Would It Be Better To Not Preach Faith In Order To Limit And Reduce Licentiousness?

So, what are we to do if, "the good news of freely given divine grace is met with an attitude of licentious, law-disavowing, anarchism or antinominism?"[1]  Many are afraid of this scenario, and reasonably so.  

The sixteenth-century humanist, Erasmus, also had the same fear of a freely given divine grace being abused and producing licentiousness.

Responding to Erasmus, Martin Luther said, 

"As to your fear that many who are inclined to wickedness will abuse this freedom, this should be reckoned as...part of that temporal leprosy which has to be endured and that evil which has to be borne. Such people should not be considered so important that in order to prevent their abusing it the Word of God must be taken away."[2]
There has always been a desire to want to limit the preaching of faith in order to limit licentiousness.  Driven by the fear of antinominism, there is a temptation to, "not take the risk of preaching freedom, but soften the promise that faith makes one free." [3]  In this regard, Thomas Oden in his book Classical Pastoral Care asks the following question, "Which is worse--to preach faith that turns to license, or to fail altogether to preach faith?"[4]  In other words, would it be better to not preach faith in Christ in order to limit and reduce licentiousness or would it be better to preach faith and then live with licentiousness?  Which option would be better?

Martin Luther comments on this saying, 

"If you preach faith, people become lax, want to do no good, serve and help no one.  But if you do not preach faith, hearts become frightened and dejected and establish one idolatrous practice after another.  Do as you please; nothing seems to help.  Yet faith in Christ should and must be preached, no matter what happens.  I would much rather hear people say of me that I preach too sweetly and that my sermon hinders people in doing good works (although it does not do so) than not preach faith in Christ at all; for then there would be no help for timid, frightened consciences . . . We shall have to let it happen that some of our people turn the message into an occasion for security and presumption; but others, the work-righteous, slander us on this account and say that we make people lazy and thus keep them from reaching perfection.  Christ Himself had to hear that He was a friend of publicans and sinners (Luke 15:2), that He broke the Sabbath, etc. We shall not fare any better."[5]
Now keep in mind that the Gospel certainly 'does' grant freedom.  It grants us freedom from guilt, sin, death and self-righteousness.  The Gospel grants us freedom from God's wrath, the curse of the Law and damnation.  The Gospel frees us from a position of slavish fear to child-like love with God.  The Gospel grants us freedom so that we can serve our neighbor and it grants us freedom to walk in good works that were prepared in advance for us. But it does 'not' grant us freedom to sin and serve our sinful nature.  To assume that the Gospel frees us to sin and that the Gospel frees us to unrighteousness is simply preposterous!

So, what shall it be?  Limit the Gospel and reduce licentiousness or preach faith and live with licentiousness?  From Luther's two quotes above we can ask ourselves the following question. "Shall we toss out the idea of freedom in the Gospel at the expense of some who will abuse it?"  In other words, shall we diminish the message of freedom from: guilt; sin; death; self-righteousness; wrath; damnation; the curse of the Law; and so forth because some people will take this to mean that we have freedom to sin?  May it never be!  Shall we stop preaching and teaching to the church about the freedom from: guilt; sin; death; self-righteousness; wrath; damnation; the curse of the Law; and so forth in order to supposedly prevent someone's sinful nature from perverting this freedom for their own sinful endeavor?  May we never soften the Gospel!  The faith in Christ alone shall not and cannot be diminished because of the actions and abuse of a libertine.  In other words, these grace-abusers should not be considered so important that we should prevent the Word of God from being properly taught to the whole assembly!

My friends, we proclaim and teach God's Word, both Law and Gospel.  In paraphrasing Harold Buls, "Preach the Law as if there were no Gospel.  And then when your hearers have been killed by the Law, preach the Gospel as if there were no Law."  Pastors, preach the freely given divine grace of God in Christ without compromise and without softening it, regretfully knowing that some of your people will turn the message into an occasion for licentiousness while others will slander you saying that you make people lazy and thus keep them from reaching perfection.  Preach the freely given divine grace without compromise despite the objections, for this message is the power of God and many will thankfully receive it unto salvation and blessed assurance in Christ.  May we pastors find ourselves with Luther being accused of preaching a message too sweetly rather than 
not preaching faith in Christ at all.

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[1] Thomas Oden, Classical Pastoral Care: Volume Two-Ministry Through Word and Sacrament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 52.
[2] Martin Luther. (WA 37, p. 394f; WLS 3, #3603, pp. 1128-1129)
[3] Oden, 52.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (1525), in LW 33:54-55