What is "Lawlessness?"

by Jefferson David Tant

In a well-known New Testament passage, Christ addresses a misconception that many had in that day, which is also held by many today.

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness'" (Matthew 7:21-23).

The popular appeal made by many preachers is "Just accept Jesus into your heart, and you will be saved." While "accepting Jesus" is good, there is more to salvation that than. Christ points out that obedience/doing the will of the Father is also necessary. Many do not like the idea of "obedience." They just want to do what "feels good."

So, just what does it mean to "do the will of the Father?" My wife and I have a will — our "Last Will and Testament." Upon our death, whatever possessions we have will be given to our children. We can put any conditions in the will that we want. That is our prerogative. Thus, if our children want to inherit, they must meet the terms of the will.

Our Heavenly Father has also prepared an inheritance for us, which is far greater than treasures of silver and gold. And he has written his "Last Will and Testament." It is called "The Bible." That's where we must go to learn the terms of the will.

Now, in the aforementioned text, Christ mentions people who will be surprised when they are denied entrance into heaven. They may argue that they have done many good deeds, and they even called him "Lord." So … what's the problem?

The problem is that they were doing "good things" for which they had no authority. They were committing "lawlessness." Other translations may use "iniquity" or "workers of evil."

The original Greek word  is "anomia." It is derived from "nomos — law." The Greeks did the same as we do in English with certain words. If we want to make a word negative, we may put "un" in front of it. "Healthy" becomes "unhealthy." "Lawful" becomes "unlawful." Thus, when we see a sign in that says "It is unlawful to smoke here," we understand what that means. We have no authority to smoke there. The Greeks put the alpha, an "a" in front of "nomos," and "lawful" became "anomia," "unlawful," or "lawless."

Going back to Matthew 7, it is clear that Christ is telling those on judgment day that while they were doing things that seemed good to them, they were doing things for which they had no authority — unlawful or lawless things.

Consider an example. Some years ago I had a Bible study with a young woman from a denomination where they used potato chips and Coke for the Lord's Supper. They called upon the Lord, and did what seemed good to them. But it was "lawlessness" and was "without authority."

Among the many places in the New Testament where the matter of authority is mentioned is Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father." We understand what "in the name of" means — it means "by the authority of." When a policeman knocks on your door and says, "Open up, in the name of the law," he is claiming that he is acting with authority. So Paul writes to the Colossian church, instructing them that "in word" (their teaching) and "deed," they are to do these things "in the name of the Lord Jesus" — by his authority.

Many churches today do many things that seem "good" to them, but they are absolutely without any authority from God. When we go to the Word of God, where do we find authority for churches sponsoring ball teams, having raffles, having women preachers, using instrumental music in worship, giving honored titles to their ministers ("Reverend," "Father," etc.), wearing special robes to set them apart, having car washes to raise money, building gymnasiums, etc., and the list could go on and on.

The point is, these things are "without authority," and therefore Christ calls them "lawless," as they are not in "the will of My Father." If they were in the Father's Will (the New Testament), then surely we could point to the passage that mentions them.

The church which was established by Christ 2,000 years ago was given instructions as to its doctrine and practice. Note Paul's words to Timothy: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).

The Holy Spirit said he gave us all that we needed, all that was authorized. We cannot add to or detract from, else we practice "lawlessness."