The Mystery of Lawlessness (Iniquity)

By Ernie and Mary Kroeger

A short while ago we received an email from Ken McWilliams in which he used the term, "the mystery of lawlessness," and I immediately felt we were to write a paper on this subject. With his permission we have used his research on the Greek word for lawlessness and some of the scripture verses and thoughts he referred to. Thanks Ken!

In 2 Thess. 2:7 we read, " For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way." What an interesting verse! Question after question pops up as we meditate on it.

The word 'mystery' usually stirs up some excitement within us. Here is a challenge! Are we equal to the challenge of finding the clues that will help us to solve the mystery? In mystery stories we usually find that the obvious leads us to wrong conclusions. It's the clues that are mostly disregarded that are important. Do we find this to be true in our spiritual life as well? Are we first enamored with the false before we discover the truth? The fact is that our natural mind is unable to understand spiritual realities. It is only God who is able to bring us out of our confusion and wrong ideas. The natural looks so attractive and appealing to our carnal mind, and it is this very attractiveness that causes the problem. It hides the deception that is hidden in obeying our own will instead of obeying God's directives. In the pursuit of fulfilling our own desires, we don't recognize that by obeying our own ideas instead of following God's directives, we are exalting ourselves above the knowledge and wisdom of God. Christ is the truth, and He alone can open our eyes to see beyond the natural realm!

To solve the mystery of lawlessness or iniquity (as the KJV translates it), we first need to establish our knowledge of the truth. We know that God is righteous altogether! Since He is righteous, all His dealings with us have to be righteous! As we look back to the beginning of the human race, we see that God was honest in His directives to Adam, and warned him about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God instructed Adam not to eat of that tree because eating that fruit would cause him to die!

The serpent was very crafty and devious. He got Eve to enter into a conversation with him. This gave him the opportunity to make the forbidden fruit look very appealing to her desire to become like God! The goal sounded very attractive, but the method bypassed obedience to God's directives; it also bypassed contentment with the power and authority God had placed in both herself and in Adam. The serpent's focus on the beauty of the fruit and its ability to make her wise and become like God erased all other thoughts from her mind. She did not seem to realize that disobedience to God's instructions is putting our ideas above God's wisdom and knowledge. When Christ was tempted in the wilderness He never entered into a conversation with the devil; He always quoted scripture - "It is written". That ended the test!

Eve did not end the test by quoting what God had said. So the serpent got Eve to focus on the advantages of his counsel, and she took the forbidden fruit and ate and gave some to Adam, and he also ate of it. We may think it is amazing that they would believe the serpent instead of believing God, yet we think it quite natural to do the same. It's so much easier to yield to our desires than to believe what God says is best for us. Our natural desires look so good to us, while obedience looks so difficult and distasteful!

The mystery of lawlessness consists of its ability to make lawlessness look good and desirable to us! It hides its true nature in clothes that look outstandingly pretty and advantageous to us. Its counterfeit abilities are remarkable! Its deceitfulness is still at work today, and humanity is still blind to it, even as Adam and Eve were.

Laws are meant to be beneficial to us, but to be beneficial, they have to be obeyed. Thus they curb our freedom. But we want the freedom to do our own will! This strong desire within us is the incentive that births our creativeness to disobey the law in a devious way so we won't be caught and then have to suffer the penalty of disobedience. Every violation of the law is an act of lawlessness. This is often forgotten in our desire to reach our goal as easily and quickly as possible, and the attractiveness to lawlessness grows. This presents a challenge. Can we outwit the law and its penalty? Can we be lawless and enjoy the benefits of our lawless actions without being caught? We don't want the consequences of being declared guilty, yet we want to do our will, for it looks so good to us! Humanity's laws often have some drawbacks, but God's laws are perfect.

The Greek word for lawlessness is "anomia," and it is usually translated as "iniquity" in the KJV, and as "lawlessness" in other versions. It is a strong word, and its meaning includes having contempt of law - even rebellion! These attitudes have their source in pride and self-esteem. It has nothing to do with talent or a high IQ. This is illustrated by the little boy who was told to sit down when he wanted to stand up. After some threats and warnings he finally sat down as he muttered, "But I'm still standing up inside."

Our ego, our self-will, is so precious to us! Woe to those who stand in our way to nourish it! We may wonder why Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. Was it because He was so loving, kind and good, or was it because He had the power to do what He wanted to do? The scriptures do not answer this question directly, but when we realize that all the "I wills "in Isaiah chapter 14 are spoken by Adam (not Satan, as popularly taught), we see how important our self-will is to us.

Only God's will is perfect, yet we have a lot of trouble embracing God's will as our will! Our will looks much better and more desirable to us than God's will. Why? Because we have not yet realized that the fruit that the serpent is dangling in front of us is poisonous. It is not what we are led to believe. If we do not believe what God says, we are still caught up in the deceitfulness of the serpent, and lawlessness still looks so good to us!

This was Adam and Eve's problem! They did not believe that eating of the forbidden fruit would cause them to die. They had faith in their self-will instead of in God's prediction! Do we still have the same problem? Do we still have faith in the things we can do, instead of in the resurrection power of Christ working mightily in us? Do we understand that doctrines, going to church, being involved in the ministry of our choice, doing good deeds, or anything that is rooted in self, does not save us? These things look so good, but if they are rooted in self they come from the wrong tree! The obvious looks right, but it leads us into the path of the unrighteous. We have to be freed from all reliance in self and its works, and know that it is faith in Christ alone that saves us.

We cannot trust outward appearances. Jesus used the example of two houses that looked the same, but their foundations were not the same. One house was built on sand, namely, the many ideas and philosophies of religion, and the other was built on the rock, namely the rock that is Christ. When going to church, being involved in ministry, doing good works, etc., is an outflow of obedience and the salvation that is ours in Christ, it has the right foundation. But if it is done to obtain salvation and rewards, it is built on sand.

In Matthew 7: 22-23 Jesus drew attention to those who wanted to enter the kingdom on the basis of their own good works. They will say, " 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 who practice lawlessness ."

These people thought they were doing works God would be pleased with. They wanted to enter the kingdom of God on the basis of their good works - works that were rooted in self-will and brought honor to themselves instead of to God. They were not rooted in obedience. All our good works and actions that do not have their source in Christ are works of lawlessness! Jesus told these prophets and workers of miracles that they were workers of lawlessness! What an indictment!

These verses give us the key to understanding the difference between the works that have their source in lawlessness and those which have their source in obedience. This is foundational teaching. Only the works that come out of an intimate relationship with Christ have true value! Everything else is lawlessness!

Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in disobedience to God's express command. Instead of accepting God's words as truth, they accepted the serpent's words as their truth. This brought them into the spiritual death realm; this is a realm that is void of truth. To make up for this loss, they had to produce their own truth (aprons of fig leaves), and the lie, the counterfeit, became their truth. This counterfeit is called religion.

Religion consists of creeds and doctrines. Each religion has its own set of rules and regulations that need to be obeyed, and its own idea of God that it worships. Each religion has its own set of good deeds that will lay the foundation for a good future after they die. Religion has its source in the carnal mind of humanity - the mind of the serpent, the mind of lawlessness. Exercising our self-will is eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Christianity is not a religion! It is Jesus Christ! " But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30) Knowing things ABOUT Christ is not enough; we have to know HIM! He is the way, the truth and the life! He is the resurrection! Faith in Christ brings us into a living relationship and union with Him, and He becomes our life! We have been born of the Spirit, and He has made us a new creation! Our life in Christ causes us to die to sin, and frees us from the domination of our self-will. The Christ in us enables us to submit our will to God's will, and to embrace God's will as our will! This is Christianity!

Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes to the deceitfulness of lawlessness. He alone can lead us into all truth! The truth judges the lie that claims to be truth! The truth will show us the difference between religion and knowing Christ! The truth solves the mystery of lawlessness! The truth feeds us and causes us to grow into the image of Christ! We do not research lawlessness in its many false appearances to solve the mystery. Instead, we let the Holy Spirit throw His light on the reality of Christ being in us and we being in Christ, and He will reveal to us the lies that have become our truth. All that is not of Christ is lawlessness or iniquity (as the KJV translates it).

The second part of 2 Thess. 2:7, namely, "only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way" has puzzled us for a long time. We ask, "Who is restraining what?" We were taught, and you may be familiar with this teaching, that the Holy Spirit would be taken out of the way at the time of the rapture and then lawlessness would take over. In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit would be curtailed so that lawlessness could take over. This explanation infers that God helps the enemy to grow strong by stopping the Holy Spirit from doing His work. That does not sound like how our God works, does it? The Holy Spirit within us does not bear witness to the truth of this teaching.

Notice that this verse speaks about a mystery, the mystery of lawlessness! Lawlessness is a mystery because it parades around in clothes that give the impression of goodness instead of lawlessness. When a restraint is put on the outfits it can wear, its true nature is revealed. When this occurs, people are ready to receive the true light of Christ, and His light does away with the lawlessness of our carnal nature.

Love for the truth is central for receiving truth! (v. 10) If we hide in our cave of darkness because we love darkness, we will not receive the truth. We will remain in our forms of truth and traditions until we realize their uselessness. The restraining order against lawlessness gives us the opportunity to see it as it actually is, and to become dissatisfied with it, and to see our need for Him who truly satisfies. We need that restraining order against lawlessness in order to see that all religions are steeped in a striving of self-will to become like a god of our own imaging.

We are the temple of God. It is in us that the lawless one wants to usurp the place of God, and rule us as though he were God. This lawless one is our carnal mind and carnal nature. Living in the mind of Christ does away with all our carnality. Only the Holy Spirit knows all the areas in which we need to change! He alone can lead us into all truth and deliver us from ALL evil. As we live and walk in the light, we will be kept from all forms of religious evil as well as other evil.

Praise God for His great salvation! Only the light of Christ can reveal the deceitfulness of lawlessness to us. Once we recognize its true nature, we can be delivered from its tyranny over us, and walk in truth!

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