The Fight Against Lawlessness Must Begin in the Church
“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Photo by Austrian National Library on Unsplash
Paul’s words are both clear and direct. The carnal, fleshly mind is enmity against God. In other words, the mind that is set on its own way and is controlled by the passion of selfish desire is opposed to God and hostile toward His law. Those of this mind have set themselves up as His enemies. This is why Paul says that individuals in this state cannot and will not subject themselves to the law of God, because they will not obey, submit, or willingly yield to the instructions of God. Consequently, it is impossible for individuals in this state of mind to please God. We have all been in this state of mind, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that these tendencies are still in us. Even Paul, himself, who served the law of God in his mind and inward man, confessed, saying, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is my members” (Romans 7:23). Those who delight in the law of God and, like Paul, seek to serve the law in their minds understand this battle. They are fully aware that the desire of the flesh, the natural man, does not yield so willingly. Every command God plants in our minds, the flesh rails against. Thus, everyday we must seek the strength of the Spirit in order to subject our minds to His law, just as Paul did, as David did, and as Christ did.
When Paul speaks of the carnal mind, it’s necessary to remind ourselves that he is not only referring to unbelievers. Those who profess the faith are also included. Paul wasn’t alone on this. Reading through the prophets, one will find that it was often God’s people who set their minds against God (Jeremiah 6:19; 4:14; Isaiah 65:2). Just as many of the devout Jewish leaders were Jesus’ most vehement opposers, so those who bear His name can be as well. How does this happen? When we reject the mind of Christ and exalt our own doctrines and traditions above God’s. Many of those who opposed Christ thought they were defending God’s word when they were, in fact, defending their own doctrines and traditions. In Mark 8, Jesus addresses this issue with the so-called religious leaders of His time. After these leaders questioned His disciples about not properly washing their hands, Jesus responds with this indictment:
“For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do… All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”
Jesus was not the first to call out this pattern; there were others before him, including the prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7; Isaiah 29:13). Both Isaiah and Jesus were speaking directly to the people of God. Let us heed their words and not become ignorant. If we possess the mind of Christ, then we will do the works of Christ, and these works are the commandments of God, not the commandments and traditions of men. Even the most devout fail to distinguish between the two. There are many who will stand before Him on the last day and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name?” And what will His response be? “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). These are tough sayings, but true nonetheless. Attaching Jesus’ name to manmade works, doctrines, traditions, creeds, ministries, and so forth is of no significance if these do not align with the commandments and will of the Father. Jesus did not come to start His own religion, nor did He come to be the poster child for man’s ideals and personal agendas, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they may be. He came to teach and do the will of the Father, and so must those who profess Him as Lord (Matthew 7:21). This only happens when we listen to His word and let it soak into our minds and hearts. Then, we begin to see and understand His will. Paul teaches this when he instructs the church to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
Today, there is a battle for our minds and hearts, and not just ours, but the minds, hearts and attention of our succeeding generations. Through social media, Hollywood, the music industry, and even through academia there is siege happening to keep our minds in captivity. The enemy–both physical and spiritual–knows that if our minds can be subdued and entranced, then so can our wills. Thus, the enemy continues to do what he has been doing since the beginning: turning people–God’s people–away from and against the word of God. Why? Because God’s word is the only antidote to deception and lawlessness. Everyday and in every hour, the enemy whispers the same words as he did in the garden: “Did God really say?” These words continue to effectively poison the minds of the vulnerable, the unstable, and the untrained. Yes, his ability to twist and annul the teachings of God is the reason why we are not only seeing our world rapidly decay, but it is also why multitudes continue to walk away from the faith. Even worse, it is why we are even witnessing the moral foundation of so many churches and church goers dissolve into conformity.
All of this will continue to happen unless we learn from the pattern of history. What is this pattern? The further God’s people distance themselves from His law, the more corrupt and degenerate we become. There is, perhaps, not a more pronounced pattern throughout the entirety of the scriptures, and we are now witnessing this pattern in our own times. Jesus warns that it will get worse: “And because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Paul, too, tells us that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, and those people will be deceived who do not receive the love of the truth, who do not believe the truth, but instead have pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Jesus and Paul speak what has always been true, that the dissolution of love, truth, and righteousness is directly correlated to the increase of lawlessness. This is certainly true of the unbeliever, but it is also true of those who believe. This is why Jesus and His disciples continuously warn the church. We, too, wander because we forget the source of these things (love, truth, and righteousness):
What is the truth?
His Torah (John 17:17).
What is righteousness?
His Torah (Hebrews 5:14).
What is love?
His Torah (Romans 13:10).
The proliferation of lawlessness will continue the more the Torah is extracted from our personal lives, from our families, from our communities, from the public square, and more so from the pulpit. The church will not and cannot be a beacon of love, righteousness, and truth if it continues to erase, annul, modify, and teach against the very source of these things. If the people of God are to fulfill their calling (1 Peter 2:9), if we are to stem the tide of lawlessness, we must first recognize our own wandering from the Torah. We must collectively pray for God to turn our hearts and minds back toward His word–the source of truth, love, and righteousness. Then, and only then, will we be able to effectively carry out our role as His royal priesthood (Malachi 2:7). Throughout the scriptures, when the people of God experienced this type of revival, they not only experienced God’s rest and healing, they also became a force to be reckoned with.
“The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them… and Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around” (2 Chronicles 15:2-4, 15).