‘A thunderbolt for Antinomianism’

I noticed an interesting thing while preparing my sermon based on John 15:9-17 not long ago. In looking around for resources, I browsed through John Piper’s sermons on the Book of John. It is interesting that the only verse from this section that Piper preaches on is the 16th, which speaks of Jesus choosing the disciples so they will bear fruit. It works for his Calvinist framework.

But, in picking that verse, he leaves out other verses that call some aspects of TULIP Calvinism into question.

Here is one such key verse:

If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:10)

Or this one:

You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:14)

Notice the conditional “if” in each verse. Jesus is saying that remaining in his love depends on our actions. Perhaps that cannot be pushed far enough to challenge “once saved, always saved,” but it does raise pretty thorny questions for that doctrine. And it is a hammer through a window for those who want to argue that works do not matter in the life of faith.

As John Wesley noted in his notes on the New Testament in writing about verse 14:

Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you – On this condition, not otherwise. A thunderbolt for Antinomianism! Who then dares assert that God’s love does not at all depend on man’s works

Jesus commands us to love each other and tells the disciples directly that if they wish to remain in his love they must follow his command.

Anyone who wants to argue that Jesus does not require actions of us or anyone who says we can never fall back into darkness once we have been in the light needs to contend with John 15.

As a Wesleyan, Arminian Christian, I had no qualms about or struggles with preaching those verses, well, no more struggle than every other Sunday.

14 thoughts on “‘A thunderbolt for Antinomianism’

  1. I think the key here is that it’s not about God’s evaluative response to our actions. God is not looking at what we do and making a yea or nay decision about which door to send us through. The question is whether or not we are living in such a way that we can recognize God’s love for what it is. The evaluation happens on our side. 1 John 4:12 is an excellent illustration: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

    Likewise, 2 Peter 1:3-4 is a favorite among the Eastern Orthodox: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

    God wants us to participate in His divine nature. If we don’t follow His commands, He doesn’t love us any less, but we cannot be nourished by that love. The cross saves us by removing all the impediments to participating in the divine nature, but if we don’t act upon this freedom, then we haven’t really accepted it.

    • My opinion is from the pew. I agree with Morton Guyton,s comment.
      My opinion is from the pew. I agree with Morton Guyton,s comment.

      Grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit is what comes to mind in this particular topic. I found the explanation below as the simplest way of clarifying what it means. to grieve and quench the Holy Spirit and explains John 15:10, 14 without going through the path of losing one’s salvation or questioning the doctrine of eternal security.

      Question: “What does it mean to grieve / quench the Holy Spirit?”

      Answer: When the word “quench” is used in Scripture, it is speaking of suppressing fire. When believers put on the shield of faith, as part of their armor of God (Ephesians 6:16), they are extinguishing the power of the fiery darts from Satan. Christ described hell as a place where the fire would not be “quenched” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). Likewise, the Holy Spirit is a fire dwelling in each believer. He wants to express Himself in our actions and attitudes. When believers do not allow the Spirit to be seen in our actions, when we do what we know is wrong, we suppress or quench the Spirit. We do not allow the Spirit to reveal Himself the way that He wants to.

      To understand what it means to grieve the Spirit, we must first understand that this indicates the Spirit possesses personality. Only a person can be grieved; therefore, the Spirit must be a divine person in order to have this emotion. Once we understand this, we can better understand how He is grieved, mainly because we too are grieved. Ephesians 4:30 tells us that we should not grieve the Spirit. We grieve the Spirit by living like the pagans (4:17-19), by lying (4:25), by being angry (4:26-27), by stealing (4:28), by cursing (4:29), by being bitter (4:31), by being unforgiving (4:32), and by being sexually immoral (5:3-5). To grieve the Spirit is to act out in a sinful manner, whether it is in thought only or in both thought and deed.

      Both quenching and grieving the Spirit are similar in their effects. Both hinder a godly lifestyle. Both happen when a believer sins against God and follows his or her own worldly desires. The only correct road to follow is the road that leads the believer closer to God and purity, and farther away from the world and sin. Just as we do not like to be grieved, and just as we do not seek to quench what is good—so we should not grieve or quench the Holy Spirit by refusing to follow His leading.

      If one is truly loveless in one’s relationship with the Savior, then I wonder if that person has been “engaged or bethrothed” to Jesus Christ in the first place.

      • Consequences of grieving the Holy Spirit
        The Holy Spirit is mostly pictured as a dove. Now imagine a wet dove. It cannot fly and do so many things that it is accustomed to doing when it is wet. That is the picture I perceive of a grieved Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is grieved He is distressed, sorrowful and inactive. He will not do what His mission in your life is

        I also picture a grieved and quenched Holy Spirit in a pot of water on a stove. Instead of a dazzling fire, what is left is only a pilot light unable to ignite or put a pot of water into a boil. The result is a lukewarm water that one cannot even make a make a cup of coffee out of it. Likewise, a person with a grieved Holy Spirit still has the indwelling Holy Spirit (the pilot light) but it is quiet and inactive (not filled with the Holy Spirit) in a believer’s life. The believer is devoid of an abundant and victorious life. We see a believer who leads a defeated life.

    • I think the key here is that it’s not about God’s evaluative response to our actions. God is not looking at what we do and making a yea or nay decision about which door to send us through. The question is whether or not we are living in such a way that we can recognize God’s love for what it is.

      Why is it important to remove the notion of God’s evaluation? What is the issue here?

      • Because if holiness has to do with God’s evaluation, it’s works-righteousness. The secret of the law is that it’s a gift for our liberation, not a burden God has laid on us to test us.

        • I’m sure this is one of those “obvious if you’ve been to seminary” things, so please bear with me as I say I do not follow the argument.

          Joe takes a knife and stabs Lucy in the stomach. I say this is a violation of the command of Christ and thereby removes us from the love of Christ. Sticking with the motifs from the Gospel of John, Joe is in darkness where he was once in light.

          I hear you saying that the proper way to understand this is that in stabbing Lucy he stepped out of the light, which is still there, rather than having the light move away from him. What I don’t see is how that difference makes any practical difference.

        • As a Wesleyan who believes in prevenient grace, I’m committed to the premise that God never removes His love from us. We can do things which alienate us from His love and cause our encounter with it to be wrathful rather than comforting, but He doesn’t change His nature in response to our sin. “This is the verdict; light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” We hate God when we embrace sin; His love is intolerable to us.

  2. Antinomianism (especially as it came up with certain Moravians and Quietists) and Calvinism (particularly double predestination and the automatic perseverance of the saints) were the two two most frequent (though distinct) targets of Mr Wesley’s doctrinal sword, a sword he perhaps at times over-brandished.

    Antinomianism is the belief that there is nothing at all that we have to do, unless we “feel led” to do it ourselves. It could work the other way as well– that if we were to “feel led” to do something explicitly spoken against, the feeling of the leading was sufficient warrant for doing it anyway assured we did so in the will and with the full approval of God. There were two errors in this that Mr Wesley most railed against: 1) That God gives no commandments that we are compelled to obey, and 2) That our own subjective feeling about any commandment from God ends up being more determinative than the command itself,

    • Yes. I read this post as just expanding on what I wrote. Am I missing a correction or clarification intended in this?

      No one calls it Antinomianism today, but we suffer deeply from it as far as I can see — at least as far as practice goes.

  3. Its me again from the pew.

    My understanding on the subject matter in discussion is, “CAN LACK OF GOOD WORKS CAUSE US TO LOSE SALVATION ? “ Please someone correct me if I am wrong. I searched online and found an old and nice article by Dave Hunt zeroing in on this particular topic. I don’t know Dave Hunt’s denomination but I do agree with what he wrote. The article has 22 paragraphs. I decided to divide it into 2 parts. I hope it is okay to post it.

    Appendix C: Dave Hunt Article Part 1
    http://www.thelordschildren.org/bible_study/pdfs/dhunt-c.pdf

    The question of the “eternal security of the believer” has been the cause of much
    controversy in the church for centuries—and still creates confusion and distress for many
    Christians. It is too much to expect to dispel this problem completely for everyone in a brief
    tract, but perhaps we can at least help in that direction.

    Those who believe in “falling away” accuse those who believe in “eternal security” of
    promoting “cheap grace.” While it may be a convenient expression, the latter phrase is of
    course unbiblical. To call it “cheap” is really a denial of grace, since it implies that too small
    a price has been paid. Grace, however, must be absolutely free and without any price at all
    on man’s part; while on God’s part the price He paid was infinite. Thus for man to think that
    his works can play any part in either earning or keeping his salvation is what cheapens
    grace, devaluing this infinite gift to the level of human effort.

    To speak of “falling from grace” involves the same error. Since our works had nothing to do
    with meriting grace in the first place, there is nothing we could do that would cause us no
    longer to merit it and thus “fall” from it. Works determine reward or punishment—not one’s
    salvation, which comes by God’s grace. The crux of the problem is a confusion about grace
    and works.

    Understanding Grace:

    1. We must be absolutely clear that these two can never mix. Paul declares, “…if by grace,
    then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it
    no more grace: otherwise work is no more work” (Rom 11:6). Salvation cannot be partly by
    works and partly by grace.

    2. We must be absolutely certain that works have nothing to do with salvation. Period. The
    Bible clearly states, “For by grace are ye saved…not of works” (Eph 2:8-10). True to such
    Scriptures, evangelicals firmly declare that we cannot earn or merit salvation in any way.
    Eternal life must be received as a free gift of God’s grace, or we cannot have it.

    3. Salvation cannot be purchased even in part by us, because it requires payment of the
    penalty for sin—a payment we can’t make. If one were to receive a speeding ticket, it
    wouldn’t help to say to the judge, “I’ve driven many times within the 55 mph limit. Surely my
    many good deeds will make up for the one bad deed.” Nor would it do to say, “If you let me
    off this time, I promise never to break the law again.” The judge would reply, “To never
    break the law again is only to do what the law demands. You get no extra credit for that.
    The penalty for breaking the law is a separate matter and must be paid.” Thus Paul
    writes,“…by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight…” (Rom 3:20).

    4. If salvation from the penalty of breaking God’s laws cannot be earned by good deeds,
    then it cannot be lost by bad deeds. Our works play no part in either earning or keeping
    salvation. If it could, then those who reach heaven could boast that while Christ saved them
    they, by their good lives, kept their salvation. Thus God would be robbed of having all the
    glory in eternity.

    5. Salvation can be given to us as a free gift only if the penalty has been fully paid. We have
    violated infinite Justice, requiring an infinite penalty. We are finite beings and could not pay
    it: we would be separated from God for eternity. God is infinite and could pay an infinite
    penalty, but it wouldn’t be just because He is not a member of our race. Therefore God, in
    love and grace, through the virgin birth, became a man so that He could pay the debt of sin
    for the entire human race!
    It is finished!

    In the Greek, Christ’s cry from the cross, “It is finished!” is an accounting term, meaning that
    the debt had been paid in full. Justice had been satisfied by full payment of its penalty, and
    thus God could “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). On
    that basis, God offers pardon and eternal life as a free gift. He could not force it upon
    anyone or it would not be a gift. Nor would it be just to pardon a person who rejects the
    righteous basis for pardon and offers a hopelessly inadequate payment instead—or offers
    his works even as “partial payment.”

    Salvation is the full pardon by grace from the penalty of all sin, past, present or future;
    eternal life is the bonus thrown in. Denying this cardinal truth, all cultists, such as Jehovah’s
    Witnesses, for example, reject salvation by grace and insist that it must be earned by one’s
    good works. They accuse evangelicals of teaching that all we need to do is to say we
    believe in Christ and then we can live as we please, in the grossest of sins, yet be sure of
    heaven. Evangelicals don’t teach that at all, yet a similar complaint is made by those who
    believe in “falling away.”

    They say that “once saved, always saved” encourages one to live in sin because if we know we cannot be lost we have no incentive for living a holy life. On the contrary, love for the One who saved us is the greatest and only acceptable motive for living a holy life; and surely the greater the salvation one has received, the more love and gratitude there will be. So to know one is secure for eternity gives a higher motive for living a good life than the fear of losing one’s salvation if one sins!

  4. Appendix C: Dave Hunt Article Part 2
    http://www.thelordschildren.org/bible_study/pdfs/dhunt-c.pdf

    While those who believe in “falling from grace” are clear that good works cannot earn
    salvation, they teach that salvation is kept by good works. Thus one gets saved by grace,
    but thereafter salvation can be lost by works. To teach that good works keep salvation is
    almost the same error as to say that good works earn salvation. It denies grace to say that
    once I have been saved by grace I must thereafter keep myself saved by works.

    Such teaching, says Hebrews 6:4-9, rather than glorifying Christ, once again holds Him up
    to shame and ridicule before the world once again for two reasons: if we could lose our
    salvation, then (1) Christ would have to be crucified again to save us again; and (2) He
    would be ridiculed for dying to purchase a salvation but not making adequate provision to
    preserve it—for giving a priceless gift to those who would inevitably lose it. If Christ’s dying
    in our place for our sins and rising again was not sufficient to keep us saved, then He has
    foolishly wasted His time. If we could not live a good enough life to earn salvation, it is
    certain we cannot live a good enough life to keep it! To make the salvation he procured
    ultimately dependent upon our works would be the utmost folly.

    “Falling away” doctrine makes us worse off after we are saved than before. At least before
    conversion we can get saved. But after we are saved and have lost our salvation (if we
    could), we can’t get saved again, but are lost forever. Hebrews 6:4-6 declares, “If [not
    when] they shall fall away…it is impossible (v 4)…to renew them again unto repentance.”
    That “falling away” is hypothetical is clear (v 9): “But, beloved, we are persuaded better
    things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” So “falling
    away” does not “accompany salvation.”

    The writer is showing us that if we could lose our salvation, we could never get it back
    without Christ dying again upon the cross. Such thinking is folly! He would have to die an
    infinite number of times (i.e., every time every once-saved person sinned, was lost, and
    wanted to be “saved again”). Thus, those who reject “once saved, always saved,” can only
    replace it with, “once lost, always lost!”

    God’s Assurance John assures us, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the
    name of the Son of God; that ye may know [present knowledge] that ye have [present
    possession] eternal life…” (1 Jn 5:13). To call it eternal life would be a mockery if the
    person who had it could lose it and suffer eternal death. On the contrary, eternal life is
    linked with the promise that one cannot perish—a clear assurance of “eternal security” or
    “once saved, always saved.” John 3:16 promises those who believe in Jesus Christ that they “should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 5:24 again says, “hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation….” One could not ask for clearer or greater assurance than the words of Jesus: “I give unto them [my sheep] eternal life; and they shall never perish” (Jn 10:28). If, having received eternal life, we could lose it and perish, it would make Christ a liar.

    If sin causes the loss of salvation, what kind or amount of sin does it take? There is no
    verse in the Bible that tells us. We are told that if we confess our sins He is faithful and just
    to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness—so apparently any sin can be
    forgiven. Even those who teach falling away rarely if ever say they got “saved again.”
    Rather, they confessed their sin and were forgiven. Hebrews 12:3-11 tells us that every
    Christian sins, and that instead of causing a loss of salvation, sin brings God’s chastening
    upon us as His children. If when we sinned we ceased to be God’s children, He would have
    no one to chastise—yet he “scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Indeed, chastening is a sign that we are God’s children, not that we have lost our salvation: “if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”

    Not by works Some teach that one must be baptized to be saved; others that one must
    “speak in tongues.” Both are forms of salvation by works. Some people lack assurance of
    salvation because they haven’t “spoken in tongues,” others are confident they are saved
    because they think they have. Both are like those who say, “Lord, Lord, have we not…in thy
    name done many wonderful works?” (Mt 7:21-23). They are relying on their works to prove
    they are saved, instead of upon God’s grace. Nor does Jesus say, “You were once saved
    but lost your salvation.” He says, “I never knew you.”

    Here is an important distinction. Those who believe in “falling away” would say of a
    professing Christian who has denied the faith and is living in unrepentant sin that he has
    “fallen from grace” and has “lost his salvation.” In contrast, those who believe in “eternal
    security,” while no more tolerant of such conduct, would say of the same person that
    probably Christ “never knew him”—he was never a Christian. We must give the comfort
    and assurance of Scripture to those who are saved; but at the same time we must not give
    false and unbiblical comfort to those who merely say they are saved but deny with their lives
    what they profess with their lips.

    Are we not then saved by our works? Indeed not! In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 every Christian’s
    works are tried by fire at the “judgment seat of Christ” before which “we must all appear” (2
    Cor 5:10). Good works bring rewards; a lack of them does not cause loss of salvation. The
    person who hasn’t even one good work (all of his works are burned up) is still “saved; yet
    so as by fire” (1 Cor 3:15). We would not think such a person was saved at all. Yet one who
    has truly received the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, but who has no good works as
    evidence and may seem outwardly not to be a Christian, is “saved as by fire” and shall
    never perish in spite of his lack of works.

    Do we then, on the basis of “once saved, always saved,” encourage Christians to “sin that
    grace may abound?” With Paul we say, “God forbid!” We offer no comfort or assurance to
    those living in sin. We don’t say, you’re okay because you once made a “decision for
    Christ.” Instead, we warn, “If you are not willing right now to live fully for Christ as Lord of
    your life, how can you say that you were really sincere when you supposedly committed
    yourself to Him at some time in the past?” And to all we declare with Paul, “Examine
    yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Cor 13:5).

    Our confidence for eternity rests in His unchanging love and grace and the sufficiency of
    God’s provision in Christ—not in our worth or performance. Only when this is clear do we
    have real peace with God. Only then can we truly love Him and live for Him out of gratitude
    for the eternal life He has given to us as a free gift of His grace—a gift He will not take back
    and which He makes certain can never be lost!
    Dave Hunt – 11/98

  5. Adely– Mr Hunt manages not to address the Wesleyan approach to rejection of eternal security. He only addresses Calvin and Arminius. This is, unfortunately, quite a common tactic by Calvinists seeking to refute Methodists. But it is not accurate, nor does it represent our doctrine on the matter.

    Wesley actually disagreed heartily with Arminius that persons who had fallen away or fallen back (backslidden) were utterly irredeemable. He had simply seen too many instances of such persons experiencing a genuine revival of true faith. And he found little support for such a position in scripture.

    You can read my article with extensive links to and quotes from Wesley on this topic on UMC,org, here:

    http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=4746357&ct=5571239

    Peace in Christ,

    Taylor Burton-Edwards
    Director of Worship Resources
    GBOD

  6. Morgan wrote:

    As a Wesleyan who believes in prevenient grace, I’m committed to the premise that God never removes His love from us. We can do things which alienate us from His love and cause our encounter with it to be wrathful rather than comforting, but He doesn’t change His nature in response to our sin. “This is the verdict; light has come into the world but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” We hate God when we embrace sin; His love is intolerable to us.

    Hmmmm … I don’t disagree with any of this, and yet I do not see how any of this precludes God evaluating our actions. It may be that my thought process on this is too simplistic.

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