Matthew 7:23, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Matthew 13:41, “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness.”
Matthew 23:28, “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Matthew 24:12, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”
Lawlessness is an interesting word. It was used frequently by Jesus. In the original language it is the word for iniquity (anomia). The original word is a compound word. The prefix “a” means “not” or “without,” and the root word “nomia” means law. So, the meaning of the original word is “without law.” It is like the word apolitical in English. The letter “a” modifies the word political and refers to someone who has no interest in politics or who is otherwise not involved.
Again, Jesus used this word frequently. We would do well to pay attention to what it means. It refers to a person who sets aside law. But Jesus is not referring to any law. This is a person who has no interest in the commandments of God. When I use the word “commandments” I am not referring only to the ten commandments, but to the will of God as revealed in scripture. I believe this is how Jesus is using the word. What is important about the word, then, is not any specific law to which is refers, but the concept of being without law.
The big picture can be summed up like this: God places boundaries in life. Those boundaries are what we call law. To cross over those boundaries is what the Bible calls sin. Sin is transgressing any boundary God creates. The first boundary created by God concerned a tree. God told Adam and Eve not to eat from a certain tree (Gen. 2:9, 16-17). To eat from the tree (to cross that boundary) would invite death. It proved to be true and was the undoing of the world.
As the creator of all things, God has a right to create boundaries. He has a right to command we do not cross them. He creates them for a reason. And for our purposes, those who willingly cross those boundaries reveal something about their relationship with God.
In both verses in Matthew 7 and 13 above, Jesus reveals that those who feel free to cross those boundaries will themselves be tossed over another very important one: they will not cross the boundary into heaven. The Matthew 7 verse reveals a person who claims faith in Christ (cf. vs. 21-22) and even claims to serve Christ. However what Jesus focuses on is not their claim to faith, or even their service, but the fact that they were without law. They were “anomia,” literally without law. In other words, they were people who had no interest in the boundaries God established for them. This means they willingly set those boundaries aside. They, not God, defined for themselves the boundaries for life. Some translations translate the word as “iniquity.” To define the boundaries of life for ourselves is iniquity before God. It is sin. Lawlessness.
And according to the Matthew 13 verse, at the end of the age, he removes those people who refuse to allow God to determine the proper boundaries for life. He sends his angels to gather such people, and then in verse 42 he informs us of their destination: “and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42). Such is the fate of those who disregard the boundaries God has placed in life.
We live in an age where disregarding boundaries is seen as liberation. People believe they are experiencing a form of liberty and freedom. In a way they are, but it’s not what they think. They are “liberating” themselves from the glorious life of God. They are separating themselves from the possibility of experiencing His life – both now and in eternity. As such, they are doomed.
It is no surprise to see the world work hard to redefine the boundaries God has created. But it is hard to watch people who claim to know God do the same. The world has redefined the boundaries of sex, gender, family, manhood, womanhood, and all things concerning truth and righteousness. They haven’t just moved the boundary marker, they have altogether destroyed it. But the above verses do not refer to the world at large. Scripture is clear the world rejects God (cf. Psalm 2). But the above verses speak to people who believe they are Christians. They believe they are living for God and heaven bound. But they have this one problem. Like the world, they have no interest in the boundaries God has created. They define the boundaries for living, not God. There may be a myriad of “theological” rationalizing that, in their mind, justifies their living; but at the end of the day, they will stand judged with the same world that openly celebrates its war against God – proclamations to faith notwithstanding.
Please note, I am not saying that obedience saves a person. But I believe one who is truly saved seeks (imperfectly) to be obedient. Obedience is simply recognizing that God is God, and he has a right to command things. He has a right to create boundaries that we dare not cross. We all sin and fall short in many ways. God has provided a Savior to ensure our forgiveness and to ensure we can enjoy his life, both now and in eternity. When a saved sinner does cross one of those boundaries God has created, they can acknowledge their sin and confess it (cf. 1 John 1:8-10). This is called repentance. God promises forgiveness to all who confess and come to Jesus for salvation.
With that in mind, we would do well to ask ourselves: what does our relationship with God’s boundaries (commands) reveal about our relationship with Him? If we willingly cross those lines without no thought of a need to repent and confess, we would do well to think soberly about how Jesus uses the term “lawlessness.”