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"Lawlessness"

In modern American churches and society there is widespread and growing lawlessness, which may be attributed in large part to Americans’ rejection of God’s law.  People twist the Scriptures, using such Scriptures as Romans 6:14 to justify their rebellion (“you are not under law but under grace”).  Jesus Christ, during His earthly ministry, condemned such nonsense.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).  He warned that many religious hypocrites who falsely professed to be Christians and claimed that He was their Lord and Savior will be rejected by God at the last day on account of their lawlessness; Jesus said at the conclusion of His sermon on the mount:

    "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'  "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matt. 7:21-23)

The end result of lawlessness in any society is anarchy and social disintegration which leads to the eventual collapse of a nation or civilization.  Lawlessness in the church, also known as antinomianism (Latin for “against law”) is widespread in our day, and it is leading to the rapid decline and disintegration of American Christianity. 

Jeremiah had to deal with a lawless people.

As the wise Solomon remarked, there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9).  During the southern kingdom of Judah’s great apostasy, the old covenant people of God, who even most churchgoers today would affirm were subject to the Law of Moses, had become disobedient and lawless.  Indeed, they still had the Law, but they no longer obeyed it.  The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah was sent to a lawless and rebellious people.

When the prophet Jeremiah preached to the people of Judah, their faces showed their hatred and utter contempt of God and His law.  Therefore, God instructed Jeremiah, “Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 1:8)

Jeremiah indeed saw that he had to deal with a degenerate people, who had almost all departed from the law of God: and since they had for many years shaken off the yoke of God’s law and were resentfully exulting in their false freedom, it was difficult to bring them back to obedience and to a right course of life (Jer. 1:8).[1]

God complains that the liberty which He had given to His people was turned into licentiousness.  God said in effect, “When you ought to have devoted yourself to Me, who had become your Redeemer, you thought that liberty to do your own will had been granted you (Jer. 2:20).[2]

The apostate Jews despised the law and gloried in innumerable gods.[3]  Though the Jews boasted that they were God’s chosen people, yet as they were so refractory as to despise the Law and the Prophets, it is quite evident that what they desired was unbridled licentiousness.[4]

The Law itself was a rule according to which the Jews were to worship God, nor ought they to have sought elsewhere what they were to do.  As, then, they had in the Law a revelation as to true religion, it was an intolerable contempt to depart from it of their own accord and to abandon themselves to all kinds of errors.  But the Prophet shows that they had been extremely unteachable, because they had not only cast aside every regard for the Law, but they had also despised God’s hand and refused to be corrected by any punishments (Jer. 44:9-10).[5]

God instituted law and order for the good of mankind. 

There is a profound need for government, law, and order, in the family, in the churches, and in society:  Liberty would ever bring ruin with it, were it not bridled and connected with regular government.  Liberty will ever be destructive to us, until God undertakes the care of us, and prepares and forms us, that we may bear His yoke.  Hence, when we obey God, we possess true and real happiness.  When, therefore, we pray, let us learn not to separate these two things which ought necessarily to be joined together, even that God would deliver us from the tyranny of the ungodly and also that He would Himself rule over us (Jer. 30:9).[6]

What is the purpose of the Law?  The Law is often compared to a way; for except God prescribes to us what His will is and regulates all the actions of our life according to a certain rule, we should be perpetually going astray.  God’s Law, then, is justly said to be like a way, according to what Moses also speaks, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Deut. 5:33; cf. Isa. 30:21). (Jer. 32:23)[7]

Departing from God’s law is the cause of all evils.

The cause of all evils is a departure from God’s law (Jer. 9:13-15).[8]

Ingratitude is a sign of lawlessness.

God condemns the people for their ingratitude.  Thinking that the yoke of God was shaken off, the people acted like untamable wild beasts.  Indeed, many people turn the favor of God into an occasion for licentiousness, and thus abandon themselves, as though there was no law and no rule for a holy and upright life.[9]

Sabbath-breaking is a sign of lawlessness.

[John Calvin may not have been comfortable with the phrase Christian Sabbath as a designation for Sunday, which was later employed by Puritans and the early founders of America, including Baptists and Presbyterians.  However, his sermons on Deuteronomy, chapter 5 show that Calvin would have agreed that the Lord’s Day is a holy day in some way linked to the Fourth Commandment and therefore to be kept holy.]

American Christianity’s abandonment of the Fourth Commandment and the observance of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as the Christian Sabbath is a repetition of history.  The ancient people of God, the Jews, likewise profaned God’s old covenant holy day, the Saturday sabbath: 

So great and so gross was the Jews’ contempt of the law, that they neglected even the observance of the Sabbath.  The Jews were so audacious in the time of Jeremiah that they openly violated the Sabbath; men had become so lost, as we commonly say, as not to pretend any religion.  The licentiousness of the people was so great that they had no shame; no, they all openly showed that they had completely cast away the yoke of God and of His law (Jer. 17:19-21).[10]

The old covenant people of God had been deceived, as they did not think that there was so great a sin in violating the Sabbath.[11]  Therefore, the Prophet was sent by God to charge the people with this gross and base contempt of the law.  He said in effect, “You carry on business on the Sabbath as on other days.  As then there is not among you even an external sanctity [holiness] as to the Sabbath, why do you go on with your evasions?  For your impiety is sufficiently proved.”[12]

Hence the profanation of the Sabbath was a proof of the Jews’ shamelessness, as they thereby showed that they cared nothing either for God or for His law.[13]

What can be easier than to rest for one day?  That the people of Judah carried their burdens and did their work on the Sabbath as on other common days, was, as it were by design to shake off the yoke of God and to show openly that they completely disregarded the authority of His law (Jer. 17:22).[14]

The Sabbath day is a symbol of holiness—the holiness of God and of His people, the Church:  God did not regard the external rite only, but rather the end, of which He speaks in Exodus 31:13 and in Ezekiel 20:12.  In both places He reminds us of the reason why He commanded the Jews to keep holy the seventh day, and that was, that it might be to them a symbol of sanctification [holiness].[15]

Even heathen writers, whenever they speak of the Sabbath, mention it as the difference between the Jews and the rest of the world.  It was, in short, a general profession of God’s worship, when they rested on the seventh day.  When they now regarded it as nothing, by carrying their burdens and violating their sacred rest, it was doubtless nothing less than perversely to cast away the yoke of God, as though they openly boasted that they despised whatever He had commanded.[16]

What is a holy day?  What was the meaning of setting apart one day in seven as holy to the LORD?  To sanctify the Sabbath day is to make it different from other days; for sanctification is the same as separation; they ought not then to have done their own work on that day as on other days; for it was consecrated to God.[17]

The abandonment of the Sabbath is a sign that true religion has likewise been abandoned by a people:  The whole law of God and the whole of religion fell to the ground through the Jews’ violation of the Sabbath.[18]

Man’s sinful tendency is to embrace lawlessness. 

This evil has prevailed in almost all ages—that few attend to the teaching of the law; for there is no one who is not inclined to shake off this yoke.[19]

Religious hypocrites are lawless.

Hypocrites not only despise God Himself and depreciate His glory but also disregard the doctrine of His law (Jer. 23:9).[20]

The Carnal Christianity of many evangelicals is even more lawless than Roman Catholicism

We indeed see at this day that the doctrine of the Gospel does not restore all to obedience; but many give themselves a more unbridled license, as though the yoke of discipline was completely removed.  There was some fear under the Papacy, there was some sort of obedience and subjection; and now the liberty of the Gospel, what is it to many but brute license, so that they sin with impunity and blend heaven and earth together (Jer. 20:8-9).[21]

Lawlessness is common among all ranks of people.

If anyone thinks that the rulers are better than the common people, he is much deceived; for I have proofs enough to show that their conduct is the same; they have broken the yoke of God no less than the most ignorant (Jer. 5:6).[22]

The powerful tend to be lawless:  We know that those who are elevated in the world are so filled with pride that they deem themselves as free from all laws.[23]

Lawlessness is ultimately a total rejection of God Himself.

It was therefore necessary to set before the Jews their departure from the law, so that they might feel assured that their contention was not with Jeremiah but with Moses, and with God Himself, the author of the law.[24]

To be a Christian, you must deny yourself and take up God’s yoke, living in obedience to His law. 

The very source of rebellion is this—the Jews were unwilling to undertake the yoke of God.  They had been unteachable, for they had refused correction (Jer. 7:28).[25]

To attend to God’s law is the way of becoming really wise.[26]

Ø      What does the metaphor of God’s yoke mean?  As the oxen are tamed that they may labor and are trained to obey when the yoke is laid on them; so also God proves our obedience when He rules us by His law, for we otherwise wander after our lusts.  As therefore God corrects and checks in us by His law all the unruly passions of the flesh, He is said to lay His yoke on us.  Now, if we are intractable [stubborn] and do not submit to the authority of God, we are said to harden our neck (Jer. 17:23).[27] 

True faith and repentance is proved by obedience to God’s law.

”Prove,” he says, “that you have repented from the heart.”  He shows how they were to prove this, even by observing the law of God.[28]

Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).

But there was no repentance; they were not sorry for their sins; no, the Jews actually took liberty to indulge their sins more on account of their ceremonies, which yet ought to have been the means of leading them to repentance.[29]

All Christians must persevere in obedience to God’s law and holiness, for without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).  

Though God has been pleased to choose us as His people, it is yet required of us to be faithful to Him; and if we forsake Him, the same reward for our impiety will no doubt await us as Jeremiah threatens here to his own nation (Jer. 13:25).[30]

Whoever has been taught the will of God, unless he obeys, he cannot escape the charge of a voluntary obstinacy, as he has resolved to carry on war with God (Jer. 25:6).[31]

God will severely judge all the lawless with His extreme vengeance.

God here threatens extreme vengeance to the Gentiles if they subjected not themselves to His yoke so as to render obedience to Him (Jer. 12:17).[32]

God would be an avenger, because the Jews had refused to obey His voice, and preferred their own inventions in walking after the hardness or the wickedness of their own heart.  The cause of this calamity was that the people had rejected the teaching of the prophets (Jer. 13:10).[33]

God blesses the faithful who keep His law.

When men once shake off the yoke of God, they are hurried on by a diabolical madness, so that there is nothing insurmountable to them.  Had they been asked whether they acted rightly, they might have raised a thousand arguments as excuses; but when they followed their own propensity, they in a manner, so to speak, leaped over the clouds.  Impiety then is always full of rashness and audacity.  But as we see that the ungodly thus rush headlong into ruin, even when God pronounces a curse on their counsels and proceedings, let us learn to take encouragement ever to obey God; for He promises a joyful and blessed result at all times when we follow the ways pointed out by Him (Jer. 43:4).[34]


[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on The Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. I, trans. Rev. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 41.
[2] Vol. I., 108.
[3] Vol. II, 101.
[4] Vol. IV, 293.
[5] Vol. IV, 535.
[6] Vol. IV, 14-15. 
[7] Vol. IV, 181.
[8] Vol. I, 482.
[9] Vol. I., 109-110.
[10] Vol. II, 377.
[11] Vol. II, 390.
[12] Vol. II., 377.
[13] Vol. II, 378. 
[14] Vol. II, 380.
[15] Vol. II, 380-381.
[16] Vol. II, 382.
[17] Vol. II., 382.
[18] Vol. II, 383. 
[19] Vol. I., 264.
[20] Vol. III, 153.
[21] Vol. III, 32.
[22] Vol. I., 265.
[23] Vol. IV, 296.
[24] Vol. II, 69.
[25] Vol. I, 407.
[26] Vol. I, 431.
[27] Vol. II, 384.
[28] Vol. I, 368.
[29] Vol. I, 369.
[30] Vol. II, 196.
[31] Vol. III, 250.
[32] Vol. II, 159. 
[33] Vol. II, 166.
[34] Vol. IV, 509.


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Revised: 01-14-2012