Legalists & Libertines: Both Imbalanced – Part 1

Psalm 119:4 Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.

“The Law” has become a source of terrible infighting amongst the visible Church today. This is a sad and lamentable course, no doubt. There are three primary groups of understanding amongst professing Christians when it comes to the Law of God. Suffice it to say, such divisions are not desirable. For only one understanding of God’s Law is right. That is the biblical understanding.

Two of the three groups, though seeming to be polar opposites, can ultimately be classified as the same thing: antinomian. The anti of course means against. Nomos means rule, law. Let’s just call these two groups, in a collective context, the Wrong Side. If we wanted to classify the two groups within the Wrong Side, we could call one group the Legalists and the other group the Libertines. Let us lay out the surface distinctions between the two.


This group could be broken down even further, but for the sake of brevity we shall present them as a conglomeration of varying degrees. Some in this group would say that the Ten Commandments (Decalogue), that is the summary of the Moral Law of God, were primarily applicable to the Nation of Israel, however whatever commands are repeated in the New Testament are still binding and applicable to the Christian under the New Covenant. Another group amongst the Libertines, however, would say that the Ten Commandments have no application whatsoever, and that Christ brought a “new” and “higher” Law. They contend that the Decalogue was an external command, where as Christ’s Laws were better commands because they deal with the heart. They also contend that since (they say) the 4th Commandment is no where repeated in the New Testament that it has been abrogated and is not binding upon Christians today.

Consequent to this belief is a pitting of Law against Grace, as if the two are mutually exclusive. They are certainly distinguished one from another. But the Law still serves a very important function in the life of the believer. The Libertines are wont to say, “We are not under Law but under Grace!” And to this I give a hearty “Amen!” However, in saying this, what they mean to convey is that the Law is no more, and that Grace is pitted against the Law. That the Law is somehow inherently defective, so Grace had to come and replace it. But this is not the case. We will discuss this further in the “Right Side” section.


The other group of the Wrong Side, which is the seemingly polar opposite of the Libertines, are the Legalists. The Legalists proclaim a love and binding nature of the Decalogue. They are quick to criticize their libertine brethren (rightly so) for their blatant antinomianism, but fail to see that their own belief and practice is also antimonianism. Why? Well, not because they believe that the Decalogue is still morally binding in this day and age, but because they believe they merit something before God by keeping the Law, and they diminish law-keeping down to a mere outward obedience. This is exactly what the Pharisees did, and is precisely why Christ preached what He did in the Sermon on the Mount. Christ was not bringing a new, better, higher, or more spiritual law. Rather, he was correcting the Pharisees abuse and misuse of God’s Law.

Consequent to this belief is a total insult to God’s standard as codified in the Ten Commandments.

So both the Legalist and the Libertines are antinomian in that they are against the Law. Either they are against its binding nature today (Libertines), or they are against the proper use, purpose, and function of it (Legalists).

Tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll take a look at what the Reformed Faith constitutes as a proper view of God’s Law. Until then, Godspeed and Grace to all of God’s People!


4 thoughts on “Legalists & Libertines: Both Imbalanced – Part 1

  1. LOL, You had me laughing through this… Not because the sermon itself is funny, but because it is a funny situation if you know what I mean. Everyone is trying to defend God. Best of intentions, worst of application. Maybe He is not in such immediate need of defense. Some think they are defending grace while they are really offending it and some think they are defending the morality of God while they are abusing the true nature of the law in relation to their justification.


  2. Without being real sure I am following your argument, I was wondering about a question that might help me tie up a few loose ends? Does you believe that Romans 7:14-25 is the greatest illustration of true legalism in the New Testament? If its not talking about legalism, could you tell me what it is talking about? Thanks!


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