Free The Gospel! The Gospel Does Not Lead To Licentiousness

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow… The power of sin, death and the devil has been destroyed by the cross of Jesus… God declares you perfect because of the accomplished work of Christ… There is now no condemnation for those of you who are in Christ… Because of Jesus’ righteousness God is well pleased with you… You are accepted, accepted, accepted by a Gracious God through Christ… Jesus Christ has set us free from the demands and expectations of the law…”

My soul resonates with joy when I proclaim and hear Gospel statements like the ones listed above. My heart gets fired up over the freedom that comes from the Gospel. My hands clasp together in a victorious manner over the power of the Gospel. I also find myself smiling with a subtle yet triumphant half-smile due to the conquering and fulfilling nature of the Gospel. However, over the years I have found that every time that I hear or proclaim the free message of the Gospel that a faint conditional statement is also heard in the distance. What happens is that after the fired up heart, clasping hands and half-smile, a conditional statement seems to come creeping out of the depths of my sinful flesh saying,

“yeah but, just because Jesus died for sin, it doesn’t mean that we have a license to sin. We need to be careful of having too much freedom for we do not want to end up in lawlessness land.”

I have found that as Christians we many times attribute ‘lawlessness’ or we could say ‘the license to sin belief’ to the preaching of the Gospel. Somewhere in our thinking we rationalize that if the Gospel is presented as “too free, too unconditional or that Jesus fulfills the law for us” that the result will be lax morality, loose living and lawlessness. It is as if we believe that the freeing message of the Gospel actually produces, encourages and grants people a license to sin. Because of this rationalization we find ourselves strapping, holding and attaching restrictions to the Gospel so that we might prevent or limit lawlessness. In other words, the Gospel is placed into bondage due to our rationalization and reaction to lawlessness.

In Galatians 2:17 Paul says,

“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!”

In this verse the Apostle Paul shows us that it is not a fair conclusion to link lawlessness to the freeing message of the Gospel. To put it in another way, the proper effect of the Gospel of Jesus (i.e. justification by faith alone) does not grant a license to sin nor lead us to lawlessness. The Gospel is not and cannot be held responsible for lawlessness. For if lawlessness did come about by the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, then that would make Jesus Christ a promoter, supporter and distributor of sin and rebellion! In other words, Paul is declaring, “God Forbid this rationalization!”

So, what does this mean for us as people of the Cross? It means that there is Freedom for the Gospel! We do not have to hold, restrict and condition the Gospel of Jesus. We get to preach the full freeing message of the Gospel without having to fear that by doing so we are bringing about lawlessness. We get to teach and live the full freeing message of the Gospel without having to worry about issuing a sin license to others. Furthermore, we can also know by Galatians 2:17 that if lawlessness and a license to sin exist, that these perverted freedoms can be traced back to something else other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, namely our sinful nature. May our souls resonate today with Paul’s words from Galatians 5:1,

“Christ has set us free! This means we are really free. Now hold on to your freedom and don’t ever become slaves of the Law again.”

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

Free The Gospel! The Gospel Does Not Lead To Licentiousness — 21 Comments

  1. From the main post: “We get to teach and live the full freeing message of the Gospel without having to worry about issuing a sin license to others.”

    From Scripture: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

  2. St. Paul contradicts some of the assertions you make in your article.

    St. Paul says this is precisely what some were doing when they heard the Gospel.

    “Let us sin more, so grace may abound.”

    You probably need to rework this article.

    A friend recently pointed me to an assertion made by a person who claims that the best way for a preacher to really impress on people the nature of the Gospel as total grace and complete gift is by telling them something like this:

    Even if, and especially if, you not only don’t get better but even
    grow worse, you will get to go to heaven for Christ’s sake.

    I wonder what Bible people are reading that might lead them to make such false comments like this. Jesus Christ said to the woman whom he had forgiven, “Go, and sin no more.” And Saint Paul asks, “What then shall we say? Shall we sin more so grace may abound? May it never be!”

    Combatting the error of pop-theology in American protestantism is not served by falling into errors like this. It is disturbing to see people who, sadly, hardly know what they are talking about, saying such absurd things like this. Tragic. It’s no wonder we have some who claim the name Lutheran running about assuming they can behave like swine and still claim to be Christian. And what a fearful thing to but consider that those who live in accord with this false theology will enter an eternity of unending punishment in hell. Woe to the faithless shepherds who would lead Christ’s sheep astray with such false teaching.

  3. From personal knowledge, when the whole of Pr Richard’s preaching is considered, he does not end up promoting licentiousness. Just the opposite.

    One example. He has come under criticism by a false accusation that he is not teaching abstinence to the young. It takes time to convey, from the Small Catechism, from Luther, from the Law, that God requires chastity. Chastity is much bigger than abstinence. It includes abstinence, and much more. By comparison to chastity, abstinence is a poor and lazy substitute that is misused as a badge of holiness through self-effort. Abstinence, not as it should be, not as a part of chastity, but as we have it in the American church, is not a fruit of Gospel freedom, but a slavish failure of the mirage of self-righteousness.

    I see the article’s promotion of the freedom of the Gospel not as leading to license, but as speaking to the problem of power to live a sanctified life. Slaves have no power. We were slaves to the Devil, the world, our sinful selves, and even to the spiritual and righteous Law because the Law by the flesh is weak. That slavery has power only for sin and only for license. The sinner needs deliverance from bondage to live a free life of holiness. When the Gospel is preached so that it does not deliver slaves into freedom, it gives too little power to make a Third Use of the Law.

    Pr Richard is not at all saying that it does not matter how we live because we are so saved we can treat our neighbors like hell. He is saying we cannot treat our neighbors with the love that the Law requires without the freedom of the Gospel being really free and really full. Love has no root in bondage, and therefore there can be no fruit of love in bondage.

    In other words, he is trying to remove heretical conditions on justification, regeneration, and conversion. Self righteousness is so slithery that its promotion of the Law’s demands always tries to slide the demands of the Law back from its Third Use and back from sanctification into justification, so that justifcation itself is once more conditional and bound. Pr Richard has seen that slithery slide, and its impotence for holiness. It is that slithery slide that leads to license. It is not the freedom of the Gospel that leads to license.

    Pr Richard is for living a holy life pleasing to God, and that is one reason why he is for the freedom of the Gospel. Without freedom, holiness is extirpated.

  4. I sense that Pr. Richard has been overly influenced by those who are discomforted with paranesis in Christian preaching. I would urge him to spend more time with Luther and other orthodox Lutheran fathers from the 16 and 17th century and less time with White Horse Inn folks. And, by the way, this is not about his personal piety or behavior. It is a critique of some gaps in a number of his assertions made here.

  5. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #5

    All articles that hold to their topics will have gaps, because topics are finite. The extent to which any article is subject to fair criticism for having gaps depends on whether the gaps are material to the topic, or result merely from the fact that no article can cover all topics.

    The topic of this articles is: What shall we make of people’s accusation that the freedom of the Gospel is to blame for licentiousness? Is it to blame or not?

    People do make that accusation. The accusation is the occasion of an answer.

    Do the gaps in this article consititue an error in the answer, so that Pr Richard and all of us should say, yes, the freedom of the Gospel is to blame for licentiousness? Are the gaps material to the topic, or do the gaps exist mainly because the article holds to its topic.

  6. Indeed the Gospel does not lead to licentiousness. Sin does. There is nothing wrong with preaching the Gospel without condition.

    The problem is, good Gospel preaching by its very nature leaves open the possibility for a hard-hearted person to respond saying, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” We respond to such hardness of heart pastorally with a resounding “by no means,” yet we dare not blame the hard heart on the Gospel. This is Pr. Richard’s point.

    Can we fully expound on doctrine, covering all our bases in every sermon so as to avoid any possibility for a misunderstanding or wrong conclusion? Yes, I suppose. But then sermons start to sound not like preaching, but like doctrinal diatribes, and both the Law and the Gospel start to lose their teeth. I’d rather preach hard law and hard Gospel, rightly divided, and then pastorally deal with the pesky sinful reactions that might arise afterward.

    A wise seminary professor recently commented that if a pastor’s people are not responding to his preaching with a sanctified life, it’s quite possible the problem is not in weak preaching of the Law, but rather in weak preaching of the Gospel.

  7. The article is excellent. Paul, you need to read less of your own assumptions into other people’s writings. Pastor Richard’s thesis is that we can not correctly combat licentiousness by limiting the Gospel. He is correct in that. We combat licentiousness by proper application of the 2nd use of the Law and the Gospel, not by limitation of the Gospel. Anything you read beyond that is an assumption on your part.

  8. The Holy Ghost uses the Word and Sacraments to give us faith in Jesus, forgiveness, and life. In this we have freedom from sin, death and the devil. In other words in Jesus we are free to live eternally, to do good, and to resist the devil. These things do not exist apart from Him.

    Sin is the absence of faith. It is unbelief. It has no part in Jesus or his Gospel. Sin is our old man’s rejection of Christ and his Gospel which requires constant repentance and drowning in the waters of Holy Baptism. The preaching of the law is very important because it shows us our sin and drives us to despair so that the Holy Spirit can point us to Jesus, the answer to sin, despair, death and the devil. The law does not create faith in Jesus, but it prepares us for the hearing of the Gospel. It grants us no forgiveness and does not give us freedom to do good.

    The devil, the world and our flesh give us “freedom” to be separated from Christ. This freedom is about being a slave to sin, death and the devil. It makes us free to sin, to be in league with the devil, and to die.

    Christian freedom is being in the body of Christ. It is about belonging to or being a slave of Jesus. It is the freedom to be part of Christ and do his deeds. It is freedom from the demands of the law, because Jesus has already fulfilled the law. It is freedom from death because Jesus has overcome death and gives us new life in the waters of Holy Baptism. It is freedom from the devil because Jesus has defeated Satan on the Cross and gives us his own body in the Lord’s Supper.

  9. Hey All,

    The main point of the article was to stress the fallacy that Licentiousness is limited or diminished through the limiting or diminishing (i.e. conditioning) of the Gospel.

    Yes, this does occur and it is very prevalent within Modern Evangelicalism and Pietism. In reaction to Licentiousness, what commonly happens in these churches is that the perverted freedom is traced back to the Gospel rather than the sinful nature. As a result, the blame for licentiousness is placed on the preaching and teaching of the Gospel rather than the sinful nature that perverts the Gospel.

    The amazing thing is that this also happens with the Law. In reaction to Legalism, there can become an aversion to the Law, as if the Law brings about Legalism.

    Both the aversion to the Gospel in reaction to Licentiousness and the aversion to the Law in reaction to Legalism have a fundamental and common flaw…. they both blame the Law and the Gospel for the error of Licentiousness and Legalism, when in reality the problem is with the sinful nature perverting and abusing the Law and the Gospel.

    Just as the Gospel does not promote or produce Licentiousness, the Law does not promote or produce Legalism. The sinful nature is what is at fault. This is precisely the point that I was hoping to make in the post above.

  10. Matt, several times now you have posted something, received criticism, and then had to spend several paragraphs trying to explain what you meant, or intended, or hoped to have communicated.

    You might want to let something you’ve written sit a few days on your computer and take a look at it carefully, asking yourself, what could be misunderstood? What could be said with more clarity or greater and keener definition?

    Your words of explanation were frankly, considerably better, than what you put in your initial comments.

    FWIW.

  11. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #11

    Thanks for the feedback Paul. I appreciate it.

    Question: Could some of the confusion and lack of clarity be due to the fact that the articles that I post on BJS were originally written for the context and readership of my personal blog, PM Notes? In other words, I typically write for the ears of and the intent of: evangelizing Moral Therapeutic Deists, comforting Post-Evangelicals and strengthening Monergists in the Lutheran Confessions.

  12. Dear Brother Matt,

    I pray that all is well in Montana!

    This freedom of the Christian stuff is complicated to mash into one blog article. That’s why someone should write a book about it. Maybe someone has like that Luther character…

    I think the reason you have people quibbling and praising your article is because you are (purposely) only dealing with Luther’s first statement on Christian freedom: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.”

    The second statement that is held in tension, ” A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all,” rounds out the other side of his argument.

    Maybe this article just begs to be part I of II instead of standing alone. Things that are rightly held in tension are easy roads to problems when they stand alone. Regardless, thanks for the thought provoking writing and let me know when you’re back in St. Louis.

  13. Matt, regardless of whom you think your readers are, it your obligation as a writer to be clear and not allow there to be so many gaps in your expressions. I’m not sure your articles for that laundry list of buzz words are any more helpful for them, if you are leaving out significant doctrinal points.

  14. It is popular now to talk about not becoming a legalist or a libertine. Lutherans should be clear that when we do this, we are no longer talking about anything Christian or Theology.

    We are talking about Aristotle and the Golden Mean. He says that virtue is that which is free of deficiency or excess. This IS a righeousness that God demands of all. Both Christians and fake christians need no Holy Spirit or Christ to practice the self-virtues of sexual self restraint, self discipline, self-sufficiency, self-effacing, self (fill in the virtuous blank). I repeat: No Holy Spirit or Christ are needed for these.

    There is ONE self virtue, that ALL true christians can and must have in order to make their calling and election sure. Fake Christians also can possess it with no HS and Christ required.

    This is to show up in Church. This is to not despise preaching and the Word.

    For it is the Word Alone that can keep one from being a pharisee or despairing Judas. See FC art II, free will. This is the ONLY thing a Christian is able to do , of his own power, that contributes to his salvation!

    The Confessions say that the Law, without Christ, will always end up producing a Pharisee or a Despairing Judas. These are the twin categories we should be focussing on. And often that one who appears to be a libertine is one who has surrendered to despair. Nothing to lose!

    And what about those two categories libertine or legalist? This is a false choice. It is one that has us focussing on what WE do that is simply and only Aristotle, rather than focus on the one thing that IS in our power to do that makes a real difference. It is to be Martha rather than Mary. And what does Jesus say is the ONE thing needful?

    Do not despise preaching and the Word.

  15. @Rev. Mathew Andersen #8
    The article is excellent. Paul, you need to read less of your own assumptions into other people’s writings.

    “Worth repeating” 🙂

    Pastor Richard,
    Thank you for the elaboration, but I also understood you the first time!
    [It is possible to let the “editorial profession” carry one away.]
    There may be more than one way to say a thing! 🙂

  16. The Rev. Dr. David P. Scaer teaches that “all theology is Christology,” but I’m starting to wonder if all theology is paranesis — and all pastors but one have an aversion to sanctification…

    🙂

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