Do you ever feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in terms of your relationship with Christ? You’re trying, trying, trying to “go deeper,” to serve well, to do all the things that we’re supposed to do as Christians—and you’re just stuck? Why does this happen to us? Why do we feel this constant need to do-do-do, as if we’re trying to impress someone?
Is it because we are?
Tullian Tchividjian wrestled with this question when he was named the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presybterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, taking over for the late Dr. James Kennedy, the only pastor the church had ever known prior to his death. And the results of his wrestling are at the heart of his latest book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
Coral Ridge merged with New City, a plant started by Tchividjian a few years prior, and not too long after the transition was made, a small and very vocal group within the congregation began to make it’s displeasure known. “Blogs were posted, notes and letters were circulated—some anonymously—with false accusations about me,” he explains.
Just three months after I arrived, a vigorous petition drive was started to get me removed, and it gained steam. Some people began lamenting the huge mistake they’d made in agreeing to the merger, and they grumbled that the whole thing had turned into a “hostile takeover.” Their tone was frequently heated and vicious. Battle lines were drawn, rumors raced, and the spirits of those who supported me sagged. There was a crescendo of misunderstandings, frustration, and pain.
The temptation to escape was powerful and he admits that he even began having other opportunities around the country presented to him. As his vacation rolled around, he began angrily pleading with God to give him his old life back, the stress and pain was more than he could bear. And while reading the book of Colossians, he felt God give him his answer: “It’s not your old life you want back; it’s your old idols you want back, and I love you too much to give them back to you.”
I was learning the hard way that the gospel alone can free us from our addiction to being liked—that Jesus measured up for us so that we wouldn’t have to live under the enslaving pressure of measuring up for others.
Truly this idol, the desire for affirmation from others, is one that needs to be put to death. It kills our ability to enjoy God. To marvel at the grace given to us and not have to “do” anything to keep it. The grace that Tchividjian describes is scandalous because it desires to kill our attempts not to earn our initial standing with God, but to keep it under our own steam.
Grace wants to kill legalism.
The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is the one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism. . . . Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game.
This is not something we like to hear, in part because we struggle to understand the relationship between our justification (that is, our right standing before God) and our sanctification (the process by which we are made ever-increasingly more like Jesus day by day). We understand grace’s necessity to the former, but sometimes miss out on its centrality to the latter. And this is the snare for legalism, for performancism, as Tchividjian calls it. “Many sermons today provide nothing more than a ‘to do’ list, strengthening our bondage to a performance-driven approach to the Christian life,” he laments. “It’s all law (what we must do) and no gospel (what Jesus has done).” This is the fruit of performancism.
But true progress, true sanctification isn’t found in to-do lists, moralism or focusing on the law:
Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize that God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience. . . . Whatever progress we make in our Christian lives—whatever going onward, whatever pressing forward—the direction will always be deeper into the gospel, not apart from it, or aside from it.
This is the point that Tchividjian hammers home, again and again throughout the book. Indeed, he makes this point so early on in the book that it can feel almost repetitive. Yet it’s a point that must be almost beaten into all of us. None of us, no matter how mature we are in the faith, can ever really grasp the of the grace of God—whether in our justification or in our sanctification. The question I’ve seem some pose is whether or not his emphasis is indeed accurate or does he risk minimizing the distinction between justification and sanctification? This is what people usually mean when they bring up the charge of antinomianism, a concern other reviewers of this book have voiced. Does he cross that line?
The apostle Paul himself answered the charge when he wrote, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1-2). These verses rang in my ears as I read this book. Tchividjian’s emphasis on the grace of God, in the need to put to death our performancism and our desire to be liked is shocking to some. This grace is scandalous, but it is by no means antinomian, nor does it fall prey to a false “let go and let God” ideology that minimizes the importance of our actions within the sanctifying process. If anything, my experience reading Jesus + Nothing = Everything left me not feeling as though there was no need for me to be actively obedient, but rather it has spurred a greater desire to be obedient simply because Christ’s obedience is more than enough to cover my constant failures and worse, my desire to control situations over which I have no ability to influence and change.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything will be difficult for many readers. Some of this is due to its structure, which is much more like a series of sermons than a book proper. This leads to some repeated citations and ideas—but much of the difficulty comes from the overwhelming freedom of God’s grace that is described. It will be a great comfort to some and a challenging rebuke to others. But it will not leave you unmoved. It’s the scandalous grace we need to hear. Read carefully, read prayerfully and with your Bible close at hand.
Title: Jesus + Nothing = Everything
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: Crossway (2011)