I applied to the Crossway Books review program last month, and was graciously accepted. I have been waiting for Pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s newest book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, to come out for MONTHS! It was recently released, and I was ecstatic when I saw that this book was available to review.
In Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian expounds on the importance of this equation. Many of us would Theologically and Confessionally agree that Jesus is all we need, but Tullian proves that when it comes to living that out, we betray this equation by trying to add to the work that Jesus has done for us. Rather than only using vague generalities for examples, he walks us through part of his story, telling us about his own struggles during the year when he became pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian and the year his father died. It was refreshing to see him being so authentic about the darkest moments, and deepest doubts in his life.
Grace exposes our fears in the most telling ways. It completely removes from us any control we perceive ourselves to have, and it completely frees us from being enslaved to the cares and approval of this world. It also frees us from sin, and the eternal consequence of sin. This is perhaps what scares us the most. Tullian points out that many times, we attempt to retain our control over our freedom from sin by adding rules to the grace we receive in the gospel. Our fear is that when we really give someone complete grace, that they will embrace lawlessness and abuse the grace they’ve been given, so we add rules. I love how Tullian view the concepts of “legalism” and “lawlessness” as two sides of the same coin. He considers classic legalism to be “front door” legalism, in that it’s what we would expect and most often think about when we discuss legalism. It’s adding rules to the gospel so that we’ll have something by which to measure ourselves. He considers lawlessness a type of “back door” legalism because rather than trying to save ourselves by obeying all the rules, we try to save ourselves by breaking all of them. In this sense, both forms of legalism are an attempt at “self-salvation”.
The problem with both of these is first that they are they adding to the gospel, and second that they are insufficient. You see, trying to obey all the rules of legalism doesn’t remove from us the condemnation we rightly deserve for not being able to obey the law. And embracing lawlessness, trying to free ourselves from the law that way, doesn’t remove from us the obligation to obey they law, and the subsequent condemnation for failing to obey.
So, what hope do we have then? Legalism and lawlessness are insufficient. We cannot rely on ourselves for salvation. The scandal of the gospel is that God Himself comes down to live the life we should have lived, die the death we should have died, paid the price we couldn’t pay, and defeated an enemy to which we were enslaved. Through this, Christ became our righteousness. So, the scandal of the gospel isn’t that we were given the ability to become “good enough,” but that despite our past and current inability to be good enough, God applies Christ’s righteousness to us. This is where we hit the legalism trigger. We fear that if we really believe that, it will tailspin us into sinning more so that we might receive more grace.
As Tullian point out, this is exactly the question Paul anticipates in Romans 6. His answer isn’t more rules, but more gospel. He asks us the rhetorical question “How can you who have died to sin remain any longer in it?” His answer was pointing us back to Jesus’ defeat of sin and death, and the justifying work of Christ becoming our righteousness. So, the solution to avoiding lawlessness is to remember that Christ’s righteousness isn’t only what makes us right with God, it’s what keeps us right and propels us toward becoming more like Christ. The external righteousness of Jesus applied to us, and His righteousness alone, is what began, perfects, and completes our salvation.
If you want to know more about the grace and freedom we have in the gospel, buy Tullian’s book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. It’s absolutely phenomenal, and covers this difficult topic with both clarity and depth.