In carefully reading “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” it becomes clear that a failure to adequately distinguish our sanctification from justification can result in a kind of theoretical view of how we relate to God and how we think God relates to us. We can begin to wrongly assume that what we do today has little or no bearing on our relationship with God. Tchividjian writes, “Jesus won for me, I was free to lose” and “Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail” (p.24). Throughout the book Tchividjian encourages us to remove our attention from what we do in sanctification. He writes, “I think too much about how I’m doing, if I’m growing, whether I’m doing it right or not” (p.174). He tells us such thinking is wrong and will only make us “neurotic and self-absorbed” (p.174). After all, in Christ, he tells us, “it’s all said and done” (p.174).
Such advice is far from the biblical exhortations we find in Ephesians 5 to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (vv.15-17); and “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (vv.8b-10).
More Than Theoretical
When the preponderance of my thoughts about my daily life with God are only seen from the perspective of Christ’s substitution and my unworthiness to merit his favor, not only do I miss the joy and motivation of knowing my deeds today can actually please God, but I can be left with a distant, abstract, academic view of my relationship with him. I can begin to assume that it is only the perfect Christ that “God sees” (as though it were all some visual reality and not a relational reality). It is as if I am now, at least theoretically, absent from the relationship and if not absent, in some way made so irrelevant that my thoughts and actions can neither please him or grieve him in any real way.
And yet the Bible tells us something different. Scripture tells us that his redeemed children not only have a very real opportunity to actually please him, but we also have an abiding opportunity to truly displease him. We are told that when Christians, who have been declared holy in justification, choose to engage in unholy behavior as they sin in their walk of sanctification, that they “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph.4:30). In the New Testament the reality that our actions actually affect the God with whom we now relate is used as motivation to prompt growing Christians to choose to “be kind to one another” and “forgiving” instead of choosing to engage in “corrupting talk”, “bitterness”, and “slander” (vv.29, 31).
When Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to pursue holiness in 1 Corinthians 10, he compares them to the Israelites following their exodus from Egypt. He goes to great lengths to say that they, like the Corinthians, were graciously chosen by God as his people through the merits of another, specifically the Christ “who followed them”(cf. vv.1-4). But the instructive warning of the passage is, that in spite of the fact that by grace they were considered God’s chosen people, “with most of them God was not pleased” (v.5). Their complaining and intemperance stirred God’s displeasure toward them to the point that he responded by ending their lives (vv.6-10). Paul recounts all of this history as preparatory motivation leading up to the familiar verses regarding our need as Christians to escape temptation and flee from all forms of idolatry (vv.13-14).
A Real Relationship with Our Father
When I recognize and affirm that in my walk of sanctification, I can in one act please God and in another displease him, my daily relationship is moved away from any category of abstraction or theory, and I come to sense the biblical reality of truly relating to God on a daily basis.
Yes, again, we are accepted solely by the work of Christ! Our actions cannot earn or keep a place in God’s family, but as the graciously adopted members of God’s family, we are not dealing with an equation, or a software algorithm, we are dealing with and relating to a Person. One who has accepted us by the merits of his Son, and deals with us day to day as his children. To affirm this, one must acknowledge that there is a significant distinction between being accepted by God and being pleasing to God. It is exactly this distinction that is not made clear by those who confuse justification and sanctification.
The recurring biblical analogy of “Father and child” should help to clarify this distinction. The difference should not be hard to identify, especially if you are a parent. How terrible would it be to have our children do their chores with the idea that they were trying to earn their way into our family or keep their place in our family. No, we want them to recognize that as our children they are accepted by their parents and have a secure place in our family. But that does not mean that their behavior doesn’t bring very real pleasure or displeasure to their mom and dad. An accepted and settled place in the family is not the same thing as whether they will bring joy or pain to our hearts today.