Some Christians certainly act as if they are allergic to the Law of God. They fear or tend to avoid preaching on the imperatives because they don’t want to burden people with the Law. They assert (correctly) that Paul didn’t answer the charge of antinomianism (lawlessness) with more Law but more grace. They charge their opponents with the allegation of a “phantom fear” that preaching “radical grace” will lead to antinomianism.
I, however, have not observed any charge of antinomianism. The proper concern is a failure to preach the whole counsel of God. No one is taking issue with preaching the grace of God. We all agree on that. All the objectors (that I’m aware of) to this indicatives only preaching , have not only preached and defended the Gospel of the grace of Christ, they have rejoiced and glory in the cross of Christ. It truly is finished.
The concern is that, while the third use of the law is often affirmed, it seems to be paid only lip service. There seems to be this underlying idea that to preach on the “law” or imperatives (commands) is to drive people into legalism. Perhaps the “phantom fear” lies there. A fear that people will have some allergic to reaction to preaching on a text that says “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother”(1 Jn 3:9–10), that results in the preacher endorsing legalism and driving some poor soul into being burdened by the Law. That is the only “phantom fear” that I see.
Yet, in my observation, I do not see the objectors hailing only the Law of God. I do not see them trying to modify behavior by only harping on the imperatives. What I do see is the preaching the whole counsel of God. So that when they are preaching through a book in the Holy Writ and they come across a text like “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”(1 Co 5:1–8), they are not just yelling “radical grace, radical grace!” They are expounding on the text, reminding the people of God of the Gospel for any that are stuck in sexual immorality, yet emphasizing that open, blatant sexual misconduct in the body of Christ will not be tolerated. That grace is not the issue (in this context) but the glory of Christ in the midst of His congregating people is. Now, let me emphasize that these texts are not, should not, be always sought out and preached on. Yet, they should not be deliberately avoided or neglected for fear of some person fleeing the church because of “legalism.” We deal with the imperatives when we come across them in the Word of God (and there are quite a few!). How a person responds to them is not up to us nor should it change what we preach because someone mistakes holiness for “legalism” and only wants to hear “grace.” We, after all, are to herald the Word, not smother it. We proclaim and the Spirit will apply the message.
We say- a loud- amen to Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones when he said, “if your preaching of the gospel of Gods’ free grace in Jesus Christ does not provoke the charge from some of antinomianism you’re not preaching the gospel of the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
We also say amen when he said, “The Christian is a man who of necessity must be concerned about keeping God’s law…So the Christian is a man who is always concerned about living and keeping the law of God. Here he is reminded how that is to be done.”*
We, like David, can say, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies”(Ps 119:97–98). We love it so much that we not only say we believe in the third use of the Law, but we preach on the third use of the Law when we come across the imperatives of the Bible. As for the accusations of “legalism” that tend to come when we do preach the Law, whether these come subtle or blatant- so be it. We say with John, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”(1 Jn 5:2–5). Because we believe in Christ, shows we have been born of God and because we have been born of God and believe in Christ, we do not think His commandments are burdensome or “legalistic.” We don’t have an allergy to the moral Law of God. We delight in it. Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,
*Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Kindle Locations307, 310-311). Kindle Edition.