William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, he is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. Tullian was the founding pastor of the former New City Church which merged with Coral Ridge in April of 2009. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian is the author of The Kingdom of God: A Primer on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth), Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship (Multnomah),Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah), Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (Crossway) and Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway).
It wasn’t until I went to bed last night that I went onto the T4A website and saw that I had an assigned topic, Surprised by Adoption. I’m going to be talking about a thick topic, the Law and the Gospel. And I’ll explain what that means and why that’s important. Let me read through Romans 7:7-8:4
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Ethical behaviorism defines your righteousness by what you do or do not do. In this version of righteousness, it’s purely about your behavior… and my concern is that the church has absorbed this view of righteousness so that what we do, the causes that we champion, determines our standing before God. But the problem is that Jesus absolutely smashes that in the Sermon on the Mount. And most of us whether we know it or not would buy into this view of righteousness in some way.
In our modern world, we are activists by nature. Godliness is often defined by the things we do. The actions we take or do not take. But Jesus breaks through all this and absolutely insists that righteousness is not simply something we do, but something that’s inside us. Righteousness is defined not by what we do, but why we do it.
I pastor a large church and I look at the people in the pew and I realize that most people think that this [sitting in church] is what the Christian life is all about. If I was pumping gas and asked another guy what Christianity is all about, they’re going to come up with either some social issue (being against abortion, etc), or about this external righteousness. Very rarely will you hear anyone define it the way Jesus does—that it’s about the motivation of the heart. And what Jesus says is that an action can be destroyed by the motivation of the heart.
Most Christians think that God only cares that we obey not why we obey. God isn’t combined with any kind of obedience, but a specific kind of obedience. Best OT example is Cain and Abel. . . . Abel came as a cheerful giver and Cain came as a begrudging giver. The best NT example is the Pharisees. If God only wanted external obedience, he would have praised them at every opportunity. They would have been the poster children for righteousness. God is not concerned with simply any kind of obedience, but a specific kind of obedience. And that’s why we have to be able to discern between God’s two words—the Law and the Gospel.
Luther said that the whole Bible is divided into two things: Commands and Promises. Law and Gospel. . . .
What the Law Does and What the Gospel Does. Both are good and we need both.
The Law is good. It’s a perfect reflection of God’s perfect character. In fact, in v. 7-14, it was God’s perfect law that helped him see his sin. The problem is not God’s law, the problem is us. God’s law is not to blame, the sin in us is to blame. And what Paul says is that the Law killed him. In v. 15-23 he goes on to describe this ongoing internal struggle to obey what God wants him to do. The Law has caused this battle to be going on within him, and Paul is lamenting . . . this internal struggle, this war that’s taking place that’s wearing him out. And what he’s saying here is that he gets it, that he’s completely incapable of obeying it.
There’s a common misunderstanding in the church today that is that the Law can’t save us, but it can grow us. The gospel justifies us and then sends us back to the Law to sanctify us. So the Law doesn’t justify, but it can grow us. But Paul’s saying, no it can’t.
As a new Christian, I’d never read Romans before and I was reading this book going, I don’t get this… then I came to Romans 7 and said “I get this!” This was me. Paul was speaking about the average Christian life. In v. 7-8 he says that the mind set on the flesh . . . cannot do God’s will. And what he’s saying here is that the Law cannot grow me. It’s wrecking me. It’s killing me. Every day the law shows up and crushes me.
The Law has the power to reveal sin, but does not have the power to remove sin. It shows me what godliness looks like but cannot make me godly. . . . In other words, the Law reveals the heart, but cannot change the heart. And so he concludes in v. 24, “O wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death!”
This is not Charles Manson—it’s PAUL. We’re not talking about a spiritual slouch here.
You will never discover the radicality of God’s grace until you can say, with Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death!”
It’s silly that we have to put the word ‘radical’ before Grace, as if there’s some other kind.
There’s a lot of suspicion about grace within the church—and the biggest lie that Satan wants us to buy into is that grace is something we need to keep in check. We buy into this lie and some people think, “Too much grace makes for bad fruit.”
That’s what so many of us think inside the church.
After wrestling with his own inability to keep God’s commands, Paul finds hope in the one who can on his behalf. The Law brings us to the end of ourselves and find rescue in the gospel. The more you look in yourself, the less peace you’ll find, the more you look out [to the gospel], the more peace you’ll find.
There are a lot of people in the church who don’t believe what I just said. They might say they believe that they’re justified by faith . . . but there’s this weird thing that happens where they think that it’s grace that brings me in, but my performance that keeps me in.
I asked my staff once, who’s more legalistic, Bob Jones or Joel Osteen?
The answer is both are equally legalistic. They are both saying, do more, try harder. One does it with a stick, the other with a carrot.
God does not relate to you based on your feats for Jesus. He relates to you based on Jesus’ feats for YOU. The good news is good news precisely because it’s not based on our performance but Christ’s deeds, performance.
To say the Law has no power to change us does not reduce the role it plays in our lives—antinomianism says that the Law has no role in our lives. That’s heresy. The Law is a divinely sent Hercules to kill the monster of self-righteousness.
The Law constantly reminds us of our need for the gospel—but if we take away the fear and the guilt that the Law produces, what incentive do we have to be good? And when we realize that we don’t have incentive, then we begin to say, “Grace, but…”
There’s nothing more unbalanced than grace—it’s the most radically undomesticated power in the entire universe!
Taking away the fear, makes it easier for us to obey. We like to think “good things happen to good people,” then the gospel comes in and says, “good things happen to bad people.” The idea that unconditional mercy, unconditional grace is going to steal our motivation for obedience is a farce. The compulsion to do good only comes from this undomesticated declaration that everything has already been done!
So the question for every question is, “What are you going to do now that everything has already been done?”
Let me just conclude with this:
I’m realizing that I am unbearably narcissistic. The sin I need to be removed daily is my narcissistic view of spiritual progress—how I’m doing, where I’m growing… When all you do is wander around the innards, you don’t find hope, only despair. The more I focus on my need to get better, the worse I get. I become neurotic, I become self-absorbed. I spend more time thinking about me than about Jesus. It’s always a good reminder to me of Jesus walking on water, who bids Peter to walk out to him and with his eyes fixed on Jesus walks on water. And it’s when he starts examining his performance that he starts to sink. Obsess over what you need to do, and you’ll become a narcissist. Obsess over what Jesus has done and you’re obedience will become more and more natural. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve. Death to self. Sanctification is forgetting about yourself. And that is the only thing that can properly motivate us to press on and strain forward.
The Law can’t do it. But Faith and Grace does. And as you fix your eyes there, your obedience will become more and more spontaneous, more and more natural. A Jesus-obsessed person understands the nature of God’s Law, the nature of God’s gospel, the need for both and how to balance the pendulum swing.