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  • Writer's pictureDavid and Marilynn Chadwick

Five Major Heresies in the Church: Legalism and Antinomianism

by David Chadwick

We recently looked at 15 key doctrines of Christianity. Doctrines are the deeply held beliefs of the Christian faith that have withstood time and testing. Each day, I urged you to think of each doctrine as a key, creating a collection of keys to use when faced with resistance, questions, or confusion.

Heresies, on the other hand, are the beliefs and opinions that are contrary to the Christian faith. I want to share some of those with you this week so you can see where the ever so slight deviations can cause people to stray from the pure and simple Gospel.

Let’s begin with two heresies found in the New Testament: legalism and antinomianism, two extremes of one another.

Legalism is seen in the work of the Judaizers. They were supposed Christians who believed that one is saved by grace AND by circumcision. Circumcision was the outward evidence of entrance into the Jewish community of faith. The Judaizers believed identifying with Jewish heritage in this way was required to be saved.

Paul vociferously argued that if you have to add anything to grace then it’s not grace. He wrote Galatians 1 largely to refute the Judaizers who followed him after he planted the Galatian church. As you read this chapter, you can sense Paul’s frustration and anger toward the Judaizers.

Another example of the Judaizers’ influence on the early Christian church can be found in Acts 15 and what’s called the Jerusalem Council. This meeting was called to determine if Gentiles needed to be circumcised for salvation. After much debate, the answer was a resounding, “No!” Paul and Barnabas were then sent out on their second missionary journey after this victory, inviting Gentiles to receive Jesus by grace through faith alone.

Antinomianism, on the other hand, is the opposite of legalism. Another word for this would be licentiousness. It’s the belief that because we are saved by grace and because the law has been canceled, we can keep on sinning and not worry about judgment from God. People use this heresy as a means to sin. This could not be farther from the truth! And Paul loudly refuted this in Romans 6:1: Can we purposely sin knowing grace saves us? Paul answers, “Absolutely not!” A right understanding of grace motivates Christians not to sin.

May we never misuse the grace Jesus gave on the cross to err on either extreme of legalism or antinomianism.

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