Enduring in a Lawless Age
November 6, 2005 / No. 3279
Dear radio friends,
Today we begin, on the Reformed Witness Hour, a brief series of messages on the truth of perseverance of the saints. Most often, when this truth is mentioned, it is called the preservation of the saints, emphasizing thereby that God has an unchangeable commitment to save the elect redeemed in the blood of Jesus Christ. Thus we exalt, in this doctrine, the faithful character of God.
But I would have you note that we believe not only in the preservation of the saints, but the perseverance of the saints. That is, the Scriptures teach us the call of every believer to persevere in faith and in holiness. That is the truth that we would like to look at in this short series.
The first message on “Perseverance of the Saints” is taken from the Lord’s words in Matthew 24:12, 13. We read: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
Those words of Jesus Christ were part of what is called the sermon on the end times, which was spoken from the Mount of Olives as Jesus and His disciples overlooked the majestic temple of Jerusalem. The Lord had announced to His disciples that that glorious temple built by Herod would be destroyed. In verse 2 of Matthew 24 we read: “See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another.”
The disciples responded to that announcement of destruction with a twofold question. They asked Him (v. 3), “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” The Lord answers these two questions.
He answers those two questions by saying that the destruction of the temple would be a sign of (that is, it would picture) the end of the world. The Lord goes on to say that before He returns, there shall be wars and persecutions, and natural calamities. All of these things are present in the world today. He says that these things shall be present throughout the age, the New Testament age, from His day even until now. But, He says, they shall increase in their intensity and frequency of occurrence.
Then He begins to focus on the church. He says to us that, as the day of His return approaches, there shall be an increase of lawlessness in the world. And it shall have its effect upon many in Christianity — the love of many will grow cold. Jesus, then, speaks to us of the necessity of persevering in this evil age.
Now we should read the text this way: “And because lawlessness shall multiply, the love of many shall wax cold” (v. 12). The word “iniquity” is “lawlessness.” And lawlessness in the Scripture is a word that describes itself. It means to be without law. It is a spirit of defiance to God’s law. It is the asserting of personal liberty in matters of morality. In the Old Testament it was evidenced in the spirit of Pharaoh who said: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?” It was evidenced in the age of the judges, when we read, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Lawlessness is the rejection of God’s law, specifically the Ten Commandments, as being not binding upon myself, my situation, and the inherent right that I have to do my own thing and make my own decision on moral matters.
The apostle Peter refers to it in II Peter 2:10, where he speaks of the last days, when there will be those who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government. Presumptuous are they, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignities (literally, they are not afraid to belittle the law — to say, “I don’t care about any law other than my own desires”).
Scripture teaches us that lawlessness is characteristic of men and women in every age, in every culture, in every society, in every race, and in every time. Romans 8:7: “…the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Human nature is always provoked by the law of God. All sin is exactly lawlessness — the setting aside of God’s Ten Commandments (I John 3:4): “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” The basic disposition of human nature is lawlessness. The default of human nature is “O, how hate I Thy law. It is my irritation all the day!” It is only by grace, the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit of Christ, that we now say, “Oh, how love I Thy law; it is my meditation all the day!”
But, although it is true that lawlessness characterizes mankind, Jesus says that this lawlessness shall abound — there shall be the steady progression of lawlessness. The Lord means to say that there will be periods of time when men will understand, for their own physical well-being, that it makes sense to follow law — not because in their heart they submit to God, but because they see the outward observance or the promotion of decency in society to be to their advantage — at least for awhile. But Jesus means to say that the spirit of lawlessness, the spirit of sin, the contempt for the law of God, will not stay the same in society. In the life of an individual, in the life of a nation, and in the life of an age, it shall increase, it shall, in His words, abound. The word “abound” means “multiply.” It shall become louder, baser, more shameless, defiant, and raging.
The Lord says, here then is a sign of My coming. Lawlessness, which is always the character of man’s nature, shall be multiplied. It shall breed. It shall swarm. It shall increase.
Now I need not be a prophet to say that this has come upon us in Western society and in America and in our own culture and day. The Lord said to us, “Watch and pray.” I will not go into all the specifics, but if the hope of Jesus Christ burns within your heart, you will see that you are living in an age of abounding lawlessness. Wherever we turn, even to those who are in highest office, corporate leaders, we see scandals, greed, embezzlement. In the sports world, in government, in entertainment — there is not just the acceptanceof lawlessness, there is the promotion and the exaltation of these things. It is advocated and promoted. Sexual sins, dishonesty, stealing. An older generation that is alive today has perhaps witnessed more of the increase of lawlessness than any other age. Perhaps those who are older can remember that as boys they burned with the lust of sexual sins and would enter into a local store and would not see much upon the counter. But now you cannot go into Walgreens, you cannot go into RiteAid, you cannot go into any store without the sin of pornography reaching out in every aisle. TV in the sixties, with small black-and-white screens: Andy Griffith, Mayberry. Today (and I am not referring simply to cable), upon all channels: the open, the gross sexual sins, prevailing gore and perversities!
Awake to the reality, said Jesus. The Lord makes plain to all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear that we are in those last days before His return. And His point is that you must reckon with what this lawlessness is going to mean for you as a child of God. You must not think that this lawlessness does not involve you. You must not think that a Christian is merely some spectator in this world and that it is “all out there. That’s just the world and I have my own little happy life.” This lawlessness, said Jesus, that shall abound more and more before the day of My return is a lawlessness that is aimed at you, My child. This lawlessness, said Jesus, is not sent by the devil simply as a torture upon the wicked who are ensnared in it. The wicked are indeed affected by it, but the Lord says that this lawlessness is directed principally and primarily at your heart, at your soul, at the life that is in Christ. It would, if it would have its way, crush it. It would mold you. It would influence you. It would dominate you. Do you profess to love Jesus Christ? The Lord speaks to you. He says, “Wake up to the abounding lawlessness of this world and its effect, its intended desires, upon you.”
The Lord says, “I am not talking to you about the last days to make you a theoretical expert on the last days, so that you can expound on religious topics while you are drunk, and you can hear sermons and then go home on Sunday night and watch pornography. I am telling you this because you, My child, are not immune to this lawlessness. Unless you endure and make your stand against it, you will be swept away. You will not be saved.”
We have not chosen, as the church of Christ, when we are to be born and represent His cause. We are not living twenty, thirty, or fifty years ago. We are living now. We are bearing the banner of Jesus Christ now. Lawlessness has entered into our culture. It is all around us. The TV, the Internet, the music, the legislation of men. That lawlessness is not neutral, said Jesus. Because lawlessness shall multiply, the love of many shall wax cold. The Lord, there, is talking about cause and effect. Because, as a result, of lawlessness the love of God (at least outwardly) of the many will become cold.
We should note that. The Lord does not say that the love of many will grow cold and then lawlessness will abound. That can be true in itself. Inward, spiritual decay in our lives opens our life to more sin and lawlessness. But He says, “because lawlessness abounds, the love of the many grows cold.” The lawlessness of this world is aimed to make love cold. Love for God is warm. Love for God is soft — soft to God’s law, soft in a conscience to keep oneself from sin. Lawlessness is aimed at the heart to make it cold and hard so that you cannot love your wife anymore, you cannot respect your parents, you cannot get along with your parents. I say it again: the abounding lawlessness of this age is not sent by the devil primarily to torment the wicked. But it is sent to suck you down.
Why does Jesus say that the love of many shall wax cold? Why does He not say, “The faith of many will grow weak,” or “the holiness of many will be gone”? Because the Lord is focusing here on love. He is focusing here on love because the essence of the Law is love. Lawlessness, to be against the law, when that multiplies — what is the result? The heart of the Law, the demand of the Law, the essence of the Law, is: Love God and love the neighbor. If lawlessness abounds, love waxes cold. The heart of the Christian life is love for Jesus Christ. It is out of that love that comes the gift of vibrant faith and a real holiness of life. You can only live a holy life if you love the Lord Jesus Christ.
But, you see, Satan hates the love of God. Sin despises the love of God. Sin says, “Me! Me! Not the love of God that is sacrificial, for someone else.” If lawlessness has its way, if the Supreme Court, if abortion, if legislation, if same-sex marriages have their way, there shall be no love of God at all! The love of many shall wax cold because of the increase of lawlessness.
The Lord is saying that the majority of defections from the army of Jesus Christ, outwardly speaking, will be caused by lawlessness. Not by persecution, not by false teaching; but by the seductive pull of lawlessness. Lawlessness will take the greatest toll among professed Christians. Did you hear that? I believe that that is the explanation of the word of the Savior Himself. Lawlessness will take the greatest toll among professed Christians. Do you believe that?
If you do, what are you doing with your TV? What are you doing on Friday nights? What are you doing with the movies? What are you doing with the computer and the Internet? What about your music? What about your friends? What are the influences in your life?
The Lord says, “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” To endure is to bear up under something. It is something that we do not like by nature. The denial of self is contrary to our natures. But the Lord says that the child of God is not simply taking a stroll through a field of tulips. No, he must bear up. He must persevere in faith, love, holiness, and hope.
We cannot do this without the supply of His covenant grace. As children of God we receive the truth that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit to the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13). We have the intercession of Jesus Christ, who has died and is risen again for us. And therefore we may boldly ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of God” ( Rom. 8)? We are comforted in the fact that Jesus Christ is able to save to the uttermost those who have come, by God, to Him ( Heb. 7).
But Jesus said that if you do not experience the desire to persevere in a lawless age, you will not be saved. He says that His grace works in us the desire, the passion, to persevere. And if you do not have that desire, that intense passion to persevere; if you do not find within yourself a repentance of your own lawlessness and the desire to resist lawlessness in your life; and instead you give yourself over to lawlessness and you play with lawlessness, you will not be saved. You will be damned.
The love of God, worked within the Christian, works. It is active. It promotes, produces, perseverance. How does grace work within me? Does it make me holier than someone else, or holier than thou, or make me immune to sin? No. This is how it works. It works a continual and ruthless mortification of (that means, to kill) your sin. Jesus said that if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off; if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, for it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Does He literally mean that we must maim ourselves? No. Blind men can lust. He means that you must believe that you are called to persevere, which means that you must mean business with your sin!
If you think the truth of God’s faithfulness (that He shall keep all those who belong to Christ to the end) gives you leeway; if you think that that means you are free to go on in the bondage of your pet sins — take heed. For Jesus says, “With that pet sin you will be cast into hell.”
What about the use of the Internet? What about the lawlessness of our day?
We must not look upon our lives as God’s children as if we have been given a free pass (like in Monopoly — we’ve been issued a “Get out of jail free” card). That is a perversion. That is of the devil. But we must see that that life of Jesus Christ, which in principle gives us to love God, is a life by which we are called daily to resist our own sins and to mean business with those sins so that we become deadly serious about fighting our sin. We take Paul’s words as ours (I Cor. 9:25-27), “I run as one who will obtain the prize; I fight. I keep under my body lest, if I preach to others, I myself be a castaway.” The apostle Paul said, “Compare me to a runner in a race, but don’t look at me as a man out there all enamored with form and doing some nice sprints and looking nice for the girls. When you compare my life to a boxing match and I get into the boxing ring, don’t look at me to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee-type boxer. I’m not going to go out there and shadow-box. But when I get in the ring with my sin, I give it a bloody nose. I am resolved,” says the apostle, “to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.”
He that endureth to the end shall be saved. Jesus is saying that many, many, many shall be sucked into the whirlpool of lawlessness. But the one enduring to the end shall be saved, shall come to life eternal, shall be brought into the company of the redeemed, and shall worship before the throne of the Lamb of God. The calling of Jesus Christ is: endure. The grace of God works within us the desire to persevere in a life of repentance. That means that we must use the means that God has provided. It is presumption to think that we shall be kept even unto the end if we do not use the means that God has given us to be preserved unto the end. There is the personal reading of our Bible. There is prayer for each other. There are friendships. And, centrally, there is the preaching of the Word of God in the church. There is the Sabbath Day. We have, radio friends, the approval of heaven to set aside one day, the whole day, to be with Jesus — Sunday. Lawlessness seeks to cut down Sunday — work on Sunday, recreation on Sunday, pleasure on Sunday, cut out the Sunday evening service or whittle it down. The devil begins softly. He says to you, “It’s too much to go twice. The sermons are too long.” Until at last the devil can sink his knife into the bowels of the church and cut out the second service. And then cut out services all together.
He that endures shall be saved. We shall endure because Jesus Christ is at the right hand of the Father. He is the faithful one. He is the true one. He will not deny Himself. The grace of Jesus Christ is the grace that saves, always saves, must save, shall save. Not one for whom He has shed His blood shall be lost. I am saved.
But how we live will show what that means. You will endure. And as you endure, you will say that it is not I, but it is Christ in me. I will endure because of Christ.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that it may be applied to our hearts this day, that we may heed the Savior’s words, that we may resist the lawlessness of this age and our own nature and in dependence and love for Thee live a holy life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.