Some Christians concerned about the problem of immorality in the church say that pastors are preaching “too much Gospel.” Too much emphasis on Christ’s love and forgiveness, they say, encourages hearers to sin with impunity. Instead, pastors should preach the law in all of its fire and brimstone in order to get their listeners to behave better.
Something similar is said of church bodies that, for example, affirm homosexuality and other sexual sins. All they preach is the Gospel. So no wonder they condone all of this bad behavior.
Actually, some in these more progressive church bodies say this of themselves as a way to justify their playing fast and loose with Scriptural sexual ethics. “We don’t condemn anyone. We just preach Christ’s acceptance of everyone. We are all about the Gospel.”
But the problem with immorality in the church does not come from preaching too much Gospel. People who are sinning need more faith, which means they need more Gospel, not less. But no one can receive the Gospel without the conviction of sin. The law and gospel always must work together.
As for progressive evangelicals, liberal Lutherans, and mainline Protestants who reject Biblical sexual morality, far from preaching too much Gospel, they are not preaching the Gospel at all. Teaching people that they are not sinners, that their vices are not sins at all, that they do not need the free forgiveness offered by Christ, is the farthest thing from preaching the Gospel. And, tragically, this well-intentioned niceness prevents sinners from finding the grace they so desperately need.
In both scholarly and colloquial contexts, there has been an unfortunate tendency to blame an over-emphasis on the Gospel for progressive Lutherans’ acceptance of progressive social values such as an openness to and affirmation of LGBT clergy and same-sex marriage. This allegation could not be further from the truth. In the first place, progressives would bristle at the idea that the embrace of LGBT individuals is a matter of excessive forgiveness or grace. On the contrary, they hold that samesex orientation ought no longer be considered sinful. To forgive is (first) to condemn, so their stance is based on a particular conception of justice, not licentiousness. It is precisely their understanding of ethics that motivates their policies, not the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone.