I’ve been waiting a long time to read something like the following selections from Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Of course, regular immersion in Scripture will lead to the same conclusions, but you never know what you’ll run across in some downtime reading.
Expressing his disdain for “accountability groups” Tchividjian writes, “All parties involved believe that the guiltier we feel, the more holy we are” (p180). I’ve found this to be generally true among the next generation of Puritan-reading, Reformed theology junkies. (Although, its not the Puritan’s fault, but a faulty reading of them.) If they’re not always downcast and bothered by some sin then, in their minds, they’re not taking sin seriously. And soon the attention is “on our sin, and not on our Savior” (ibid.). Ironically, those who champion justification by grace alone seem the least content in being justified by grace alone! It’s as though total depravity swallows up irresistible grace.
“When the goal becomes conquering our sin instead of soaking in the conquest of our Savior, instead of growing stronger and more mature, we actually begin to shrink spiritually” (ibid., italics his). Of course, Tchividjian and we are against sin. We hate it and want it overcome. But there is too often the trend in “accountability groups” to attach spiritual progress with how much sin we’re not committing anymore. “Because of this, these groups breed self-righteousness, guilt, and the almost irresistible temptation to pretend” (ibid.). That is to say, too much of this navel-gazing and we “boast” more in how bad we are than in how great Christ is.
When we (or our friends) focus mostly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of with God’s grace) makes us increasingly myopic and self-interested. Real Christian growth, according to the seventeenth century Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs, ‘comes not so much from our struggling and endeavors and resolutions, as it comes flowing to us from our union with him'” (p181).
We become so consumed with examining or testing ourselves to see if we’re in the faith, that we rarely rest in the unchanging, unrivaled, immovable work of God to justify sinners. That inevitably leads to an undue emphasis on what we’re doing for Jesus rather than enjoying what Jesus has already done for us. The more we can gather at the Lord’s Table, the more we are graciously reminded that God works outside-in, not inside-out. Ingesting the elements is a confession that my body and blood are insufficient means of God’s grace. Christ’s body and blood alone have become mine and therefore have reconciled God to me.
The sin that gives rise to our sinful behavior is a preoccupation with ourselves. That’s the root sin that needs to be mortified. That’s the under-the-surface sin that gives birth to our misdeeds. The first sin that needs to be rooted out and attacked is not immoral behavior; it’s immoral belief–the belief that my Christian life is all about my moral and spiritual progress (ibid.).
Again (I can’t stress this enough), it’s so important to understand that Christianity is not first about our getting better, our obedience, our behavior, and our daily victory over remaining sin–as important as all these are. It’s first about Jesus! It’s about his person and substitutionary work–his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, session, and promised return. We’re justified–and sanctified–by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone (ibid.).
Is there a witness in the house?
So, instead of trying to fix one another, why don’t we ‘stir one another up to love and good deeds’ by daily reminding one another, in humble love, of the riches we already possess in Christ? (p182)
Our greatest need is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves, because the gospel is not our work for Jesus, but Jesus’s work for us. As Sinclair Ferguson has said, ‘The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward. Instead, we need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ’ (p184).
The bottom line is this, Christian: because of Christ’s work on your behalf, God doesn’t dwell on your sin the way you do. So, relax, and rejoice, and you’ll actually start to get better. The irony, of course, is that it’s only when we stop obsessing over our own need to be holy and focus instead on the beauty of Christ’s holiness that we actually become more holy! Not to mention that we also start to become a lot easier to live with.”
Amen and amen.