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Tullian Tchividjian Christian Blog and Commentary

Tullian Tchividjian

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William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal. A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian has authored a number of books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway). He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S., and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program LIBERATE. As a respected pastor, author, and speaker, Tullian is singularly and passionately devoted to seeing people set free by the radical, amazing power of God's grace. When he is not reading, studying, preaching, or writing, Tullian enjoys being with people and relaxing with his wife, Kim, and their three children—Gabe, Nate, and Genna. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf.

One of the most common objections that those of us who are committed to preaching the gospel of grace week in and week out hear is, “Ok…I get it. Can we move on now? We hear the same thing week after week. Can we hear something different already?” Considering the way our consumeristic culture has conditioned us to always crave “what’s next”, the objection is understandable. Add to that a fundamental misunderstanding inside the church that the gospel is not for Christians but for non-Christians, and you have the perfect recipe for Christian people thinking that it’s “time to move on.”

Over the years I’ve come up with a variety of ways to explain to people that once God saves us he doesn’t then move us beyond the gospel, but rather more deeply into the gospel—that Christian growth is always growth into grace, not beyond it. But just recently I discovered another way to help people understand that we never, ever outgrow our need to hear the gospel.

In Galatians 5:6 Paul makes a stunning statement. He says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” So, the thing that matters most is faith expressing itself through love. And then in Romans 10:17 Paul makes the point that “faith comes through hearing the word about Christ.” Put these two statements together and you have what is, in my opinion, the strongest biblical argument for why we need to hear the gospel of grace week in and week out.

According to Paul, real love is impossible without faith. Faith is vertical (it’s upward)—it’s trusting that everything I need and long for, I already have because of what Jesus has accomplished for me. Love, on the other hand, is horizontal (it’s outward)—because Jesus has done everything for me (faith) I can now do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me (love). You could put it this way: love is faith worked out by us for our neighbor horizontally; faith is love worked into us from God vertically. The implication, of course, is that love is absent to the degree that faith is missing. If I’m not trusting that everything I need in Christ I already possess (lack of faith), then I will be looking to take from you rather than give to you (lack of love). I’ll be concentrating on what I need, not what you need. I’ll be looking out for me, not you.

So if we ever hope to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (which is precisely what God’s law calls for), it will depend on faith. And faith, according to Paul in Romans 10:17, depends on hearing the gospel—over and over and over again. God stokes faith through the preaching of the gospel, and since our faith needs constant stoking, the preaching of the gospel needs to be constant. As long as love is needed (which is always), faith must be fueled. And the only fuel for faith is the gospel. The logical formula, then, goes like this:

No faith = no love
No gospel = no faith
Therefore, no gospel = no love.

The preaching of the gospel alone activates faith, and faith alone activates love.

If the church is ever going to experience the kind of reformation that many of us long for, preachers are going to have to understand that they are not called to say many different things, but rather the same thing over and over in many different ways from every different text.

So preachers, do everything you can to help people understand why they will never outgrow their need to hear the gospel of grace. But don’t ever apologize for the rhythm of redemptive redundancy that should always mark your preaching week after week after week.

 

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal.

A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian has authored a number of books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway). He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S., and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program LIBERATE. As a respected pastor, author, and speaker, Tullian is singularly and passionately devoted to seeing people set free by the radical, amazing power of God's grace.

When he is not reading, studying, preaching, or writing, Tullian enjoys being with people and relaxing with his wife, Kim, and their three children—Gabe, Nate, and Genna. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. 

Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (David C. Cook, October 2013)

I was sixteen when my parents kicked me out of the house. What started out as run-of-the-mill adolescent rebellion in my early teens had, over the course of a few short years, blossomed into a black hole of disrespect and self-centeredness that was consuming the entire family. I would lie when I didn’t have to, push every envelope, pick fights with my siblings, carry on, and sneak around—at first in innocent ways; later in not-so-innocent ways. If someone said “black,” I would say “white.” Nothing all that terrible by the world’s standards, but given my Christian context and upbringing, it was pretty egregious. Eventually, everyone involved reached the end of their patience, and looking back, I can’t blame them. It’s not as though my parents hadn’t tried every other option. Private school, public school, homeschool, counseling, interventions—you name it.

Anything they did just made me want to rebel more. Eventually, my lifestyle became so disruptive, the fights so brutal, that my parents were forced to say, “We love you, son, but if you’re going to continue living this way, you can’t do so under our roof.”

My parents were well loved in our community, and their friends could see the heartache they were going through with me. I remember two separate instances of people caring enough to ask them for permission to talk with me one-on-one to see if maybe they could get through to me.

The first time was early on, when I was still living at home. Their friend picked me up after school, brought me to Burger King, and read me the riot act. “Look at all that God’s given you. You’re squandering everything. You’re making your parents’ life a living hell, acting so selfishly, not considering your siblings. You go to a private school. You have this remarkable heritage. Shape up, man! Snap out of it.” Of course, he was 100 percent right. In fact, if he had known the full truth of what I was up to (and what was in my heart), he would have had every reason to be even harsher. But in the first five minutes of this guy talking to me, I could tell where it was going, and I just tuned out. As far as I was concerned, it was white noise. I could not wait for it to be over and for him to drop me back off at home.

This first friend was the voice of the law. He was articulating the standard that I was falling short of—what I should have been doing and who I should have been being—and he couldn’t have been more correct. The condemnation was entirely justified. His words gave an accurate description of who I was at that moment. But that’s the curious thing about the law and judgment in general: it can tell us who we are, it can tell us the right thing to do, but it cannot inspire us to do that thing or be that person. In fact, it often creates the opposite reaction than the one that is intended. It certainly did for me! I don’t blame the man in question—he was trying to do the right thing. It’s just that his methods completely backfired.

The second experience happened about a year and a half later, and by this time I was out of the house. This man called me and said, “I’d love to meet with you.” And I thought, Oh no, another one of my parents’ friends trying to set me straight. But I didn’t want to make things any worse between my parents and me, and the free meal didn’t sound too bad either, so I agreed to get together with him.

Once we were at the restaurant, he just looked at me and said, “Listen, I know you’re going through a tough time, and I know life must seem very confusing right now. And I just want to tell you that I love you, I’m here for you, and I think God’s going to do great things with you. Here’s my phone number. If you ever need anything, call me. If you want to tell me something you don’t feel comfortable telling anybody else, call me. I just want you to know that I’m here for you.” And then he switched the subject and started talking about sports. That guy—the second guy—is still a friend of mine to this day. He will forever be marked in my personal history as an example of amazing grace.

Most parents and spouses, siblings and friends—even preachers—fall prey to the illusion that real change happens when we lay down the law, exercise control, demand good performance, or offer “constructive” criticism. We wonder why our husbands grow increasingly withdrawn over the years, why our children don’t call as much as we would like them to, why our colleagues don’t confide in us, why our congregants become relationally and emotionally detached from us.

In more cases than not, it happens because we are feeding their deep fear of judgment—by playing the judge. Our lips may be moving, but the voice they hear is that of the law. The law may have the power to instruct and expose, but it does not have the power to inspire or create. That job is reserved for grace–grace alone.

In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that the law illuminates sin but is powerless to eliminate sin. That’s not part of its job description. It points to righteousness but can’t produce it. It shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly. The law can inform us of our sin but it cannot transform the sinner. Only the gospel can do that. As Martin Luther said, “Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.”

The law may expose bad behavior, but only grace can woo the heart.

In a deleted scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) tells Vincent Vega (John Travolta) that she needs to find out what kind of person he is before she’ll go to dinner with him. Here’s what she says:

My theory is that when it comes to important subjects, there’s only two ways a person can answer. For instance, there’s two kinds of people in this world, Elvis people and Beatles people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis. And Elvis people can like the Beatles. But nobody likes them both equally. Somewhere you have to make a choice. And that choice tells me who you are.

There are other important things in life that can tell us what kind of person you are: chunky peanut butter, or smooth? Regular cola, or diet? It seems to me that the same is true when it comes to reading the Bible. Do you read the Bible as a helpful tool in your climb up toward moral betterment or as the story of God coming down to broken, sinful people?

In a very real way, our lives are defined by how we answer that question. Specifically, our lives are defined either by a cross or by a ladder. The ladder symbolizes our ascension—our effort to “go up.” The cross symbolizes God’s descension—his coming down.

There is no better story in the Old Testament, or perhaps the whole Bible, for depicting the difference between the ladder-defined life and the cross-defined life than that of the Tower of Babel.

In Genesis 11:4, the people make a decision. “Come, let us build ourselves a city,” they said, “with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.” This is humanity in a nutshell. We want desperately to be known, appreciated, lauded, and extolled. We want to secure our own meaning, significance, and worth. We give our all to these objectives.

But then something funny happens.

After the people go to work to build this tower that reaches “to the heavens,” v.5 says, “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.” I find this verse to be a great and sobering picture of our futile attempts to “make a name for ourselves,” to do something great in our own power. The momentous achievement that the builders are so proud of is so small and insignificant to God that he has to “come down from heaven” to even see what they’re up to. All their efforts, all their hard work, have resulted in a tower that not only doesn’t reach the heavens, but that can’t even be seen from them!

None of our best attempts and none of our self-righteous strivings (and make no mistake, that is exactly what they are) can get us up to God.

We are like the tower-builders: addicted to a ladder-defined life. We think that a life of ladder-climbing is a life of freedom: free to move at our own pace, up or down depending on our decisions, responsible for our own progress. We climb our ladders for the same reasons that the people of the world built their tower: to make a name for ourselves, to ensure our own legacy, to secure our own value. We love to imagine that we’re on a higher rung than someone else, a better father than someone else, a more accomplished follower of Christ than someone else. But ladder-climbing actually and inevitably leads to slavery. Paul Zahl, in his great book Who Will Deliver Us, describes the ladder-defined life like this:

If I can do enough of the right things, I will have established my worth. My identity is the sum of my achievements. Hence, if I can satisfy the boss, meet the needs of my spouse and children, and still do justice to my inner aspirations, then I will have proven my worth…conversely…if I do not perform, I will be judged unworthy. To myself I will cease to exist.

The life of slavery happens when we try to “do it ourselves.” We become imprisoned by our failures (often real, sometimes perceived) and to ourselves, we cease to exist. This isn’t freedom, it’s bondage.

But there is good news: our towers of Babel don’t remain standing.

God loves us too much to leave us in the hell of unhappiness that comes from trying to do his job. Into the slavish misery of our ladder-defined lives, God condescends.

His first act is an act of judgment. He scatters them—he dis-organizes them, literally. God takes away their faith in themselves, the very misplaced faith that enslaves them. When everyone in the world spoke the same language, God came down in judgment, breaking the world apart. But at just the right time, he came down again, this time to reconcile that sinful world to himself. He replaces our ladder with his cross. His final descent was to save us, and to set us free.

So how do you read the Bible? Is the Bible a manual for living the ladder-defined life? Or is it the announcement of the one who came down and hung on a cross in order to rescue us from our efforts to make it on our own?

God is not at the top of a ladder shouting, “Climb.” He is at the bottom on a cross whispering, “It is finished.”

 

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal.

A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian has authored a number of books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway). He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S., and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program LIBERATE. As a respected pastor, author, and speaker, Tullian is singularly and passionately devoted to seeing people set free by the radical, amazing power of God's grace.

When he is not reading, studying, preaching, or writing, Tullian enjoys being with people and relaxing with his wife, Kim, and their three children—Gabe, Nate, and Genna. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. 

 

What is grace?

The definition I give for grace in my forthcoming book, One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, comes from Paul Zahl:

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing. Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love.

Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people—prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds. The most extravagant sinners of Jesus’s day receive his most compassionate welcome. Grace is a divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous. It doesn’t use sticks, carrots, or time cards. It doesn’t keep score. As Robert Capon puts it, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free.” It refuses to be controlled by our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and evenhandedness. It defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed. It doesn’t expect a return on investments. It is a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.

It is one-way love.

 

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Example: "Gen 1:1" "John 3" "Moses" "trust"
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