Modern Reformation Magazine, Vol. 21/No.2/March-April 2012
I never thought I’d say this, But Modern Reformation shocked me with it’s totally hip new makeover. I love the clever size and newsprint-feel of the paper. This month’s issue is replete with “exit-interviews” of those who have left the evangelical faith for everything from Eastern Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism to atheism. It’s been a great front porch companion for the sunny spring mornings I’ve enjoyed. I especially loved the article that Tullian Tchividjian contributed that highlights the gospel. It bears the same title of his new book, Jesus+Nothing=Everything. I haven’t read the book yet, but I needed to be reminded of the experience he shared in this article:
Martin Luther defined sin as “mankind turned inward.” And sadly, the way I had come to understand the nature of the Christian life had become terribly narcissistic. I was spending too much time thinking about how I was doing, if I was learning everything I was supposed to be learning during this difficult season, whether I was doing it right or not. I was spending way too much time pondering my failure and brooding over my momentary spiritual successes. In short, I was spending way too much time thinking about me and what I needed to do and far too little time thinking about Jesus and what he had already done. And what I discovered is that the more I focused on my need to get better, the worse I actually got—I became neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with my performance instead of Christ’s performance for me was making me increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. This is the opposite of how the Bible describes what it means to be sanctified.
The truth I was learning through fiery trials is that Christian growth is coming to the realization of just how weak and incompetent we are and how strong and competent Jesus continues to be for us. Spiritual maturity is not marked by our growing, independent fitness. Rather, it is marked by our growing dependence on Christ’s fitness for us. 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! After all, the apostle Peter began to sink only when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on “how he was doing.” Sanctification is forgetting about ourselves; it involves receiving Christ’s words, “It is finished” into our rebellious regions of unbelief.
That June morning was when Jesus plus nothing equals everything became more for me than a preachable tagline. It became my functional lifeline! It was rediscovering the gospel that enabled me to see:Because Jesus was strong for me, I am free to be weak. Because Jesus won for me, I am free to lose. Because Jesus was Someone, I am free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for me, I am free to fail.
So many times it’s my own navel-gazing that’s holding me back from glorifying God and truly enjoying him forever. That’s when fear creeps in with deceiving thoughts about whether I’m good enough, smart enough, and if people really like me. But, rather than follow Stuart Smalley’s mantra, I’m free to say, “No, I’m not good enough, smart enough, and many people don’t like me. Who cares?” It is liberating to look to the only One who matters, and trust that he who has already begun the work will also complete it. Now I can dance without worrying what people are thinking.
I read something similar in Carl Trueman’s book about how a Janis Joplin line in Bobby McGee rang true for him: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” Although Joplin may not have seen it, Trueman recognized that “surely this captures the Lutheran notion of the freedom we have in Christ…Only when we realize we have nothing to lose because we are in Christ can we truly give ourselves in service to others. That’s why Lutheran (and Protestant) ethics are really so demanding” (Fools Rush In, 166). Isn’t this so encouraging? In Christ we have everything. Everything! If it is not in Christ, it is pure rubbish. This makes all the difference in serving our neighbor. It’s the difference between painting a picture out of pure love for art and beauty, and painting for a commission.