Rethinking spiritual growth
Tullian Tchividjian is Billy Graham’s grandson, and pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (founded by the late James Kennedy). A couple of years ago, he discovered that the Gospel is not just for justification. In his article (reprinted from his own blog) Rethinking Spiritual Growth, he discusses “what it means to ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling.'” He writes,
In his 2008 movie The Happening, writer, producer, and director M. Night Shyamalan unfolds a freaky plot about a mysterious, invisible toxin that causes anyone exposed to it to commit suicide. One of the first signs that the unaware victim has breathed in this self-destructing toxin is that they begin walking backwards—signaling that every natural instinct to go on living and to fight for survival has been reversed. The victim’s default survival mechanism is turned upside down.
This, in a sense, is what needs to happen to us when it comes to the way we think about progress in the Christian life. When breathed in, the radical, unconditional, free grace of God reverses every natural instinct regarding what it means to spiritually “survive and thrive.” Only the “toxin” of God’s grace can reverse the way we typically think about Christian growth.
The counter-intuitive, external Gospel
As I’ve said before, we need to be constantly evangelizing each other, to counter our natural inclinations to be performance-driven. The Gospel is counter-intuitive, which is one reason why we can rely on it. It is so counter-intuitive that men were not likely to have invented it. It does not arise naturally from within us; it needs to come at us externally.
Humans are created to work; it’s one way we gain our self-esteem. However, it is not how we get saved, healed, better, free, or more holy. At least, not by work in the sense we usually think of it.
Christian growth does not happen by working hard to get something you don’t have. Rather, Christian growth happens by working hard to daily swim in the reality of what you do have. Believing again and again the gospel of God’s free, justifying grace everyday is the hard work we’re called to.
In John chapter 6, the disciples asked Jesus about the work that he talked about. Here’s the exchange:
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (NIV)
The hard work of Christianity is to contend for the Gospel—to continuously preach to ourselves and to each other the counter-intuitive truth that, to quote myself, “only grace leads to freedom.” Any other work leads to bondage.
This is a great place to tell you about my book, co-authored with Dr. Ken Blue (Healing Spiritual Abuse). The Gospel Uncensored: How Only Grace Leads to Freedom, which has been described as “a primer on grace.” We examine grace not only as it applies to salvation/justification, but how it is also the key to living the Christian life. Buy it today—you’ll be glad you did. Seriously.