Liberate

Punk’d By Grace

Turn_Down_For_What_-_SingleDuring a recent radio interview, the interviewer told me a story that gets to the heart of how grace transforms.

He was a camp counselor one summer and one of his responsibilities was to go around with another counselor and check the cabins every morning while the students were at breakfast. In order to motivate them to keep their cabins clean, awards were given at the morning assembly to the students who had the cleanest cabin. One morning the counselors walked into one of the cabins only to discover that it had been intentionally trashed. The students thought it would be funny to “break the law” and do the exact opposite of what they had been asked to do. Clothes everywhere. Food all over the floor. Words written on the bathroom mirrors with soap. Wet towels balled up in every corner. The place was a complete disaster.

The two counselors were speechless. The one looked at the other and asked, “What should we do?” After pausing for a moment, the guy who was interviewing me finally answered, “Let’s clean it up.” His buddy looked at him like he was crazy: “Clean it up? Are you kidding? These punks need to be punished! I’m not cleaning up their mess.” The other one said, “Well, I’m going to clean it up. And by the time I’m done with it, these kids will win the award today for the cleanest cabin.” After some moaning and groaning, his buddy decided to help him. They cleaned the whole cabin while the students were at breakfast. Picked up and folded all the clothes, scrubbed all the soap off the bathroom mirrors, vacuumed up all the food, made all the beds, and hung all the wet towels up to dry on the clothes line right outside the cabin. Then they left without saying a word to anyone.

When the students came back from breakfast, thinking they had pulled off a great prank, they couldn’t believe their eyes. They were the ones who were now speechless. They initially thought they were now going to be in double trouble. They sheepishly made their way to the morning assembly. When the award for the cleanest cabin was announced and they won, they couldn’t believe it. Instead of being punished, they were rewarded. They all found the two counselors who had cleaned up their wrecked room and begged for forgiveness. And, according to the guy who was interviewing me, those boys kept the cleanest cabin for the rest of the week.

What those boys experienced was what theologians call “double-imputation.” Not only did someone else bear their punishment (having to clean up the miserable mess they made) but they were rewarded for someone else’s “righteousness.” As my friend Scotty Smith recently said, “The gospel isn’t merely the absence of all condemnation; it’s also the fullness of God’s delight lavished on us in Christ.”

And notice…the result of this irrational act of grace toward these boys was NOT worse behavior. It was sorrow and transformation. These punks were punk’d by grace…and they would never forget it.

I close my book Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels with a story (not sure if this really happened or is simply parabolic) from Civil War days before America’s slaves were freed, about a northerner who went to a slave auction and purchased a young slave girl. As they walked away from the auction, the man turned to the girl and told her, “You’re free.”

With amazement she responded, “You mean, I’m free to do whatever I want?”

“Yes,” he said.

“And to say whatever I want to say?”

“Yes, anything.”

“And to be whatever I want to be?”

“Yep.”

“And even go wherever I want to go?”

“Yes,” he answered with a smile. “You’re free to go wherever you’d like.”

She looked at him intently and replied, “Then I will go with you.”

Many fear that the grace-delivered, blood-bought, deliverance of radical freedom will result in loveless license. But as the two stories above illustrate, redeeming unconditional love alone (not law, not fear, not punishment, not guilt, not shame) carries the power to compel heart-felt loyalty to the One who gave us (and continues to give us) what we don’t deserve (2 Corinthians 5:14).

20 Comments
  • This is an honest question sir. And one for which I am assuming no particular answer from you. I’m asking.

    What are we then to make of the “student” who upon returning to the cabin proceeds to trash it even worse from then on and perhaps eventually even burning it down, having concluded that it will be rebuilt and cleaned up for them?

    I believe you could assuage a whole bunch of controversy with a clear unequivocal answer to that question.

    • Jo says:

      Aren’t we all “that student?” Aren’t we all far worse off then we think we are? Don’t I eat more food then I need rather than give it to the person who’s going to starve to death today? Aren’t I going to covet a car I pass on the way to work? Aren’t I going to steal from my boss today by lingering at the water cooler longer then I need to? I’m am so far from understanding this grace stuff but my feeling is that the confusion comes in when I rate sin and that is what believers seem to be so good at. I don’t see that Jesus is to some; the camp counselor OR the law giver, but both simultaneously. He came to point out that those who did the best they could to clean up their cabins before breakfast are still incredible failures. They missed the cobwebs in the corners and the porn magazine under the mattress. Peter the disciple seemed to recognize this when he told Jesus to wash him all over. By coming to both ratchet up the law and THEN fulfill the law on our behalf Jesus points out that everyone of us “trash” our lives everyday, even burn them down (and our neighbor’s cabin too) but it’s the ones who have put their faith in the fact that only IF Jesus is the one that “cleans our cabin” will it be acceptable. I need to remind myself that the consequence of a messy cabin is not just that I’m not “the winner”, it’s expulsion from the camp. Any thoughts?

      • Is there no observable, testimonial difference between one who has been raised from true death in father Adam to eternal life in the last Adam and one who has not? None? Who has been made a partaker of the very nature of God Himself and one who has not? None? Who has been indwelt by the very same Holy Spirit who in the beginning was moving upon the face of the waters? None? Who has been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and in to the kingdom of God’s dear son? None? Who is commissioned to be a living epistle, read by all men, an ambassador in the earth of the one true and living God? None?

        No difference except they say there is? Or maybe they even don’t? Please see my comment to Don below.

      • Jo asks: “Aren’t we all “that student?”
        Apparently not because Pastor Tullian’s whole point in this article is about students giving the right response to grace. Isn’t it? If EVERYBODY goes on trashing the cabin and burning it down then where did his grace chastened students come from?

        I like the guy btw. Sincerely I am not looking for ways to fault him. Quite the contrary.

  • tullian says:

    Greg,
    In that situation, I’d give him the full force of the law hoping it would crush his hardheartedness.
    Tullian

  • Here I am, crying over my mushrooms at lunch. This was beautiful–such a poignant illustration of that I see at work in my own life and heart.

  • […] Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, a post that originally appeared on his site, liberate.org, as Punk’d by […]

  • Great post Pastor Tullian!

  • McKay Caston says:

    “…the result of this irrational act of grace toward these boys was NOT worse behavior. It was sorrow and transformation.” Indeed, it really is the nature of grace to sanctify.

  • I love the old hymn that says “Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all my sins.” I trashed my life for 27 years and God came and cleaned it up in a college cafeteria. His grace is indeed greater than all my sins.

  • Brad Willis says:

    Tullian,
    This is beautiful. Grace is absolutely shocking. How could it be that someone would do this for undeserving punks? It really goes against everything we stand for in modernity. Grace flies in the face of human effort and humanism in general. Thank you for preaching this truth unflinchingly.

  • I asked: “This is an honest question sir. And one for which I am assuming no particular answer from you. I’m asking.

    What are we then to make of the “student” who upon returning to the cabin proceeds to trash it even worse from then on and perhaps eventually even burning it down, having concluded that it will be rebuilt and cleaned up for them?

    I believe you could assuage a whole bunch of controversy with a clear unequivocal answer to that question.”

    To which Pastor Tullian has responded with the following:
    Greg,
    In that situation, I’d give him them full force of the law hoping it would crush his hardheartedness.
    Tullian

    To which I now further add:
    I tell you before Father, Son and Holy Spirit that I have been kind of rooting for you through this controversy. I can show evidence. I WANT to be able from now on to link people to this brief conversation as proof positive that Tullian Tchividjian is NOT an antinomian. I really do want that. Game over, full stop, no more question, The man is NOT an antinomian, easy believe-ist who thinks that flagrant unrepentant sinners have a legitimate claim on biblical justification. That’s my motivation. There are no tricks here.

    In that light and in light of your response so far, I now ask if it is not then reasonable, meaning biblical, and therefore also in the light of all the Lordship passages of scripture, to reject the claim of justification made by a “student” who by your own declaration is still under law, grace not yet having manifested itself in any way in his life? 1st John 3 for instance. What if we persist in affirming his justification when in fact none such is in reality the case? What might be the consequences to this “student”?

    I suspect there has been a great semantic gulf fixed between Geneva and Wittenburg here and it would make my day, (probably month) for your next answer to show that to be the case.

    Your gracious conversation is an honor btw sir.

  • Don Geser says:

    “The man is NOT an antinomian, easy believe-ist who thinks that flagrant unrepentant sinners have a legitimate claim on biblical justification.” I, and suppose all of us, were, to one extent or another, “flagrant unrepentant sinners”. Thank God for His salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. I see no reason to expect His grace to be withheld at anytime or during any failure, unless, we mistakenly expect Jesus to, once again, die in our place. When we extend grace, we keep score. Thankfully God does not.

    • During the TGC dustup I made this comment:
      I certainly don’t believe that Lazarus played any part in raising himself from the dead, but once raised, he did obey his masters voice and walk outta that tomb. Had he laid there stiff and stinking with no pulse, nobody would have believed he was alive. And quite rightly so.
      There is no such thing as a Christian with no gospel vital signs.
      Does Don agree with this assessment or not?

  • Grace is so scarce these days that most people I talk with don’t even know the meaning of the word Grace. It takes a story like this to define the concept of Grace.

  • […] looking for a great and seasonally appropriate illustration of grace would do well to check out the remarkable little story recounted by Tullian Tchividjian over at his new blog. I haven’t thought about ‘cabin clean-up’ in quite some […]

  • Linda says:

    Just discovered your talks on YouTube and this blog. Haven’t read your book [s ?] yet. Thank you for writing, teaching, speaking. This is a powerful example of grace.

  • […] steder, blandt andet i en af hans seneste blog poster, fortæller Tullian en histore om en slave der blev sat […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Related Articles

Tullian Tchividjian
This newer track, “Lovin U”, by Frey is house music at its finest. A chill groove that will make you…
 
Tullian Tchividjian
My good friend Jono Linebaugh (Professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary) and I sat down recently to try…
 
Tullian Tchividjian
The greatest apologetic for the intentionally myopic messaging of the Liberate Conference are testimonies like the one below: I was…