Sin and Lawlessness: 1st John 3:4b

Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; indeed, sin is lawlessness.

John refutes the gnostic notion that one can be innocent of sin while practicing lawlessness by connecting sin and lawlessness together and showing that they are one and the same.  And this doctrine is particularly relevant to the Church today as many pulpits teach an evolved form of the gnostic gospel that says Christians can practice lawlessness while being immune to the consequences of sin.

“Sin is lawlessness”: we must carefully note the connotations of these two words:

In classical Greek the word for sin (hamartia) means to “miss the mark.” It was used of a warrior who missed striking his opponent or of a traveler who missed the right path.  In the New Testament, however, hamartia is more active in nature. In other words, sin is an intentional breaking of God’s moral standard. It is a willful rebellion arising from the deliberate choice of the individual, a direct violation of God’s laws. Sin is “missing God’s mark” (Rom 3:23); it is a direct offense against the known will of God.

Kruse notes, “The word translated ‘lawlessness’ (anomia) is found only in this verse in 1, 2, and 3 John. It does not carry the idea of breaking the law, for the whole question of the law is absent from this letter; the word law (nomos) is not found at all in 1 John.”  It is true that lawlessness is usually understood to be the violation of God’s law.  But lawlessness is more than the absence of God’s law for John. It is a willful rejection and an active disobedience against God’s moral standard, which is a characteristic of the child of the devil.

John’s emphasis here is vital to his argument against the false teachers. From all indications the apostle is dealing with individuals who are indifferent to sin. They believed that they could engage in any and all kinds of sinful activities and still be in fellowship with God. In their line of reasoning, their acts were merely amoral. It was such licentious beliefs that John confronts. Sin is not amoral. It is not something to which one can be indifferent. On the contrary, sin is a willful disregard for God. It is a rebellious revolt against God’s will. No one is excluded from the obligation to obey God; therefore the seccessionists were placing themselves, by their sinful acts, in direct opposition to God. Sin in its very nature is “synonymous with being of the devil” (v. 8) and “the opposite of being just” (v. 7).  To live a life of sin is to align oneself with the world and the devil and to be at enmity with God. It is the very opposite of what righteousness is and entails.

Akin, D. L. (2001). 1, 2, 3 John (Vol. 38, pp. 139–141). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

The notion that one can be in sin without being in direct and willful rebellion against God permeated the early Church through gnostic doctrine in much the same way that it permeates the modern Church through the doctrines of hyper-grace.

However, the practice of sin and lawlessness in Scripture is clearly equated with Satan and excluded from the Kingdom of God:

2 Thessalonians 2:3 (CSB) — 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.

2 Thessalonians 2:7 (CSB) — 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way,

Matthew 7:23 (CSB) — 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’

1 John 5:17 (CSB) — 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that doesn’t lead to death.

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