Friday, December 16, 2011

Does Jesus + Nothing Really = Everything?

The pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Tullian Tchividjian, has just published a book titled Jesus + Nothing = Everything. I know it's dangerous to write a post in reference to a book I haven't read, but Tchividjian has published enough material on his blog (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/) that I'm comfortable responding to his basic thesis about the nature of the gospel and Christian sanctification.

Tchividjian's thesis is that sanctification is nothing more than getting used to your justification. He teaches that the only way to grow in sanctification is to understand your justification better and that sanctification will automatically occur the more you learn to rest in Christ for justification. In response, I would say that while a growing grasp of justification is indeed foundational to sanctification, it is a mistake to say that justification is the only biblical motive for sanctification. What follows will not be an interactive critique of Tchividjian, but more of a positive statement of some of the issues at stake in this discussion.

The Nature of the Gospel
Tchividjian advances his thesis partly by identifying justification with the gospel. But, the gospel is not identical to justification. Justification is certainly very near to the heart of the gospel, and it is a sine qua non of the gospel, but the gospel is more than justification. The gospel is not only the message of Christ's work *for* us, but also of Christ's work *in* us (speaking here only of the gospel at the individual level, though there is certainly a corporate and global dimension to the gospel as well). Put differently, the gospel is not only the promise of justification to free us from the guilt of sin, but also the promise of sanctification to free us from the misery of sin. The gospel is not only the message that Christ is our Priest, but also the message that He is our Prophet and King who overrules the reign of sin within us. The good news is not that Christ is a paltry half-Savior who frees us from condemnation, but leaves us in our miserable sinful condition. Rather, the good news is that Christ frees us from our legal problem as well as our ontological problem.

The Law/Gospel Distinction
Part of the confusion about this distinction is that there are several ways to speak about it, all of which are valid.

1. Mosaic Covenant and New Covenant
This is a redemptive-historical way of speaking about the difference between law and gospel. On this way of speaking, the Mosaic Covenant is termed "law" because it made legal demands but did not provide any true or final way of forgiveness or redemption from sin, and because it did not provide any power to keep the demands of its own law. The New Covenant, on the other hand, does provide a way of redemption and forgiveness through Christ the mediator, and it provides power to keep the law because the law is no longer merely written on tablets of stone, but also on tablets of human hearts.

2. The Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace
On this way of speaking, the distinction between law and gospel is about the relationship of law-keeping to justification. Under the covenant of works, God said "do this and live," meaning, "Perfectly obey My commandments and you will be justified and have a right and title to eternal life." That's "law." But, the covenant of grace says, "live and do this to enjoy and experience life," meaning "Be justified and have a right and title to eternal life by faith alone because of Christ's righteousness alone, and in light of your justification imperfectly obey My commandments more and more to increase in the experience and enjoyment of the eternal life you already possess." That's "gospel." Notice that on this way of speaking, both law and gospel issue commands/instructions and promises. The difference is a matter of order, not the elements involved.

3. Command and Promise
On this way of speaking, every command or imperative is "law," and every promise of blessing or indicative is "gospel." The biblical commands to love, to keep the law, to enjoy God, and even to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, are all "law." That is to say, they all require absolute, perfect, and inflexible obedience and therefore the Christian is doomed to failure in his efforts to obey any one of them absolutely. In that sense, none of them is "good news." They are the "law." The "gospel," on the other hand, is the good news that Jesus Christ kept every one of these commands perfectly in our place. He loved in our place, kept God's law in our place, enjoyed God in our place, and even believed God perfectly in our place. All of Christ's commandment-keeping procures for us an external righteousness, which is promised to us in the gospel for our justification. But, Christ's righteousness not only procures the gospel-promise of justification, it is also the legal basis of God's sending the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, which is His gospel-promise to change us to become more like Christ for our joy and His glory. Christ's righteousness justifies us *and* causes us to keep the commandments more and more (though imperfectly): to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, love, keep the law, and enjoy God.

The Law/Gospel Harmony
It should be clear by now that the law and the gospel are not at all enemies, but close friends. The law of God shows us our guilt and drives us to Christ for our justification in the gospel. Justification in the gospel, in turn, points us back to the law as our "rule of walking" as the means by which we may increasingly enjoy God and by which He glorifies His great grace poured out within us. The law exposes our need for the gospel. But, the end or goal of the gospel is that we would be conformed more and more to the law. So, the law and the gospel "do sweetly comply."

God's View of Believers' Sin and Obedience
In light of all this, how does God view believers when they sin and when they obey? We need to distinguish between the "legal" relationship to God as Judge and the "filial" relationship to God as Father.

First, in terms of the legal relationship, because of justification, God legally regards and treats believers like they are righteous, even though they are not ever truly righteous. Therefore, when believers sin, their standing before God is perfectly "righteous" and they are pleasing to God the Judge, no matter what they do.

But second, in terms of the filial relationship, God the Father accepts our imperfect (damnable) obedience in Christ, and our obedience pleases Him, even though it is imperfect and detestable in terms of strict justice. It's like a child bringing his parent a drawing and the parent being pleased with it, even though on terms of strict artistic quality, the drawing is ugly.

Just as the believer's obedience pleases the Father, the believer's sin displeases the Father. But, our sin doesn't displease our Father because it offends His justice (that's taken care of in justification; there is no more legal offense); rather, a believer's sin displeases God because it disrupts the believer's fellowship with his Heavenly Father. The Father is displeased with our sin because it causes us grief and because it inhibits both our enjoyment of Him and His Fatherly enjoyment of us.

Motives to Obedience
One final point that needs to be made has to do with the motives to obedience in the Christian life. The Bible provides many such motives. It teaches that we should obey God to please God, from the fear of God, because God the Creator and Sovereign is absolute authority, for the blessings of joy in God that come from obedience, because our disobedience displeases a holy God, because the angels are watching, etc. And, that is just a sample of some of the motives the Bible mentions.

The point to make is this. Each of the motives previously mentioned would have worked to motivate pre-fall Adam. That is, by themselves, each of those motives could have been fully functional in the covenant of works, apart from the mediation of Christ. Therefore, none of those motives may be preached to the believer without or apart from reference to justification by faith alone because of Christ alone.

On the other hand, in light of and on the basis of Christ's righteousness freely imputed to all who trust Him, all other biblical motives to obedience *become* gospel motives. Therefore, justification is not the only motive to Christian sanctification, contra Tchividjian, but it is the fundamental motive and the motive necessary to make all the other motives truly sanctifying.