I first heard of Tullian Tchividjian about a year and a half ago when I was given the opportunity to review his book Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. Since then, I’ve been really blessed through his blog, online videos, and other resources. I really appreciate the message he’s trying to get across.
His latest book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything is the culmination of this message. Based on a sermon series on Colossians he did by the same name, it tells the story of how he discovered the truth that the gospel is not just the gateway into the Christian life, but the sum and substance of everything!
In it, Pastor Tullian shares how, through the most difficult year of his life-2009, he rediscovered the “now-power” of the gospel for all of life. Through extraordinarily painful circumstances, God showed him the incredible depth of the gospel in a new way:
“I started learning to see the many-faceted dimensions of the gospel in a more dazzling way. It’s almost as if, for me, the gospel changed from something hazy and monochromatic to something richly multicolored, vivid, and vibrant. I was realizing in a fresh way the now-power of the gospel-that the gospel doesn’t simply rescue us from the past and rescue us for the future, it also rescues us in the present from being enslaved to things like fear, insecurity, anger, self-reliance, bitterness, entitlement, and insignificance…Through my pain, I was being convinced all over again that the power of the gospel is just as necessary and relevant after you become a Christian as it is before…He stripped me down-wrecked me afresh! And when you actually feel like you have nothing-Jesus becomes more to you than you ever could have hoped or imagined.”
To show us how the equation works, he starts at the end, with “everything”, and works backward to the beginning: Jesus. Then, beginning with Jesus he works through the equation again from front to back.
Everything: The human soul has an “insatiable yearning to experience more, to attain something higher, deeper, fuller, richer, stronger, wiser, safer, happier.” We tend to look to “everything” but Christ to fulfill this craving. Augustine expressed it in his famous quote “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.
Nothing: We as Christians tend to view the gospel as the thing that gets us “in the door”, and think that our own effort and performance are what keeps us there. So, in effect, Pastor Tullian says, we aren’t naturally prone to look to the finished work of Jesus for the “everything”. It’s not that we blatantly replace the gospel, but we end up adding to it. This is vividly illustrated in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters as the “Christianity And” state of mind. Whatever our hearts are drawn to-whether it’s a particular cause, a relationship, etc.-becomes a “functional Savior”, an idol, to us. We think we need Jesus + X (where X is anything we build our identity on and think we can’t live without), when really it’s Jesus + nothing.
Here he discusses how this can lead to the subtle dangers of legalism, performancism, and moralism. When this happens, what we need to do eclipses what Jesus has already done. Jesus + obedience. Jesus + good works. As he says, “our rules become our substitute savior, and keeping those rules becomes our self-salvation project”.
Jesus: Finally, we come to the only thing than can truly fulfill everything: Christ Himself. Pastor Tullian digs into Colossians to show us the incredible breadth and depth of who Christ is and what He has done.
“Because of Christ’s finished work, Christians already possess the approval, the love, the security, the freedom, the meaning, the purpose, the protection, the new beginning, the cleansing, the forgiveness, the righteousness, and the rescue we intensely long for and, in fact look for in a thousand things smaller than Jesus every day-things transient, things incapable of delivering the goods.”
Spiritual growth, maturity, and fruit are the result of grasping the truth that everything we want and need, we already have in Him:
“Christian growth, in other words, doesn’t happen by first behaving better, but by believing better-believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners.”
“Real slavery is living your life trying to gain favor; real freedom is knowing you already have favor-the difference is huge. The gospel frees us to work and live from the secure basis of grace, not fear. We obey from the secure basis of grace, not guilt. And nothing could be more liberating.”
The book continues by working back through the equation from front to back, putting it all together, and concludes with a recommended reading list.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything is a must read. If you follow Pastor Tullian’s blog or listen to his sermons, much of the material will be familiar, but having it all compiled and put together is invaluable. Since it’s essentially a sermon series turned into a book, it flows a bit differently than some, and utilizes many quotes and illustrations. But the message is essential. The difference that viewing the gospel as the fuel for all of life rather than just a message to “get in the door” makes, is phenomenal. Experiencing the power of the gospel right now, in every situation in life, is how it’s supposed to be, and God has gifted Pastor Tullian with the ability to vividly paint the picture of how this works out in our lives.
The book releases today, October 31st, so get your hands on a copy! And be sure to visit the Jesus + Nothing = Everything webpage where you can view short supplementary videos to go along with each chapter. These are great for going through the book with a group, or just for individual study.
Thanks so much to Crossway for providing a pre-release copy of the book for me. All opinions expressed are my own.