What is neonomianism?
Question: "What is neonomianism?"
Answer: Neonomianism is a technical term often substituted with other phrases such as the new law or the law of grace. According to neonomianism, God’s ultimate moral obligations—the first law—are impossible for human beings to obey. Since these higher ideals cannot be followed, per neonomianism, God instituted a different law with a different set of obligations: the law of grace. This supposes that God is no longer judging on the basis of whether or not a person violates some moral precept but on whether or not he is expressing faith, submission, and repentance.
There are several theological problems with neonomianism. A major concern is the idea that God would voluntarily lower His standard of righteousness to accommodate sinful humanity. Not only would this mean God had changed in His nature, but it would radically change the meaning of His gospel. According to the Bible, God’s forgiveness is needed because of our sin, not because we fail to sincerely follow Him. In fact, Scripture makes the point that certain kinds of sincerity, when aimed in the wrong direction, will lead a person to hell (Matthew 7:21–23).
Another issue with neonomianism is the concept of God changing His mind. According to Scripture, God never abolished the moral components of the Law, which are meant for all people and all times. Christ’s ministry fulfilled the purpose of the ceremonial and civil laws (Matthew 5:17), but God’s moral precepts are still real and still in force. We are granted forgiveness when we fail to meet those moral standards, if we are in Christ, but we are still held to the same expectations. God is not “lowering the bar”; He is substituting the righteousness of Christ for our unrighteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Another way to see the problem with neonomianism is to consider its implications for works-based salvation. Ultimately, neonomianism suggests that mankind can perfectly meet the legal standards of God—now, at least, since God no longer demands actual moral adherence but only good faith. Logically, this means that we “earn” our salvation by obeying this new law, rather than by obeying the old law. Old law or new, neonomianism suggests that our actions are what ultimately save us. The Bible says that believers can and will sin (1 John 1:9). But it also says that we need forgiveness of those sins, obtained by grace through faith. And that this has nothing whatsoever to do with our own efforts (Romans 11:6; Ephesians 2:8–9; Titus 3:5).
The other issue with neonomianism is its connection to antinomianism, the concept that there are, in effect, no moral obligations at all. More practically, antinomianism involves choosing to ignore certain moral precepts under the argument that Christ’s sacrifice paid the price for sin, so all a Christian needs is faith. This attitude leads to the kind of sinful arrogance the Scripture warns against (Romans 6:1, 15).
The gospel of Jesus Christ certainly has some “new” aspects to it, as compared to the original covenant with Israel. However, there is no sense in which God has abolished or eliminated His moral law, nor does He ignore sin simply because the sinner is saved. Neonomianism essentially takes a true idea—that we are no longer judged under the Mosaic Law—and stretches it far beyond what it is meant to imply.
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What is neonomianism?