Veiled Lawlessness

or Mutton Dressed Up as the Lamb


Doug Wilson recently made a distinction between what usually passes for hypocrisy in Christian circles, and the kind practiced openly by the self-righteous:

One of my central pastoral responsibilities is that of keeping Christians away from hypocrisy, of the kind described in the New Testament. But this task, not surprisingly, is often misunderstood — and the reason it is misunderstood is that there are always lots of people who don’t want to be kept out of that kind of hypocrisy, and misdirection is that name of the game.

Of course, personal and sinful inconsistencies are hypocritical. If a man cruises around in for most of the week, and shows up for worship Sunday morning, all bright and shiny, that is hypocritical. The same for a man who tyrannizes his wife and family, and is gentle and soft-spoken in the sanctuary. God hates this kind of stuff, and we generally know that God hates it.

But the kind of hypocrisy that the New Testament lampoons is what we might call the Hypocrisy Parade. Jesus nails not only the private sins, but also the very public ones. He mocks those who shop at the Wide Phylactery Warehouse. He skewers those whose robes flow behind them like trails of woven glory. He sends up the Rev. Drs. and rabbis and such, and pops the assembled theologians like they were so many balloons. There is a species of hypocrisy that does not fear exposure, but rather stands on the street corner, palms facing outwards, awaiting the expected applause. And it does not await such applause in vain. People do this because it works. [1]

Wilson’s full article is dealing with something else entirely, but I think it can be easily attached to a strategy practiced throughout history by those who hate God and His people, beginning, as always, in the Garden, God’s lawcourt.

“Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:28

Once we realise that the Lawless Man Paul refers to is none other than the reigning Herod, a great deal of information falls into place. [1] The word lawless/ness is used around twenty times in the New Testament. If we immediately think of delinquents and rioters, we have got it all wrong. That is not the heart of what Paul and the apostles were dealing with. They were dealing with leaders who made a show of being team-spirited but whose track record evinced a long history of throwing not just enemies but friends under the bus. [2] God began history by tearing things in two. He moves history forward by tearing things in two, usually His prophets. But the lawless sacrifice others instead, sometimes on the political right but mostly on the political left.

Outwardly, the Herods were not at all the marauders we would associate with the phrase “lawless,” but well-whited tombs. These lawless men were actually lovers of the law. It was their favourite tool to achieve ungodly ends.

“Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death…” Acts 2:23

Herod the Great decreed the death of the innocents. In the book of Esther, Haman used legislation in his attempt to murder every Jew from India to Ethiopia. Both Jesus and the apostles knew what it was to be victims of stacked courtrooms. Jesus and Paul targeted the leaders because they were to be held to stricter judgment. Their sins were high-handed and murderous, and misled many, but publicly they bowed to pragmatism and declared that moral decisions were above their paygrade. They refuse to take costly stands, like the Lamb.

This misuse of legislation began in Eden. God allowed it to occur to qualify Adam. Adam was to rule over the serpent and stand at God’s right hand. Satan usurped that role using attractive legislation to mask his murderous intent. He was a murderer from the very beginning, and throughout Biblical history we see right-hand men who are good and those who are evil.

So, lawlessness is a serpentine sin—it is subtle. It is the outrageous hubris of a man who would stand boldly in God’s courtroom and declare that his own voice is the voice of God. He will change the times and seasons, decree the shedding of innocent blood, and slowly but surely silence the witness of the true Adam by binding the Church of God with lawless laws.

As it was in the first century, and during the Reformation, today many of these lawless leaders are within the church, calling for tolerance and then bringing their ridiculously unbiblical grievances before unbelieving courts to silence believers who dispute against them. This is public, proud hypocrisy. But they have another judge:

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Matthew 7:23

Satanic legislation against the people of God always backfires. God allows such persecution to force His people to witness when they become too comfortable. This was exactly the response God desired from Adam—lawful witness to Eve. Reminded of the true law, Eve was to identify herself with Adam, the law-bearer. Persecution in Jerusalem scattered saints out into the empire as witnesses. In Esther, the queen identified herself and then so did all the Jews across the empire. And we know what happened to the Herods and to Haman. The lawless men were destroyed with one little word (2 Thess. 2:8). As Luther wrote, the same fate awaits the evil one.

Attempting to criminalise the Kingdom of Heaven is always futile, and always allowed by God to bring His church to maturity. So don’t fear; just continue to witness. There’s only so much cotton the children of men can string around Gulliver before He awakes.

“Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, To my cause, my God and my Lord.” Psalms 35:23

[1] Doug Wilson, Wide Phylactery Warehouse.
[2] Here’s a crash course on Herod the Great.
[2] See The Man of Sin.

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