Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Antithesis

 Ronald Hanko


Occasionally some Reformed theologians will write of the “antithesis.” In such cases they are referring to the separation and opposition between darkness and light, believer and unbeliever, church and world.

This antithesis is the result of God’s saving grace and is often referred to in Scripture, though the word itself is not used. The clearest passage that refers to the antithesis is II Corinthians 6:14–18. There the Word not only describes the antithesis, but it also tells us what it means in practice. In those verses the antithesis is described as the contrast between righteousness and unrighteousness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, faith and unbelief, the temple of God and the temple of idols. In practice it means that we must “come out from among them, and be ... separate” (v. 17).

This separation is spiritual. We are not called to come out of the world physically (I Cor. 5:10). That is the mistake made by those who become monks or nuns, or who forbid marriage or the eating of certain foods. The antithesis does not mean that we separate ourselves physically from the world around us or from the things of this world.

It does mean that we have no fellowship with the works of the wicked (Eph. 5:11–12) and even that we do not make friends of the wicked or have fellowship with them (II Cor. 6:17; James 4:4). We must be in their company since we must do our business and live our lives in the world (I Cor. 5:9–11), but even then we must be separate by being holy.

Herein lies one of our objections to the teaching of common grace. The idea that there is a common grace of God to the wicked and reprobate makes a kind of common ground between God’s people and the world. At least in some respects, therefore, believers can make common cause with the wicked, can keep fellowship with them, and can make friends of them. After all, they both have grace in common, so it is argued.

The Bible makes it very clear that keeping this separation from the wicked world is the safety and well-being of the church and of God’s people. That was true already in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 33:28 says, “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone.” In the New Testament it remains true. The promise of God—“I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters”—belongs to those who obey God’s command “Come out from among them, and be ye separate” (II Cor. 6:17–18). How much we need to hear that today!

Each of us must be separate. We must be separate for God’s sake and for the sake of the church. If we are not separate, God will not be glorified through us, and the church will become like the world.

(Ronald Hanko, “Doctrine According to Godliness: A Primer of Reformed Doctrine,” [Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2004] pp. 208–209)