Is Your Gospel Threatened By Immorality?

Does immorality pose a threat to the Gospel? In other words, do the sins of life, the depravity of man and the ugliness of this world threaten the Gospel you hold to? If the Gospel is threatened by the shadiness of life then we do need to be careful of the danger of sin and the immorality of the world. We better limit the Gospel’s exposure to sin and immorality! Let’s build morality fences and hold down the fort! However, is the Gospel that easily threatened? Do we need to keep the Gospel away from sin so as to protect the integrity of the Gospel?

Throughout the New Testament Epistles we see Paul constantly warning the church to guard the truth of the Gospel, to protect the Gospel from false teaching. But do we see Paul warning the church to keep the Gospel locked up and away from sinners?

The reality is that churches, who are stuck in legalism, will many times believe that the Gospel is threatened not because of false theology from within and around the church but rather threatened by the bad morals of bad people out there. The difficult reality for the legalistic church is that their view of the legalistic Gospel actually is threatened by immortality.

Now, this may sound harsh so let me explain. When we view the Gospel in legalistic terms, the Gospel turns from being the good news of God’s atonement to God’s good advice for righteous living. When the Gospel is shifted from the good news of what Jesus has done to good advice that we need to do, the Gospel is diminished, weakened and simply becomes vulnerable.

Seriously, think about this for a moment. How can the depravity of man and immoral actions of mankind possibly threaten what God has done in the person of Christ? No action of man in the past, present or future is capable of taking Jesus off the cross or keeping him in the tomb. Christ died. Christ rose. The gates of Hades will not overcome the person and work of Jesus! The Gospel is firmly framed in the time and space of history, it is also framed in God’s omnipotent sovereignty. However, what if we see the Gospel as good advice for us to live a better life now? Well, the Gospel is reduced and frankly diminished to the dimension of mankind’s actions. Thus, this watered down Gospel of moralism, which is no Gospel at all, is susceptible to the ills of immorality. If the Gospel is viewed as good moral advice for good moral living then bad advice for bad moral living is actually a threat and it needs to be kept at a distance. This warped view of the Gospel thus pushes sinners away, confuses Law & Gospel, builds walls of safety and makes the church into a bubble of steal.

The view of the Gospel as an atoning sacrifice for sinners, a view of seeing the Gospel as external good news for sinners, has the opposite effect. Christ embraced the ragamuffins of his day to grant forgiveness. They even labeled him and called him a drunk, a friend of sinners. Christ even said that he came not for the healthy but for the sick, the sinner. This view of the Gospel, as good news for sinners, breaks down walls, seeks the sinner, absolves sin, chases the lost coin, seeks the lost sheep and runs out to the prodigal. This view of the Gospel knows that the gates of Hades cannot overcome it. It is not threatened by the mere foolish acts of immoral people. Frankly, this second view of the Gospel doesn’t shy away from sin but rather absolves and forgives it.

Two different views of the Gospel. One threatened and the other absolving sin!

About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.

Comments

Is Your Gospel Threatened By Immorality? — 19 Comments

  1. Interesting and thought provoking.

    Mankind often waters down the Gospel to something less than “the power of God’s omnipotent sovereignty.”

  2. With respect, I would like to remind us that there are sins that drive out the Holy Spirit. Man’s actions can deprive him of salvation.

    I appreciate what you are saying, but I think you may want to rework the article to avoid creating the impression, “once saved, always saved.”

    Here is a helpful paragraph from the Smalcald Articles:

    “43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, … and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. ”

    Smalcald Articles, Part III; Article III

  3. Nothing can threaten the Gospel. The Gospel simply is.

    However… as Rev. McCain points out, sin can threaten the faith of believers. It is true that faith is a gift of God given through Word and Sacrament. But let us remember that we are not Calvinists. If we have faith, it’s entirely God’s doing, but if we reject faith, it is entirely our own doing.

    We are often tempted to reject our faith by the appeal of certain sins. If, for example, a Christian really enjoys premarital sex, he is going to be strongly tempted to believe in a God who does not condemn premarital sex. If it is not struggled against, this temptation will, in turn, lead to either heresy or apostasy. And so, churches would be well-advised to be wary of the bad morals of bad people “out there.” After all, humans are social beings–we are designed to be susceptible to peer pressure. Perhaps such discretion is not actually synonymous with legalism.

  4. Great post and great comments. People can “crucify Christ again on their own account,” “like a dog returning to it’s own vomit.” We are all just as powerless to keep ourselves alive in Christ as we were to make ourselves alive in Christ to start with. We weren’t made alive to now live in fear of a thousand different deaths. No synchronism and no perseverance of the Saints – only life eternally and unquestionably in Christ given to us by grace through faith. We have nothing that we weren’t given so no man can boast. We are dead to the law of sin and death, all things are now lawfull for us who are under Christ Jesus. But why use such freedom and such a great and costly gift to only practice more things for which we are ashamed? Immorality doesn’t threaten Christ or His gospel – He conquered sin and death. Immorality does tempt us to commit apostasy and repentance is a gift not to be taken for granted. So avoid all immorality for our own good and for the good of our brothers who see what we do. Most of all avoid immorality in love and thanksgiving for what Jesus Christ has done for us.

  5. Wonderful conversation my friends. While I agree that immorality does threaten the Christian, this is not main thrust of this article. The question that I pose is this: does immorality threaten the extra nos Gospel? No, immorality does not threaten the extra nos Gospel. However, when the Gospel is manipulated and perverted into Good Advice, which is no Gospel at all, yes this manipulated Gospel is then threatened… as it should be.

    I regret if this article communicates “once saved, always saved.” My intent was not to focus on whether or not the Christian is threatened, but whether or not the Gospel is threatened.

    Hope that clarification helps!

    PAX

  6. @Pastor Matt Richard #6
    “However, when the Gospel is manipulated and perverted into Good Advice, which is no Gospel at all, yes this manipulated Gospel is then threatened… as it should be.”

    Reminds me of Tim Tebow’s “sermon” from Father’s Day: Gospel=Good Fatherly Advice.

  7. @Pastor Matt Richard #6

    Great article – sorry for side tracking.

    I think the arguement could be made that immorality actually helps the gospel. Because of the depravity of humanity, because of the hopelessness of existence apart from Christ – the gospel shines out the brighter and brings hope and life to those who are perishing and would otherwise have nothing but despair.

    Propping up my pride with some false front of being able to keep the law, or the delusion of post-modernism – that truth is what I make of it – that is much more of a threat to the Gospel. That is because these things tempt me to believe that I don’t need Christ crucified, but rather I need to focus more inwardly and cooperate more thoroughly with Christ infused in me. That’s not the gospel – that is a theology of glory in myself.

  8. “immorality actually helps the Gopsel”

    Brothers, while I appreciate the intention of the original post and the comments, I feel you are treading on very dangerous ground with statements are very much prone to misunderstanding.

    The proper distinction between Law and Gospel helps us through these things.

    Immorality does not “help” the Gospel.

    I fear we are dangerously close in this discussion to breaching St. Paul’s rhetorical question, “What then shall we say? Shall we say, ‘Sin more so grace will abound!’ ”

    Please let us be extremely careful.

  9. My first thoughts on this was the 2nd Commandment and First Petition of Lord’s Prayer.

    That the issue is not outside of the church but inside the church. Sin out side of the church has effect on the world and is a picture of the world in all it depravity.

    While sin inside of the church “profanes the name of God among us.” Thus immorality in the church is more destructive then sin outside of the church.

    Thus the importance of teaching law and Gospel in the church and the living a Christian life of vocation.

    Just some random thoughts on the issue.

  10. @Wondering One #9

    “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more strongly, who triumphed over sin, death, and the world; as long as we live here, we must sin.”’

    “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”

    “Listen! When you have come to the point where you are hungering and thirsting for the grace of God, you have the contrition which you need. God does not require contrition as a means by which you are to atone for your sins, but only to the end that you may be roused from your security and ask, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ “

  11. Sure – the first one is from Martin Luther in a letter to Melanchthon, the second is the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:9, and the third is CFW Walther, PDBL&G 12th Thesis.

    My intention in posting these is not to encourage antinomianism or immoral practice. As was pointed out in post #9, the Word is extremely clear that Christians are not to engage in licentiousness. However, the law produces contrition and condemnation as a result of our own immorality. Contrition precedes faith and is a result of recognizing immorality in ourselves. Stubborn pride and rejection of God’s law leads people to excuse their own immorality and reduce or discredit the law. Acceptance and addmittance of our own immorality leads to the stark realization that we are a poor miserable sinner and justly deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. At which point we then ask “What must I do to be saved?” Which the answer is the gospel – to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized.

    Without first being immoral there is no reason for contrition. The second use of the law is to expose our immorality and drive us to the gospel of Christ.

  12. When self-righteousness is thrown out the front door and down the steps, it picks it self up and tries to re-enter the house any way it can. Often it is allowed to march straight back in through the door from which it was just thrown out. But if that does not work, it will sneak in through the back door, or slither in through the chimney, the coal chute, the dryer exhaust duct, the garden hose faucet, or any other opening it can find. Any opening at all will do to corrupt the Gospel of grace with self-righteousness. I think this is what Pr Richard is making a start at protecting against with this article.

    Two common forms of the self-righteous slither are: repentance as a work of man under the law by which man prepares himself for the grace of the gospel (in name, Semi Pelegianism); and sanctification is a work of the regenerate man by which the validity of his regeneration is established (in name, Infused Grace). What I see Pr Richard doing is defending the purity of grace in repentance and defending the Word, Sacrament, Holy Spirit, and grace as the powers of sanctification. What this does is put our focus on Christ and his works as the validators of the message of the proclaimed Gospel, rather than on our righteousness as the validators. He has translated the language by which these chronic issues are discussed by theologians into the pastoral setting using the language of the people, the vernacular of this moment and place, and that translation could be a source of some disagreements expressed here. If we can agree on the theological propositions that safeguard or constitute the truth of the Gospel, and if we agree that a translation of those propositions from theological language to the vernacular should be done pastorally, then we can work together on improving the translation. Or we could debate whether any use of the vernacular should be made pastorally.

    Do we agree that repentance is a grace under the Gospel and not a work under the law?

    Do we agree that, though regenerate man has a new nature that possesses some power, sanctification is still a grace of God worked by the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament?

    Bear in mind, many, many, many parishoners believe neither of those propositions, and are functioning Romanist, not merely Pietists. Pastorally, what are we going to do about that?

  13. Pastor Matt,
    Your article did not communicate “once saved, always saved” except in the minds of people who wanted to find it there. Very well done!

    I would like to see you write an article that tackles another problem of our churches: exterior peer pressure and its effect on the church and its willingness to communicate the real gospel.
    Today we see many, many, LCMS Lutherans parroting the politically correct views of important issues that they have been taught outside of the church. A few that I have heard: Christianity works for me but Islam might work for someone else; I don’t agree with abortion, but it is a woman’s right to decide; we should not deny gay people the joy of marriage; the Bible writers were often victims of their primitive, uninformed times; if someone is teminal and wants to die, he should be allowed to do so in dignity; we shouldn’t talk about Jesus if it might offend someone.

    These are a few. I think that you could do a great job of presenting some thoughts on what I call the “elephant in the room”, of which so many of our brethren seem unaware.
    Quoting the Smalcald Articles and discussing the ins and outs of proper understanding of grace, gospel, sanctification, and sacrament are, of course, something that is important–but what about the dangers of the false beliefs to which many church members are falling victim, but know better than to express in the church?

    Our pastors speak the truth, but our members are under fire from the world as never before. Hope to read your thoughts on this sometime.

  14. There are all kinds of tricks in Satan’s bag. Immorality, an antinomian attitude, false doctrine, an unloving and unforgiving attitude, and just plain sloth can be a path to a Christian losing their faith and salvation. No matter Paul warns us to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” Remember also Jesus words that before we start picking specks out of our neighbors eyes, we need to look and make sure that there are no planks in our own.

  15. what about defending sin or reformed hymns or disrespect for the Word of Truth as God intends or various and sundry sins pertaining to truth and application? a little leaven and tolerance w/o rebuke or correction ? are these not immoral?

  16. [When we go to the Supper] we …remember and proclaim His death and the shedding of His blood. [We] should we remember and proclaim His death … so we may learn to be horrified by our sins, and to regard them as very serious. (small catechism)

    and this:

    what more forcible, more terrible declaration and preaching of God’s wrath against sin is there than just the suffering and death of Christ, His Son? the preaching of the suffering and death of Christ, the Son of God, is an earnest and terrible proclamation and declaration of God’s wrath, whereby men are first led into the Law aright, after the veil of Moses has been removed from them, so that they first know aright how great things God in His Law requires of us, none of which we can observe. (FC Law and Gospel)

    And finally this Lutheran description of what the Christian life is supposed to look like:

    the faith of which we speak exists in repentance, i.e., it is conceived in the terrors of conscience, which feels the wrath of God against our sins,and seeks the remission of sins, and to be freed from sin. And in such terrors and other afflictions this faith ought to grow and be strengthened. (Apology III)

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