For years the town had been controlled by the criminal element. Cattle rustlers commonly preyed on unsuspecting cowboys as they worked hard to make a living. The local sheriff was in the back pocket of several known thieves and bandits. The town’s unofficial boss was the saloon owner who relished the opportunity to get a stranger drunk or sell the wares of his female employees. The U.S. Marshall knew coming into this town that he had a job cut out for him with all of the lawlessness that seemingly oozed out of the cracks in the sidewalks.
The mystique of the Old West continues to linger in the consciousness of our society even though those ways are long past. Yet, when we think of the term “lawlessness” the above paragraph is exactly the way we picture the word. We may even conjure up memories of a Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey novel as we mull over the word. There wasn’t quite anything as lawless in our recent memories as the Old West! Yet today, we are living in a time of lawlessness.
When we consider how this word is used in the scripture, we get a somewhat different picture than that of the Old West. In Matthew 7:23, Jesus says, “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (ESV). Both the King James Version and the American Standard Version of 1901 translate this word “iniquity.” But it is best translated “lawlessness” as the ESV so translates it. The word comes from the Greek word ANOMIA. It is the Greek word NOMOS meaning “law” and the negating prefix “A”. (The word “atheist” is an English word with the same construction. The “theist” is a believer in God and the “atheist” is someone who doesn’t believe in God.) The meaning of the resulting word is one who disregards law or one who is lawless. That which one who is lawless practices is lawlessness.
In 1 John 3:4, the ASV reads, “Every one that doeth sin doeth also lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” That one verse tells us why we live in a lawless world today, because we live in a sinful world today. The world doesn’t have to have cattle rustlers, corrupt sheriffs, or saloon bosses in order to be lawless (though it often does). Sin, in and of itself, does the job. And, truth be told, we probably don’t think of people’s sins as being lawlessness, but they are. Sin is the rejecting of God’s law in our life and the acceptance of some other standard of behavior other than God’s standard. The reason sin is lawlessness is because no other standard of behavior other than God’s can constitute THE LAW. Paul acknowledged this very fact in 1 Corinthians 9:21. In the midst of saying that he sought to become all things to all men, he said, “To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.” Paul acknowledged that some live without law in their life, but he also made clear that he was still under law to God and Christ even in his efforts to persuade those who didn’t acknowledge any law. That’s because God’s law is THE LAW!
Today, we live in a society that would just as soon cast off all law. The ACLU is constantly pushing the envelope the reinterpret the laws in our society so that they become no law at all except license to live lawlessly. What does this world need? It needs law that is THE LAW. It needs God’s law, the gospel.
Yet there are others who would just as soon tell us that to have the gospel is to have no law at all. They erroneously cite Galatians 5:1, 18, and 23 in an effort to “prove” that the Christian is under no law at all, but rather, is under grace. They would teach us that because we are under grace that we have no law to which we need be obedient to please God. They have forgotten Romans 6:1, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” Grace doesn’t cancel out law. Grace makes it possible for us to be lawful, not lawless!
The gospel provides salvation from a lawless world. How? First, by providing forgiveness of man’s lawless deeds through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. And second, by providing a law of love (Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14) by which we can live lawful lives in service to God. The gospel is, therefore, God’s perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus that frees us from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2). Praise be to God who has given us such a masterful plan for man’s salvation! Let us lawfully live according to the gospel of Jesus, the Christ!