ mistaken view of spiritual perfection while on earth and the arrogant attitude that can accompany it by showing them that they were in fact were still participants in this world and still had much to look forward to in the next world.  He seeks both to ground them in their earthly mode of existence and to help them to look forward to their heavenly mode of the existence.

What do you say to those who think they have arrived? It’s hard to know what to say in a few words after they’ve put you in your place with their superior spirituality or intellect. I wouldn’t recommend this, but Paul begins with sarcasm. He mimics two questions they were presumably asking as a result of their denial of the resurrection – So “How are the dead raised?”and “With what kind of body do they come?” Their questions reveal the fact that they are neither observing the creation around them nor not taking the power of God into account. So Paul points out that in creation it is not unusual to find something that exists in two different modes in its various stages of life and that God is the agent of change between those two modes of existence. Paul uses a seed to demonstrate their ignorance and to illustrate his point in vv36-38, “You foolish person, What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel of wheat or other, but God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.”

By the analogy of the death and new life in a seed, he shows that in the resurrection of our bodies there is both continuation and transformation.  There is continuation because the seed does not produce a different species or kind than itself, but through death, by the creative work of God, there is also transformation, it takes on a very different kind of body than it previously had.  It continues as wheat or corn or oats for example, but it is transformed through death from a small kernel of wheat into a fruitful plant of wheat. Likewise, we continue as the same person before and after the resurrection, but our bodies are adapted to their new environment. Remember how Jesus, after his resurrection, was still himself? He could recognize and enjoy relationships with his old friends, but because his body was adapted to its heavenly existence, he was sometimes not recognized by them at first. Yet he was still Jesus, their Rabboni, their friend, and Lord. Likewise, we will enjoy the continuation of relationships with others. However, they will be somewhat different since there will be no marriage in heaven, yet I will still be Dan and you will still be Beth and Martin and Jennifer and Winifred and Carol and Jim.

There is continuation, but there is also transformation. We will have different kinds of bodies after the resurrection. God has created different kinds of bodies throughout the universe for different environments or modes of existence. For example, there are earthly kinds of bodies, but they are even different from one another – there are human bodies, animal bodies, bird bodies and fish bodies. Each has a different mode of existence by God’s creative design. People walk upright, animals walk on all fours, birds fly in the sky and fish swim. God has adapted each kind of body to its particular environment. Also, in the universe there are heavenly bodies such as the sun and moon and stars, each with its own glory or purpose appointed by God. “So it is with the resurrection of the dead” he says in verse 42.  In other words, the resurrection of the dead produces in believers a different kind of body which is adapted to its new environment, and God causes the change from the first mode into the second.

This transformation causes there to be a qualitative difference between the bodies of bodies of believers before and after the resurrection. In our current mode of existence we have a “perishable, dishonorable, weak, natural” body, but through the resurrection it becomes an “imperishable, powerful, glorified, supernatural” body. In other words, our natural body which goes into the grave is subject to death, sin, weakness, and illness, but our supernatural body after the resurrection will be eternal, strong, and free from sin. Death is not the end. It simply means change. As C.S, Lewis writes, “The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug and sown for a new crop.  We may be tired of that old field; God is not.

This transformation causes our bodies before the resurrection to be patterned after Adam and our bodies after the resurrection to be patterned after Christ. Adam’s destination was a grave in the earth, Christ’s destination was heaven. Because we are in Adam by natural generation, our first destination is the grave so our present bodies are adapted to the earth. And because we are in Christ by spiritual regeneration, our ultimate destination is heaven so our resurrected bodies are adapted to heaven. “as was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.” And “just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of a man of heaven.” We are told also that the earthly body must precede the heavenly body.  “it is not the spiritual that is first that the natural and then the spiritual.” Perhaps most importantly here, we are told that Christ’s resurrection is necessary to bring about our own resurrection.  Adam is said to have become a “living being,” but Christ is said to have become a “life-giving spirit.”  Therefore Adam can generate only earthly life, but Christ can generate resurrected or heavenly life.  In other words, if Christ hadn’t been resurrected from the dead neither could we be resurrected from the dead.  We are totally dependent on Christ for our resurrection.

This transformation also necessitates a bodily change. Verses 50-57 insist that we must be changed in order to experience resurrected life and that Christ’s death and resurrection is the source of that change. A bodily change is necessary to the resurrection. “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” “for this perishable body must put on the imperishable and this mortal body must put on immortality.”  In other words, this earthly life is not all there is.  Those of you think you have arrived, have notThere is more to come. You too must be changed, and true transformation will take place on that day, and it will be instantaneous for the living and the dead. “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead will be raised in perishable, and we shall all be changed.” And the final quote from Hosea 13:14, reminds us again that Christ is the source of our transformation.Death is swallowed up in victory. Death where is your victory. Death where is your sting?”  Christ has removed the sting of death and, as it were, has drawn the poison into himself.  As Hebrews 2:9, 14 says, “he tasted death for everyone… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”

So how should we think, feel, and act differently because of this knowledge. How does this give us hope for our future heavenly life, and purpose or our present earthly life?

For some of you, the challenge is to grow in hopefulness. Some of you may have little hope for your future body because your focus is too much on your present body or others’ bodies. You may be tempted by religious legalists who encourage us toward extremes in ascetic living and physical exercise. As 1 Tim.4:1-8 says, …in later times some will depart from the faith… through the insincerity of liars…who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving…everything created by God is good, it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Likewise the Thessalonians were overly concerned about the bodies of their friends who had died. They had some call an under-realized eschatology, thinking the end will never come, and that physical death means defeat. So Paul wrote, 1 Thess.4:13ff But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.   18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. Growing in hopefulness for you may mean finding a more biblical balance between your view of the present body and resurrection body.

For some of you, the challenge is to grow in faithfulness. You may, like many in the Corinthian church, have lost sight of the importance of loving, faithful service to God and to his people – in the present – until he comes, because you have placed too little emphasis on the present body. You may have what some call an over-realized eschatology which involves thinking that you have already achieved a measure of perfection in this life, either by means of spiritual gifts, or by superior intellect; or by self-sacrificial deeds. However, as Paul reminds us in chapter 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and have all faith, but have not love, I am nothing. And if I give away all I have or give my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing.” (vv1-3). Our spiritual maturity in this life is not measured by our gifts, but by the fruit of love.

Over-realized eschatology, unfortunately, can lead to presumption, self-sufficiency and self-indulgence. The Corinthians believed that since they had been spiritually perfected, it didn’t matter what they did in their bodies. This led to lawsuits against fellow believers, eating food offered to idols causing others to stumble, divisions in the church, selfishness in their worship and communion celebrations and even sexual immorality among them.  The opposite of legalism is called antinomianism,[i] (which literally means “against law”). This is the belief that since faith alone is necessary for salvation, the moral law is of no use or obligation. This is why Paul warned the Corinthian church 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

And he exhorted them to faithful living using their present bodies to glorify God.  19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Co.6:18-20).  …whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Co. 10:31). Growing in faithfulness for you may mean placing more emphasis on glorifying God “in your body” serving the Lord and his people here and now.

I’d like to close with a quote from Paul Beasley-Murray’s The Message of the Resurrection. He writes, – GO TO THE BOOK –

“The resurrection of the body is a wonderful hope and is something to be looked forward to. Something of the spirit of the resurrection is expressed by this epitaph on old tombstone: ‘The body of B. Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents turned out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here, food for worms.  But the work shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more elegant condition, corrected and improved by the author.’” (p. 144).

For the believer, there are two modes of bodily existence. The first is natural, the second is supernatural.  The first is earthly, the second is heavenly. The transition point between the two is the second coming of Christ. God as creator, ensures our safe and complete transformation. Christ, as the life-giving spirit, imparts to us this new body, this new mode of existence, by his own resurrection.

In our passage today, these two modes of bodily existence are illustrated by two analogies – a seed which through death is transformed into a plant, and the man Jesus Christ who through death is transformed into the resurrected Christ.

We see in these analogies that we will experience both continuation and transformation.  Said another way, there are aspects of ourselves that will stay the same and those that change.  Therefore, the believer can have a sense of hope for a positive change in the form of their body which will be adapted to its new environment, while also having the assurance that he or she  continue to enjoy self awareness, personality and community.  And

-through death by God’s transformation of one ‘kind’ of body into another; similar to the former body, yet adapted to a different existence purpose

What happens to Christians’ bodies at the resurrection?

  • Our personhood continues but our bodies will be changed, adapted to our new mode of existed
  • our bodies will be transformed by the creative power of God (‘but God gives’ 38) and the ‘life-giving spirit from heaven’ (45) who is Christ, into a different ‘kind’ of body suited to our new purpose and existence in the new heavens and new earth;
  • our mortal, perishable bodies (suited for life in a fallen world, destined for destruction and redemption[ii]) will be transformed into immortal, imperishable bodies (suited for life in a perfect world). ‘when the perishable puts on the imperishable, then death is swallowed up in victory.’

Through death comes new life – 36 ‘what you sow does not come to life unless it dies’

It will be transformed into different body – 37 ‘what you sow is not the body that it will be’

By God, who has chosen a body for each (purpose, existence??) – 38 ’BUT GOD (adversative?) gives it a body he has chosen and to each kind of seed its own

Illust – see how a grain of wheat ‘dies’ (is transformed) and becomes a wheat plant (yet is still wheat); has different purposes, adapted for diff existences – as grain for cooking/eating; yet as seed for sowing (Gus hauling “seed” to IN from here?) (Martin, diff bt feed corn and seed corn[iii]).

Illust – see how Christ’s Adamic mortal body dies and is transformed into an immortal body (yet is still a body); has different purposes, adapted for diff existences – for life on earth; for life in the new heavens/new earth

ff, diff kinds of bodies’ – humans, animals, birds, fish, earthly and heavenly bodies have diff glories’

42-44 in res a ‘natural body’ is sown, ‘a ‘spiritual body’ is raised

We are like an perishable Adam-man which dies and becomes an imperishable Christ-man

45-49 as we are like the ‘man of dust’, so we will be like the ‘man from heaven’; 46 natural first, then spiritual

So what?

1) We should live hopefully looking forward to our new existence dwelling with God in sinless perfection, not boring (playing harps all day), but like Eden yet w/out the possibility of sin[iv]; (for you workers – serving God, ruling and reigning, such as naming the animals, keeping and tending the garden; for you people persons – social interaction and recognition; for all – face to face fellowship with God in Christ

  1. B) over-emphasizing the importance of our present bodies (falling into Legalism – salvation thru keeping the law) (since 1 Tim.

1 Tim.4:1-8 “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,  2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, 3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.  6 ¶ If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.  7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness;  8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Under-realized eschatology (thinking the end was not coming – as in Thess – so they wondered why people were dying, thought if Xians would not die, leads to grief and hopelessness. So they should be encouraged. in the present and coming grace of God.

1 Thess.4:13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.”

1 Thess.5:6-96 So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.

8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

1 Thess.5:1111 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

1 Thess.4:15-18 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

2) We should live faithfully:

  1. A) under-emphasizing the importance of our present bodies to God and thus using them for sinful/immoral purposes, but rather glorifying God in your bodies; (Antinomianism[v] – no need for the law) saying ‘after all they don’t matter anyway’, singing “if that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing, let’s break out the booze and have a ball” Over-realized eschatology (leads to presumption and self-sufficiency and self-indulgencethinking the end had already been realized – they had spiritually perfected, and their bodies didn’t matter, which led to sexual sins in Corinth) – so they should be warned.of the present and coming judgment of God

-we’re spiritual because we have the right experience – “speak in tongues;” or because we have the right answers – “all knowledge”; or because we have the right deeds – “give away all I have, my body to be burned” (see 1 Cor 13) – I have nothing. Love is patient, kind… vv4ff.

(since they are the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ and we should ‘glorify God in your bodies’),

-Rom 12:1 present your bodies – (Rom. 12:1) ¶ “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

-1 Cor 10:31 whatever you do – (1 Co. 10:31) “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

[i] Antinomianism in Christianity is the belief that under the gospel dispensation of gracemoral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary tosalvation.[1] Antinomianism and the Protestant doctrine of sola fide (justification through faith alone) are historically related. Commonly seen as the theological opposite to antinomianism is the notion that obedience to a code of religious lawearns salvation, such as Legalism or Works righteousness or Judaizing.

The term “antinomianism” emerged soon after the Protestant Reformation (c.1517) and has historically been used mainly as a pejorative against Christian thinkers or sects who carried their belief in justification by faith further than was customary.[2]Examples are Martin Luther’s critique of antinomianism and the Antinomian Controversy of the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although the term is 16th century, the topic has its roots in Christian views on the old covenantextending back to the 1st century. It can also be extended to any individual who rejects a socially established morality.[1] However, few groups, outside ofanarchism such as Christian anarchism or Jewish anarchism, explicitly call themselves “antinomian”.

Antinomianism has been a point of doctrinal contention in the history of Christianity, especially in Protestantism. Given the Protestant belief in justification through faith alone, versus on the basis of merit or good works or works of mercy, most Protestants consider themselves saved without having to keep the commandments of the Mosaic Law as a whole. However, consistent with the Reformed formula, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone”,[3] salvific faith has overall been seen as one that effected obedience, with those teachings (known somewhat imprecisely) as the moral law, in contrast to ceremonial law, being retained in almost all Christian denominations. Upon hearing that he was being charged with rejection of the Old Testament moral law, Luther responded:

“And truly, I wonder exceedingly, how it came to be imputed to me, that I should reject the Law or ten Commandments, there being extant so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) upon the Commandments, which also are daily expounded, and used in our Churches, to say nothing of the Confession and Apology, and other books of ours.”[4]

In his “Introduction to Romans,” Luther stated that saving faith is,

“a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”[5]

The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.”[6]

Though historically a general consensus has been reached as to which laws of the Old Testament pertain to the category of moral law, which Christians are enjoined to keep, certain laws can be somewhat difficult to classify, and may be vulnerable to subjective judgment. A broad definition of antinomianism can be exercised. Christian sects and theologians who believe that they are freed from more laws than is customary are often called “antinomian” by their critics, while those who feel that more than the customary laws apply are in turn called “Judaizers” or “legalists” by their critics. Theological charges of antinomianism typically imply that the opponent’s doctrine leads to various sorts of licentiousness, and imply that the antinomian chooses his theology in order to further a career of dissipation. However, the conspicuous austerity of life among many sects accused of antinomianism (such asAnabaptists or Calvinists) suggests that these accusations are often, or even mostly, made for rhetorical effect. Accusations of antinomianism have also been used more loosely to criticize doctrines that erode the authority of the church, or to criticize teachings perceived as hostile to government and civic law.

The contemporary Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer defines five strains of antinomianism:

  • Dualistic Antinomianism (Gnostic): This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and the soul’s health
  • Spirit-centered Antinomianism: …puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct.
  • Christ-centered Antinomianism: …argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing.
  • Dispensational Antinomianism: …denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written.
  • Situationist Antinomianism: …says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogueand other ethical parts of scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at times disregard.[10]

[ii] Present world is “destined for destruction yet redemption”. Like our bodies, the new earth will have similarities with the old earth, but will be transformed by the power of God into a new ‘kind’ of earth adapted to its new purpose/existence. ‘The dwelling of God will be with men… nothing unclean will enter it’ (rev 21.3, 27). Same purpose – to glorify God; Diff existence – dwelling with God in sinless perfection.

[iii] Seed Corn is grown from selected strains and is control pollinated. The result is Hybrid Seed.

Open Pollinated Seeds are grown from strains of a known source that have demonstrated desirable quality. These varieties are usually saved by individual farmers and are often referred to as Heirloom Seeds (seeds which have been grown for many generations).

Feed corn can be produced from either of the above sources, but I would say that most is produced from Hybrid Seed.

Geneticists say that corn produced from Hybrid Seed should not be planted as seed corn since it will not produce true in the next generation. It is for this reason that if you plant feed corn, you should do so expecting a drop off (aboout 20-25%) in production.

Sometimes seed corn may also be treated with a fungicide or insecticide that makes it bad for critters to eat – this treatment usually has a red dye in it & is labeled as “NOT FOR FEED” etc.

[iv] New heaven, new earth without sin – old earth began pure, but with test built in, Adam failed, Christ passed, new earth has no test because Christ passed it

[v] Antinomianism in Christianity is the belief that under the gospel dispensation of gracemoral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary tosalvation.[1] Antinomianism and the Protestant doctrine of sola fide (justification through faith alone) are historically related. Commonly seen as the theological opposite to antinomianism is the notion that obedience to a code of religious lawearns salvation, such as Legalism or Works righteousness or Judaizing.

The term “antinomianism” emerged soon after the Protestant Reformation (c.1517) and has historically been used mainly as a pejorative against Christian thinkers or sects who carried their belief in justification by faith further than was customary.[2]Examples are Martin Luther’s critique of antinomianism and the Antinomian Controversy of the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although the term is 16th century, the topic has its roots in Christian views on the old covenantextending back to the 1st century. It can also be extended to any individual who rejects a socially established morality.[1] However, few groups, outside ofanarchism such as Christian anarchism or Jewish anarchism, explicitly call themselves “antinomian”.

Antinomianism has been a point of doctrinal contention in the history of Christianity, especially in Protestantism. Given the Protestant belief in justification through faith alone, versus on the basis of merit or good works or works of mercy, most Protestants consider themselves saved without having to keep the commandments of the Mosaic Law as a whole. However, consistent with the Reformed formula, “We are justified by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone”,[3] salvific faith has overall been seen as one that effected obedience, with those teachings (known somewhat imprecisely) as the moral law, in contrast to ceremonial law, being retained in almost all Christian denominations. Upon hearing that he was being charged with rejection of the Old Testament moral law, Luther responded:

“And truly, I wonder exceedingly, how it came to be imputed to me, that I should reject the Law or ten Commandments, there being extant so many of my own expositions (and those of several sorts) upon the Commandments, which also are daily expounded, and used in our Churches, to say nothing of the Confession and Apology, and other books of ours.”[4]

In his “Introduction to Romans,” Luther stated that saving faith is,

“a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever…Thus, it is just as impossible to separate faith and works as it is to separate heat and light from fire!”[5]

The Westminster Confession of Faith states:

“Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but works by love.”[6]

Though historically a general consensus has been reached as to which laws of the Old Testament pertain to the category of moral law, which Christians are enjoined to keep, certain laws can be somewhat difficult to classify, and may be vulnerable to subjective judgment. A broad definition of antinomianism can be exercised. Christian sects and theologians who believe that they are freed from more laws than is customary are often called “antinomian” by their critics, while those who feel that more than the customary laws apply are in turn called “Judaizers” or “legalists” by their critics. Theological charges of antinomianism typically imply that the opponent’s doctrine leads to various sorts of licentiousness, and imply that the antinomian chooses his theology in order to further a career of dissipation. However, the conspicuous austerity of life among many sects accused of antinomianism (such asAnabaptists or Calvinists) suggests that these accusations are often, or even mostly, made for rhetorical effect. Accusations of antinomianism have also been used more loosely to criticize doctrines that erode the authority of the church, or to criticize teachings perceived as hostile to government and civic law.

The contemporary Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer defines five strains of antinomianism:

  • Dualistic Antinomianism (Gnostic): This view sees salvation as for the soul only, and bodily behavior as irrelevant both to God’s interest and the soul’s health
  • Spirit-centered Antinomianism: …puts such trust in the Holy Spirit’s inward prompting as to deny any need to be taught by the law how to live. Freedom from the law as a way of salvation is assumed to bring with it freedom from the law as a guide to conduct.
  • Christ-centered Antinomianism: …argues that God sees no sin in believers, because they are in Christ, who kept the law for them, and therefore what they actually do makes no difference, provided that they keep believing.
  • Dispensational Antinomianism: …denies that biblical law is God’s direct command and affirms that the Bible’s imperative statements trigger the Word of the Spirit, which when it comes may or may not correspond exactly to what is written.
  • Situationist Antinomianism: …says that a motive and intention of love is all that God now requires of Christians, and the commands of the Decalogueand other ethical parts of scripture, for all that they are ascribed to God directly, are rules of thumb for loving, rules that love may at times disregard.[10]

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