Does Jesus Free Us for Lawlessness?

No, that is not possible, since Scripture teaches that the “lawless one” will one day “be revealed, whom the Lord [Jesus] will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming.” (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:15) Jesus and the “lawless one” are directly opposed to one another.

This is apostolic teaching to which Sacred Scripture bears witness; it is, therefore, irreformable teaching. The Church cannot bless, sanctify, or even attempt to sanctify lawlessness; instead Christ calls us to “repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Elsewhere Jesus taught that he has not come to abolish the law, that is, to constitute lawlessness as a way of life: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Mt. 5:17-18)

Then, as if to make sure we understood, Jesus continued: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:19) So, if “fulfillment of the law” does not mean lawlessness, then what does it mean?

Our faith securely affirms that we have been freed from the condemnation of the law, not by remaining willfully ignorant of it, but through faith in Jesus Christ, the sole righteous one. St. Paul taught that Scripture has “confined all things under the power of sin, that through faith in Jesus Christ the promise might be given to those who believe.” (Gal. 3:22, cf. Rom. 11:32)


Without law, however, there is no sin, which is why “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Rom. 5:14), and will still reign if all we do is ignore the law of God in our freedom.

Where there is no law, which here means no law of God, there is no transgression. St. Paul taught: “I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me.” (Rom. 7:9)

Ridding ourselves of condemnation by ignoring God’s law, or pretending as though it doesn’t exist anymore, amounts to little more than a Pelagian attempt at declaring ourselves innocent. Such self-willed innocence ends in a kind of benevolent unbelief whereby Jesus is viewed as a great man or a nice man, like Moses or Buddha, but just a man nonetheless – and quite unnecessary most days.

But the Gospel or “good news,” at least in part, entails our being freed from condemnation under the Law of Moses. The law, after all, does nothing more than monitor human behavior and condemn all those who fail to observe it: “Cursed be he who fails to fulfill any of the provisions of this law!” (Dt. 27:26)

The Old Testament is a record of God’s fidelity in the face of human failure and weakness in observing the law; God was grievously offended on numerous occasions by the transgressions of our ancestors. We had nothing to stand on, nothing to favorably commend ourselves to God prior to the coming of Christ. But “now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law; though testified to by the law and the prophets.” (Rom. 3:21)

Now we are saved by faith in Jesus, who “ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13) Jesus, the Word incarnate, was condemned under the law; the Jewish leaders declared: “we have a law, and according to that law he ought to die.” (John 19:7) The way to freedom from condemnation, therefore, is not pretending that the law doesn’t exist, but faith in Jesus Christ “who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

In Christ, we become adopted sons and daughters of God and our entrance into God’s family is through Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. By these means, which were given us by Christ while He walked on Earth, we are initiated into communion with the Trinity through full communion with the Catholic Church, which is the Body of Christ.

Once initiated into Christ’s Body, the Church, we are free to enjoy a sacramental share in Christ’s relationship with the Father. As proof that we are children, “God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 4:6)

We all desire mercy, but mercy is not achieved by imagining a Messiah who initiates us into a life of lawlessness. In truth, we don’t achieve mercy at all; we receive it. The Holy Spirit sacramentally initiates us into a share of Christ’s relationship with the Father.

In Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:19-20)

The way of lawlessness is, therefore, not the way of Christ. The way of lawlessness is rooted in unbelief and a declaration of nullity toward oneself where the law of God is concerned. But there’s no real freedom in such ignorance, since only Christ frees us, not from the law, but the law’s condemnation!

Only a real Messiah, Jesus the Christ, can save us, not an imagined one or one formed to our likeness, however benignly he may have been conceived. For if the Son frees you, “then you will truly be free.” (Jn. 8:36)


*Image: Jesus Christ, Just Judge by Marchela Dimitrova (contemporary)

Fr. Dan Pattee, TOR, PhD is an affiliate scholar with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University where he previously taught theology for 29 years. He earned his S.T.L. from the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage & Family in Rome and his doctorate in theology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He currently serves as chaplain to the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart in Alhambra, CA.