Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue: A Response To Jen Wilkin

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lessthan3-a-thing-called-loveI’ve been asked to respond to Jen Wilkin’s post last week, Failure is Not a Virtue. I won’t rehash Jen’s point. You can follow the link and read the post for yourself. There’s lots that could be said. On the surface, it’s not easy to see what’s wrong with it. She quotes the Bible and she makes some valid points. But something is missing. And you can’t know what that is unless you dive beneath the surface and explore her post at a deeper theological AND existential level. So, let me just point out two major “under the surface” points that seem to be the source of the theological muddiness on the surface. When You Fail To Distinguish Law And Gospel…You Lose Both Jen’s concern seems to be a reveling in moral laxity. She calls it “celebratory failurism.” She writes, “Some have begun to articulate a skewed view of grace—one that discounts the necessity of obedience to the moral precepts of the Law. I call this view celebratory failurism—the idea that believers cannot obey the Law and will fail at every attempt. Furthermore, our failure is ultimately cause to celebrate because it makes grace all the more beautiful.” I have to be honest and say I’ve never encountered a Christian who “celebrates failure.” And I’ve been around for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I see moral laxity in everyone, everywhere. But I don’t see real Christians reveling in it or bragging about it. Anyway, it’s not just the diagnosis that I question. It’s her proposed solution to this “celebratory failurism” which reveals some pretty deep theological confusion. Things get very confusing when you don’t properly distinguish God’s law from God’s gospel. Theodore Beza (John Calvin’s successor) rightly said that, “Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is the principal source of abuse which corrupted and still corrupts Christianity.” Both God’s law and God’s gospel are good but both have unique job descriptions. As I mention here, Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that the law endorses the need for change but is powerless to enact change—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. It can show us what love for God and others looks like, but only love can produce love for God and others (1 John 4:19). Nowhere does the Bible say that the law carries the power to change us. The law can instruct, but only grace can inspire. Just-Do-ItWe can tell people about what they need to be doing and the ways they’re falling short–instructing, exhorting, correcting, rebuking, preaching “the imperatives”–and that’s important. But we’re being both theologically AND existentially simplistic and naive when we assume that simply telling people what they need to do has the power to make them want to do it. Telling people they need to change can’t change them; exhorting people to obey (which we should definitely do) doesn’t generate obedience. Even God’s command to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is not itself what causes actual love for him. What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us. His love for us is what motivates love from us. The Bible is very, very, very clear that grace and grace alone carries the power to inspire what the law demands. Love, not law, compels heartfelt loyalty. Ask your spouse. Ask your teenagers. Ask your employees. Ask yourself! Too many people assume that championing ethics will itself make us more ethical; that preaching obedience will itself make us more obedient; that focusing on the law will itself make us more lawful. But is that the way it works? With God or your wife or your husband or your children or with any other human for that matter? I completely understand how natural it is to conclude that, given our restraint-free cultural context, preachers in our day should be very wary of talking about grace at all. That’s the last thing lawless people need to hear, is it not? Surely they’ll take advantage of it and get worse, not better. After all, it would seem logical to me that the only way to “save” licentious people is to intensify our exhortations to behave. Therefore, what we desperately need is a renewed focus on ethics, duty, behavior, and so on. I mean, surely God doesn’t think that the saving solution for the immoral and rebellious is his free grace? That doesn’t make sense. It seems backwards, counter-intuitive. Matt Richard describes well how naturally we take it upon ourselves to reign the gospel in when we fear too much of it will result in lawlessness:

I have found that as Christians we many times attribute “lawlessness” to the preaching of the Gospel. Somewhere in our thinking we rationalize that if the Gospel is presented as “too free, too unconditional or that Jesus fulfills the law for us” that the result will be lax morality, loose living and lawlessness. It’s as if we believe that the freeing message of the Gospel actually produces, encourages and grants people a license to sin. Because of this rationalization we find ourselves strapping, holding and attaching restrictions to the Gospel so that we might prevent or limit lawlessness. In other words, the Gospel is placed into bondage due to our rationalization and reaction to lawlessness.

The truth is, that lawlessness and moral laxity happen, not when we hear too much grace, but when we hear too little of it. In One Way Love, I share the following letter I received from a man I’ve never met. He wrote:

Over the last couple of years, we have really been struggling with the preaching in our church as it has been very law laden and moralistic. After listening, I feel condemned with no power to overcome my lack of ability to obey. Over the last several months, I have found myself very spiritually depressed, to the point where I had no desire to even attend church. Pastors are so concerned about somehow preaching “too much grace” (as if that is possible), because they wrongly believe that type of preaching leads to antinomianism or licentiousness. But, I can testify that the opposite is actually true. I believe preaching only the law and giving little to no gospel actually leads to lawless living. When mainly law is preached, it leads to the realization that I can’t follow it, so I might as well quit trying. At least, that’s what has happened to me.

Gerhard Ebeling wrote, “The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel” because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living” instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection, while the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands we “must live out” instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.” As my friend and New Testament scholar Jono Linebaugh says, “God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.” Jen confuses these two “shots” and therefore fails to deliver the REAL bad news which prevents the reader from hearing (and being relieved by) the REAL good news. Jen Is Right…And Wrong The only other thing I would say is that Jen is right: failure is NOT a virtue. I’m not sure, however, that I’ve ever heard anyone say it is. But (and this is very, very important) failure IS a fact. AND because it’s a fact, acknowledging failure IS most definitely a virtue. Not to do so is delusional at best, dishonest at worst. The painful struggle to which Paul gives voice to in Romans 7 arises from his condition as someone who has been raised from the dead and is now alive to Christ (justified before God), but lingering sin continues to plague him at every level and in every way (sinful in himself )–what Luther described as simul justus et peccator. Paul’s testimony demonstrates that even after God saves us, there is no part of us that becomes sin-free—we remain sinful and imperfect in all of our capacities, in the totality of our being, or, as William Beveridge put it:

I cannot pray but I sin. I cannot hear or preach a sermon but I sin. I cannot give alms or receive the sacrament but I sin. I can’t so much as confess my sins, but my confessions are further aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears need washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer.

So when I say “Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail”, I’m NOT saying “go out and sin more so that grace may abound.” I’ve never heard anyone say that. What I AM saying is that you ARE failing and that if you are in Christ, your failure does not condemn you (Rom. 8:1). Furthermore, your failure cannot separate you from God’s love (Rom. 8:31ff). So, because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail without fear of being cast out, abandoned. Even our most cataclysmic failures won’t tempt God to “leave us or forsake us.” Perfect love casts out all fear. So, regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, like Paul in Romans 7, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not “how much I’ve improved over the years”, I realize that I’m a lot worse than I realize. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). No matter how decent I think I’m becoming–how much better I think I’m getting–when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24). Paul’s sobermindedness shows itself when he says things like “I’m the chief of sinners” and “I’m the least of all the saints.” Ironically, Paul’s honest acknowledgement of how unsanctified he was demonstrated just how sanctified he was. In other words, theologians of the cross (as opposed to theologians of glory) recognize that sanctification consists of an increased realization of our weakness and just how much grace we need. You see, this is what happens: the most common way grace is misunderstood is when people confuse it with cheapened law. Think of the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Or think of Jesus’ crushing line in the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Grace, for many Christians, is the reduction of God’s expectations of us. Because of grace, we think, we just need to try hard. Grace becomes this law-cheapening agent, attempting to make the law easier to follow. “Love the Lord with all your heart” becomes “try to love God more than sports.” “Be perfect” gets cheapened into “do your best.” J. Gresham Machen counterintutively noted, “A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace.” The reason this seems so counterintuitive is because most people think those who talk a lot about grace have a low view of God’s law (hence, the regular charge of antinomianism). Others think those with a high view of the law are the legalists. But Machen makes the compelling point that it’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not “cheap grace” but “cheap law”—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus. As essayist John Dink writes,

Cheap law weakens God’s demand for perfection, and in doing so, breathes life into the old creature and his quest for a righteousness of his own making. . . . Cheap law tells us that we’ve fallen, but there’s good news, you can get back up again. . . . Therein lies the great heresy of cheap law: it is a false gospel. And it cheapens—no—it nullifies grace.

01_LSvodkashot_Main Only when we see that the way of God’s law is absolutely inflexible will we see that God’s grace is absolutely indispensable. A high view of the law reminds us that God accepts us on the basis of Christ’s perfection, not our progress. Grace, properly understood, is the movement of a holy God toward an unholy people. He doesn’t cheapen the law or ease its requirements. He fulfills them in his Son, who then gives his righteousness to us. That’s the gospel. Pure and simple. Sanctification, simply defined, is love for God and love for others. But what actually produces love for God and love for others? Not the law. Nowhere does the Bible say that the law produces love. Nowhere. What the Bible does say is that love for God and others is produced only by God’s love for us. “We love him because he first loved us.” And this radical one-wayness of God’s love is alone the impetus to realizing the very things that Jen (and I ) longs to see happen in the lives of Christian people. “There’s a thing called Love we all forget…”

  • Austin says:

    Wonderful response, thank you! One of things that frustrated me about the initial article ‘failure is not a virtue’ was that she puts forth a major ‘straw man’ argument when it comes to her portrayal of Gospel-centered sanctification. I don’t think anyone out there properly arguing from the “Gospel-centered” or
    law/gospel’ hermeneutic and understanding of sanctification is saying that our obedience doesn’t matter. Rather, all true obedience is the fruit of the Gospel’s work in the life of the believer (Romans 1:16-17). The reality is simply that if the Law and the Gospel can be seen as two different roads leading to Christ and Christ-likeness (obedience), the road of the law (self effort) should have a sign that hangs above it saying “you can’t get there from here!” (Romans 3:19-20, Romans 5:20-21; Galatians 3:1-5). True obedience is the fruit, not the root, of the Christian life.

    • Kyle Farmer says:

      In response to Tchividjian’s claim that he has never seen an instance in which people view “virtue as a failure”, I would have to say that personal experience with what I believe Bonhoeffer WOULD label as cheap grace would counter this. I believe that humanity, as the unknown apostle states in Hebrews has “an evil, unbelieving heart” which would naturally render humankind to view themselves beyond the need of grace. Although I may be misunderstanding the idea that the law is completely separate from Gospel. In reading the epistles (particularly Romans) we see Paul presenting law along side grace, as the depravity that is in man could never understand the weightiness of free grace without the knowledge that this Gospel Grace is, indeed needed. Human beings are born with an inate sense of entitlement and therefore, are much more inclined to undermine the surpassing value of knowing Christ and His grace unless law is also presented. The law isn’t separate from the good news, it coincides. It’s the revealing of why we need grace that makes his gift sweeter. From personal experience in ministry I have seen too many glazed eyes and lackadaisical mentalities because all they see is an opportunity to morph the sweetness of Gospel grace into free lance to sin. And while I am describing non -believers, I also see many of the body openly expressing their struggle, not with the burden of being obedient to Christ, but with cultural complacency and distorted/cheapened justification of their sin.

  • the counterintuitive nature of the law-grace relationship..a reminder that Christ didn’t come to make me better; He came to make me over! Only when we realize our best will NEVER measure up to the law’s demands will we realize our desperate need for a grace that much more abounds.

  • this also reminds me of the following excerpt from Richard Rohr’s book, “Falling Upward”…

    “The ego clearly prefers an economy of merit, where we can divide the world into winners and losers, to any economy of grace, where merit and worthiness loses all meaning. In the first case, at least a few of us good guys attain glory. In the second case, all the glory is to God.” <<<I pray God frees us of that!

  • Walter Flach, Geneva-CH says:

    What a great response. With regard to the confusion of law and gospel,there are multitudes of Jen Wilkins all over planet earth doing more harm than good in the “professional religion business”. How right Martin Luther is: Whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between the law and the gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture. Amen.

  • Mindy says:

    I so appreciate this well-thought out explanation of the difference between Law and Grace. One thing I would like to see addressed more is the Scriptures. The Scriptures Jen used to show that Jesus
    was speaking to his followers (she said) were actually being used to bury the Pharisees who believed they were keeping the Law perfectly. I don’t believe he was instituting a new, harder law to keep.

    It is my understanding that because of Jesus our Old Man died. We were raised as new creation in Christ. My old man died and now the life of Jesus lives in me and I have a new law written on my heart, so I will actually begin to manifest His life and grow more and more into His image here on earth.

    There is a distinction between the Old Man and the flesh. In Romans 7 where Paul says if I continue to do the thing I hate it’s no longer me doing is sin which dwells in me. Because he’s also clear that the old man died with Christ it seems that we have something different going on here. I believe it’s more helpful to see myself as a saint (risen with Christ) who is tempted by my flesh which has been influenced by my old man since birth. As I renew my mind I will be transformed more and more into the image of Jesus.

  • Paula says:

    Oh PLEASE PLEASE respond to Steve Lawson who took and totally misrepresented you and Steve Brown….

    I do have concerns that you don’t name specific sins – we do need the third use of the law, and I think you are a little light on that. And often when I get to the end of a message of yours, I forgot what passage it was supposed to be on because it seems to be more about personal stories of how the law and gospel has applied in your life or the life of someone you know.

    But Lawson totally distorted what you were saying. It was seriously inexcusable. I found the original quote in the book. Where he says “he goes on to give a definitive NO” there is nothing of the sort in your writing.

  • Steve Martin says:

    The “3rd use of the law” comes out of fear.

    We don’t “use the law”. And the guide is ALREADY present in the first two uses. What happens then is that the door to legalism is opened and people then become either proud..or despairing, when specifics are preached as a way to become better or more faithful Christians.

    It does not work.

    As Luther said, “Let the floodgates of iniquity open!” (in response to those who said that moral laxity will result from this ‘grace preaching’).

  • Steve Martin says:

    This is quite helpful (from Steven Paulson, author of “Lutheran Theology):

  • David says:

    I don’t know about this…it seems to be that you (Tullian) and Jen are having the same back-and-forth that I would imagine Paul and James would have if they were sitting down at a cafe exchanging wisdom. They/you would both end up at the same conclusions, but your perspectives are different based off of the passion you’ve obtained by your differing experiences and audience.
    I for one HAVE had experience with people who may not “celebrate” their failures, but they use grace as an excuse not to really dedicate themselves to Christ with their entire lives. They use “well, nobody’s perfect” as a means to not necessarily justify sin, but rather to excuse the fact that they simply are not a sold out, Christ-or-nothing, fully engaged disciple of Christ. These are Christians who tend to treat church as more of a glorified self-help group than a place of worship and unity in the name of Christ. From my experience anyway. We all have our different experiences. Jen has different experiences than Tullian, and neither is more authoritative than the other. What we need is “Christ living in me,” and press on to be who we are by God’s grace. And reach out to your audiences according to what you know they need. Some need the message “you are redeemed by God’s grace.” Others know that (I know we are always growing in it), but the rubber hasn’t met the road yet and they need someone to guide them in seeing how that looks in everyday life. After all, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age”

  • David says:

    I should follow up my original post with the rest of that passage: “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

  • Tullian Tchividjian says:

    Hey David!

    I’m afraid it’s much deeper than differing perspectives shaped by different experiences. I hear that a lot. Confusing law and gospel is serious business that leads to serious confusion. As I say in the post, when you do that, the force of both get lost. The fact is, that too many out there conclude that the law is the ultimate answer to lawlessness. Nowhere does the Bible say this. In fact, it says the opposite.

    A lot of preaching these days is too theoretical and disconnected from reality when it comes to the human condition and how real change happens. We use language like “indicatives” and “imperatives.” We love phrases like “faith alone saves but the faith that saves is never alone” and “grace is opposed to earning, not effort.” And all of those categories and phrases are good. I affirm them all theologically. But none of them answers this question: how does change actually happen?

    My post seeks to answer that question.

    Have a great weekend, my friend!


  • Ethan says:

    “I for one HAVE had experience with people who may not ‘celebrate’ their failures, but they use grace as an excuse not to really dedicate themselves to Christ with their entire lives.”

    David, this person’s problem is not with a misunderstanding of the law but with a misunderstanding of grace. While Paul readily admitted his failures and sinful desires, he also said that sin should no longer abound. A proper understanding of grace leads to a proper understanding of obedience.

    This is why we must not only preach grace but preach grace correctly, not as a “get out of jail free” card but as an act of God that radically transforms us from idolaters to worshipers of the risen Christ.

  • Ethan says:

    I should add, along with Tullian’s post, that this person may also misunderstand law and treat it cheaply.

  • Amy says:

    Where I hear the phrase “nobody’s perfect” is from preachers who want us to keep working at obeying the law. Jesus said, “Be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect,” and the preacher tells us this means we need to make an effort TO BE PERFECT. Just a step at a time–not that we will ever get there, because we all know “no one is perfect.”
    If we will never be perfect, how can the Bible call us saints? Because God looks at His children and sees the perfection of JESUS. Not because we are working at it.

  • Kenton says:

    Excellent post. Very clarifying. I do agree that often Reformed types seem to simplify the Christian life to one of obeying the Law of Moses. However, what it seems like Jen was responding against was not so much the celebration of failure, but the seeming lack of desire to do anything about it, because there doesn’t seem to be a recognition that Christ died not to save us from Law-keeping, but “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14 ESV). He didn’t save us for us to keep the Law of Moses, but he did save us to that we would be sons and daughters of God who obey Him in the love of the Spirit and who believe in Him in hope of eternal life.

    Wouldn’t a high view of grace result in a biblically balanced preaching of imperative and promise? Wouldn’t a high view of grace trust that the preaching of how we must live would prompt love instead of fear, and encourage instead of depress? Wouldn’t a high view of grace lead us to preach this foundational truth: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification… For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness… God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7, 8 ESV)? Wouldn’t a high view of grace trust that the grace that saves is also the grace that compels love for God?

    For what do we mean when we say “grace”? Well, we certainly mean God’s gracious giving of His own Son as our means of cleansing and ransom. We certainly mean God’s gracious declaration that we are righteous in His sight on account of our faith in Christ. And we must certainly mean God’s graciousness in drawing us to Himself and in stirring our minds and hearts to both see and believe the gospel. But does God’s grace end there? Is that all that God’s grace does? Do we simply look backwards? Not according to Paul: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13, 14 ESV). What lies ahead? Resurrection from the dead, and eternal glory in the kingdom and presence of our God and Father!

    Does God’s grace not extend into eternity? Is it just a past grace, or an ever-present grace? Look at the grace of God: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

    When is God’s grace displayed to us? In the coming ages! And they are immeasurable! This isn’t just Christ’s death. This is onward, forever! And therefore, God’s grace must include the giving of His Spirit to us. And in His grace, it is God who trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12 ESV). And how does He train us? Through the preached word, through accountability, through exhortations and warnings and promises. These are God’s grace to us.

    “For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

    But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, 6, 8-10 ESV)

  • David says:

    I agree with both of you concerning everything you’ve said. The reason James and Paul would both agree in the end is they boy have the same understanding of grace, and James’ efforts to get people to get to work was not that works justify them, but because they have been justified by grace. In fact, both James and Paul cite Abraham – Paul says “Abraham was justified by grace” and James says “Abraham was justified by works.” Why did James say that? Because faith will naturally produce works. I don’t want to put words in Jen’s mouth, and maybe I’m just more optimistic about her underlying assumptions. But I do think that salvation by grace and the fact that works MUST play a factor in our lives if we’ve really been justified by grace though faith, to which I don’t think either of you’d disagree. I agree when Jen says “Modified behavior reflects a changed heart.” And to her big idea about failure not being a virtue, I think her passion is to see change in the arena of people, well, not changing because of God’s grace – which would be an indication that perhaps they’ve never personally accepted God’s grace in the first place. Like I said, I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but this is the heart that I got from her post, and I support this notion. I don’t believe that we are supposed to come back to the law now that we are under grace. I mean, the law was always supposed to point people to grace-by-faith anyway, even in OT times – “Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.” I fully agree that the Law was never supposed to be an ultimate end and a constant factor in our daily lives. However, in countless places, we find command after command given to those who ARE under grace. And I think the Church would do well to come back to a place where it actually cares about what God says their life should reflect, and then reflect that with works.

  • Ken says:

    THANK YOU, for yet another defense and presentation of free grace! It changed my life, and has changed my preaching. No one sits in the pew and weeps when I tell them to try harder, depend on God harder, etc., so as to live a better, more obedient life. People weep with joy when they hear they are unconditionally loved, accepted, forgiven, and promised an endless life of security and blessing despite their repeated failures–all by simply trusting in the King who died for them and loves them as they are. And then, guess what? They end up obeying that King… Go figure!

  • Eileen says:

    I love the graphic of the Nike symbol morphed into a cross. Such a clean way to make a very relative and powerful statement! I feel weary just looking at it.

  • Steve Martin says:

    What your life “should reflect” is law.

    The law can’t save you…but only condemns you. There’s no life in it.

    If you’re doing it because you ought to be doing it, then it is a “filthy rag”.

    Good works naturally flow from faith. And we cannot judge them or compare them one to another.

    Either one is completely free…in Christ. Or one is not. There is no freedom in the law (what we should, ought, or must be doing).

    St. James is always dragged out by those who just love to rain on a parade.

  • Greg says:

    Hey Tullian,

    Here’s a question you may have addressed in your books (I don’t have time to read everything I’d like!): Would you say that there motivations *in addition* to God’s “one-way love” in Christ that are legitimate in bringing believers to obey?

    I’m right with you on the need to cultivate a love for Christ and a recognition of his grace toward believers. A failure to understand the glories of Christ and the gospel are why moralism is impotent. I’m just trying to clarify if you would say there’s anything else allowable as a motivation beyond God’s love/grace.


  • Tullian Tchividjian says:

    Hey Greg!

    I address that very question here:

    Have a great weekend!

  • Brad says:

    If I read the original article right, I don’t believe that Jen was saying that you obtain righteousness by obeying the law or that somehow the law will transform sinners in producing obedience. The Gospel changes people, plain and simple. But what does the Gospel change people into? Is it not progressively changing people into the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28-30)? What does this look like? Is part of that growth not obedience to the commands of God (John 14:15)? The Gospel frees us and sets us on a path of obedience to the commands of God and those commands are not burdensome according to 1 John 5:3. We need to help our people understand that the grace of God propels them to obedience and then show them what obedience looks like. I don’t think that anybody is necessarily advocating a license to sin, but seems to communicate rather an indifference to sin and failure. Acknowledging failure is one thing, but we cannot stay there. We must, in the power of the Spirit working through the Word of God continue to press on into the image of Christ. There is a progressive sense to sanctification in which I am becoming more like Christ. Sanctification is more than simply a deeper acknowledgment of how wretched we are, it is progressively growing in holiness.
    After I come to Christ, what is the purpose of God’s commands? In view of this article, it seems that those commands are only really given to show me grace, God doesn’t really expect me to obey them. So when I am told to love God with all my heart, there’s really no reason to try and do that since the law only exists to show me I can’t do that. When I’m told to love my neighbor I need to just throw up my hands and not concern myself with that command because I could never fulfill it. Yes God’s grace is evidence of a “holy God moving to an unholy people”, but that movement has an agenda, to make the unholy people holy. That is accomplished positionally in Christ, and progressively through obedience (Philippians 2:12-13)
    I would assume that most would agree that the life of the believer should look different than the life of the unbeliever. The works of the flesh versus the works of the Spirit lists in Galatians 5 would indicate as much. Then how are those works of the Spirit supposed to evidence themselves in our lives. Is prayer alone for God to do something that we could never do on our own the answer? Is it a “let go and let God” mentality? I think that Biblically we have to say there’s a balance here. Just as Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” There is a tension built into these verses where we are called to labor towards Christlikeness while God is the one accomplishing and securing our sanctification through the work of Christ.

    This article does state that we should call people to obedience, I’d love to hear that developed more. What does it look like to call someone to obedience to God’s commands that are resting in Christ’s grace?

  • Kenton says:

    Steve, it might sound spiritual to say, “If you’re doing it because you ought to be doing it, then it is a “filthy rag””, or that [what we should, ought, or must be doing] has no place in Christ, but the Scripture states otherwise:

    “This is how one *should* regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” (1 Corinthians 4:1 ESV)

    The husband *should* give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:3 ESV)

    But all things *should* be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40 ESV)

    Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual *should* restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 ESV)

    “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you *ought* to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6 ESV).

    “For you yourselves know how you *ought* to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you” (2 Thessalonians 3:7 ESV).

    I desire then that in every place the men *should* pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; (1 Timothy 2:8 ESV)

    “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one *ought* to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14, 15 ESV).

    “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people *ought* you to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11 ESV).

    We *should* not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. (1 John 3:12 ESV)

    “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also *ought* to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV).

    This is Paul, Peter, and John. In no wise does the obligation to live in Christ contradict the freedom that grace brings. Grace frees us from the Law of Moses and from sin. It does not free us from God. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11 ESV). It’s not an option, it’s a command, and it in no way contradicts the grace of God, for it is God who both commands it and gives His Spirit to us for this very purpose.

  • John Dunn says:

    Cheap Law weakens God’s demand for perfection by insisting that it was the obligation and duty of fallen, sinful, Adamic-man to fulfill it.

    But the Law rightly understood, as a redemptive Old Covenant type, pointed toward God’s ultimate standard of Righteousness that was fully, finally, and decisively revealed in the perfect God-Man, Jesus Christ(Rom 3:21-22). The Law pointed ONLY to Jesus. Not to us. Meditate on Romans 9:30 to 10:4, with Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 22:44, and John 5:45-47.

    The typology of Messiah’s righteousness was a mystery that was hidden in the Law, undisclosed to Israel (2 Cor 3:14-15, Rom 11:7-10), but NOW revealed to us New Covenant saints (Rom 16:25-26, Col 1:25-26, Col 2:2).

  • Rob says:

    I love Tullian’s grace thrust. “How sweet the sound!” But…do we perhaps dismiss Jen’s concern too lightly, or too quickly read her as endorsing the idea that the law transforms the sinner? I think TT assumes she’s in the camp that he regularly, and correctly, corrects; but I don’t see anything in what she wrote that puts her in that camp. I suspect she would agree with TT that “nowhere does the Bible say that the law carries the power to change us.” And that “grace alone carries the power to inspire what the law demands.” She’s just pushing back against what is no doubt a well-intentioned rhetorical thrust, in some quarters today, that often SOUNDS like obedience is not even a category for Christians to be concerned about. If I’m right, then TT is to a certain extent talking past her and missing her point.

    Where is the evidence that Jen is confusing the “shots” of law and gospel? And: where is the place, in our preaching and other exhortation, for: “be transformed” (Rom 12)…”do what is good”…and “let us walk properly as in the daytime”….(Rom 13)…and “Blessed are those who…walk in his ways” (Ps. 119)…and a zillion other imperatives? That is, that good and helpful use of the Law not to commend ourselves to God but to see what grace-driven love looks like.

  • Philip Standefer says:

    Two questions
    1. Is the risen Christ more powerful than the sin that dwells in the flesh?
    2. What is the role of the Holy Spirit in sanctification?

  • Thank you! I liked Jen’s point on that we should sin less. Yet, when we do sin and fail, run to Jesus. I wrote a post on failure, not too long ago, her post’s aimed to be focused on a different aspect of it.

    I appreciate your response. Now, maybe we could get her thoughts on this?


  • Steve Martin says:

    How about this one (we might as well go all the way, right?);

    “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    Ok…then do it. Be it. All you little lawbangers. And NO flimsy excuses or copouts that you “are trying”.

    Nobody cares about your measly, lackluster, half-hearted, insincere efforts…but you and maybe your mother.

  • Giles Beynon says:

    Hi Tullian,

    Excellent post basically the conclusion I’ve come to and what the Bible says it all comes down to love.

    Many blessings to you

    Your Brother in Messiah

    Giles Beynon

  • Hey Tullian,

    Good words of perspective soaked pin the true gospel! Check out my reflection :Still Amazed by Grace!”

  • d camp says:

    Seems to me, though, that we are still ignoring the “white elephant in the middle of the living room” part of this discussion: Do we follow Jesus’ example in Jn 15:9-11 and intentionally obey commands in the Scripture, or does this happen automatically? And I am not referring to the Mosaic Code or Law specifically, as the OC has been fulfilled in Christ. I am referring to any NT commandment/imperative or OT principle more broadly conceived, such as the marriage ordinance in Genesis. When Paul said “Do not be unequally yoked” or “Do this until I come,” or “Do not neglect meeting together,” etc., do we intentionally obey them or not?

    I do not think anyone in this discussion is saying that the law saves, or that obedience is not the response to the grace of God in justification and sanctification. And for that matter, I doubt if anyone would say that Abraham, David, or Daniel were sanctified by works. Has any believer been sanctified by works? Then what of David’s intentional obedience to the written word? Specific laws have changed, but is intentional obedience to the commands of Christ the same thing as legalism? The fact that we as sanctified believers do not obey perfectly — and no one here is suggestion that — doesn’t mean that we don’t obey purposefully. God never accepts any attempt by a women or man to try and justify themselves by what they do, but we can be thankful that God is pleased by faithful obedience to his word when it is motivated by loving service to him and our neighbor. Any attempt at service/obedience to God by a non-believer is “filthy rags,” but service/worship by a sanctified believer — although still imperfect — is now pleasing/acceptable to God as spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1, 2)

    The Spirit works in the hearts of God’s people, and the Spirit inspired the Word, all Scripture, both promise and precept (2 Tim 3:16, 17). This text, like many others, seems to clearly say that intentional obedience to the word of God is one of the purposes that the Spirit “breathed it out.” The question is really simple, do we intentionally obey, recognizing our dependence on the internal empowerment of the Spirit (Phil 2:12, 13), or do we believe that any attempt to obey the word, no matter what the motivation is just legalism?

  • Rob says:

    d camp…you’re onto something, brother. (Sister?) Would others — perhaps even Tullian — like to interact with this? Does a celebration of grace, of the sort Tullian, et al, promote…preclude an “intentional obedience”? As d camp asks, doesn’t grace produce a desire for just that kind of obedience, and it’s not legalism?

    And isn’t that sorta what Jen Wilkin was saying?

    That is: look a “Do this” from Jesus square in the face, and say: “thank you, Lord, for your amazing grace! I WANT to do what you say. Help me obey you!” (Cf. 1 Cor. 15:10)

  • PGM says:

    Hi David,

    I just wanted to add that I think James does makes the distinction between law and grace beautifully and powerfully. We can see the dynamics even in the question he poses- “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? can that faith save him?” (James 2:14) James presents faith in the form of a calculation, similar to a type of chemistry equation–but it is no ordinary equation it is divine. In our limited minds we naturally default to a human formula. We think James is talking about works and belief being the equation–which equals faith. But God transcends human formula and is not indicating that works are proof of faith–but rather that a lack of works is evidence of a faulty faith to begin with. Notice is that a failed result is implied in the verse indicating an inactivated true and living faith in the first place. The problem is that the law is unable to bring about faith of this kind, yet is often the foundation in the church for inspiring it. James here is not focusing on works but on a type of true faith rooted in grace which organically brings about works. A faith made alive through grace that naturally gives proof activation has occurred as in the example of Abraham. This is a picture of what the product of living faith looks like as a whole. In fact, notice that James is not saying that the person in verse (14) has faith– but rather he only “says” he has faith. Therefore, James is indicating that simply placing trust in an “intellectual” ascent of that message does not make anyone a true believer. The fault doesn’t lie in the works, but the faulty faith which naturally lacks works. A few verses later he solidifies this point by reminding us that even the demons believe and know intellectually the truth of the cross, in fact their understanding of doctrine is even more orthodox than ours. (James 2:19)

    What we can rightly deduce, then, is that when the bible talks about “faith” it must be talking about a quality of belief that goes beyond intellectualism to something greater; something that effects the heart in such a way that its activation gives proof of genuine faith. This kind of faith can only be found in grace–alone–Satan can’t touch it, he has no place here and no relate-ability as in an the intellectual ascent. In other words a person can say “this is what I believe” having the message in perfect order, and not be saved because they are depending on a formula of law and grace. This is why James poses this question–in order to flush out this kind of faulty faith. James 1:22 goes on to communicate that works wrought by living faith through grace organically bring about works, but are not dependent on works. This is described as “complete” (v22) The word for complete in the original language has the meaning of being “whole.” Here again we see what the product genuine faith looks like as a whole. In other words “works” does not activate faith, rather true faith when activated by the Spirit simply results in actions…

    Those who haven’t moved past intellectual ascent view this passage through a lens that labels works of any kind “legalistic.” Those who are legalistic, on the other hand, think this verse endorses an obedience doctrine, and use it to strengthen their position. They start with works and go back backwards. They “do” and then apply it to their theology.

    Obviously, neither is correct. The truth is that each, in reality, is a mask– a mask hiding the fact that there is no real spiritual movement behind either one. Whereas, the kind of faith that James is talking about has complete spiritual enlivening force behind it initiating and “activating” a course of action. The example given in James is Abraham whose actions are spurred on by an enlivened, activated faith which produced deep sense of persuasion and trust in God. Abraham’s belief was not simply intellectual, it was his life, and his life-choices were directed and influenced by it his belief. Look what it says:

    “You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. (James 2:20-24).

    Notice, again, the word “complete” in this verse which has the meaning of “whole.” In other words, when Abraham’s action is unmasked–we find faith. And when his belief is unmasked– we find action; both working together. There is a wholeness about his faith.

    Our lives will speak volumes about our faith–not in perfection, but in wholeness? That means there will be plenty of failure, but our faith no longer is dependent on our success or failure, but rather on Christ’s perfection and lack of failure. Grace alone. We can see pictures of what this kind of faith looks (in action) in the lives of the saints documented in Hebrews 11. If you consider each example you will not find a to-do list, but a heart activated by grace led by the Spirit of God, moving forward into actions prompted by faith.

    “Now faith is the confidence in what we hope for and the assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews11:1)

  • Rick Koconis says:

    Yikes! Touch a nerve much. You guys are wearing me out. Take a breath and relax. I can’t believe I just read almost all of these posts. But thanks for enlightening me to the fact that I need to get out from in front of this stupid computer, go for a walk, and deal with my own self-righteousnes.

  • Kenton says:

    James certainly maintains the distinction between the administration of the Law and that of the gospel:

    “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (2:5)

    God hasn’t chosen those who were already rich in faith. He has chosen people from the world to BE rich in faith, and heirs of his kingdom. And if he has chosen them to be rich in faith, then he has also chosen them to love him (and thereby to inherit his promise).

    If this isn’t grace, I don’t know what is.

    But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on, saying, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves… But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (1:21-22,25)

    Is this from the Law? Or is it a result of hearing with faith? James says this comes from looking into the law of liberty, but how can there be such a thing as a law of liberty? And how can blessing come from “doing” the word? Is James a legalist? Is he fallen from grace?

    It cannot be, as some suppose, an attempt to deconstruct such doing as futile. That would be reading into the text what clearly isn’t there.

    James says later, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (3:13) And then, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (3:17)

    Why would James tell believers to show their works? Isn’t that self-righteous?
    But what does he say earlier? “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (1:5) And he assures this by saying, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.” (1:17-18)

    How then should we describe the person who refrains from demonstrating good conduct because he doesn’t believe that any good conduct is possible? Well, he lacks wisdom and understanding, but most importantly he lacks faith. Because if he believed that every good gift came from the Father, he would ask God for the wisdom necessary to love God.

    James doesn’t instruct them to turn away from wickedness because he believes that they in themselves have the power to do it. He instructs them because God generously gives the power to do it.

  • Tullian Tchividjian says:

    Guys, guys, guys…don’t overcomplicate this.

    The point is a simple one: whether you’re talking about the first, second, or third use (old covenant, new covenant, James, Paul, whatever) the law has the same limits. Always has, always will. It can point, but it cannot produce. It is right and glorious to delight in the law of the Lord, for example, but the law itself (even in it’s third use) doesn’t generate the delight. The gospel does. Anyone paying attention to writing and preaching today cannot deny that there is a gross confusion of categories and that the law (in all of its uses) is assumed to have the power to produce what it demands.


  • Mike says:

    Thanks Tullian, for repeatedly addressing this issue.

  • Rebekah says:

    Greetings Tullian,

    I read both Jen Wilkin’s article and this one, and am familiar with many of your articles and writings on this topic of grace. Recently, I’ve been exploring more deeply the way the Scripture presents the Christian’s sanctification and growth in godliness.

    This passage in 2 Peter has been instrumental in helping me understand this process:

    “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

    But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness,to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.”

    So from my understanding of this passage, God’s power has given us (believers) all that we need in order to live a godly life, and this is accomplished through 1) our knowledge of Christ and our calling (salvation), and 2) the amazing promises given to us because of who we are in Christ.

    Then Peter explains that it is because we have been given power and salvation and promises that we must then be diligent to pursue virtue, knowledge, self-control etc. And if we do this, the result will be fruitfulness (instead of barrenness and unfruitfulness). Interestingly Peter also says that if we lack those things, we could become blind and forgetful of our cleansing from former sins (which I take to mean our salvation). By not pursuing godliness and seeking to live a holy life, it can cause us to forget what God has done in justifying us, because we lose assurance of who we are in Him!

    Peter here emphasizes effort (“diligence”) and the pursuit of godliness (which means obedience to the Word) so that we can be fruitful for Christ. I am curious as to your thoughts on this passage and how it relates to your argument here that–and correct me if I’m not wording it correctly–the Law has no usefulness in making us godly?

  • PGM says:

    True Tullian! I was starting to confuse myself–thanks for simplifying!

  • Kenton says:

    By ‘gospel’ I assume you mean more than just the memory of Christ’s death, but all that the gospel affords us, including forgiveness/cleansing, justification/adoption, consecration through the Spirit, and the hope of living with God forever?

  • Annie says:

    Hi Tullian,

    I am so thankful for your article. Most of the time, the GC articles seem theoretical and disconnected from my daily life as a stay-at-home-mom. Not this one! Thank you for putting into words what I have been experiencing acutely the past few years. And thank you for writing in a way that is easily understood by this tired mama.

    This season has been confusing and dark, as God has used it to reveal my deep-seated perversions of the Christian life. I have had no choice but to acknowledge many failures, and yet my Christian “muscles” have proved very weak in handling this realization.

    Slowly, the Spirit has faithfully been speaking and reorienting me back to high law and high grace. Weakness and failure are in fact things I now celebrate, only in so much as I am celebrating the scandalous grace that covers them for all time, in all ways. I read 2 Corinthians constantly, clinging to Paul’s identification as a suffering, weak man with a powerful, loving God.

    And meanwhile, I still daily grieve my sin and failures, and in some ways they have become even MORE heinous to me as I celebrate my weaknesses. The pain is deeper when I stop pretending I can “just do it,” and the last thing I would do is lessen the seriousness of my sin. That is why Jen’s article disheartened me. God is still in the early stages of healing these perversions in me, and I feel vulnerable to confusion as an untrained, desperate mom navigating deep spiritual realities of my daily life.

    So I wanted to thank you for what you do. I’ve sometimes lashed out in my thoughts at theologians who have the time to conceptualize, while my life feels like a battle that leaves me wounded and hurting almost daily. Today reminded me that your (and others’) work is critically important, even if most of the time I can’t see how it translates down to layman’s lives.


  • Rick Coleman says:

    I love you Tullian, and you are so encouraging in so many different ways. BUT one thing that discourages me is how you seem to insist that “law” and “love” are opposed to one another. Maybe I’m off here?

    And though this is simplistic, I think it summarizes the Bible’s teaching:

    “Law” and “Love” are graceful fiends when in the Spirit.

    “Law” and “love” are legalistic enemies when in the flesh.

    Tullian, like many other teachers who are scared to death of moralism, you seem to assume that we are always in the legalistic flesh when it comes to obeying God.

    And guess what? A lot of times we are. But how about us teachers empower and exhort our people in the Spirit AS MUCH as we seek to tear down their flesh.

    Let’s do both, like God tells us to! Notice I didn’t say empower and exhort their fleshy, moralistic side. No! Empower them in their new grace-bought, grace-sustained identity. If they’re Christians, they want to learn how to be who they are! Christians!

    I think “The law of love” section in Keller’s “Meaning of Marriage” is a bit more biblical when it comes to the relationship between “law” and “love” (and I say biblical not to demean Tullian, but to highlight a possible more accurate teaching).

    I agree with you Tullian that it is of the utmost significance to get this stuff right. It’s not always a matter of “balance” and “different experiences.”

    Tullian, you are truly a young, inspiring voice that is helping many get to know and experience the amazing grace of God, but like me, we both have a long way to go before we can say we are hitting all of Scriptures promises, commands, and warnings simultaneously and with a gospel lens.

    And by God’s grace, we will both get there!

  • Tullian Tchividjian says:

    Thank you Rick! You are kind.

    Please don’t misunderstand me. I would be wrong if I was presenting a sharp dichotomy. I’m not. I’m presenting a biblical distinction. Those are two different things. Distinctions are not dichotomies.

    As I say in the post, both God’s law and God’s gospel are good but both have unique job descriptions. God’s good law endorses the need for change but is powerless to enact change—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. It can show us what love for God and others looks like, but only love can produce love for God and others (1 John 4:19). Nowhere does the Bible say that the law carries the power to change us. The law can instruct, but only grace can inspire.

    That’s all I’m saying. The law is good. The gospel is good. But God, by his Spirit uses both of his words to do different (albeit good) things.

    Blessings, my friend.

  • Rick Coleman says:

    I agree whole-heartedly, Tullian. You’re right about how distinctions and dichotomies are two different things. Life would be easier if we understood that.

    Additionally, I can’t stand keeping the theology “out there,” so I wanted to put some tread on it for a minute. My email is if that is easier.

    So, I work with college student and young adults, and one of things I am wrestling with is empowering them with God’s good commands, even while the clear focus is the good gospel.

    Here’s what I mean. I just talked to a young unmarried (Christian) couple who is having sex. If I have just preached the gospel of God’s finished, one-way grace that is already their in Christ, and I see their hearts in-the-moment alivening to God’s awesomeness, what is next?

    For example, the couple (especially the male) says, ” Wow. I am free! We don’t have to have illegal sex anymore. I belong to Christ!”

    Then he says, ” I am already free! Pastor, how do I walk in that freedom?”

    The natural, Spirit-led logic is: ” Through Christ, I am already free (gospel) THEREFORE how do I joyfully walk in that freedom (law).

    At that point, I don’t tell him that the law is bad, correct? Nor do I simply say “keep believing the gospel.” I shepard them! I empower them in Father God’s good commands that help him walk in that gospel freedom. Commands such as “put to death all filthy thoughts, including your girlfriends”, not seeing “how close” to sin you can get, etc.

    So, put another way, isn’t the law our friend if we have a gospel-soaked heart that is looking to connect the dots from hearing the gospel to doing the gospel (hearing the word to doing the word).

  • d camp says:

    When I read these posts, I get the sense that virtually everyone is trying to say the same thing, in one way or another. Seems to me that we need more careful distinction between what Paul refers to pejoratively as “works of law,” “keeping the law,” or “the written code” and the intentional obedience to the written word by faithful believers simply following in the footsteps of Christ. Is anyone here really saying that when Jesus says, “Do this until I come,” that we shouldn’t “Do this until I come”? And I don’t think anyone here is saying that the source of our intentional obedience is anything other than love for God and a response to His gracious work of redemption in our lives.

    Also seems to me that we tend to focus too much on our experience as opposed to what we bring to God. When we read the record of God walking with men, our natural tendency is think of how that effects us, when perhaps it should be the other way around. The joy we experience in our Christian walk is not something that occurs arbitrarily or simply due to the presence of the Holy Spirit, but is the by-product or result of our experiential union with Christ. The fact that we as forgiven but fallen creatures can bring pleasure to God is truly amazing as well as humbling, but that is also where we receive our greatest joy. He takes pleasure when we learn from Him and confess our sins to him, honoring him as prophet and priest. And certainly none would deny that intentional obedience is one of the ways we honor him as King, and like Jesus’ example in Jn 15:9-11, ultimately experience the joy of a personal relationship with him.

  • Christie says:

    Thank you, Tullian! The day I saw her post I seriously almost forwarded the post to you to ask for a response and your take on her thoughts. I’m glad someone else requested your response for me :) :)

  • Steve Martin says:

    Thanks so much for this post on law and gospel.

    I’m now going to ignore it and continue in the delusion that I actually want to obey the Living God and trust solely in Him.

    (the reality is that I want what I want. I don’t stop sinning and putting myself first…because I don’t want to stop. That is exactly what self-obsessed little idolators do. If you don’t believe that you are anything like me, then you have a much deeper problem)

  • rick coleman says:


    At the risk of misunderstanding your previous post, I believe it represents what Jen was talking about in her post.

    You are acknowledging your failure (which is good!), but you are failing to preach the gospel which says that you’re no longer a slave to your sin. And it certainly isn’t your identity!

    If you are a Christians who trusts in Jesus’ work and not your own, you are a Saint who now desires to live and obey God, however imperfect it might be!


  • Steve Martin says:

    Thanks, Rick!

    How about you?

    When are YOU going to live (the way God wants you to) and obey God?

    I think I know you better than you know yourself, friend.

    And that (your believing that you CAN, WOULD, WILL obey God) is a direct result of lousy preaching that leads you on in thinking the aforementioned.

    We say (which is the truth) that we are in bondage to sin, and cannot (will not) free ourselves.

    We actually need a Savior…because we are full-blown sinners. Of a similar type that were in the temple that Jesus compared to the upright, religious Pharisee.

  • Rick Coleman says:


    You are talking like a non-believer. You are freed from bondage to sin through trust in what Jesus has already done for you. By his grace and in his power, you and I ARE able to walk in new life. That’s is part of the goodness of the gospel!. We are free!!

    We are neither full-blown sinners nor Pharisees. We are God’s children, his saints, his servants, his ambassadors, and his friends.

    Don’t get me wrong, Steve, sin is a part of us and it is serious business that needs to be killed daily. Hourly! But it is in no way, shape, or form our identity.

    But I’m like Jen and am wondering if some people (and maybe you in this case) enjoy talking about your sin but don’t like trusting that Jesus has freed you from that sin and enables you to walk in new life with his people.

    Acknowledging sin IS a virtue, SO LONG AS it is done with a heart that desperately wants to stop sinning and to start worshipping our beautiful God.

    As much as I love Tullian, this is where I disagree with him. Like any other righteous act, acknowledging sin can be done in a way that a reveals a heart that doesn’t really want to love and obey our King.

    Tullian, wouldn’t you agree? Like prayer and bible reading and “tithing,” acknowledging sin is a good thing that can be done with the wrong motive?

  • Steve Martin says:


    You really don’t want to stop you?

    Otherwise…you would stop.

  • Jo Zuercher says:

    Quite simply, Jen has lowered the bar. Raise the bar back to where Jesus said it should be; “Go and sin no more” not “Go and improve”, “Go and try harder”, or “Go and do your best”. We must raise the bar back to where Jesus came to reset it or we will never be able to judge how utterly far we are from reaching it. Someone needs to speed up the treadmill.

  • rick coleman says:

    Tullian, wouldn’t you agree? That like prayer and bible reading and “tithing,” acknowledging sin is a good thing that can be done with the wrong motive?

  • a. says:

    as Jen said in her article “Earnest Christians look to their church leaders and ask, “Teach me to walk in his ways.” We owe them, “This is the way, walk in it.”

    so let us pray that His people’s love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment so that we may approve the things that are excellent Phil 1:9

  • Steve Martin says:

    “This is the way, walk in it.”

    And they (we) never do.

    That word (of law – that’s what it is, dear brothers and sisters) condemns us. It exposes us. And it ought put us to death.

    Put to death in us that we can be anything that the law demands of us by anything that we do, say, feel, or think.

    What do you think of that sports fans?

    Talk about a hard word of law. (and they are ALL HARD…when properly understood as perfect demand – which is exactly what they are)

  • Curt Day says:

    There are multiple dimensions to talking about law and grace. We should note that we often confuse failure before people with failure before God. And, in fact, this is a distinction we must make because the nonChristians will tend to be thinking about failure before people before they think about failure before God.

    But the idea of using the word failure suggests that sin is a performance issue rather than a personal issue. Sin is a personal issue where we fall short in loving God and our neighbor as God demands. And so when we sin, we need to address the issue of whom we love.

    Finally, there is another moralistic trap that exists for the Christian than what has been described here. When we say that we are now free to obey, a complex phrase, has been understood as flying back to the law to see what we should do. Sometimes that should occur. But we should note one way by which Paul teaches us to obey the law in Galatians. That way is not to return to the law but to walk by the Spirit. Though such a statement is nebulous, if we read all of Galatians, we see that walking by or abiding in the Spirit is tied to listening with faith, is tied to our cleaving to Christ. So following the law, to whatever extent we can, takes on a new process for Christians than it did for those who lived during Old Testament.

  • David Willis says:

    It seems to me that the proper understanding of grace frees us to do all that the law demands and more. When we measure our efforts by the law and the law is our standard, we will only be discouraged because we are looking at ourselves and our performance. Every day we will be set back and frustrated. When we fully embrace Jesus and the truth that our performance really isn’t part of the equation, we are free to live “above the law” so to speak. I no longer measure my life by my failures, and find I actually live to the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. Rather than living more licentiously, I actually, somehow, live more lawfully because the law is written on my heart and I am conforming to life of the Spirit. I find, as Paul says in Romans 8, that the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.

  • a. says:

    oh Steve (above),as Paul always said, ‘it is no problem to remind you’:
    the gospel of the kingdom is being preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come. Matt 24:14; the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Rom 14:17; there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace and on His throne/over his kingdom He will uphold justice and righteousness forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this. Isa 9:7; He will rule the nations with a rod of iron.

    But, praise be to God, He has made a new covenant with His own people putting His laws upon our hearts and writing them on our minds and our sins and lawless deeds He will remember no more. (Heb 10:16-17)

    The Lord is righteous and loves righteousness and justice and hates wickedness; the way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but He loves one who pursues righteousness. (Psalms/Prov)

    therefore, WE love righteousness; and we pursue and practice righteousness, faith, love, and peace and in the future there is laid up for us the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award on that day to all who have loved His appearing. (1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 2:22; 4:8; 1 John 3:10).

    For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you

  • Steve Martin says:

    God is at work (in the law) trying to put me to death, yet again, and you want me to throw gasoline on the fire and start to act like I’ve got a handle on this obedience stuff.

    Give me a break.

    It’s no wonder the unchurched believe that Christians are self-righteous and better than everyone else.

  • Don J Chiechi says:

    There was once a poor man who had nothing except one little ewe lamb. It was like a daughter to him, but an idolatrous man, “rich in grace”, who had many of his own sheep and cattle took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man. You, Steve, are the poor man!

    This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: March silently (humbly) around Jericho, for it shall fall with a shout. Then we shall sacrifice a freewill offering to the LORD and praise his holy name. For in his goodness he shall delight in delivering us from all our troubles, and our eyes shall look in triumph on our foes.

  • […] a post Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue: A Response To Jen Wilkin, I found myself nodding along with Tchividjian because I, too, have been around the Christian […]

  • Steve Martin says:

    Whatever you do, don’t listen to this one (you obedience hounds)…you might learn something:

    Ah…go-head…I double dog dare ya!

  • David says:

    Wow, Steve Martin, I hate to say it, but regardless of the truth in your message, that’s a pretty haughty statement, patronizing everyone else here and putting yourself on a pedestal. Isn’t the Gospel supposed to adorn Jesus, and not ourselves? I am probably one of the couple who took the time to listen to the file and agree with the promises. There are tons of messages and books out there that point out this stuff, not just you. But we still can’t get around the fact that the NT is full of commands – over 1000 of them in fact. Acknowledging the commands does not present a false Gospel. But they show us how we can adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ and love Him and show our devotion to Him with our lives, and not just our words and doctrine. Of course, it all gets turned upside down into a false Gospel when we start doing those things thinking they earn God’s favor or bring greater sanctification. But we can’t minimize the significance and gospel-relevance of all of God’s Words, including His commands.

  • d camp says:


    Good points; sometimes error is best seen under the tutelage of the extreme. Couldn’t help think of a paragraph from one of Tullian’s books, surprised by grace (pg. 146)

    “Many younger evangelicals today are reacting to their parents’ conservative, buttoned-down, rule-keeping flavor of ‘older brother religion’ with a type of liberal, untucked, rule-breaking flavor of ‘younger brother religion.’ It screams out, ‘That’s right! I know I don’t have it all together, and you think you do; I know I’m not good, and you think you are. And that makes me better than you!’ See the irony? We become self-righteous against the self-righteous. Personally, I tend to resonate less (but at least he resonates – my comment) with the rule keepers and more with the rule breakers — with those who have such a tough time staying on the narrow road . . .”

    Are people really saying that we can live a life pleasing to God and purposely ignore intentional obedience to the written Word? If so, we are fast becoming a church of the 1st half of the book. Look at the way Paul structured every letter; he starts with indicatives/promises and moves to the imperatives which are simply a spiritual response.

    What else could Paul have meant in Rom 6? He just finished the great section on justification by faith alone, is he adding to it something we do? Of course not, we stand blameless because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. And yet, Paul points to important result or response just as he does in Eph 2:10.

    “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

    (Romans 6:17-19 ESV)

  • David says:

    What a great response, d camp. Obedience really is about Lordship and less about conformity. If Christ is your Lord, would it not be more surprising, or should I say confusing, if your lifestyle did not reflect Christ’s preeminence than if it did? We should not be surprised by the fact that a lifestyle that reflects God’s Sovereignty would be characterized by obedience rather than disobedience. But we must remember that obedience is not about conformity. No, it’s about the fact that the God of grace and glory has called us to be a peculiar people – HIS people – to adorn Jesus and carry His Gospel to the nations. If this type of reaction to God’s grace allows for disobedience in the name of grace, then I’m not sure the gospel you believe is entirely Biblical. That is also not to say that when we do sin, that we are to be overcome with guilt, but to bring it back to the fact that while I have fallen short of the glory of God, I have been justified freely by His grace and I do not have to offer my own propitiation because God already did that for us in Christ.

  • […] Paul’s sober-mindedness shows itself when he says things like “I’m the chief of sinners” and “I’m the least of all the saints.” Ironically, Paul’s honest acknowledgement of how unsanctified he was demonstrated just how sanctified he was. In other words, theologians of the cross (as opposed to theologians of glory) recognize that sanctification consists of an increased realization of our weakness and just how much grace we need. -Tullian Tchividjian, from this post […]

  • d camp says:

    Yes, very much agree; for the believer, obedience is about reflecting our union with Christ, not justifying ourselves before God or our neighbor. I don’t, however, have a problem with the concept of conformity, it is how we define what we are being conformed to that is so important. For the non-believer, the Word of God is merely a list of rules; not so for the believer, as they point to the name and character of Christ. For example, in Col 3 Paul wrote, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17 ESV)

    So clearly it does matter what we do since it all points to Christ. In fact, virtually all of Chapter 3 points to our conduct/walk. Paul is not saying here that we do/don’t do these things in the flesh, but that they are a response to our focus on heavenly realities and Christ himself:

    “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1 ESV)

  • Steve Martin says:


    Just how, may I ask, am I putting myself (one of the greatest sinners who has ever lived) on a pedestal?

  • Steve Martin says:

    God help us.

    Is this thing on?

    What we do…or don’t do…doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

    It’s what Christ has done for sinners that matters. Sinners who regularly shut their ears and hearts and minds to His voice…to His commands.

    Does anybody here get that?

  • d camp says:

    Steve, If you are speaking strictly of justification then what we have done or try to do is worthless.

    But if you are referring to the Christian life, I don’t think this is Tullian’s intent nor is it remotely biblical. In Col 3 Paul (Spirit) wrote, “Do not lie to one another . . . and whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men . . You are serving the Lord Christ.” In light of these clear statements, you don’t think that what we do as Christians “amounts to a hill of beans”?

    With all due respect to you personally, this theology is seriously confused.

  • Steve Martin says:

    Justification…sanctification….the Lord does it…ALL!

    He doesn’t need our help to make us better. He’s trying to kill you off for cry in’ out loud!

    d camp,

    If you think that you need to add something to make yourself the kind of Christian you need to be, well…then you might as well be a Roman Catholic. Really.
    That’s why Luther called the radical Reformers of his time, and the Catholics, “two wolves tied at the tail”.
    Outwardly they hate each other…but they share the same basic theology. ‘A lot of God and a little bit of me’.

  • oh4theluvof says:

    Pastor Tullian,
    I’m only one person, but I want to let you know that this one person has been so helped in my relationship with God because of the message you preach relentlessly. I’m sure I am not the only one, but I can only speak for myself. After listening to your sermons online and reading some of your books and blog posts for the past year and a half, I no longer fixate on a list of ways to obey, but I am a better obeyer because I really only worry about the Great Commandment and the second one, like it. The only way I can think about those, of course, is to do so with a strong understanding of His love for me that started it all. To know I am not condemned and to rehearse the gospel of grace many times a day helps avert many failures, however, obedience and averting failure isn’t the point; it’s the organic result & evidence. As I’m sure you know, this doesn’t mean I don’t struggle; it means that my struggle is also a natural process of my fleshly desires coming up against my awareness of grace (Christ’s person and works on my behalf). To think that excusing sin becomes easier in that contrast is unthinkable.
    If I didn’t know better, I’d think from your account that you and I grew up in the same church. There is much of our stories that parallel and I have experienced and watched others in the same environment experience so many moral failures where obedience was THE point. The gospel was just to get people saved, nothing more.
    I appreciate your focus on the gospel and I hear your address of where obedience then fits into that. Thank you for being so persistent. God is using you in the lives of us who have been sabotaged by an obedience fixation.
    Don’t fight those who have never been there and don’t hear all you say. God is using us and sanctifying us all; ironically, He will use strife about the topic of obedience to sanctify(make obedient) those who are loving(which equals obeying) Him. Eventually, we will all be perfectly unified in our understanding of Him and the ways He works. Blessings to you, Kim and the kids

    • Tami says:

      This is beautiful. I can relate to much of this, despite becoming a Christian at 16. But thank you for sharing your own heart, your own story. Totally worth not quitting the skimming when I was feeling bummed out by the arguing and about to bail!

  • d camp says:

    I don’t think anyone here believes that God does not “do all,” even in sanctification. The question is, does he use secondary means, specifically the human will in intentional obedience? Phil 2:13 clearly teaches that God does all, but vs 12 also clearly teaches that we are active agents in the process, the will enabled by the power of the Spirit.

    “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

    It was suggested that a claim for intentional obedience to the Word of God by a believer was closer to Catholicism. Really, it is the other way around. How do Roman Catholics believe that grace is dispensed? Through baptismal regeneration, totally excluding the human will.

    The biblical view on the other hand sees faith, an active will, as the means of our justification. How can an active will be the means of our justification and yet mere human effort in our sanctification? The Reformed faith has always seen man as an active agent in sanctification. Luther himself understood this when he described the obedience of the saint as an outworking of justification as well as Spirit empowered participation of the regenerate human will:

    “The indwelling of Christ, redeems us from the bondage of Egypt (sin) makes us free, gives us power to do good.”

    “Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things.”

    “Although I am an unworthy and condemned man, my God has given me in Christ all the riches
    of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart, and with an eager will do all these things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to such a Father who has overwhelmed me with his inestimable riches?”

  • PGM says:

    Hi d camp,

    I go back to our faith by grace being qualitatively different then anything we may have previously deemed as being a “good Christian.” For instance we may have read this verse Phil 2:13 which tells us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling and thought it meant–work–fear–trembling–was a motivator for obedience. But if you think about it the kind of love that God has for us described in the Scriptures nullifies this concept-“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) Notice how the verse says, “…because fear has to do with punishment…” Punishment is often product of disapproval and judgment. However, when we are on the receiving end of perfect divine love through Christ, even if there is discipline there will be no feelings of judgment.

    The phrase “the one who fears is not made perfect in love” is describing an environment of one not realizing he or she has been completely perfected in Christ. Because of the lack of understanding the full implications of this redemptive love, fear remains on the part of the recipient. The “one who fears” therefore, has not been perfected (completed the process in their mind) and because of this void there is nothing to settle and calm his fear (fear of judgment, disapproval, etc.). Only when we feel ourselves wrapped in the perfect righteousness of Christ through grace can we experience this feeling of complete security as we should. Not understanding this truth to its fullest extent naturally results in the recipients fear if rejection and failure.

    In other words this fear described in Phil 2:13 is qualitatively different. In the original language it is wonderfully described as a fashion of the heart. So we could say were once in dread of trying to be obedient, but now in true realization that are lavishly loved, clothed in His righteousness–we are awed with a different type of fear–one of mind blowing reverence that is ready listen and walk in new ways because of it. This becomes the motivator. In fact “trembling” is describing the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements and is not only instantly soothed at the knowledge that those requirements were met in Christ, but is filled with such a wonder (fear) that it causes the heart to tremble–spurring him on in a new way.

    Here’s a quick example in my own life…

    It was something my husband told me before we got married and it had a significant impact on my life. I was stuck, hesitant about getting married because I had a tendency to operate out of fear having come from abuse in my background. I felt sorry for my husband, who I was seriously courting at the time, and let him know this was something I needed to change before we moved forward. What he said next astounded me! He said, “Honey, if you are able to change that would be great, however, if you never change I would still marry and always desire to be married to you for the rest if my life.” Wow! Those words gave me the courage I needed to move forward. In his willingness to absorb my past, present and future brokenness–I was liberated. Those grace-filled words gave me just the impetus I needed to change.

    So it is with Christ. Of course he would love to see change and obedience–but for our sake not his. On top of this he loves us perfectly, wholely, and intensely whether we change or not. He has already absorbed all our sins. Finally, we can take a deep breath…there is no more need to look at the person to the left or the right and feel compelled to follow suit. Performance only impresses people. However, God is concerned with an obedience that flows through a heart that trembles knowing it is fearfully and wonderfully secured in grace regardless of failure. Realizing this is God’s heart behind any obedience frees us to make changes that will be beneficial to our lives–both spiritually and emotionally. Here we can really see aptly how being perfectly loved can both drive out fear as well as drive obedience that is not moralistic ally driven.

  • Pastor Andersen says:

    It’s really funny but until a couple of months or so ago I had not realized how sheltered I was from the majority of Christianity.

    I grew up in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, Went through the Synodical college/Seminary system and have served as a pastor for 25 years. For me, the need for the distinction between Law and Gospel and the centrality of grace as the foundation of faith and theology has been as natural and common sense as breathing.

    It was not until 5-7 years ago when I began to listen to other churches’ sermons on the internet while preparing my own that I began to realize that a pietistic us of the Law as the primary (sometimes only) means of motivation and sanctification was not an aberration but but the most common form of Christianity in the world today. And it has only been in the last couple of months that it has really sunk in how far modern Christianity has moved from the roots of grace.

    Just some thoughts:

    1) Today homosexual marriage is a major topic. I would like to point out that almost every single denomination which has today accept or affirmed same sex marriage came out of one pietistic movement or another in which grace and the forgiveness of Christ was seen as “not enough” to encourage and motivate sanctification. Same sex marriage is merely the most recent in a whole host of compromises we have seen in churches over the years. Nearly every church and denomination which has “moved beyond the Gospel” and attempted to use Law to motivate good works rather than inform good works has wound up having to compromise the Law on issue after issue (or, at best, to remain silent).

    2) Christ was crucified by those who had forgotten grace and based their faith on the Law instead. The sacrifices, much like the cross today, were seen as sort of an entry into the forgiveness of God but from that point on you were to improve yourself by means of the Law and obedience. Christ was crucified rather specifically because He taught grace (not the permissive grace that pietism always falls into but real grace that fulfilled a real and unyielding law). Grace is always extremely threatening to those who simply can not let go of their own efforts. So, since Christ was killed for proclaiming grace, I guess I should not be surprised at the backlash at those who preach it today.

    Anyway, thanks for the book “One Way Love,” it was like reading good Lutheran theology put in a manner that was enjoyable and effective. Excellent Job, Pastor Tchividjian. And don’t be discourage by those who claim you are teaching something you are not. Your book was an absolute joy to read and one of the most accurate reflection of the Scripture it has ever been my privilege to pick up.

  • David says:

    Pastor Anderson –
    First of all, I love testimonies of men who develop their theology in their own personal study and walk with God rather than based on the most recent theological trends. Great to hear.
    To address your points, concerning #1, I would submit that most of the people who accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle are mainly those who take grace to the point where they believe obedience means nothing. Who cares what you do? God’s grace covers it. Just love God and your neighbor and you’re good to go (which is also adhering to the law, might I add). The churches that you’re describing as pious and works-centered, in my experience, are the ones called the “haters” in the homosexual realm.
    To address point #2, Christ was crucified primarily because He claimed to be God. In addition, the religious leaders of the day were jealous of his popularity. It was not primarily because he taught grace, though the message of grace was one and the same with His ministry, so the connection is certainly there. I mean, if He was teaching the exact same thing the Pharisee’s were teaching, then they wouldn’t have a problem with Him.
    To address another point you made, that “Grace is always extremely threatening to those who simply can not let go of their own efforts.” I think a walk through the Bible would suggest that God has not let go of our efforts too, since the NT is packed to the brim with commands about how we should live. I would say it is important to Him, since we are His light, His voice, and His hands in this age to bring the world to Christ.
    Please understand, what some of us above are contending for is NOT a salvation that our works can obtain in part. We are NOT contending for a sanctification that we produce with our own efforts. But we ARE contending for a lifestyle that is fueled by God’s grace, received through faith alone. We work because we know that God loves righteousness and hates evil. Why should we give any measure of virtue to failure if we know that, while Christ paid it all and our sins are nailed to the cross, those sins are what sent Christ to the cross because the wages thereof are wrath? If a person really loves God because of His great grace (I would submit that if you do not life in thankfulness of God’s grace, you have not really understood it), He will not excuse himself for continuing in those things on which God’s wrath was poured out on the cross. Rather we live a life that resembles His holiness. We have died to sin with Christ on the Cross and have been resurrected to a NEW LIFE in a similar fashion as Christ’s resurrection. How can we not count our works as significant when it is works that damned the world, and works that are the result of true justification? The results of, not the initiator of. Like I said, works do not gain God’s grace. They do not make our souls better recipients of God’s grace. No, they are the reaction to and result of a new life in Christ.
    So how to we preach works? The same way that the Biblical authors did. When we preach exegetically, we cannot help but preach works. But we must always keep the big picture of Grace in mind (after all, the authors do…), or else we do end up giving the people a false Gospel of salvation and/or sanctification. But if we ignore the author’s use of works in their messages, we preach an incomplete Word.

  • Steve Martin says:

    “The question is, does he use secondary means, specifically the human will in intentional obedience?”

    The human will is bound in sin. Our “free-will” is the instrument that God uses for His wrath against sin.

  • Steve Martin says:

    The law demands good works.

    Grace inspires them.

    If you have to be told to do a good work, then it no longer is a good work, even IF you do it. Now your motives are tainted with self.

    Since the law is written upon our hearts, we already know what to do.

    Our trouble is that we just flat out refuse to do it. Which of us lives as Jesus commanded?

    None of us.

    So then…what to do?

    Flee to the Cross and His mercy for real sinners. The kind we know that we are.

  • Kenton says:

    So, we’re able to flee to the cross for mercy, but unable to delight in God’s commands in Christ? That’s some inconsistent theology. I submit that the same power that enables us to flee to the cross is also at work in us to delight in and to walk in holiness and godliness. And that power is the Holy Spirit given to us by God, who is God Himself in us.

  • Don J Chiechi says:

    @ Kenton
    You know not what manner of spirit you are of (with regard to your judgment of another), for is not this man (Steve) a burning stick snatched from the fire? But you have this in your favor: Your wounds are friendly and can be trusted.

    @ Steve
    Why do you think, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can distinguish between spirits but God alone?” Which is easier: to say to you, “you are the poor man,” (which is to say, your unnatural affinity regarding “grace” betrays a form of Stockholm syndrome), or to rebuke the spirit of lawlessness that torments you?

    But that you may know that Jesus distributes different kinds of gifts by his Spirit to whomever he pleases for the building up of his church, know and understand: If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in him–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

    And you have this in your favor: Your concern over offering ‘strange fire’ before the LORD is right, only: “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see “hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around him”—which is to say, the mighty and good works, which God prepared beforehand, that you (by faith) should walk in.

  • d camp says:

    @ Steve
    It is good this discussion gets down to one of the key issues, that of the nature of the human will, both before and after regeneration. First of all, my view is essentially identical to that of Luther (Bondage of the Will) and Edwards (Freedom of the Will). No one here that I know of espouses the Arminian notion of “free-will,” yet your use your use of the term at least appears intellectionally dishonest as you merely substituted it for my description of the active will in intentional obedience to the written Word. But at least you finally answered the direct question of whether the regenerate human will is intentionally active in obedience to the written Word with a clear “no.” But that also means that you cannot possibly consistently hold to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Faith by definition, Luther’s and Edwards’ alike, demands the recognition of an active will. If the active will is by definition a sinful response of the flesh, then faith certainly can’t be a means of our justification, and Catholics and other sacramentalists that hold to the principle of “ex opere operato” are correct. The Protestant and biblical view understands the regenerate will to be active from man’s perspective, yet ultimately the result of the empowerment of the Spirit — Phil 2:13. Your demand that the will be passive destroys both the doctrine of progressive sanctification as well as justification by faith alone.

    You say that sin drives us to the cross. True, but Jesus had much more to say, “Take up your cross and follow me.” What does it mean to follow him? That is one of the purposes of the indicatives. You argue that we do not need them because the ‘law is written on the heart.’ What is written on the heart is a disposition to love God and neighbor, the specifics of individual written imperatives expand on that. Furthermore, the OT saints too had God’s law “written on the heart,” a word study will show it clearly, and yet those saints delighted in God’s law (Ps 19, 119). The fact that we have the indwelling Spirit doesn’t mean that He doesn’t use the very means that He has given us in the Word (2 Tim 3:16, 17).

    Finally, you said, “If you have to be told to do a good work, then it is no longer a good work . . . your motives are tainted with self.” That is patently false. Everything we do is tainted with self, yet God accepts the purposeful obedience of his people as “acceptable worship.” That is exactly what Rom 12:1, 2 is referring to. All one has to do is look at the number of times that Jesus or other authors of Scripture said “do” or “keep.” Why would they tell someone to do a good work if they knew that obedience would render it sinful? Do you realize what you are saying? Why would Paul call “Jesus and elect angels” as witnesses if his commands to obey would ultimately lead to sin in God’s people: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” (I Tim 5:21)

    It seems to me that you are in the same situation as the unprofitable servant who buried his talent. You are so afraid that God won’t accept your offering of obedience that you have buried your responsibilities. Your view actually undermines one of the purpose of grace in our progressive sanctification. I don’t know your motives, for some it is a desire to maintain a wordly lifestyle, for others a fear that our actions/motives may not always be pure, and for others just laziness. But God’s grace in sanctification frees us to pursue Him and what He asks of us (they can’t be separated in the believer) purposefully and with a glad heart, although we know we will never be perfect in any act or thought on this side of glory. Your efforts to make us totally passive in demonstrating our union in Christ may be well intentioned — but it is seriously misguided.

    I gave 3 quotes above from Luther which I will not repeat, but every one of them totally opposes what you have written. Luther is not Scripture, but he most clearly is associated with the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and yet clearly argues for an active will in the believer’s sanctification.

  • Matt Atack says:

    Someone has been reading Lutheran theologians :o)
    That’s how you interpret the sermon on the mount!

  • […] Coaition claims that Tchividjian left due to theological differences that peaked with an online debate with Jen Wilkin about failure’s role in theology.  Both posts are worth your time, but to […]

  • Nathan Rinne says:


    Thought you might find this interesting. The Lutheran pastor, blogger and podcaster Jordan Cooper (formerly Reformed) defended you in your post about I John 5:3:

    I joined the chorus and then discovered this post. When the post on “Celebratory Failurism” came out, I thought it was well-written, even as I thought the post did not really “hit” you.

    Then I read this, where you say: “” have to be honest and say I’ve never encountered a Christian who “celebrates failure.” And I’ve been around for a while.”

    I told Jordan about this, because he has been quite public about some of the things he has said about experiences with some Lutheran pastors in particular (words and deeds) – I have had some similar experiences.

    Jordan wrote back on his blog that he had read your post, and that “I believe Tullian when he says that. I think he just hasn’t spent enough time in Lutheran circles, because as you know, there are certainly people who brag about their sin and failure.”

    Again, I point out to you that Luther himself did not practice in his preaching that what many modern Lutheran pastors advocate:

    That does not mean that he was not utterly Christ and grace focused or that your main message – what you are now known for – is wrong. It just means that it is easy to fall off both sides of the horse.


    Best regards,

  • […] We hear lots and lots of discussion from this group on irrestible grace but very little on the Holy Spirit who comforts, convicts and strengthens us.  That Spirit is given to each of us who believe and is more than capable of assisting us as we walk this planet. TT quoted J. Gresham Machen link. […]

  • Bill says:

    Tullian, you are absolutely correct. I mean why did Paul confess his incapacity to obey the law in Romans 7 or the tax collector who was a christian say “God have mercy on me a sinner”. A christian is as incapable to obey the law as an unbeliever. The only difference is that a christian confesses his sin and trusts in Christ’s obedience as a substitute for his disobedience.. Luther explained it perfectly in the Heidelberg disputations and his phrase “simul justus et peccator” needs to be remembered. A christian is 100% sinner (because of his disobedience), his works are like filthy rags Issaiah 64:6, and he is 100% saint (because of Christ’s obedience received by grace through faith). Calvin in his Institutes and the Lutheran confessions at no point when talking about the third use of the law (the law for christians) imply that the christian can obey the law. The third use is for guidance, rebuke, and discipline but at no point should we teach that converted or unconverted man has the ability to obey the law. A christian is cleansed from sin by grace through faith, is this indwelling faith, the witness of the holy spirit to Christ”s perfect work on the cross that atoned fully for our sins what makes us christians and saints in God’s eyes in spite of our own daily disobedience. Jen’s article is dangerous pharisaism that fails to recognize that christians are simul justus et peccator.

  • Bill says:

    Also just to add what I wrote a minute ago. P:aul the great apostle brags in failure, 1 Corinthians 12:9 and God told him to do it. So I don’t understand Jen’s problem with bragging about our failures.

    1 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

    • Matthew R Kerr says:

      Hi Bill,

      Admittedly, I’m coming to the party very late here, but I think you may be misunderstanding Paul’s mention of his “weakness” in 2 Cor 12. The passage in question is clearly speaking of a physical infirmity, or what Paul calls his “thorn in the flesh,” which he thrice requested be removed. The point here is that though he may be physically infirm in some way, yet Christ supplies all the grace that he needs in order to complete his Gospel ministry. When you read 1 and 2 Corinthians, you find that this is a common theme. Paul was the one who was “bold in his letters” and yet “weak in person.” The other “super-apostles” were coming and preaching to the Corinthians in an attempt to downplay Paul’s ministry because of his weakness in speech, his suffering for the Gospel, and his failing body. Perhaps Paul was writing against the first of the prosperity-preachers?

      The point being that, no, Paul was not glorying in his personal moral failures. Rather, his point there is that even in the midst of a failing and feeble body, the Spirit of Christ is able to fulfill the ministry to which he was called.

      Grace and Peace.

  • Bill says:

    Sorry, i meant to say 2 Corinthians 12:9.

  • […] and listen to what each side is saying carefully. I have now read Jen Wilkin’s post and Tullian Tchividjian’s post which started the whole controversy. To be honest, as I read both articles, I have concerns about […]

  • D. V. Flyer says:

    Humans, we make things so difficult. The simple fact is that under the law we are condemned and under grace we are forgiven. The O.T. Law did make righteous if followed, but the Israelites failed opening the door to the N. T. work of grace. Grace made simple is the unmerriited favor of GD bestowed upon unworthy sinners at war with GD. Grace plus scripture becomes our NEW LAW. This new law is to please my Savior and as a new creation the old things (have? ) passed away allowing me to follow scripture empowered by this ever present grace.. The Holy Spirit is now the enforcer of this new law through conviction, illumination, teaching,etc.

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