We previously considered the pitfalls of legalism, and how the gospel lifts us out of them. Now let’s look at the dangers of lawlessness, and how the Gospel guards us against them.
Just as we observed with legalism, lawlessness can be displayed in many ways. Lawlessness (or “antinomianism” as it is sometimes called) is the opposite of legalism though; whereas legalism seeks salvation through law, in one form or another, lawlessness seeks to escape the law in one way or another.
Let’s look at a few examples to help us identify lawlessness in our lives.
1) Minimizing sin’s danger to ourselves because it will be “covered by grace” (Romans 6:1-4).
While we might never make this excuse or argument to ourselves theologically (because we know the Bible explicitly answers it), we often do so practically—in fact, every time we willfully sin!
We presume upon grace every time we do not fight as hard against sin as we ought to.
Any time that we minimize sin in our minds because “we know we are saved by grace,” we forget what grace cost God: the life of His own Son Jesus Christ. We are practicing lawlessness in that we are pretending that the law did not have to be satisfied by the cross of Christ for us to go free.
Yes, grace is free to us, but it is the most costly freedom that has ever been purchased.
2) Offering ourselves or others false assurance while walking in unrepentant sin (1 John 3:1-7).
The Bible’s only word to those who are walking in known, unrepentant sin is “Repent or perish.” There is a sort of “easy believism” within Christian circles that says if you have ever walked down an aisle, or signed a card, or prayed a prayer then you are in Christ, no matter what you may live like afterward. But the Apostle John says, “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:6-7).
The good news of the Gospel is not that God saves us in our sin, but that God saves us from our sin.
Walking in known sin is a display of lawlessness because it says that—no matter what we say we believe about God—we don’t really believe that disobedience has consequences, or that the law applies to us and our sin. Of course, to those who are blessed with repentance—no matter who they are, or what they’ve done—the Gospel promises they will always be received and forgiven for Christ’s sake.
3) Focusing only on the commands we think we are keeping, rather than those we struggle with or are being disobedient to (Matthew 7:3-5).
It is so easy to avoid God’s Word to us, His commands that are relevant to our situation, by focusing our critical gaze on someone else! That is what Jesus is describing in His story concerning the speck and the beam: we criticize someone else’s sin to avoid conviction, correction, and cleansing of our own sin. This is practical lawlessness! We are ignoring the law in the very points that it applies to our hearts and lives. So even though we may say we believe in the Bible, and in sin, if we do not allow the Bible to point out our sin then we are avoiding the law; we are practicing lawlessness in our lives while affirming the law with our mouths.
Applying the Gospel
The Gospel is the cure for every form of lawlessness that threatens to creep into our hearts. Peter says that Christ bore our sins in his own body so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Paul tells us to “walk in love” in the same way that Christ has loved us: by giving “himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).
What smells good about me, to God? Jesus. And when I keep that truth in mind it frees me from the legalism that seeks salvation through the law, and the lawlessness that minimizes the seriousness of law-breaking.
Justin Huffman is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and pastored churches in the States for over 15 years. He is currently lead pastor of Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Chau and their four children. Justin is the author of the “Daily Devotion” app, as well as numerous books and articles, including his newest book Behold: an Invitation to Wonder. Connect with him at justinhuffman.org.