The Dangers Of Lawlessness
Tim Temple


Thirty years ago Billy Graham was speaking to a national conference of the National Council of Churches in California and he said this: “We stand at the heart of a world revolution. Our world is on fire, and man without God cannot control the flame. The fires of greed, hate and lust are sweeping uncontrollably around our globe. We live in the midst of crisis, danger, fear and death.”

As I say, those words were spoken thirty years ago, but they could have been spoken yesterday, couldn't they? If these things were true thirty years ago, how much more true are they in fact today? Even though all kinds of legislation and social programs and money is spent on the various problems that Billy Graham mentioned all those years ago, poverty and racial relations are still a powder keg waiting to explode within our nation.

Since the time that those words were spoken, we have experienced for the first time on American soil several incidents of terrorism involving large numbers of deaths, and we have seen several plots that have been uncovered just in time that would have been disastrous for our nation. Only in these last thirty years have we seen terrorism on our own soil. In just the past four or five years we have heard of what seems like an epidemic of mothers murdering their own children or of children killing their parents or killing their siblings. We hear about serial rapists and serial murderers so often in our degenerate society. By every measure of social standards—divorce, alcohol and drug abuse, child abuse, murder, kidnapping, extortion, homosexuality—our society is bankrupt.

To me, the most serious aspect of all of this is that the statistics about most of these problems are almost as bad among people who call themselves Christians as they are in the world at large. Aren't you glad you came this morning to be cheered up?

Why has all of this come upon us? Why is it that in our nation we find ourselves in this critical situation? Believe it or not, the basic, underlying reason for all of these kinds of things is addressed in the passage to which we come today as we work our way through this first letter from John the apostle in the first century. Today we come to chapter 3, which we began to look at last week, and in verse 4, we find the statement that explains the situation we face in our world today. Notice:

I John 3:

4Whosoever committeth sin also commits lawlessness and sin is lawlessness.

Here is a basic, accurate reason for all of the heartache and misery in our world. It is a more simple and yet a more profound explanation of all of the troubles in our world today than all of the self-help books and all of the psychology books that have ever been written. The basic, underlying reason for all of these problems that we have in our world today that have always existed on one level or another throughout history is the one word that appears twice in this verse. It is the word lawlessness , and that is what we want to talk about today.

It will help us understand this concept if we remember where it comes in the chapter. In verses 1-3, we have described for us the position of sons of God, the amazing fact that we take far too much for granted, the foreign idea that God has allowed certain human beings to actually become His sons and daughters, that we are children of God. The placement, the position, of the sons of God is in verses 1-3.

Definition Of Lawlessness

Today we want to begin looking at the second section of the chapter, verses 4-9, which has to do with the practices of sons of God, and then the third section of the chapter has to do with the principle guiding sons of God in verses 10-24. So let's begin looking at what God has to say about the practices of sons of God which begins in verse 4. The first thing that John addresses, of course, is this underlying principle in verses 4-6, the principles of lawlessness. The first thing that we need to do is to get straight in our minds the definition of lawlessness. What do we mean by this term?

As I talk about it, you might realize that your definition might be different than mine or if you had the opportunity to talk with someone else, we may not all be on the same page about what lawlessness is. The broadest definition is “a refusal to acknowledge authority.” That is what Mr. Webster calls it in His dictionary—a refusal to acknowledge authority.

Put in practical terms, lawlessness is a determination to do what I want to do regardless of what anyone else says, regardless of what the government says. Regardless of what the legislature says, regardless of what God says, I will do what I want to do. That is lawlessness. You see, it is not the violation of a specific law or even a specific set of laws. Lawlessness at its base is a heart attitude, that attitude that says, “I am in charge of my life, and I will do what I want to do.” Very few people say that verbally but teenagers, and they only say it a few times in the right kind of homes. They at least learn not to say it; they may keep thinking it. But teenagers are not alone in that. All of us are just overgrown teenagers anyway. We know that, don't we? If we are over twenty-one, we realize that.

Every human being has a problem with lawlessness when we realize that lawlessness is a matter of saying, “I will do what I want to do. I will be in charge of my life.” That attitude is much more prevalent than you might think. Someone says, “Surely you are not talking about me. I am not lawless. I am a law-abiding citizen. I am not lawless; I know all the Bible says about the way a Christian ought to be.” But, as I said a moment ago, I am not talking about the breaking of specific laws. I am talking about the attitude that says if push comes to shove, if the chips are down, if there is no other way out, I will do whatever I have to do to solve this problem or to get that thing or to influence that person. I will do what it takes, no matter what anybody says. Lawlessness is to become your own lawmaker, to fix your own rules for life and to disregard those that already exist. Another way of saying it is to be above the law. You have heard that term to describe other people. So-and-so is above the law. He thinks the law just doesn't apply to him. He thinks the rules don't apply.

Far too often, if we are honest with ourselves, there are at least certain situations in which that description could apply to us. Someone says, “I thought lawlessness was being in the mafia or dealing drugs or breaking out of jail and defying the cops or participating in a riot—looting and burning and that sort of thing. That is what lawlessness is, isn't it?”

That is one kind of lawlessness, but it is only one kind. Lawlessness can be a very inward and personal rebellion also, In fact, Paul elaborates on this in the first part of the book of Romans. Beginning in chapter 1, verse 18, Paul describes the downward spiral that every individual and every nation goes through when they become lawless. In verses 18-20, he demonstrates that human beings are accountable to God:

Romans 1:

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Let's stop there a minute. Think about what the Apostle Paul is writing here. He says in verses 19-20, that God demonstrates His presence and His authority through His creation, and any thinking, objective person has to admit just from the facts of the creation that there is a God. Just from watching the sun come up and go down and from the seasons changing and if we are honest about the intricacies of our own bodies, Paul says, human beings know that there is a God. Incidentally, that is why the theory of evolution has such a powerful grip on the human race—because if we can do away with the creation, we can do away with this idea that there is even a God in the first place or that if there is a God, He has some right to have authority over us. The creation is an extremely important underlying, basic principle of understanding God and understanding our relationship with God.

A Matter Of The Heart

In the last part of verse 20, he says, “Human beings naturally understand that and they are without excuse when it comes to this matter of authority of God.” But verses 21-23 show what man does with that knowledge. He says:

Romans 1:

20…so that they are without excuse:
21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Think very carefully about this. The first step away from God is taken in the heart. Did you know that? We think of someone's turning from God when they do some sinful act, but look what he says in verse 21: “When they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God. When they knew God, they did not give God that rightful place of honor and glory and authority. They refused to put God in His proper place.”

Then he goes on to describe the downward spiral that takes place in the heart of any individual or in the lives of any nation who turns away from God. In terms of what John is talking about, they became lawless. They decided to live life the way they wanted to live regardless of what God said to do. They did not give God the place of authority in their lives, and the following verses describe the descent into the lowest forms of sin and degradation. Unfortunately, what they describe is common practice in our world today.

You may be sitting there feeling pretty smug thinking, “None of those things apply to me. I am not involved in any of those kinds of sins. I am not rebelling against God. I give God His rightful place.” If you are thinking that, you need to remember that the fascinating thing is that in chapter 2 of Romans, Paul demonstrates that there is another kind of lawlessness, and that is the lawlessness of the person who obeys God outwardly, but in his heart and sometimes in his actions he does whatever he wants to do.

Jesus described people like this in an interesting way. In Mark, chapter 7, verse 6, he said:

Mark 7:

6…as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Does that sound familiar? Does that perhaps stir something in your heart? An interesting thing is it has always been that way. Jesus said that two thousand years ago, and when He said that, He was quoting from Isaiah who said it hundreds of years before that. It is a principle that applies to the human race unless we by God's grace intervene in that attitude. “These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” Because of that, people who appear to be godly people, people who are involved in church, people who are involved in spiritual activities, can be lawless because lawlessness, you see, is a matter of the heart.

This is the kind of lawlessness that says, “I don't care what God says about obeying the laws of man. I am going to drive as fast as I want to.” I am fascinated how often God rubs me in the face with this kind of thing. I put these notes together earlier in the week and on Friday night Janice and I left here and drove to Dallas. Then Saturday morning we drove to Houston and Saturday afternoon back to Dallas and back to Abilene. This afternoon we are planning to drive to College Station, and almost every time I am getting ready to do some traveling, or when I get through traveling, there is something in the passage I am looking at that speaks right to this—what we do about the laws of man. God makes it extremely clear in specifically two different places, but the principle is all through there that we are to obey the laws of man if we are going to obey God.

Several years ago I decided, as an act of the will—something like fasting—to try to demonstrate to God my willingness to obey Him by trying as consistently as possible to try to obey the speed limit, and that has been tough because I like to drive as fast as I want to drive. I don't like to hold up, and I don't like to even have to think about the speed limit. I spent a lot of years thinking that way. What really it concerns me is the number of people who as I am driving seventy miles per hour come flashing past me so fast, and some of them are shaking their fist because I am only going seventy miles per hour. It is something that our people as a whole, at least the majority of our people vote with their footfeed, “I shall not obey the law of God.” There are Christians, maybe some here today, who live that way.

The speed limit seems like a minor thing, but I will tell you that it is a demonstration of lawlessness, not that it is so terrible to break the speed limit, not that that is the worst thing anybody can do, but driving whatever speed I want to in spite of what the law of man says is a refusal to obey the law of God. It is a refusal to let God be God. It is a refusal to glorify God in our hearts.

Let me not just pick on us speed demons. This lawlessness is demonstrated in the heart of the person who says, “I don't care if God told me to be truthful and to not lie. This is a desperate situation, and if I have to, I am going to lie my way out of it.” Or, “I don't care that God says not to gossip. This is juicy information, and furthermore, it is about somebody I really don't like, and I am going to share it.” Or, “I don't care if Jesus did say, ‘If my brother sins against me, I should go to him and tell him his faults between me and him alone.' I am going to tell at least a few good friends first. After all, I need some sympathy in this great tragedy that has happened to me.” Or, “I don't care if God said not to judge other people. I know why that person did what they did. I know it. I can't prove it, but I know it, and I am not going to have any more of them.” Or, even as we are seeing every day on the news, “I don't care how godless a person is who is in authority. My pocketbook isn't hurt. I'm not going to say anything about it.”

Those kinds of lawlessness and many others like them are not really thought of as sin or lawlessness, are they? They seem like innocent enough things to the point that you might even wonder why I am making such an issue of such minor things. But let me tell you that is exactly what they are. Those kinds of innocent things, those kinds of things that we don't put on the list of terrible sins, those kinds of things that seem to make good sense in some ways are lawlessness because they are all things that God said: “If you are going to live the way I want you to live, you are not going to do these things. If you are going to live the life of Christ through you, Christ would not do these things, and you are not to do these things.”

Lawlessness is doing what I want to do above whatever God may have said. John says, “Whoever commits sin commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.” The result of those kinds of lawlessness, both the open, obvious kind and the inward, acceptable kind are the reason our world is in the precarious situation that we are today. We all know, don't we, that God would be justified in bringing judgment on all of us at any moment?

What is the solution to this lawlessness and to the devastation that it brings into our lives and into our nation? What is the solution to that? Obviously, we have to overcome this lawless spirit that is all around us. We have to change the very nature of man when you come right down to it because we all come by this lawlessness naturally. Carlos Romulo was the Philippine ambassador to the United States for many years and he once said this: “We have harnessed the atom, but we will never make war obsolete until we find a way to bridle the hearts of men.” That is our problem. It is a heart problem. The problem is that we have been trying to find ways to do that in our country and in our world for years without success. We have tried education. The thought has been that we can control all this crime and lawlessness if we can just get enough people educated. We have had all kinds of programs and all kinds of money, and in some sense, we have the finest educational system in the world with the highest literacy rate in the history of the world, but our problems continue.

We have thought that if we could get people to think straight, if we can let people deal with these problems and talk about them to a psychiatrist, and if we can properly use mind-altering or mood-elevating drugs, we can solve these problems. We just need to get people straightened out in the way they think and the way they react to their problems. Yet, after thirty or so years of emphasis on those kinds of things, we have just as many problems as we ever had before—maybe even more.

We have tried to beef up the police force and build more prisons, but it hasn't been enough. There are more new prisons on the drawing board right now, even though in the past ten years we have spent more money in Texas than in the history of the state on new prisons, and the problems keep on going.

Source Of Defeat Of Lawlessness

The common denominator in all of this is that we have tried to throw money at the problems, and we have almost bankrupted our nation in doing that, and it isn't working. Is there any hope? Are we just doomed to destroy ourselves as a race? The Apostle John says, “No! We are not doomed to destroy ourselves. There is hope.”, and in verses 5-7, he gives us the defeat of lawlessness. He describes for us how lawlessness can be defeated. The source of the defeat is in verse 5:

I John 3:

5And ye know that he [Jesus Christ] was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.

If we read this verse the way John has defined sin above in verse 4, we could say, “Christ was manifested to take away lawlessness and in Him there is no lawlessness.” The root problem of our world today Jesus Christ was manifested to take away. That is why He came. Here is the underlying, essential purpose for the coming of Christ to this world. He was manifested to take away our sins. He appeared on the earth to take away our lawlessness. To use the expression of Paul writing to the Corinthians in II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 17, “He was manifested to make new creatures out of all who will come to Him in faith and believe in Him for salvation.” Paul said, “To those who trust in Christ for salvation, old things are passed away. All of that self-will and that lawlessness and doing it my way has passed away. Behold all things are become new.” There is hope for our world. Lawlessness can be done away with. It can be overcome, but there is only one way. It has to take place one person at a time, and that way is personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of our sins and for deliverance from the power of sin.

Maybe someone says, “But wait a minute. How does accepting Christ do away with lawlessness? I have known Christ for a long time, and I still find this problem in myself. I still have to admit, if I am honest with myself, that I still want to do things my way. So how does accepting Christ do away with lawlessness? How does that work?”

Secret Of Defeat Of Lawlessness

The secret of this defeat of lawlessness is found in verses 6-7. The source in verse 5 is Jesus Christ, but the secret of it is in verses 6-7:

I John 3:

6Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
7Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.

Before you get bogged down in those verses, let me tell you that there are a number of details, some technical kinds of details, in those verses that we want to go over in our study next week more carefully; but the basic principle for our purposes in this study today is in verse 6: “Whoever abides in Christ does away with sin.” To abide in Christ does away with lawlessness, and I am referring to it as the secret of the defeat of lawlessness because it is so easily overlooked.

Turn with me to Colossians, chapter 1, where Paul uses this term secret down in verse 25. In the verses above, he is talking about his ministry, his task as an apostle, and he says in so many words summarizing the verses before this, “My task as an apostle is to show you…,” then in verse 26:

Colossians 1:

26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:
27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles which is Christ in you, the hope of glory;

Paul calls it a mystery that was hidden from the understanding of all who lived before Christ. You probably know that the word mystery when we find it in the New Testament is not talking about who done it. It is not talking about a detective story; it is talking about this kind of thing—something that was going on in the Old Testament. The Old Testament people didn't understand it or didn't know it, but it is revealed in the New Testament. That is a New Testament mystery. Paul says, “One of my tasks as an apostle is to show you the secret, to show you the mystery of godliness, and what is that mystery? It is Christ in you.”

There were Old Testament people who discovered that secret even though they didn't really understand all the details of it. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses and David and those godly people in the Old Testament, through God's specific teaching of them personally in most cases, discovered the secret of God's living within us. In the New Testament, it is something that God reveals plainly to all of us, any of us who are willing to read His Word, understand it and believe it, Christ lives within us. That is the secret of godliness. That is the secret that does away with lawlessness. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

The more we understand this wonderful truth that Christ lives in us, the more we come to that place of developing an understanding that we need to live in a way that pleases Him. We don't obey the laws of God so that He will come and live within us. We don't give Him his rightful place of glorification as Paul refers to it in Romans, chapter 1, in hopes that somehow He will be pleased with us. No. He is pleased with us already. He loves us already. He demonstrated that by dying for us. Doesn't that prove that He loves us? He died for us, and He comes to live within us, and our motive is not to get His approval. We have that. He lives within us. Our motive becomes to please Him, to live in a way that pleases Him and that honors Him—again, to use Paul's term, that glorifies Him, that gives Him his rightful place as God. That is the secret of defeating lawlessness. For two thousand years now it has worked. The hardest cases in the world have responded to this powerful remedy for lawlessness, this coming to know Jesus Christ as God living within us, the secret of coming to a new life of trying to please Him in what we do, trying to honor Him even in the way that we think, even in the way we live day by day.

All through the years that the message of Christ has been going out, drug addicts and alcoholics, homosexuals, murderers and thieves have responded and have had their lives turned around in huge numbers down through history. Even harder to reach, the proud and the intellectuals and bitter men and women who have turned their lives over to Jesus Christ have found the secret of overcoming lawlessness, have found the secret of new life in Jesus Christ. It works. In fact, if you think about it, the only reason those unsaved people who haven't accepted Christ yet are able to go on with their sin is the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ has done away with lawlessness in the hearts of enough men and women down through the years so that in our society, we have a relative measure of stability. We live in a nation that has some degree of stability because men and women who, two and three and four hundred years ago knew Christ lived within them and whose lives were ordered on the basis of pleasing Christ and honoring Him, put together a society that we live in now that was based on the principles of pleasing God; letting him be God, glorifying Him, seeking to please Him in the way they lived and thought and governed themselves.

Even though our nation is a godless nation by and large, we live under rules and laws that were set up by men whose motive was to please God in the way they lived. So on the basis of those relatively few men and women many years ago, lawless, godless people live in a society where they have the freedom to live any way they want to. Isn't that ironic? The only reason we have the peace that we do is that there are enough people who are trying to please God, honor Him, be submissive to His authority. Because of that being submissive to the authority of the laws of man, God's pleasure in that brings peace to our nation.

Have You Opened Your Heart?

There are two questions I want you to consider to wrap this up. First, let me ask you again, have you received the power to overcome lawlessness in your life? Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Has He come to live within you? Have you opened your hearts door to Him? That is the secret of knowing God. Have you done that? We would assume in a group like this that everybody here has done that. It is such an immensely important subject that I need to ask it more often than I do. Search your heart. Do you know that you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that He lives within you and that your life is ordered around living it in a way that is pleasing to Him, abiding in Him?

Have You Shared The Word?

The second question I want to ask is almost of equal importance. What are you doing to share this truth with other people? How long has it been since you made a conscious effort to reach out to someone whom you thought might not know Jesus Christ as Savior? That is the task that God has left us behind to do. That is one of the the reasons that He doesn't take us directly to Heaven. If you think about it, we have found the secret of solving the problems that plague the world today. We have the answers. Isn't that worth sharing?

Anytime I talk like this, someone says to me, “I just can't tell people about Jesus Christ.” If they know enough of the New Testament, they say, “I don't have the gift of evangelism.” In other words they say, “I don't have the courage. I don't have what it takes. I am not a people person. I just can't share the gospel with people.” Sometimes they say, “I don't have the opportunity to share the gospel with anybody.”

A Living Example

I read earlier this week in an issue of Focus On The Family the amazing story of Amy Tracy. Amy Tracy was at one time a committed lesbian, living in a lesbian relationship that had lasted for three or four years. She was the national press secretary for the National Organization of Women. She worked in Washington, D.C at the highest levels of bureaucracy and these kinds of organizations. She says that over a period of time, God began to work in her heart in a miraculous way and just gave her a desire for God. Sometimes it would come over her as she sat at her computer, just a sense of the presence of God, and it would go away. She set out in a desperate search to find how that came about and how she could have it on a personal basis. She eventually trusted Christ Jesus as her personal Savior through a series of events that God arranged in her life. She came to a clear hearing and understanding of the gospel and trusted Him as her Savior.

Over the next few months, she gave herself completely to Christ and found the strength to give up her career and her lesbian partner and that whole lifestyle. Now she is part of the ministry at Focus on the Family . She works on the staff. But there was one key element, one thing that completely turned her heart attitude from an attitude of total disdain for Christians, animosity toward Christians and toward Christ, to a willingness to listen to the gospel message.

There was one event that opened the gates of her heart. Let me read what she writes: “Part of my confusion in the months which God was dealing with me, stemmed from the fact that I couldn't reconcile my heart's yearning for God with the hostile behavior that I had encountered in some Christians. Rarely did I see anyone reflecting the heart or the nature of this God whom I knew was pursuing me. On one occasion, however, I encountered a Christian who chose to invade the other side with the gospel rather than with hostile stares or moralizing. It was a Saturday afternoon in the midst of a demonstration outside an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. Another woman and I were following a couple of pro-life men in an attempt to catch them in the act of violating a court injunction and getting too close to the clinic. As we moved away from the clinic, one of the men turned around and began to talk about Jesus and His love for us. At the time, I considered his tactics highly manipulative, but now I recognize that the power of the Holy Spirit was at work through him.” Then she says this: “It was the one time I can recall that someone from the pro-life side ever mentioned Jesus' love for me, not just for the victims of abortion.” She goes on to mention many other factors that went into her ultimate acceptance of Christ, but that brief mention of Christ's love for her was the starting point.

You may not have the skill or the nerve or the spiritual gift or whatever to actually, specifically give someone the gospel message itself, but who is there among us who cannot model Christ's love to the people around us and maybe even speak kindly to them about something that is as simple as God's love for them. All of that is involved in witnessing for Christ. God only knows what He can do with a loving witness and Amy Tracy is a living example of that. She winds up her story with these significant words: “God puts people in our path every day just as He put me and my friend in the path of the man at the abortion clinic who spoke of Jesus' love.”


We must be ready to share the message of the Cross and reflect the character of Jesus in our relationships and in our daily interactions with others, even those we deem beyond hope. Who knows? They could be searching for God, and we may be the only reflection of Jesus that they ever see.

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