I’m not sure how I managed to stumble across the term Antinomianism yesterday, but I think it came as I was browsing articles on Wikipedia (on online Encyclopedia).
Antinomianism (for those who haven’t had the blessing of an expensive Theological Education) is the formal heresy that since Christ died for our sins and by his death and resurrection created a new relationship between Maker and creature that now depends on Grace rather than obedience, the moral laws of the Old Testament have no more power of those who have been saved.
In other words, Christ has renewed creation. We are grafted to God by the grace of God, not by anything we have managed to accomplish. Because there is nothing that we need to do to make God love us any more than God already does – let us no longer worry about obeying rules and trying to live moral lives. Let us focus our efforts on doing the things that make us happy and bring us joy in our lives! If we err, God has already forgiven us and God’s grace will cover our sin. In fact, why not intentionally sin so that there may be more grace surrounding us all in the world?
I had a professor in seminary who summarized this heretical line of thought as “Christ is risen! We are justified! Whoppee!” It is a very old error – one that St. Paul had to deal with in his letters to the Church in Corinth and in his letter to the Romans. The error in this line of reasoning is that implies there is no continuity between God’s revelation in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It also leads us down logical paths that would make it impossible to construct a community (or body) of the faithful – something that was very important to Paul and to other leaders in the early Church.
The implication of this idea today is that many of us (myself included) are very good at dismissing the ways in which we fall short of the fullness of our call to follow Jesus. It has gotten so easy to forgive ourselves that we tend to see our moral life as something useful, but no longer of critical importance. If we are already saved by faith in Christ Jesus, what do we really to worry about?
An error is called heresy not because it is obviously wrong, but because it is so nearly true. We can not do anything to make God love us more. We cannot save ourselves by being trying to be good. But that’s not the end of the story. The problem is that we forgotten about the need we have of sanctification. We are saved by Christ and grafted onto his body (the Church) by our baptism. But we are not made perfect by the simple fact that we have been baptized. We know that we frequently fall short of what God has in mind for us and what God wants us to become. Sanctification is the working of the Holy Spirit within us to transform us into the new creatures we are meant to become. It’s a process that begins when we start our relationship to God and continues (the Prayer Book teaches) even after our death.
I was reminded of this process when I saw the movie version of the “The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe” in the theater this month. In the story, the White Witch turns her opponents into stone statues by magic. Aslan, her nemesis later restores those creatures of stone by breathing upon them. As he breathes, the stone body is slowly transformed into living flesh – like a fire slowly spreading along a branch. Lewis is talking symbolically of the work of the Holy Spirit, which is literally the breath (or wind) of God. It is the Holy Spirit that in truth transforms our stone hearts and renews the life within them.
The way this is played out in our lives is that over time, if we are open to the working of the Spirit, we become better and better people. We become more like the beings God intended us to be. And as we draw closer to what we are supposed to be, we draw closer to God – and find ourselves becoming more and more joyful and happy. (It’s kind of like discovering that engines of our happiness work better when powered by fuel of correct octane.)
I say all this now because this month of January is the time when we traditionally focus on what changes we want to make in our lives for the coming year. We often focus on relatively concrete things like quitting smoking, eating better, getting more exercise, and end up ignoring the spiritual. When was the last time you heard someone talking about resolving to grow closer to God in prayer or to more fully conform their lives to the model Christ has given us? But maybe that is because we don’t remember that spiritual growth comes about by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our mundane daily actions into spiritually transforming experiences.
What if this year we were to resolve to attend church regularly, or to pray every day? How about resolving to spend at least a couple hours volunteering for others each week or month? How about resolving to set aside a small amount of money to be used to support people overseas who are striving to pull themselves out of crushing poverty and make a life for themselves?
No New Year’s resolution will make God love you any more. But if you make the sort above, and manage, with the help of the Holy Spirit to keep them, you will very likely find that you love God more. And that you feel closer to God and to the spiritual life that surrounds us. And that you become happier. Maybe this is the year to try?
May God bless you in your life and in your ministry in this new year.