I’ve already posted the first 2 parts (Part 1, Part 2) of my discussion with pastor Tullian Tchividjian about his new book Jesus + Nothing + Everything. Tullian is here today on the blog to talk to you about your questions about the book. I hope you will seize the opportunity to engage one of the church’s most gifted young pastors about issues that matter. Feel free to ask questions from (part 1, part 2) as well.
Here is part 3:
Why are Christians legalists when it comes to sanctification?
The way many Christians think about sanctification is that it’s a step beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work on our behalf. In other words, we tend to think of justification as step one and sanctification as step two. And once we get to step two, we never need to go back to step one. We needed Jesus a lot for justification. We need him less for sanctification. The truth is, though, that sanctification is simply getting used to your justification–it’s receiving Christ’s words “It is finished” into our rebellious regions of unbelief.
As Luther put it, “To progress is always to begin again”–it’s going back to the already secured reality of your justification and hitting the refresh button 1000 times a day. Going forward, in other words, requires a daily going backwards.
Legalism happens when what I need to do, instead of what Christ has already done, becomes the end game of my life. The gospel tells us the determining factor in my relationship with God is Jesus’ work for us, not our work for him; his performance for us, not our performance for him; his obedience for us, not our obedience. The Gospel is the good news that God doesn’t relate to us based on our feats for Jesus but Jesus feats for us. The gospel tells us that God’s acceptance of us is not gained by our successes or forfeited by our failures–because it’s not about us!
Martin Luther defined sin as “mankind turned inward.” And sadly, the way many of us think about sanctification is terribly narcissistic. We spend too much time thinking about how we’re doing, if we’re growing, whether we’re doing it right or not. We spend too much time pondering our failure and brooding over our spiritual successes. In short, we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves and what we need to do and far too little time thinking about Jesus and what he’s already done. And what I’ve discovered is that the more I focus on my need to get better the worse I actually get–I become neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my performance over Christ’s performance for me makes me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. This is the opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified. Sanctification is forgetting about yourself.
Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on “how he was doing.” Anytime our natural fixture on self is rattled, shaken, turned from itself to that Man’s blood, to that Man’s cross, the devil runs!
When we stop narcissistically focusing on our need to get better that is what it means to get better. When we stop obsessing over our need to improve, that is what it means to improve!