A friend recently posted on FaceBook a 2002 video of Paul Washer passionately addressing a large crowd of youth, his message on Matthew 7:13-27. I listened to the entire hour and was challenged to dig into these verses myself (still not done — it’s quite a lot!). This passage is quite familiar to most Christians but I’m not sure many of us understand it very well. In fact there were some things here that were very eye-opening to me (and no doubt will continue to be, as I continue to dig deeper) and none more so than searching out what Jesus meant by those who practice lawlessness.
Here is the verse (23): “And then I [Jesus] will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” Now I always casually thought that this meant super-evil-wicked people. You know, Stalin-Holms-Dahmer-Hitler-types. Wow, was I wrong! The word “lawless” is the Greek word, anomia (an-om-EE-ah) and it simply means the disregard for God’s law (His written and living word). It is translated in other verses as “disobedience.” This does not mean we do not sin (1 John 1:7-10) however, a habitual practice of sin or disregard of His law, perpetual disobedience or love of the world and things in the world is termed, “lawlessness” and this state indicates lack of salvation (1 John 1:6, Matthew 13:23, Luke 13:27).
So I understand that this verse tells us there will be a time that many people who believe they are Christians will stand stunned before Christ thinking they had their fire insurance in order and will find out that their “Christiany” behaviors were but self-deception with devastating results. This is a call for all of us to evaluate our lives. (“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?” 1 Cor. 13:5.)
I am not saying that a Christian can fall from grace and I believe verse 23 proves we cannot because Jesus says, “I never knew you,” not that He knew them at one point but they messed up so He wrote them off. No. We are saved by His grace alone, bought with a very great price. Nothing we do can earn it and nothing we do can undo it. What I do fear are a multitude of Americans who think they are Christians because they silently prayed a prayer once to ‘accept Christ as their personal savior’ (a phrase, incidentally, not found in the Bible or Christian history and was never even uttered until about 50 years ago). Then they went their merry way with no life change (“you will know them by their fruits”) or even a basic understanding of Christian living (“if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”). What happened to “count the cost” — isn’t there a cost? Can I really silently say a prayer and raise my hand and that’s it? Is that entering through “the narrow door” (v13)?
If 75% of Americans are Christians, as Barna and Gallup polls indicate, then why is our society becoming more and more degraded and immoral? Why are we killing 3700 babies a day? We are nation of relativists. If the laws we are to obey (back to “lawlessness”) are summed up into two: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matt. 22:37-40) then the persistent disregard of these is anomia, lawlessness.
Let’s get back to understanding what God’s word truly says and obeying it. Let’s reason with one another and encourage one another in the faith. Let’s confess our mistakes to one another and gently and humbly restore one another in love when we make mistakes. Let’s not be like the religious leaders in Jesus’s day who were like whitewashed tombs – nice on the outside and filled with dead and putrid things on the inside. “Let us turn away from evil and do good; let us seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:10-12).