Question: "What does it mean that sin is lawlessness?"
Answer: First John 3:4 says, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” The word translated “lawlessness” comes from the Greek word anomia, which means “an utter disregard for God and His laws.” From this Greek word we also get the word antinomianism, which is the belief that there are no moral laws that God expects Christians to obey. Every sin is a transgression against God because sin violates His moral standard for human beings. Since God created us (Genesis 1:27), He has the right to define boundaries for us. Any violation of those boundaries is a violation of His law, which means that every sin is an act of lawlessness.
The follower of God will eschew lawlessness. The blessed person is described as one “whose delight is in the law of the LORD” (Psalm 1:2). “I long for your salvation, LORD,” writes the psalmist, “and your law gives me delight” (Psalm 119:174). The contrast between lawlessness and love could not be clearer: “Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law” (Psalm 119:70).
Scripture makes a distinction between someone who sins, as we all do (Romans 3:10, 23; 1 John 1:8), and someone who “practices lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 13:41). A lawless person is one who has given himself or herself over completely to a sinful lifestyle. Lawless people either do not believe in God or refuse to acknowledge His right to rule their lives (Psalm 14:1). Even those living in lawlessness can find forgiveness if they turn from their sin and receive Christ’s righteousness and salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21; John 3:16–18).
Those who persist in lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:20–21). Jesus warned that in the end times lawlessness will increase and “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). When an attitude of lawlessness pervades the atmosphere, people stop wondering about right and wrong. They no longer know or care that absolute moral standards exist. Lawless people may consider themselves very religious and spiritual, but they have defined God as they wish Him to be, not as He is.
The Antichrist who is prophesied to appear in the end times is described as a “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8). Daniel says he will be a king who “will do as he pleases” (Daniel 11:36). The Antichrist will be one who knows who God is but declares himself to be above God, just as Satan did (Isaiah 14:14; 1 John 2:22; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:4). He is called “lawless” because he will spurn all authority and be completely given over to sin. Those who follow the Antichrist during the tribulation will follow him into lawlessness, to their own destruction. Those who receive his mark will never be able to repent and find forgiveness, but will be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 14:9–10).
Lawlessness results in a culture running wild (Proverbs 29:18). The time of the judges was so tumultuous because, in part, “all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25, NLT). We are seeing the effects of lawlessness in much of the world today. God’s laws—and even secular society’s laws—are rejected as obsolete, superfluous, or repressive. Each man is a law unto himself, and the outcome of that type of lawlessness is anarchy and chaos. Sin must not be justified with a shrug and a “nobody’s perfect.” Every act of sin is an example of lawlessness because it is a violation of God’s standard of holiness and His perfect character.