Apostasy and Lawlessness

Know what's coming, stand fast, hold firm.

2 Thessalonians 2 (7)

Pray Psalm 2.1-3.
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”

Read 2 Thessalonians 2.1-17.

1. Is falling away (apostasy) something that happens all at once or gradually? How is apostasy related to lawlessness?

2. By grace we are saved and by grace we are sanctified. But does this mean we have nothing to do in the process of becoming more like Jesus?

Heresies appear in every generation, and heretical teachers always manage to draw enough people to their teaching to make many begin to wonder if perhaps they’ve got it right.

How can we know what is heretical and what isn’t? One or more of the following features, which the Thessalonians were confronting, may be discerned.

First, heresy detracts from the worship of God, exalting men and their views instead (v. 4). Heretics know themselves to be on the fringe, so to establish their teaching, they need to draw as many followers as possible, and this usually entails having a single individual or a cadre of individuals at the core of the movement, insisting that their views are true.

Second, heretics twist the teaching of Scripture, reinterpreting venerable texts and turning away from received traditions to establish new views and new angles on the Word of God (v. 2). Their use of the Bible is selective, and their regard for ancient Christian teachings is non-existent.

Third, heretics have little use for the Law of God (vv. 6, 7). Whereas Jesus and the apostles, and the long and venerable tradition of Christian teaching, have always seen the Law as foundational to a life of good works, heretics will avoid the Law as onerous and outdated.

Back of all heresies is some desire to find a shortcut to pleasure, even if the pleasure is only some form of spiritual ecstasy (v. 12). Experiences of “spiritual high” are touted for their own sake, and not for the knowledge and glory of God. Acquisitiveness, sexual license, and other forms of fleshly indulgence are frequently the end of heretical teaching.

To recognize and resist heretical teaching, and thus to avoid falling into apostasy and lawlessness, we must stand fast on the Word of God and hold firm to the ancient teachings of the faith, persevering in love and good works for the glory of Christ and God (vv. 13-17).

1. How would you counsel a new believer to stand fast and hold the traditions of orthodox Christian teaching?

2. Heretics are very sincere in their beliefs, and so may plead and defend them passionately. How should we respond to those who hold heretical views?

3. How can believers help one another resist the drift into apostasy and lawlessness?

Paul, accordingly, would have the Thessalonians stand, not merely when others continue to stand, but with a more settled stability; so that, on seeing almost all turning aside from the faith, and all things full of confusion, they will, nevertheless, retain their footing. And assuredly the calling of God ought to fortify us against all occasions of offense in such a manner, that not even the entire ruin of the world shall shake, much less overthrow, our stability. John Calvin (1509-1564 AD) Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2

Help me to be alert to any tendency to drift from You, Lord, and to resist that tendency by…

Pray Psalm 2.

Pray for the lost and lawless of this world, that they might heed the Lord’s call to submit to Jesus and be saved. Pray also that the Lord will keep you to Himself, lest you drift into apostasy.

Sing to the Lord.
Psalm 2 (Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!)
Why do the nations vainly rage, conspiring together from age to age?
Earth’s kings and all of their counselors stand against the Lord and His Right Hand:

“Now let us cast His yoke below, His Kingdom authority overthrow!
Throw off His Law, reject His Word; no more be governed by this Lord!”

The Lord in heaven laughs in wrath at all who embark on this cursèd path.
His angry Word to them is plain: “Yet shall My King in Zion reign!”

Proclaim the message far and wide, that God has exalted the Crucified!
From heav’n He sent us His only Son, Who has for us salvation won!

To Christ the Lord be given all who humbly embrace Him and on Him call.
Be wise, be warned: His judgment comes to break the prideful, sinful ones.

Rejoice with fear in Jesus’ grace, and worship before His exalted face!
Beware His anger and judgment grim: how blessed are all who rest in Him!

T. M. Moore

Where do 1 and 2 Thessalonians fit in the unfolding of God’s covenant? Our course, Introduction to Biblical Theology, can help you understand the setting of all the books of the Bible, and how they fit into God’s unfolding plan of redemption. Watch the brief video introducing this course at The Ailbe Seminary (click here), then plan to register in our Certificate in Kingdom Studies program, featuring Introduction to Biblical Theology.

Forward today’s study to some friends, and challenge them to study with you through this series on 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Each week’s lessons will be available as a free PDF download at the end of the week. Get a copy for yourself and send the link to the download to your friends. Plan to meet weekly to study Paul’s ministry and prepare for your own.

If you value Scriptorium as a free resource for your walk with the Lord, please consider supporting our work with your gifts and offerings. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button  at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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