(links for the first 3 parts of the Spirit of a Magician series at the end)
“But relative to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and our gathering together to [meet] Him, … Let no one deceive or beguile you in any way, for that day will not come except the apostasy comes first [unless the predicted great falling away of those who have professed to be Christians has come], and the man of lawlessness (sin) is revealed, who is the son of doom (of perdition)… II Thessalonians 2:1-3
UNDERSTANDING THE STAKES
Many Christians are talking about a great revival and harvest before the second coming of Jesus. While we certainly pray for and pursue this, we shouldn’t ignore that Bible prophecy speaks of a great falling away, rather than a great revival, immediately preceding the Lord’s return. And it’s happening all around us. The Greek word translated “apostasy” refers to a defection from, falling away from, or forsaking of Truth. Though apostasy can occur for multiple reasons, the great end times apostasy described in II Thessalonians 2 has a few defining characteristics that are important for us to understand.
The first one we should notice is a connection to “the man of lawlessness” – and that lawlessness seems to be a central theme of this chapter.
Although the error of lawlessness is drastically on the rise, it isn’t a new problem just now appearing in the last days. Paul said the “mystery of lawlessness” was already at work at the time he wrote this letter (v.7). While this deception may present itself one way to the world, the enemy knows exactly how to dress it up for church as well. Because of this, the church has tragically battled this error since its beginning. But God has turned that to our advantage – since it was identified and addressed for the first believers in Scripture, and therefore for us as well.
There are numerous warnings about lawlessness in the New Testament. Depending on what translation you use, you might not always see that precise word, but “lawlessness” can accurately convey the idea of several Greek words.
One of the most terrifying warnings comes from the glimpse of judgment day that Jesus gave us:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:21-23 (see v. 13-27)
(The Greek for “practice lawlessness” here is ergazomai anomia, with a present middle or passive deponent participle verb form.)
I can’t imagine anything worse than the horror of this situation. These people believe they’re saved and about to be welcomed into Heaven. They call Jesus Lord! They’ve even operated in power in His Name! Yet Jesus turns them away! Why!? He said they practiced lawlessness instead of doing God’s will. When we contemplate the terror of many who will realize too late that they were deceived about their salvation due to practicing lawlessness, combined with Paul’s warning that lawlessness is at the root of the great end times apostasy – nothing could be more important than understanding what Jesus and Paul are talking about if we want to avoid being among the MANY who will face this never-ending nightmare.
PRACTICING LAWLESSNESS DEFINED
If we follow the principle of Biblical interpretation of letting Scripture define Scripture, we see that the Holy Spirit clearly defined what practicing lawlessness means.
“Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness [ignoring God’s law by action or neglect or by tolerating wrongdoing—being unrestrained by His commands and His will].” I John 3:4
The Greek word translated sin is hamartia. The Greek word translated lawlessness is anomia –the condition of one without law, due to ignorance, violation, or contempt.
Here the Holy Spirit (through John) equates the two as one and the same. So while the idea of lawlessness may often evoke images of anarchy – of ruffians prowling the streets committing crimes – this definition is far too limited. The reality is that practicing lawlessness simply refers to practicing ANY kind of sin. This should bring the danger of this deception much closer to home for all.
John goes on to say that those who are truly born of God, who abide in Him, and who can accurately be identified as righteous are those who practice righteousness, not sin. He said we cannot continue to practice sin because we’ve been born of the Seed of God (we are born of His Word and Spirit and our nature now comes from Him). In the same way, he clarified that those who are continuing to practice sin aren’t born of God, and don’t really know Him – they’re still of the devil, and their actions express his nature (I Jn 3:6-10). After attempting to set the record straight with this very simple standard for discernment (reminiscent of Jesus’ good trees bear good fruit / bad trees bear bad fruit standard in Mt 7:15-20, and His spiritual paternity test in Jn 8:31-47), John said – “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are clearly identified” (v10). The purpose is not for condemnation (at least not presently), but for accurate identification – to prevent the kind of horrific deception seen in Mt 7 about whether we (or others) are truly saved. John urged us not to be deceived about this issue (v.7-8), as did other New Testament authors (Eph 5:5-6 -see 1-20 , Gal 5:19-21, I Cor 5, Heb 10:24-39, II Pt 2, etc)
(For those familiar with a different view of this passage based on KJV, please see the special note at the end.)
Through this we understand that some were already falling prey to the deception that we can be born again (saved), righteous, and “in Christ” (abiding in Him), in spite of continuing to practice sin/lawlessness. So John (like Jesus) gave this spiritual DNA test to help all determine, “Who’s your daddy.” If we discover we don’t like the answer – thank God we learned the truth in time to change!
So the error of lawlessness can be defined as the belief that Christians can practice sin/lawlessness, yet still be saved – that children of God can live in sin without it affecting their salvation, righteousness, or right standing with God “in Christ.”
WHERE DOES THIS ERROR COME FROM?
After speaking about the coming judgment, God’s desire for all to repent, and our need to live godly and holy lives as we wait for That Day, Peter echoed Jesus’ warning that the error of the lawless could cause us to fall and end in destruction. He revealed this error was coming from distortions of Paul’s teachings, as well as other Scriptures.
“He [Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.” II Peter 3:16-17 (see II Peter 3)
(The Greek word here is athesmos – one who breaks through the restraint of law and gratifies his lusts.)
This exposes the spirit of a magician’s involvement in this deception. This error is not coming primarily from without, but stealthily from within – through some “magic” with God’s Word (as discussed in previous posts). The Greek word translated distort is strebloō and means “to twist, turn awry, to pervert, of one who wrests or tortures language in a false sense.”
I certainly don’t believe this means all those teaching this error are intentionally trying to deceive. Though some are wolves sent to harm the flock (Acts 20:26-32), others are simply deceived themselves and unaware (as Peter indicates – “ignorant”, not in the sense of stupid, just unaware of truth).
We know Paul is often distinguished as the apostle of grace. As we begin to understand this error and the passages used to promote it, it’s clear that the error of lawlessness comes from a distortion and misrepresentation of true grace. It takes the truth that we are no longer under the law, but grace, to an extreme of error that we are therefore without law or lawless. We can easily see how the spirit of a magician could pull off this grand illusion for multitudes who aren’t rooted and grounded in the whole counsel of God’s Word.
Thankfully Paul clarified that though he was not under the law (of Moses), neither was he without law or lawless; he said he was bound to or under the law of Christ (I Cor 9:20-21). The change of priesthood resulted in a change of law (Heb 7:12). God’s law went from external stone tablets to being written internally on our hearts. In doing so, it also changed from only applying to external actions to also applying internally at a heart level (Ez 36:26-27, Jer 31:31-33, Heb 8:7-12; 10:14-18). So while Jesus freed us from the many civil and ceremonial Mosaic laws, He actually took God’s eternal moral laws to a higher/deeper standard than before – all the way to our inner life, the thoughts and imaginations of the heart (Mt 5-7, etc). He reconfirmed His moral laws throughout the New Testament, and said that those who reject and deny them reject and deny Him (Eph 4-6, Col 3:1-17, I Thess 4:1-8, Titus 1:16, Jms 4:4, Jude v.4, etc.). And while all He taught us can be boiled down to loving God first, and loving others with His love (Mt 22:34-40, Rom 13:9-10), we can’t throw out His specific blueprints in His Word of what that love looks like and substitute our own – unless we want to be deceived and deceive others (Jn 14:15-26, I Jn 2:3-6; 15-17, I Jn 5:1-5).
Hopefully all will understand that John (In I Jn 3) didn’t mean that a true Christian will never sin, or even that we’d never struggle with a sin and have to walk through a process with the Lord to crucify the flesh in that area in order to overcome (I Cor 9:24-10:14, Gal 5:16-26, Col 3:1-10). Even those who abide in Him as He tells us to (Jn 15) will still be in the process of transformation to become more and more like Him until we leave this earth (Rom 12:1-2, II Cor 3:12-18, I Pt 1:13-19). We must daily depend on His grace to empower us to live as He calls us to, His mercy to forgive us when we fail, and His blood to continually cleanse us as we walk with Him in the Light/Truth (I Jn 1:5-10 ). None of us have any hope of meeting God’s standard of sinless perfection apart from receiving Jesus’ righteousness and holiness as a gift through faith in Him, either before or after we’re born again. But once we’re born again we have a new heart that longs to do God’s will. We have His divine power and His divine nature/character within us to help us live as He calls us to (II Pt 1:1-12). We have the conviction, power, and fruit of His Spirit to help us, His love that constrains and compels us, His grace that teaches and empowers us to say “no” to sin, His spiritual armor and weapons to overcome, and His loving discipline as our Father to correct us when we err, just to name a few (Romans 13:9-14, II Cor 5:14-15; 10:3-6, Gal 5:13-26, Eph 6:10-19, Phil 2:12-16, Titus 2:11-15, Heb 12 ). When He makes a tree good (a new creation), He expects our fruit to be good (Mt 12:33-37, Lk 3:1-18; 13:1-9, Jn 15:1-17, Acts 26:20, Rev 19:7-8). So we cannot continue in (practice) sin – not without hardening our hearts, deafening our ears, and searing our consciences to continue breaking through all His boundaries to a place that’s no longer truly “in Christ” according to His Word (I Jn 2:3-6, II Cor 13:5, I Tim 4:1-2, Heb 3:7-19; 10:24-39, 12:25-29, II Pt 2, Rev 2-3, etc).
So practicing or continuing in sin or lawlessness that Jesus, Paul, John, Peter, and others refer to is a form of acceptance of sin – it’s no longer something we repent of (turn away from), no longer something we hate or grieve over, no longer something we’re committed to cooperating with the power and nature of Christ in us to crucify, change, and overcome (I Cor 5, II Cor 12:20-21, James 4:1-10, Rev 2-3) . Instead, it’s become our norm, our habit, our way of life. Perhaps it’s something we plan for. Perhaps it’s something we delight in and love, or accept and approve of (II Thess 2:12, Rom 1:32). And though few may recognize it – it causes us to serve a different master and lord (Jn 8:31-47, Rom 6, II Pt 2:19).
Jude gave additional insight about this distortion of grace –
“For certain men have crept in stealthily [gaining entrance secretly by a side door]. Their doom was predicted long ago, ungodly (impious, profane) persons who pervert the grace of our God into lawlessness and wantonness and immorality, and disown and deny our sole Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).” Jude v4 AMPC
(The Greek word here is aselgeia – often translated licentiousness or lasciviousness.)
The AMP expounds that they view God’s grace “as an opportunity to do whatever they want.” This highlights the true source of this error, through its similarity to the first law of satanism, “Do as thou wilt.” This is the exact opposite and inversion of Jesus’ example for us of submission to God – “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
We should notice that Jude said those involved in this error disown and deny our Master and Lord Jesus. Peter said the same (II Pt 2). Again, it’s important to remember this is not deception from outside the church, causing people to deny their faith in Jesus. It’s coming from within the church, through distortions of God’s Word. Both Peter and Jude went on to say that these people reject and despise “authority” (II Pt 2:10, Jude v8). This Greek word, kyriotēs, can also be translated LORDSHIP. Those deceived by the error of lawlessness still claim faith in Jesus as their Savior, but these errors cause them to deny and disown Him as Master and Lord – in the sense that they reject His Lordship over their lives. It’s vital to understand that they don’t do so by purposefully denying or renouncing Him as Lord with words. Instead this denial and rejection occurs through their actions/sin (I Thess 4:1-8, Titus 1:16, Jms 4:4, Heb 10:26-39).
Peter said the result of these errors is to malign and defame (to blaspheme) the true Way (II Pt 2:1-2). So these distortions of grace produce a counterfeit form of Christianity that blasphemes and maligns true Christianity (which can happen in several ways). It leads people to believe they can receive Jesus as their Savior without truly receiving Him as their Lord (by living under His Lordship) – that they can be saved, but continue practicing sin. In doing so, it creates “another gospel”, “another spirit”, and “another Jesus” (II Cor 11:1-4), no longer the Jesus, Holy Spirit, and gospel revealed in God’s Word.
Now we can clearly understand the deception Jesus was exposing in the judgment scene of Matthew 7. The many still called Him Lord, but they didn’t really live under His Lordship (doing the will of the Father). Though they operated in power in His Name, they didn’t operate in His character – they practiced lawlessness/sin. They fell prey to this counterfeit form of Christianity.
It is this incomplete gospel that causes the New Testament to seem so confusing and contradictory to many. When we define saving faith as only receiving Jesus as Savior ~ Scriptures that command ongoing repentance from sin and obedience to God’s moral standards sound like they’re polluting grace and faith with law and works (and those speaking these truths end up being labeled legalists, Pharisees, and worse – blaspheming and maligning the true Way). So many today have ended up rejecting much of the New Testament because they can’t reconcile it with the version of the gospel, grace, and Jesus they’ve received.
But when we understand the Biblical truth that saving faith involves receiving Jesus as our Lord as well as Savior, we begin to see consistency instead of contradiction throughout the New Testament. This explains why the NT authors say we must repent of sin and live holy lives – and why the Biblical definition of the Gospel includes repentance from sin, instructions for holy living, and warning of judgment for those who refuse (Lk 3:3-18, Acts 3:19-26; 14:15; 17:30-31; 24:14-25, 26:18-20, Rom 2:1-16, II Cor 6:14-7:1, Col 1:28-29, II Thess 1, Heb 10:26-39, I Pt 1, etc). The New Testament authors are all consistent in these truths.
It is this complete gospel that is the power of God to save us and set us free from every form of bondage to the enemy.
As Jesus revealed – the gospel of lawlessness will not save.
Though it’s shocking for many of us to imagine, Paul said God would actually give people over to this deception of lawlessness because they failed to love Truth, and instead delighted in sin. (II Thess 2, Rom 1) So the antidote to this deception is to make sure we love Truth and pursue Truth (not sin) – even truth that is challenging, unpopular, that brings persecution, and that puts us in opposition with the world.
One of the profound moments for us in our journey was when the Lord reminded us that Jesus is full of both Grace AND Truth (Jn 1:17)– and that one to the exclusion of the other is error. Truth without Grace will result in Legalism. But Grace without Truth will result in Lawlessness. There’s a ditch on both sides of the road.
In the first part of this series, I referenced the key Paul gave us to love truth and avoid deception – to hold fast to the teachings that have been passed on to us, referring to the teachings that are now preserved for us in God’s Word. Paul wasn’t talking about the subjective “your truth vs. my truth” we hear so much about today. He was referring to the objective standard of Truth God has given us. So to love Truth, we must love God’s Word; Jesus said God’s Word IS TRUTH. (John 17:17)
In the second part of this series, I mentioned the similar antidote Jesus gave us to His terrifying warning about practicing lawlessness (in Mt 7). The key He gave to avoid falling prey to this deception is to build our lives on His teachings, on the Rock of His Word – not to merely be hearers of it, but to truly be doers, who put it into action (or PRACTICE) (Mt 7:13-27, Jms 1:21-27). Of course, we know from His Word we have no hope of living as He tells us to apart from being born again of His Spirit and continually filled with His Spirit as we abide/remain in intimate relationship with Him (through His Word and Spirit). Only then can we follow the law of Christ under His Lordship and grace.
God forbid that a failure to understand and restore these truths would result in the great end times harvest many are pursuing and the great end times apostasy foretold actually being one and the same event – through making many false converts through a false grace and gospel to a false Jesus. May every counterfeit be exposed in the light of God’s Truth, and may all know the Truth and be truly saved and set free.
“But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude v17-25
Do not be unequally bound together with unbelievers [do not make mismatched alliances with them, inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership can righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial (Satan)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said:
“I will dwell among them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 “So come out from among unbelievers and be separate,” says the Lord, “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will graciously receive you and welcome you [with favor], 18 And I will be a Father to you, And you will be My sons and daughters,” Says the Lord Almighty.
7 1Therefore, since we have these [great and wonderful] promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, completing holiness [living a consecrated life—a life set apart for God’s purpose] in the fear of God. II Corinthians 6:14-7:1
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the Law but under grace? Far from it! 16 Do you not know that the one to whom you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of that same one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and after being freed from sin, you became slaves to righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented the parts of your body as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your body’s parts as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in relation to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:15-23
Previous posts in this series:
footnote for those w/ different understanding of I John 3 from KJV:
Unfortunately, some who use only the KJV have been led to dangerous misinterpretations of I John 3, due to its insufficient translation of Greek verb forms. These misinterpretations have actually led some Christians to believe the exact opposite of what the passage is truly saying. Though they rightly realize John couldn’t possibly be saying that a Christian cannot sin (v.9, since no one has ever been perfect but Jesus), they mistakenly reason that John must have meant it’s our born again spirit that cannot sin. From this they conclude that our spirits remain perfect and untouched by sin committed in the body, so that even if someone is living in willful sin, their spirit remains sinless and they remain saved as long as they still “believe in Jesus”. This contradicts not only the accurate translation of this passage, but many other NT passages as well. A study of this chapter in the Greek and/or reading it from a translation that accurately captures the Greek (such as the AMP, AMPC, NASB) will dispel confusion and bring clear understanding. I realize some reject this truth, claiming that translators have added words to Scripture that aren’t there (such as “practice” or “continue” in sin). But the reality is they have not added words; they’ve simply properly translated the present active Greek verb tenses that John used.