Salvation Perspectives: Contrasting Legalism, Antinomianism, and the Biblical Gospel through Prayer
The theological discourse surrounding the doctrines of legalism, antinomianism, and the Gospel is of utmost importance. This short essay aims to clarify the distinctions between these three concepts by examining the underlying attitudes of individuals belonging to each category during the process of salvation, using prayers as a means to convey their respective dispositions. Here are three illustrations using prayer to contrast two false understandings of the gospel with a true one:
1) Lord, I have forsaken my sin, committed my life to you, now accept me. (legalism)
2) Lord, save me from the guilt of sin but please leave me under its power. (antinomianism)
3) Lord, I cannot save myself. Rescue me from both the guilt and power of sin (biblical)
Legalism refers to an erroneous understanding of the Gospel that places excessive emphasis on the observance of religious laws and moral codes as a means of earning God's favor and attaining salvation. This approach tends to foster self-righteousness and diminishes the essential role of God's grace in the process of redemption. An illustrative prayer in this context is: "Lord, I have forsaken my sin, committed my life to you, now accept me."
In this prayer, the supplicant appears to assume that their actions, namely the renunciation of sin and dedication to God, are sufficient grounds for divine acceptance. This notion runs contrary to the central tenets of the Bible, which stress the indispensable and exclusive nature of God's grace in securing salvation. As Paul declares in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
Antinomianism represents another theological misstep, characterized by the dismissal of the the commands of the Bible as irrelevant to the believer's relationship with God. This perspective often leads to a careless attitude towards sin and a disregard for the transformative power of the Gospel in the believer's life. A prayer that might be indicative of antinomianism is: "Lord, save me from the guilt of sin but please leave me under its power."
This prayer exemplifies a yearning for salvation from the consequences of sin (God's wrath) without an accompanying desire for Christ to actively sanctify the supplicant by freeing them from sin's bondage. Individuals who desire deliverance from guilt, yet do not seek God's grace to liberate them from the power of sin, essentially express a wish to evade punishment while willfully persisting in the very actions that necessitated Christ's sacrificial death in the first place. Displaying such an attitude at the time of salvation overlooks an essential element of the Gospel, which offers deliverance from both sin's guilt and power. This misperception disregards the dual work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, during which those being converted yearn for Christ to both justify and sanctify them. Paul emphasizes this in 1 Corinthians 6:11, stating, "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
Further support for this perspective can be found in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31, which declares, "And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" In light of these passages, we recognize that it is essential to seek all these aspects of salvation from Christ, and not from ourselves, acknowledging our total reliance on Him for complete deliverance. It is insufficient to merely pursue Christ for the forgiveness of sin while maintaining a desire to persist in our former way of living, as this approach disregards the transformative power of the Gospel and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life.
- The Gospel
In contrast to legalism and antinomianism, the biblical response to the Gospel involves an acknowledgment of human inability to attain salvation through personal efforts and a wholehearted reliance on God's grace to rescue from both the guilt and power of sin. A prayer exemplifying this stance is: "Lord, in my powerlessness to save myself, I implore You in Your great mercy to deliver me from the guilt and dominion of sin in my life."
This prayer encapsulates the core comprehension of someone who truly grasps the Gospel, as it acknowledges the believer's utter reliance on God for a comprehensive salvation that encompasses all aspects of deliverance from sin.. It echoes the essential message of the Bible, which underscores the necessity of God's grace in every aspect of the Christian life. As Jesus proclaims in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
In conclusion, the Bible offers a rich theological framework that differentiates the Gospel from the distortions of legalism and antinomianism. By examining these concepts through the lens of prayer, it becomes evident that a biblical understanding of our response to the Gospel involves a humble acknowledgment of human insufficiency and a steadfast reliance on God's grace for salvation and sanctification. This exposition serves as a catalyst for further exploration and reflection on the Bible's teachings, in the hope of inspiring believers to deepen their understanding of the Gospel, guard against the pitfalls of legalism and antinomianism, and embrace the transformative power of God's grace in their lives.