His small church, which met in a school gymnasium, merged with a much larger church, whose politically active pastor had died, and some in the old guard of the bigger church did not like the change. So a campaign was started to oust Tchividjian. He had the blessing of a family vacation and encountered the letter to the Colossians with fresh eyes. He realized, he didn't need to please anybody, including God. He also realized that as long as he had Jesus, he had everything, and his perspective on the church coup was irrelevant to the peace he had with God.
I found the beginning of the book compelling, as he wove his own experience into the fabric of the story of God's grace from Colossians. The middle of the book enlarges, in theory, all the good that comes from the re-orientation from religion to grace, a relationship initiated and sustained by God himself. Because he kept this part of the book in general and not personal, lacking his own anecdotes, I did not sustain the engagement I had in the beginning. He does fill the book with great insights from those who have gone before him, some of which I'll quote here because I was encouraged as well, but I wanted to know how these rediscovered truths worked in his own life in his struggles. Something happened in my life, however, as I slowed down in the dry parts of this book. An old friend called out of the blue to let me know a breakthrough of God's in his own life. In the midst of his sin, he learned that God still likes him and wants to be with him. He got a fresh breeze of God's grace across his spirit. The next day, when I returned to the book, I read it with fresh eyes. Now I had some anecdotes from my life to fill in between the doctrine.
I am enthralled with Pascal after these two quotes from the book. [I don't have page numbers since I read this on my Kindle, on a pre-publication proof from Netgalley.com.]
Twelve centuries after Augustine, the brilliant mind of Pascal took up this same human predicament. “All men seek happiness,” he noted; “this is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.”
I've been thinking about my friends' searches for transcendence, and Pascal makes it simpler, happiness, and I think he's right. Whether transcendence or happiness, there is an ultimate desire, that can only be fulfilled by God.
Why are they all inadequate? Pascal reaches the astute deduction: “Because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.
This I know, but, as C.S. Lewis observes, we settle for so much less.
Why would we ever turn anywhere except to Christ and all his fullness? It isn’t remotely reasonable. And yet we do it all the time. Our situation was well captured by C. S. Lewis in these frequently quoted words: If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.I have known this quote since college, and refer to it frequently when I catch myself enjoying the mud more than the holiday. Tchividjian is not calling us to improve our behavior. That's moralism, the same fault of Jesus' enemies, the Pharisees. He wants us to remind ourselves of the good news that Jesus brings. He writes, "What the Bible teaches is that we mature as we come to a greater realization of what we already have in Christ. The gospel, in fact, transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ’s external substitution." Change comes by someone apart from us, who loves us, and our realization of that person and his desire, motivated by love greater than any love we can imagine, but only observe on the cross. Agreeing with brighter lights, "C. S. Lewis observed that what most distinguishes the gospel from legalism is that legalism says God will love us if we are good, while the gospel tells us God will make us good because he loves us." Grace is so mind boggling. "Behavior (good or bad) is a second thing and when we make it a first things, we resort to the type of rules and regulations that Paul warns about here." Perhaps, another title for this book could have been, God Wins, but it was already taken. But when we submit to Jesus, he sends his Holy Spirit to indwell us and work in us because he loves us. So we worship for what he does, not to make him like us more.
To focus on how I’m doing more than on what Christ has done is Christian narcissism (an oxymoron if I ever heard one)—the poison of self-absorption which undermines the power of the gospel in our lives. Martin Luther noted that “the sin underneath all our sins is the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and that we must take matters into our own hands.”I like Luther quotes. He did not fear the radical concept of God's grace like many of us do. He uses another one to highlight how God's work in us translates into good works,
We all possess a natural proclivity to turn God’s good-news announcement that we’ve been set free into a narcissistic program of self-improvement. When we do this, we fail to see the needs of our neighbor and serve them. After all, as Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.”Luther nails the absolute liberation the gospel of Jesus Christ brings. Tchividjian dwells on that freedom towards the end of the book.
It's the gospel that brings it, and our sin that hinders it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel—always has been, always will be. And since Christians remain sinners even after they’re converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. We can think of it this way: since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave off the gospel.Understanding the gospel, is a daily meditation, refreshed by God's Word. For Tchividjian it was Colossians. For Luther it was Romans. Grace radically frees us to a life of worship, not just singing songs, but living a gospel motivated life that glorifies God.
Now you can spend your life giving up your place for others instead of guarding it from others, because your identity is in Christ, not in your place. Now you can spend your energy going to the back instead of getting to the front, because your identity is in Christ, not in your position. You can also spend your life giving, not taking, because your identity is in Christ, not in your possessions.
The good news changes everything for us because, "It’s much more theologically accurate to say that Christ himself is the center of the gospel. He lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we should have died. And this happens all of grace." This is the freedom we have been offered in Jesus, but it's so huge, that people like me tend to shift our focus off the expanse of love and focus on mud pies, small things we feel we can control, even though we can't. Tchividjian doesn't deny we have a part in our maturity in Jesus, but it's not in action, but in faith, keeping the focus of our belief off of our abilities and on Jesus'. "Sanctification is the hard work of giving up our efforts at self-justification. Those efforts are what we’re all naturally inclined to do, and it’s what makes the sanctification process so grueling and counterintuitive." He says this well, a number of different ways to bring it home for us. "And what I’ve discovered, ironically, 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." He uses Peter's walk on the water a few times. "Remember, Peter only began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on how he was doing." He clarifies what he thinks God wants in terms of good works, "So, by all means work! But the hard work is not what you think it is—your personal improvement and moral progress. The hard work is washing your hands of you and resting in Christ finished work for you, which will inevitably produce personal improvement and moral progress." He also finds Martin Luther provides the best pithy deep thoughts? Martin Luther had a point when he said, “It is not imitation that makes sons; it is sonship that makes imitators.” That grips me. I am guilty of bringing a guilt trip on others, in the name of Jesus, but "the fact is, guilt doesn’t produce holiness; grace does." I think guilt brings quicker results, but shallower ones as well. The law fails at what the gospel succeeds at. Tchividjian reaches far back and finds another gem, "John Bunyan memorably put it: “Run, John, run,” the law demands, but gives me neither feet nor hands. Better news the Gospel brings, It bids me fly and gives me wings."
There are so many more quotes I didn't put in this review, so, the most encouragement apart from the Bible is the entire book, which I fully recommend.
Thanks to Crossway and Netgalley.com for a free copy to read on my Kindle in exchange for this review.