Legalism, Licentiousness, And Freedom From Reactionary Aversion Theology

I recently posted an article on Steadfast Lutherans and my personal blog PM Notes titled, “Free The Gospel! The Gospel Does Not Lead To Licentiousness.” In this article my main point was to stress the fallacy that licentiousness is limited or reduced through diminishing or conditioning the Gospel. In other words what typically happens, at least within Modern Evangelicalism and Pietism, is that individuals trace the root cause of licentiousness back to a robust Gospel. As a result, the blame for licentiousness is placed on the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Somewhere in this line of thinking it is rationalized that if the Gospel is presented as “too free, too unconditional or that Jesus fulfills the law,” that the result will be lax morality, loose living, and lawlessness. It is believed that the freeing message of the Gospel actually produces, encourages and grants people a license to sin. Because of this rationalization the reaction is to wrongly restrict the Gospel and even avert it, so that licentiousness might be prevented or at least limited. In the previous article it was pointed out from Galatians 2:17 that if lawlessness and licentiousness exist, that these perverted freedoms can be traced back to something else other than the Gospel, namely our sinful nature. In other words, a license to sin is not issued by the Gospel, but is forged by the sinful nature that takes advantage of the Gospel.

Frankly, as I have thought about this more and more I believe that this also happens with the Law. In reaction to legalism, I believe there can become an aversion to the Law. For myself, as one who comes out of a church background embedded in extreme legalism, I have often attributed legalism to the preaching and the teaching of the Law. Somewhere in my thinking I believed that God’s moral Law actually produced and encouraged legalism. In other words, this rationale believes that the Law is responsible for bringing forth legalism. As a result individuals react against the Law, even sometimes removing the proclamation of the Law, in order to theoretically avoid the pitfalls of 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 Gospel.

Obviously, aversion to the Law and Gospel are reactionary positions. Therefore, where shall the Christian embed himself in order to not succumb to aversion theology? Peter Kurowski comments on Luther’s perspective on this subject saying,

“…he [i.e. Luther] recognized a theology of the cross that engendered attacks from all sides even though it was God’s greatest display of love. For the legalist, the cross destroys the illusion that we can do something apart from God thus rendering God less than almighty. For the person bent on lawlessness, the cross says ‘look how awful all lawlessness is that the holy Son of God must suffer so for the sin of mankind!’ With the deepest of convictions, Luther believed this message alone could bring about the needed changes in the church, in culture, and in individual lives.”[1]

Kurowski goes on to say,

“Nothing has changed. Only through a paradoxical vision from a meaty, mighty, majestic gospel can the love of the absolute paradox, Jesus Christ, keep societies from being seduced by the self-centered, self-flattering nudity of Lady Legalism and Lady Lawless; the poster prostitutes of secularism.”[2]

My friends the Theology of the Cross is where we find ourselves at rest. For it is only in the Cross that the extremes of legalism and licentiousness are disdained. For it is only in the Cross that we are freed from reactionary aversion theology.

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[1] Peter Kurowski, The Seduction of Extremes (Pleasant Word, 2007), 51.

[2] Ibid.

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