Believers in Jesus as the Restrainer of Wickedness–and Why It Matters

Wisdom's Friend

Believers in Jesus as the Restrainer of Wickedness–and Why It Matters

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way” (2Th. 2:7 ESV).

I asked the Lord in prayer one day who this restrainer of wickedness is, and then I went about my daily life in Him, with little further thought to the matter, until suddenly and unexpectedly one day, a number of insights came to me which are now shared here for judgment by the reader.

As you can tell from the title, I believe the Spirit showed me that the believers in Jesus are the unnamed restrainer of wickedness in this world referred to in the passage quoted above. Why? Because we who believe in Jesus are going to be in the last days of this world as it continues its downward spiral into ever-increasing violence and wickedness.

“This alone have I discovered: God made humankind upright, but they have sought many evil schemes” (Ecc. 7:29 NET).

And we are going to be sick at heart over all the terrible darkness and wickedness about us, just as was Lot in his day:

“. . . Lot, a righteous man, . . . was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)” (2Peter 2:7-8 NIV).

Because our situation in these last days of increasing wickedness is similar to what Lot experienced, we need encouragement to endure and triumph in this situation. One great encouragement for us is to see that God has put us here in these last days for the very purpose (Esther 4:14) of standing out to an ever increasingly dark world as a beacon of light (Daniel 12:3) to point them to God and his salvation.

There is much evil and wickedness in the world. It is going to get much worse as these end times unfold (Mt. 24:22, 2Tim. 3:1-5, Rev. 22:11). Yet, despite how horrible the increasing wickedness will become, Scripture states in many places that there is a limit upon the wickedness that God will allow upon the earth; something limits the spread of evil so that it will not totally envelop the world. That “something” is the body of believers in Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit. This means, of course, that it is really the Son and the Spirit who actually hold back wickedness, but they do so through a body of believers.

“All that we have accomplished you have done for us” (Isaiah 26:12 NIV).

“I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1Cor. 15:10 NIV).

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:13-16 NIV).

This is our high calling in these last days, to be God’s instruments of salt and light for restraining the worsening evil that will envelop the world towards its end. This does not mean that the church will transform this world into a form of paradise, as some false teachings espouse, but that we are to be a witness to the world’s wickedness, calling it to repentance to the very end (Acts 10:42).

We are already in the midst of this increasing violence and wickedness, as that key verse from 2nd Thessalonians states: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. . . .”

The secret power of lawlessness (another translation) is indeed already at work, as can easily be seen by anyone looking at this world. But so also is the power of the law of God at work, restraining the constant desire of lawlessness to expand without limit. One of the chief ways this restraining power of God works is through the laws of living which God has given to mankind to direct and restrain its sinful tendencies. Many passages from Scripture confirm this truth, that God has given his law for the good of man:

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8 NIV).

“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good” (Neh. 9:13 NIV).

God’s laws are indeed good and for the benefit of mankind–if they are obeyed. But it is like salt: Salt is good for bringing out the fullness of flavor in food, but hurts and stings if rubbed into an open wound. The world refuses to use the salt of the world (the followers of Jesus putting into practice the laws of God) as something that would bring them into fullness of life in Christ, the heavenly bread/food from heaven (John 6:33, John 6:51). But, instead, the world sees this salt as only “rubbing it in” their wounds of open rebellion against God by their sinful lifestyles. Thus the law stings them because it reveals their sin–and they don’t like it. They view the law of God as painful and something bad which they think should be done away with. They consider it to be what the Bible calls sin!

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.'” (Rom. 7:7 NIV).

So, it is right that God gave the law that condemns sinful man, for it is truth that man is sinful and breaks the law of God. Therefore, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12 NIV).

But the world is not interested in being holy, righteous and good. It’s sole goal in life is the pursuit of pleasure and selfish desires (1Cor. 3:3, James 3:16, Ph. 3:19). When they should be thanking God for his salt, they angrily turn against him for it, not because the salt is bad but because it is simply being what it is supposed to be: good when used properly for food, but stinging to those affected by its application to their sinful lives.

Scripture affirms, in fact, that the law was given not for those who obey it because they already have a love for God in their hearts, but was given for those who have no such love for God (John 5:40-42). Jesus said that the world hates him because he testifies that what it does is evil (John 7:7).

Therefore, sinful man rejects the good gift of God’s law and seeks to replace it with his own set of laws that allow him to pursue his lust. He seeks to do away with the guilt of breaking God’s law, not by obeying those laws so that there is no guilt, but by replacing those laws with his own that allow all manner of sinful acts to be legalized, such as the killing of unborn children and redefining the natural attractions of men and women. But God warns them again and again that he will hold them accountable for this rejection of his laws.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20 NIV).

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions'” (Ex. 16:28 NIV).

“16 But to the wicked, God says: ‘What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips?
17 You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you'” (Ps. 50:16-17 NIV).

“I wrote for them the many things of my law, but they regarded them as something alien” (Hosea 8:12 NIV).

Therefore, in these last days, the demarcation becomes ever clearer as to who loves God and who does not, for there is one easily discerned marker that distinguishes these two groups in the world. That distinguishing mark is obedience to the laws of God by those who fear and love him.

“Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. 17 ‘They will be mine,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not'” (Malachi 3:16-18 NIV).

This passage points to the final judgment of this world for its rejection of God’s laws, a judgment for those who refuse to serve God by obeying those laws. Nevertheless, that fullness of final judgment has not yet fallen; God delays that judgment to give time for the salt of the earth to penetrate into those who dwell upon that earth. For God would not have any perish (2 Peter 3:9).

In the blindness of the world, it does not realize that the ones they seek to do away with, those pesky Christians who prick their conscience by obeying the laws of God–the righteous–are the very ones for whose sake God delays his judgment (Matthew 24:22) upon them. This is the very argument which Abraham used to plead with God for mercy upon a wicked world, for he spoke with God in this manner:

“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? 25 Far be it from you to do such a thing–to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

“The LORD said, If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake'” (Gen. 18:23-26 NIV).

This is the blind stubbornness of the world, that it seeks to do away with the very ones in their midst who are the only reason for which they are still alive in this world, because God delays his judgment for the few righteous in the world. Jesus encountered this same perverse attitude which defies all reason and is self-destructive, and which caused him much sorrow of heart so that he cried out:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!” (Luke 13:34 NET).

“For this is what the master, the LORD, the Holy One of Israel says: If you repented and patiently waited for me, you would be delivered; if you calmly trusted in me you would find strength, but you are unwilling” (Isaiah 30:15 NET).

Again, the two groups of people in this world: those who willingly submit themselves to God and his laws, and those who do not but rather seek to replace his laws with their own, thinking to free themselves from the “bondage” of God’s laws.

“The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters'” (Ps. 2:2-3 NIV).

In their blindness, they do not realize that their attitude is the exact opposite of reality. For Scripture says that “they themselves are slaves of depravity–for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2Peter 2:19 NIV), and “everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34 NIV).

In reality, it is those who freely submit to obeying God’s laws who have true freedom, freedom from the power of sin, and therefore have just cause to rejoice in that freedom which obedience to God’s laws gives.

“I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches” (Ps. 119:14 NIV).

“Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps. 119:24 NIV).

“I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (Ps. 119:45 NIV).

So, to use the standard “bad news, good news” announcement, the bad news is that we who love the Lord and obey his laws must remain with the world for a while longer, as it goes through its death throes and horrible evil is let loose upon the world for its rebellion against God and his laws. But the good news is that that time period of great suffering will be brief, cut short by the great mercy of God.

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13 NIV).

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1Peter 4:12-13 NIV).

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1Peter 5:10 NIV).

“Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:8-11 NIV).

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him” (1John 3:18-22 NIV).

This, then, is our high calling in these end times, to continue living our lives in obedience to God’s good laws, as a witness to the world that unless it repents of its rebellion against this law of God, it is doomed to eternal punishment for that rebellion. This is the command we have from our Lord Jesus.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Mt. 28:19-20 KJV).

This is our commission and our encouragement as we enter into the darkness of end of this world. Praise the Lord!

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