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Thu May 23, 2013
by Justin Holcomb
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by Mark Driscoll
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This Entire Thing Has Nothing to Do with Pastor Tullian
ReLit Manager and Mars Hill Pastor Matt Johnson had the opportunity to talk with Tullian Tchividjian about his new book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything. We didn’t want you to miss anything in this great interview, so we’ve broken it down into three posts.
In the first post, Matt talked with Tullian about the challenges he faced in 2009 that sparked his book. Below is the second installment in which Pastor Tullian talks about idolatry, brokenness, and how he has no reputation to protect.
Idols Aren’t (Just) Wooden Statues
Matt: You know one of the things that really stood out to me as you were talking is this concept of idolatry. In our own contemporary times, how do you bridge that conceptually? And what were the things that you would term as idolatry in your own life during that time? What did God reveal to you?
Tullian: Often when we think of idols we think of wooden statues that people in far off lands bow down to. Yet the Bible makes it really clear that an idol is anything you are depending on other than Jesus to make your life worth living.
In the crucible of pain and suffering, idols were being revealed to me. God was showing me all of the things I was trusting in to make me feel important and secure and to make me feel like I mattered. He pried my hands open and forced me to let go of the things I didn’t even realize I was depending on. And it was during that time that I really thought I can’t take anymore.
How do I forgive these people? How do I go through life without being bitter and vengeful?
My best friend, my closest confidante and adviser, my dad, is dying in a hospital, the church seems to be falling apart, people are out to get me . . . everything just seemed in complete disarray. I didn’t know what was right, what was wrong, what was true, what was false. Rumors were going out like crazy, things were being said about me that weren’t true. People were knowingly believing and spreading lies and not caring, and I had never experienced anything like that from Christians and certainly anything like that from inside the church. So I was just being left to thresh. God was breaking my legs and stripping me down to what seemed like nothing. As I say in the book, it’s only when you come to the end of yourself that you come to the beginning of God’s amazing grace. And when we look back over the course of our lives, it is during those very times when we are absolutely at the end of ourselves that God teaches us grace.
One of the things I had to deal with during the aftermath was how do I forgive these people? How do I go through life without being bitter and vengeful?
It’s only when you come to terms with your own sin and your own brokenness that God can give you the kind of compassion that you need for people who sin against you.
After six months they called for a congregational meeting to have me removed and when that failed, they left the church. It has been a little over two years now and they’ve since started their own church. In a sense, a lot of the problems at the church ended when they left. We started to heal and we started to rebuild and since that time God has launched a gospel riot, and we’re just riding the wave and having a blast. But in the aftermath, I had ask, “how do I deal with the desire to not go out and get these people?” (laughs) I mean, how do I deal with the hurt and how do I deal with my children who saw Christians behaving badly and how do I comfort my wife who doesn’t want to be a pastor’s wife anymore? I was dealing with all of those things afterwards, and the gospel visited me then too.
It’s only when you come to terms with your own sin and your own brokenness that God can give you the kind of compassion that you need for people who sin against you. During those times, God teaches you that anything that has been done to you or is said about you is nothing greater than anything you have done or said about others. God’s law crushed me, and it was God’s gospel that was rebuilding me. So I came to a much greater sense of my own sin and need. My own fallen-ness and brokenness and Christ’s sufficiency and his cleansing blood which covers all of my mistakes and all of my bad motives.
I wanted the whole church to know how the gospel saved me 18 years after I became a Christian.
What I tell people all the time is Christian people need to hear much more about what Christ has already done than what they need to do. And what we discover, and what I discovered during that time, was you actually do and love more, not when you’re told to do and told to love, but when you come to greater grips with what Christ has done for you and the unconditional love he bestowed on you. When that really grips your heart, forgiveness and compassion and sympathy and all of those things begin to show up in your life.
It’s like C.S. Lewis said, “you never find first things by pursuing things secondary, and you always get the good stuff when you pursue Jesus.” Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus to look down on the water and see how he was performing (Matthew 14:29–30). So I was just radically gripped by Christ’s finished work for me. And that really became the impetus for the book. I felt like I wanted the whole church to know what happened to me and how the gospel saved me 18 years after I became a Christian. And how the ongoing now power of the gospel is the only thing that can sustain us.
The Power of the Gospel Is Now
Matt: Yeah, I love that. It’s just getting back to the basics of gospel centrality and that phrase you use, “now power of the gospel,” what do you mean by that?
Tullian: I mean what Christ accomplished for us with his life by his death and his resurrection is powerful in my life now. When a lot of people think about the gospel, they think once God saves us, he moves us beyond the gospel and moves us into deeper theological territory. Yet the Bible makes it clear that God never moves us beyond the gospel. After he saves us, he moves us more deeply into the gospel and we never move beyond that. I don’t care how long you’ve been a Christian, you never move beyond your daily need for Christ’s finished work on your behalf.
All theology is simply an outworking of the gospel in our daily lives.
The challenge of the Christian life becomes, “How do I connect what Christ has already accomplished for me in the context of conflict, frustration, anger, temptation? How does Christ’s finished work empower me now to say no to the things that God hates and to say yes to the things that God loves? Where does the power come from to be sustained in the moment?” It comes from what Christ has accomplished for us.
All theology is simply an outworking of the gospel in our daily lives. So when I talk about the now power of the gospel, that’s what I mean. I’m talking about how the gospel and Christ’s finished work, in particular, impact the way I live. Impact my relationships. Impact me as a father dealing with my teenagers. Impact me as a husband dealing with my wife, a leader dealing with my staff, and a pastor dealing with his congregants.
You Are Free to Live the Christian Life
Matt: Yes. It seems like it’s less an issue of, “Here are the steps I need to do to be a good Christian and keep my nose clean,” but when you’re captured by the beauty of the gospel and what Jesus has accomplished, you’re actually freer to live out the Christian life rather than being tied down and having fear of other people or whatever.
Tullian: Exactly. I think when most people think about Christian growth or what it means to progress in the Christian life—they would never say it this way—but the implication is we needed Jesus a lot for justification and we need him less for sanctification.
Christian growth, the way many people think about it, is we are becoming stronger and stronger, we’re becoming more and more competent, and yet the Bible makes it pretty clear, certainly Paul does, when he says he’s accomplished more than any of us could ever do for Jesus, and yet at the end of his life he says, “I’m the worst guy I know” (1 Corinthians 15:9). This signals to me that Christian growth and progress in the Christian life is not, I’m becoming stronger and stronger, it’s I’m becoming more aware of just how weak I am.
I am free—absolutely free—to say from the rooftops I am the worst guy I know, Jesus paid it all,” says Paul.
It’s not that I’m becoming more and more competent, it’s that I’m growing in my realization of how incompetent, how dependent I am on Christ. He stood condemned in my place and sealed my pardon with his blood. Hallelujah! What a Savior! The Christian life is not about my transformation; it’s about Christ’s substitution. He did for me what I could never do for myself, and that’s why Paul was so free at the end of his life to say, “I’m the worst guy I know! And it’s okay for me to tell you that because, in Christ, I have no reputation to protect. I don’t need to pretend. I don’t need to put on masks and make you think that I’m something I’m not. I am free—absolutely free—to say from the rooftops I am the worst guy I know, Jesus paid it all.”
I already possess everything in him. It’s about him; he’s the hero of the story, I’m not. This entire thing has nothing to do with me and it has everything to do with him. And when we rest in that, our hearts are gripped by it and our lives are totally changed and transformed because we’re no longer thinking about our transformation—we’re thinking about Christ’s substitution.