My short answer to those wrestling with that question is: Please read Gospel Amnesia. Not because I want to sell my book, but because one of my hopes and prayers for Gospel Amnesia (to be released Jan.15th) is that it would further this discussion along. The theology is by no means exhaustive, it is only the beginning of the discussions I hope we can all have.
I lived for many years believing that God will love me more if I did X, Y, and Z. I was theologically convinced that God’s love for me depended upon my obedience. When I obeyed him I expected he would be pleased with me and bless me and when I disobeyed I expected him to be angry, displeased and in judgment of me. But you can’t fight reality, and theology will always break down when it can’t be supported by reality.
I am a fallen woman. A sinner. And so invariably I would sin, sometimes it was little sins and sometimes it was big sins, but I didn’t stop sinning after I became a Christian. What happens logically if you live under the paradigm I held, but continued to sin and thus be displeasing to God? You live under a constant battle between finding things you can do so that you can please God, so that he will love you while constantly fighting despair because you know you are consistently falling short. It is a losing battle. Even given all my outward conformity and good works, I was hopeless because I could never do enough to earn constant love from him. It is hell.
There is an important distinction here. I am not talking about classic works–righteousness. I never believed that I could actually earn my salvation. As a Calvinist I firmly believed that God’s salvation was a gracious and unmerited gift by faith alone through the finished work of Christ alone. I’ve had many theological errors but one of them was believing that I can earn more love from God by being obedient to his commands.
We all have errors in our thinking. I understand that those in teaching positions have a greater burden. What I believe Pastor Tchividjian is trying to do is remedial help for Christians like me who have spent years raking our souls over coals. My husband and I have never walked away from listening to Tchividjian thinking: “Oh good, now I can just let it all go, I don’t need to love and obey God.” It’s more like: “Wow! Lord, you really love me?” with many tears flowing.
My heart is very burdened over this. Maybe Pastor Tchividjian needs more clarity and distinction. I hear what Dr. Murray is saying as well, and I’m thinking about it. I’m grateful for open debate, done with humility and the recognition that none of us are as precise as we think we are. One thing I see in this theological debate is a head collision between the heirs of Luther and the heirs of Calvin (more on this another time). I was greatly benefited just last night from Justin Taylor’s post on the distinction between our union in Christ and communion with Christ. Finally, one of the most eye-opening and balancing sermons on the relationship between loving God and obeying him is John Piper’s If Anyone Loves Me He Will Obey My Word on John 14:15–24. I discuss some of these issues in Gospel Amnesia.
The picture I have chosen for this post is one of the Reformers in Geneva. My sincere prayer is that we can talk about these very important issues that affect our every day Christian life, but without mockery, spiritual pride or a critical spirit—holding all things with grace and humility.