In Matthew 7:23, the word “lawlessness” is used. What does this word mean?


“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:23 To be lawless is to be contrary to the law or to act without regard to the law. Laws are necessary in a sinful world. “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,” 1 Timothy 1:9

The word for “lawlessness” in the Bible is often translated “iniquity.” According to the Bible, the root of all lawlessness is rebellion. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1 John 3:4 To commit sin is to be lawless; or to break the law, God’s law. In this way, lawlessness is a rejection of God. Satan, who models the ultimate rejection of God, will one day empower the Antichrist, called “the lawless one,” “Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” 2 Thessalonians 2:9

Lawlessness is contrasted with righteousness in verses such as Romans 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14, and Hebrews 1:9. The righteous, who have the nature of Christ, hate the deeds of lawlessness. Lot, a godly man living in Sodom, “For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;” 2 Peter 2:8. “I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked.” Psalm 26:5.

When a society ignores the law, lawlessness is the result, and chaos ensues. The time of the judges after Joshua’s death was marked by upheaval, oppression, and general disorder. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”Judges 21:25. The riot in Ephesus is a good example of lawlessness in action (Acts 19). The rioters were confused and unsure even of why they were rioting. “Some therefore cried one thing, and some another: for the assembly was confused: and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together.” Acts 19:32; in their lawlessness, they were ignoring proper legal channels and breaking the law. “But if ye enquire any thing concerning other matters, it shall be determined in a lawful assembly. For we are in danger to be called in question for this day's uproar, there being no cause whereby we may give an account of this concourse.” Acts 19:39–40

God has a purpose for establishing human government: “Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.1 Peter 2:14. Rulers are God’s appointees to maintain order and promote righteousness in a civil society. “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” Romans 13:2. In other words, lawlessness is condemned in Scripture.

The Bible connects man’s lawlessness and rebellion against God with his need for God’s forgiveness. In Romans 4, Paul (quoting Psalm 32:1) “Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” Romans 4:7. God’s righteousness is imputed to us at salvation, and God forgives us of our lawlessness: “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:17, quoting Jeremiah 31).

“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”Jeremiah 31:34

“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:14. Our lawless deeds resulted in Christ’s death, but God’s grace overcomes ones lawless heart. At the final judgment many will stand before Christ claiming to be followers and believers of Him, but in their hearts, which is where the Lord judges, it was not so and Jesus Himself calls them workers of iniquity, which is to call them, lawless.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:21-23 Ultimately, lawlessness culminates in this judgement.. “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:41-43

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