This Mystery

reflections on theology and life

Tag: Gospel

The greatest threat

I’ve been fol­low­ing Tul­lian Tchividjian’s pas­sion­ate advo­cacy of the suf­fi­ciency of the gospel and the dis­cus­sions he’s had with oth­ers who want to drive peo­ple to law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Two peo­ple at our church have brought up Tchividjian’s lat­est book,Jesus + Noth­ing = Every­thing, so I thought it was about time I read it. This snip­pet is from a sec­tion of the book sub­ti­tled, “The Great­est Threat”:

The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s pre­mier enemy is 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. Strictly speak­ing, those three terms — legal­ism, per­for­man­cism, and moral­ism — aren’t pre­cisely iden­ti­cal in what they refer to. But there’s so much over­lap and inter­con­nec­tion between them that we’ll basi­cally look at them here as one thing.

And what really is that one thing?

Well, it shows up when we fail to believe the gospel. It shows up when behav­ioral oblig­a­tions are divorced from gospel dec­la­ra­tions, when imper­a­tives are dis­con­nected from gospel indica­tives. Legal­ism hap­pens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game.

Our per­for­man­cism leads to pride when we suc­ceed and to despair when we fail. But ulti­mately it leads to slav­ery either way, because it becomes all about us and what we must do to estab­lish our own iden­tity instead of rest­ing in Jesus and what he accom­plished to estab­lish it for us. In all its forms, this wrong focus is anti-gospel and there­fore enslaving.

Tchivid­jian, Tul­lian.Jesus + Noth­ing = Every­thing. Wheaton, IL: Cross­way, 2011. Print. (p. 45–46)

I haven’t com­pleted the book yet, but I’d rec­om­mend it on hav­ing read the first third of it alone.

Love for those we evangelize: no strings attached

I’ve read and enjoyed two pre­vi­ous books by Randy New­man (no, not that Randy New­man) called Ques­tion­ing Evan­ge­lism and Cor­ner Con­ver­sa­tions. Randy, on staff at Cam­pus Cru­sade for Christ since 1980, has just released his third book (which I’m now read­ing), Bring­ing the Gospel Home: Wit­ness­ing to Fam­ily Mem­bers, Close Friends, and Oth­ers Who You Know Well (Cross­way, 2011).

In the chap­ter “Love: Always Craved and Yet Sel­dom Con­veyed” he writes about the need to truly love peo­ple and not just use the appear­ance of love as a means to evangelize:

We need to love peo­ple sim­ply because they are peo­ple, fash­ioned by God in his image; we should not show them love just as a way to evan­ge­lize them. Surely, we can find traits, com­mon ground, unique gifts, per­son­al­ity nuances, and expe­ri­ences we can affirm, and, bet­ter still, enjoy. But we must not love them merely as a manip­u­la­tive pre­lude to preach at them. They’ll smell such nonlove miles away. Instead, we must ask God to enable us to love them. Period. No strings attached. If they’re wait­ing for the other shoe to drop — a shoe in the form of a gospel pre­sen­ta­tion — they won’t feel loved by us because, in fact, they’re not.

Manip­u­la­tion as a means to the gospel is not evan­ge­lism — and risks cre­at­ing a false con­vert. And that “com­mon ground” — that’s the “point of con­tact” Fran­cis Scha­ef­fer advo­cated, a place where con­ver­sa­tion can begin.

More impor­tantly, that love does absolutely need to be gen­uine. As Albert Mohler said at a Desir­ing God con­fer­ence whose topic was Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, we need to love them — the sin­ner, the uncon­verted — more than they love their sin.

After all, God showed his love for us, “in that while we were still sin­ners, Christ died for us.” ()


but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sin­ners, Christ died for us. (ESV)

Completed by the Spirit Part 17: The Gospel Brings About All Aspects of Our Salvation

This is the 17th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Discipline of Grace cover

The Dis­ci­pline of Grace by Jerry Bridges

Paul’s repeated expla­na­tions of the gospel and his dox­olo­gies to Christ are not given because the peo­ple to whom he writes do not have Christ — or don’t know Him — but because they do know him. Paul writes to the Romans words that echo those we saw last time from :

[14] I myself am sat­is­fied about you, my broth­ers, that you your­selves are full of good­ness, filled with all knowl­edge and able to instruct one another. [15] But on some points I have writ­ten to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God [16] to be a min­is­ter of Christ Jesus to the Gen­tiles in the priestly ser­vice of the gospel of God, so that the offer­ing of the Gen­tiles may be accept­able, sanc­ti­fied by the Holy Spirit. ()

Paul is bring­ing the words and truth of Christ to remem­brance, because it is the gospel of Christ that brings about all aspects of sal­va­tion: jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion and glorification.

But that’s not new infor­ma­tion to these saints. Con­tinue reading


Now con­cern­ing broth­erly love you have no need for any­one to write to you, for you your­selves have been taught by God to love one another, (ESV)


14 I myself am sat­is­fied about you, my broth­ers, that you your­selves are full of good­ness, filled with all knowl­edge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have writ­ten to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a min­is­ter of Christ Jesus to the Gen­tiles in the priestly ser­vice of the gospel of God, so that the offer­ing of the Gen­tiles may be accept­able, sanc­ti­fied by the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

Completed by the Spirit Part 13: Love Poured Into Us

This is the 13th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

Water pouring from pitcher into a glassLove is a repeated theme for Paul.

While we have seen pre­vi­ously in this series that love ful­fills the law and that God’s love is poured into us by the Holy Spirit, let’s look at how Paul describes that love. In , Paul writes:

[1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clang­ing cym­bal. [2] And if I have prophetic pow­ers, and under­stand all mys­ter­ies and all knowl­edge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove moun­tains, but have not love, I am noth­ing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

First, let’s note that in accor­dance with love being some­thing poured into us by the Holy Spirit, that love is not some­thing that would be described by Paul as “prac­ti­cal benev­o­lence. In fact, he cau­tions, “If I give away all I have … but have not love, I gain noth­ing.” Love is not the result of our actions; rather it is a God-given, Spirit-provided qual­ity that impels actions in the believer.

It is that same Spirit-provided love that forms the out­work­ing of the New Covenant ethic.

Con­tinue reading


13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clang­ing cym­bal. And if I have prophetic pow­ers, and under­stand all mys­ter­ies and all knowl­edge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove moun­tains, but have not love, I am noth­ing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arro­gant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irri­ta­ble or resent­ful; it does not rejoice at wrong­do­ing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophe­cies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowl­edge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we proph­esy in part, 10 but when the per­fect comes, the par­tial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I rea­soned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up child­ish ways. 12 For now we see in a mir­ror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the great­est of these is love. (ESV)

Josh Harris: ‘Try hard’ is not good news

There seems to be a grow­ing intra­mural dis­cus­sion on the inter­net among those who say we must “try harder” to attain growth in holi­ness and those who say our growth in holi­ness comes from con­stantly return­ing to the Gospel — under­stand­ing that in Christ, it is fin­ished. I’m with the lat­ter camp; our stand­ing is not based on our per­for­mance and our growth is based in His com­pleted work.

Growth in holi­ness — pro­gres­sive sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion — is not a bat­tle to be fought in the flesh but in the strength of the Holy Spirit () in light of the Cross.

Check out this clip from Josh Har­ris as he makes the case:

HT: Tim Bris­ter


Are you so fool­ish? Hav­ing begun by the Spirit, are you now being per­fected by the flesh? (ESV)

Sanctification, Gospel and Effort

Tug of war in 1920'sJustin Tay­lor brings our atten­tion to an online dia­logue between Kevin DeY­oung and Tul­lian Tchivid­jian on the effort we’re called to make in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Since that ties in with our cur­rent series, Com­pleted by the Spirit, I thought it would be good to visit the dis­cus­sion as it stands so far:

The two pas­tors agree that the indica­tive of the gospel and our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in Christ must be the basis of our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. But I think the dif­fer­ence can be boiled down to the dif­fer­ence between action and ontol­ogy. At the risk of over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, Kevin’s call is for us to “do” those things that are given to us as imper­a­tives, while Tullian’s call is for us to “rest in” the indica­tives so that the imper­a­tives flow from them.

Our view — and the one that will be explained in fur­ther posts in the Com­pleted by the Spirit series — is that Paul’s imper­a­tives are calls for us to “be who we already are.” We can do things that look like sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion but if those actions are done in the flesh, they are sim­ply behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion. It’s a change in the heart that is desired, not sim­ply an out­ward change in actions.

To grow in Christ’s image, we must engage in “the hard work of going back to the cer­tainty of our already secured par­don in Christ and hit­ting the refresh but­ton over and over,” as Tul­lian explains. It’s know­ing who we now are in Christ that gives us the free­dom to be that new creature.

Tchividjian: Too Good To Be True

I enjoy read­ing Tul­lian Tchividjian’s blog because of his unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to the Gospel — not just in our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion but in our sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Many in the “reformed camp” can focus too strongly on our own wretched­ness and on law-based behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion in sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion, while instead we should be rely­ing on the fin­ished work of Christ and grow­ing in grace by behold­ing Christ. That sort of flesh-based attempt at sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion leads to despair and a los­ing bat­tle against sin — rather than the joy and vic­tory we’re called to have — as I am argu­ing in my cur­rent series, Com­pleted by the Spirit.

Today, Tchivid­jian writes about his new ser­mon series enti­tled “Pic­tures of Grace:”

What the Phar­isee, the pros­ti­tute, and all of us need to remem­ber every day is that Christ offers for­give­ness full and free from both our self-righteous good­ness and our unright­eous bad­ness. This is the hard­est thing for us to believe as Chris­tians. We think it’s a mark of spir­i­tual matu­rity to hang onto our guilt and shame. We’ve sickly con­cluded that the worse we feel, the bet­ter we actu­ally are.

A friend refers to that feel­ing of guilt and shame as “Protes­tant penance.” Christ’s for­give­ness removes that shame. Under­stand­ing that grows us in the knowl­edge and like­ness of Him.

Orig­i­nal post: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2011/05/24/too-good-to-be-true/

© 2016 This Mystery

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑