Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4
Lawlessness – Sometimes the writers of the New Testament tell us something that is so hard to hear we would rather slide past the subject. That’s what is happening with this statement from John. We think we know what sin is. It’s breaking the list of rules that God set up for us. It’s being a “bad” person by not doing what we know is right. But then John tells us that if we go on sinning, we practice lawlessness. Suddenly we’re confused. Lots of my sins don’t violate any laws. In fact, the laws of the land make perfectly legal many things I cringe to consider doing. So how can sin be lawlessness? How can I be breaking the law every time I sin?
The Greek word doesn’t seem to help. The word is anomia. It is often translated by another English word – iniquity. Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:23 uses this word to describe wicked people. Paul uses it (Romans 6:19) to describe what happens to us when we pursue our own desires. Now I’m even more confused. I don’t think I’m a wicked person. I actually want to serve God. Does this verse mean that when I sin, I am filled with iniquity and terribly wicked?
Years ago Watchman Nee wrote something that clears the air. It also hits us like a sledgehammer. “Sin is a matter of conduct; it is easy to be forgiven of sin. But rebellion is a matter of principle; it is not so easy to be forgiven of rebellion.” Suddenly I see. John is not talking about my individual sins. He is speaking about my rebellion – that deep-seated principle within me that fights against the holiness of God, that wants to assert my independence and self-sufficiency. It is not the particular laws that I either keep or break that matter here. It is my basic core attitude. The opposite of lawlessness is not rule-keeping. It is submission. That’s what is so difficult. I would much rather be the rich young ruler who in all sincerity said that he kept the specific rules. I don’t want Jesus to expose my basic core rebellion – my desire to keep the control. I don’t want to submit. Why? Because I don’t want to, that’s why! And that is what is at stake here. When I operate from a principle of rebellion, I hate God. Even if I conform to all the rules, even if I practice all the religious requirements, I can still be in rebellion. I can still wish that life were going according to my plan.
Submission is the most difficult human choice anyone can ever make. Our very nature cries out against it. We will do anything but submit. And that is why submission is at the very center of God’s grace. Without submission, there is only iniquity – no matter what you call it. Until you settle the rebellion issue, you live under the principle of lawlessness.