Law-Gospel Off the Rails

Posted by
The last week or so has seen renewed calls for reflection and responsibility on the part of Tullian Tchividjian in responding to critiques in the debate on sanctification.  His most recent post on the Gospel Coalition website indicates that he is instead digging in his heels, employing his law-gospel cookie cutter with ever more reckless abandon.  As Michael Kruger recently pointed out, Tullian shows no signs of paying attention to careful and charitable criticism from those interacting with him.  Yesterday's exposition of 1 John 5:3-4 indicates that Tullian is not listening even to the text of the Bible which he is handling.  

Yesterday's post from Tullian, titled Unburdened, takes on the apostle John's statement that God's "commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).  Predictably enough, Tullian insists that the reason for this blessed condition is that the Christian does not do the commandments of God but Jesus Christ bears this burden for us.  At this point, we know to expect the automatic and context-ignoring download of Christ's wonderful fulfillment of the law for believers in justification.  To wit, Tullian explains: "Though the commandments are indeed burdensome, that burden has been laid on the shoulders of another.  Jesus Christ, who demands that we be perfect, achieves perfection in our place... God's commandments are not burdensome because we do not carry them." 

Let me note that what Tullian says here is absolutely and wonderfully true.  But it is true of something that John is not writing about.  And when applied as the explanation for what John actually is writing about in this verse, it is absolutely and horribly false.  John is writing about sanctification, in which believers gain assurance of salvation through our practical obedience to God's commands.  We can see this by backing up all of one verse, where John writes: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments" (1 John 5:2).  Notice who is the subject of this sentence: "we," that is, believers.  The subject is "we," the verbs are "love" and "obey," and the objects are "God" and "his commandments."  "We love God" and we "obey his commandments," and in this way "we know that we love the children of God."  The doctrinal realm of this teaching is sanctification, in which believers are active in obeying God's commands and spiritually benefit as a result.

Having seen the unavoidable meaning of verse 2, we then turn to verse 3, where John says that God's commandments "are not burdensome."  The reason why they are not burdensome cannot be because the commandments have been taken off of us and laid on Jesus, for the simple reason that John clearly states that we are the ones obeying the commandments.  Even in verse 3, John writes, "we keep his commandments."  So why does John then state that the commandments are not burdensome?  The answer is given in verse 4: "For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world -- our faith."  

John is referring to the mighty work of God's grace in our regeneration, which has changed everything for us experientially. Yet again, as I chronicled elsewhere, Tullian fails to grasp the great difference brought about by the Christian's new birth in Christ.  Consistently, (see here, for instance), Tullian ascribes to the regenerate believer the spiritual inability of the unregenerate unbeliever, thus eradicating the doctrine of sanctification and leaving justification as the sole content of the gospel.  Yet, according to John, whose actual teaching is labeled as "ridiculous" by Tullian, sanctification is not burdensome to the believer because of God's mighty grace working in our born again lives, which is why we should not fear the idea of needing to obey God's commands.

Many of us have hoped that real good will be done in the current debates on sanctification, in which Pastor Tchividjian plays so central a role on the law-gospel side of the discussion.  I still hope that good is resulting.  But it is now unavoidable that real harm is being done by Tullian's runaway rhetoric in opposing the Bible's clear salvation teaching.  At this point, we have to wonder how long The Gospel Coalition will permit this frankly false doctrine to continue on its web pages.
Posted May 16, 2014 @ 2:12 AM by Rick Phillips

Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, Inc. © 2005-2018   |   |   800.956.2644   |   Frequently Asked Questions   |   Login