The Greek word for “lawlessness” – anomia – is the negative of nomos, – “law”; it is the word that God uses to describe an offence against His throne, which is a defiance of His authority and amounts to rebellion. It needs to be distinguished from the word “unrighteousness” – the Greek adikia – which is an offence against God’s holiness and a violation of His standards of character and conduct, but not necessarily a rejection of His authority.
Just as Jesus is seated upon a throne of grace and grace is what flows from it, so Satan’s throne is a throne of lawlessness, and what flows from his throne is lawlessness; the Psalmist tells us that Satan’s throne devises evil, pounces upon the soul of the righteous and condemns innocent blood (Psalm 94:20-21).
Lawlessness is a spiritual condition that opposes the word of truth and the most important thing to say about lawlessness is that God hates it (Psalm 45:7 and Hebrews 1:9). Moreover, He hates the workers of lawlessness; consider, for example, His charge against the Pharisees;
“Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28).
Hypocrisy is a typical outcome of Biblical lawlessness, to appear outwardly righteous but to be inwardly lawless. Lawlessness appears firstly in the garden, when Satan perverted the word of God to deceive Eve and lead her into disobedience; that is the nature and character of lawlessness, to pervert the word of God, or the gifts of God, by using them for purposes other than that for which God gave them. Satan was one of the most gifted creatures in the kingdom but he used his gifts to lead a rebellion against God.
Biblical lawlessness is a condition of God’s people; it is not a word that is used to describe godless unbelievers; it has meaning only to the things that belong to God; it does not refer to robbing banks or going through red lights. Lawlessness is a condition of being under the direction or influence of the man of lawlessness, the spirit of anti-Christ. It mainly applies to being wrong in the interpretation or understanding and application of God’s word; it is doing things your way instead of His way; it is the application of the word without the Spirit of God; it is men taking that which belongs to God and using it for their own purposes and convenience and to build their own empires.
Essentially, lawlessness is a rejection or denial of God’s authority by misinterpreting or otherwise distorting His word; it derives from following the teachings of men, rather than the teachings of the Holy Spirit, whose role it is, according to John 14,15 and 16, “to guide us into all truth, teach us all things, disclose what is to come and speak whatever He hears from Jesus”. It amounts to not “loving the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and its fruit will inevitably be unrighteousness.
Lawlessness in the Bible
For an example of the use of “lawlessness” in the Old Testament we turn to 1 Kings 18:19-22, where we read of the occasion when the prophet Micaiah brought the word of God to king Ahab of Israel and king Jehoshaphat of Judah, who were planning to invade Ramoth-gilead; “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’ And the LORD said to him, ‘By what means?’ And he said, ‘I will go out, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And He said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.’ (1 Kings 22:22).
There are two things to observe here; firstly, an evil spirit volunteered to go into the mouths of Ahab’s prophets and be a lying spirit; this is an example of the mystery of lawlessness at work. Secondly, this lying spirit, the mystery of lawlessness, is given authority by God to act.
An example of the use of “lawlessness” in the New Testament can be found in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus gave this warning;
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ ‘And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
Here, clearly, are people who are Christians, yet they are described as “workers of lawlessness” This points to the fact that lawlessness is a condition of God’s people; being a Christian is no defence against being lawless; moreover, if Jesus described them as workers of lawlessness and although they were prophesying and doing many mighty works in His name, they did their work and received their authority from the throne of lawlessness not the throne of grace.
So “lawlessness” (anomia), is what is produced by the spirit of anti-Christ acting upon the word of truth. It is wrongly dividing, or incorrectly interpreting, or wrongly handling, the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). Workers of lawlessness (Matthew 7:23) are those who make it their work to impart this lawlessness to others. They are Christian leaders, not anointed by the Spirit of God, who are deceived into thinking that they are doing God’s will, but are in fact using the gospel to serve their own interests, but rather than those of God. Lawlessness is the work of the spirit of antichrist, the one “full of guile and trickery, the son of the devil, the one hating all righteousness who perverts the straight ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:10).