A couple of years ago, I began reading Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian, but for random reasons failed to finish. However, I was glad to make it my first book of the year for 2014.
Tchividjian summarizes our human tendency to try to earn God’s favor — doing so either by adhering to the Law or running from it — and defines both as legalism. This book primarily addresses the first type of legalism, though it touches on both aspects. Particularly for those who grew up in the Evangelical (or Fundamentalist, including it under the broader umbrella of Evangelicalism) Christian tradition or other legalistic traditions, this book provides an important examination of the Gospel and what it truly means to live out Jesus plus nothing as our everything.
We often think we can accept God’s work for us for salvation, but believe it is up to us to work out our sanctification. While the dichotomy might not always be expressed so straightforwardly, our actions (and sermon applications) often speak this loud and clear.
Much of my life was spent sitting under teaching that perpetuated legalism or bound consciences to believe that our following of certain codes and laws would earn (or retain) favor with God. When we heard of grace, it was often “Grace, but.” Yet, it is not merely systems that are responsible for this teaching, but it our own individual hearts gravitate toward this belief. At the core, it was my own heart that was attracted to a belief that I could accomplish things only God could. Perhaps that is why it is so appealing to so many to teach, believe, and follow as a system.
“When we are living by this legalism–trusting in our rule-keeping, our abilities, our performance–to sustain our little safe and self-controllable world that we’re addicted to, someday it will all start to crumble. Our kids will spin out of control, or our marriage will, or our finances, or our career. And it’s devastating. We’ve tried so hard to hide our frailty and weaknesses, building our self-esteem on our success at that, then suddenly those faults can’t be hidden any longer. We feel hopeless.”
Tchividjian frequently refers to his time being installed as pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian as an anecdotal illustration of God bringing him to a fuller understanding of his need to live out his salvation and sanctification through the lens of Gospel grace. I am sure this may still be sensitive for those close to that experience, but for someone who is distant from his experience, I found his illustrations to be helpful.
At times it seems redundant, and other times, a deeper delving into some theological issues would prove helpful. (However, there are books for that, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be a comprehensive treatise!) And, like all books, there will be areas to disagree. Overall, it is a helpful book for any Christian, and particularly so for those who are “tired of trying to measure up” only to find themselves frustrated and ready to give up again and again.
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