A fellow named Roger Ball posted a comment on Tullian Tchividjian’s blog in response to one of Tullian’s wonderful posts on grace:

This is a gross oversimplification. Let’s take a holocaust victim for example. Let’s say that he has serious emotional problems, nightmares etc. Let’s say he also drinks very heavily and struggles everyday to keep himself together. I think it more than obvious that his “fight and battle” is not merely with unbelief. This is simply not the whole story. It’s like I said before, you provide people with little else than a babe-in-the-woods existential mantra right out of the Joel Osteen handbook (you’ve already got it… you’ve already got it… you’ve already got it…). Either start answering these questions, and put some meat on this ridiculous skeleton, or find something else to do with your time.

This is a very valid point, and it set me to thinking. The way of grace does seem to be a gross oversimplification – how do we respond to the holocaust survivor, the chronic alcoholic, etc.? There are people in the world with real problems. Is the message of grace simply an oversimplified existential mantra?

In fact this is the whole point of the gospel. People want to make the gospel all about behavioral change, or a magic wiper that cleanses away all ills. It can do this, but this is idolization. God can also give us great gobs of money or a supermodel wife or make us famous and good-looking, but He really doesn’t do that for everyone does He? These things are not the gospel, and setting them up as the gospel sets an impossible standard for of success and performance for those who are otherwise blessed. This is the response of faith, like Job, who really was blessed of God, even when he had lost everything.

We see this mindset when read some of the strange wording in Paul’s epistles:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-12, NASB.

“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.” Colossians 3:3-7, NASB.

It is possible to be a person who HAS DIED, yet to not consider yourself as dead to sin. Our mind must come into alignment with the grace we have already received. The more this happens the more we bear the peaceful fruit of the spirit.

The real man of God, the real persistence of faith, is to continue to insist that God’s grace is sufficient when we can’t see it manifest. In fact, anyone can believe God is gracious when all is happy and well. Perhaps the greatest opportunity we have to shine in our belief in God’s goodness is when we are in a wilderness and it is difficult to see the good, Ro 5:3-5, Ja 1:2-4.

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5, NASB.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4, NASB.

When we fail, we go back to the throne of grace and get help. When we lack things, when we are discouraged, when go go through a dark valley, we still persist that God is working all things together for good.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18, NASB.

“And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me–to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, NASB.

10 thoughts on “Grace for the Holocaust Victim

  1. So true, Jim! My heart actually breaks for those who equate “things” with God’s blessing. The “things” are not the true blessing, only God Himself qualifies for this. The “things” might be nice, but they might also be a hindrance, a distraction from the true blessing of intimacy with God Himself! Oh for His grace to shine brighter and brighter through me!

  2. Thank you, Jim! Like I told myself yesterday, “Get up, dust your ass off, and take it to the cross, girl!” Sure, I do this repeatedly in some areas of my life, but it’s MUCH easier when I focus on the progress I’ve made through Christ, rather than my mistakes.

  3. I agree with you. I don’t know if I’m fully understanding the guy’s argument, but I’d say the person in question is struggling with unbelief; after all, if they believed Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4, as you cited, they’d believe that all trials work for some good and they’d probably be encouraged. If they believed that God was there for them, loved and cared for them, then perhaps they’d lean on His strength rather than drinking. I’ve struggled with grace for awhile now, I’ve always found life far more tolerable when grace seemed most real and God seemed the most present with me; and I’ve sinned away a lot of time to bear the weight of life when I felt like I was on my own. I’ve come to think that maybe many (if not all) sin is our way of trying to get along without God. When dealing with sin, Paul seemed to try to focus attention on what people already had with God, as if to get us to make that our mindset; reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God (presumably because “you’ve already got it”.) Maybe just knowing that we are in right-standing with God, who loves us and is gracious towards us, doesn’t solve every problem, but I think people are in for nothing but defeat if they fight their battles without that foundation, or the knowledge that when they’re defeated they can go to God for grace when they need it. I think of the battle of Thermopylae, the Spartans chose a good place for the battle that gave them a strategic advantage and stood against insane odds. God’s grace may not wipe out any struggle we have, but I think it gives us a firm foundation to stand on and a very good strategic advantage; not to mention that it takes some weight off of our shoulders to know that even if the world falls apart, we are right with God, our shepherd, and that He is for us even if the world turns against us. If people don’t know where they stand and what they have at their disposal, that they’ve “already got it”, then they have to fight in the flesh (what alternative do they have?), and that’s when failure is most assured.

  4. One more thing: I haven’t seen the rest of this guy’s comments, or Tchividjian’s either, but it seems to me that the guy objecting is taking things the wrong way. To use his analogy of a skeleton: if this guy heard an orthopaedic doctor talking about the importance of strong bones, would he assume they were saying to disregard the rest of the body? Probably not. Tchividjian is apparently focusing on the bones, strong bones are important considering they support the rest of the body; in a fight, I’d want bones like Wolverine rather than like breadsticks. If he wants to learn something about putting meat on his bones, then there are probably other doctors for that.

  5. CKeith,

    I would have no problem if this is all that Tchividjian had in mind. Unfortunately, he pushes this idea to the point of absurdity. I am presently working on a book about Discipleship and Sanctification, here is an excerpt I plan to include:

    “For those of you familiar with the teachings of Tullian Tchividjian, it should be understood that resting in Christ’s finished work is more than just a confessional statement (or existential mantra) affirming that we already have the victory; and that by “making every effort” to believe in the gospel we somehow grow and mature by default. Likewise, he says “It’s our failure to believe the gospel that produces bad behavior.” This is a gross oversimplification.

    To be sure, our bad behavior involves a lot of effort in fighting against unbelief, but our failure to believe the gospel is only the tip of the iceberg. This statement should read: “Bad behavior happens when we fail to believe that everything I need, in Christ I already have.” (per John Thomson’s rebuttal). The gospel message should be understood as the agency of our sanctification, not the means. This limiting and subtle exchange turns the gospel message into a “thing in itself,” a kind of entity, complete with magical power to transform lives; accesible only through existential realization.

    Although this pastor claims to be Reformed, statements like this sound very much like the false teachings of the Word/Faith Movement practitioners. Reality producing mantras (you’ve already got it… you’ve already got it… you’ve already got it…) and self-realized entities (gospel message idol) should never replace our commitments to mature, determinations to overcome fears, and resolve to put the “many” deeds of the flesh to death.”

  6. I can see what you mean, I’ve not read much of what Tchividiian has written, so I can’t really comment too deeply one way or another. I hope you didn’t feel the need to reply because you took my comment harshly towards you; I tend to take one statement and comment about a lot of things that I hear and sometimes I can come across wrong. Sorry, if I did. I guess I explained my side, which I repeat often, but when I really started to accept my position with God it was such a profound thing for me that I always have to throw it in; it almost did seem to make an automatic improvement on me, I think because it was so freeing and let me really believe the rest of the Bible for myself. Though, I can agree that we shouldn’t expect to progress by default; I think that is often counter-productive to people’s faith and over-all progress.

    Thanks for the response and good luck on the book. And, again, sorry if I came across too jerky.

  7. I am humbled by the great encouragement and the high level of comments from everyone on here. Lauree, Sabrina, you are so encouraging! Thanks!

    Ckeith, we are birds of a feather, I don’t know that I could say it better. Even if someone is going through extremely tough times, as Job, there is still the choice to respond in faith or respond in sin. Faith persists in saying God is good, God loves me, despite the roadblocks. Edith Schaefer (Francis’ wife) has an excellent book called ‘Affliction’ which has a great take on this. Even on our death bed, we are the only one in that place under those circumstances who can fight the battle to say that God is yet trustworthy, God is yet good. The tapestry from the bottom looks like a mess, but it only looks beautiful when you view the top. Right now we often only see the bottom side.

    Roger, I’m so glad you posted here. Your argument is justified, it is the exact right question. If you fish through the blog you’ll see that I’ve spent a considerable amount of digital ink answering things like this. In fact I too have written a book, which I am seeking a publisher for, about the scandal of grace.

    By way of disclosure, I am not reformed, and not really arminian either: Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism

    Also, I square with Tullian on most of this. It really is all of grace, it really is mostly about knowing our identity in Christ and walking around knowing you are extremely loved, at all times forgiven and accepted. This is the kernel of being Christian. The throne of justice is a throne of grace to which we can always boldly go. Moral failure is always rooted in the failure to believe. It is proper, great belief which leads to fruit. It is a complete game changer to walk around thinking that I am God’s beloved pearl, so beloved, so desired, that He sold all to get me. Of course I live different! When I don’t I know where to go – the one place where I am still accepted. The throne of grace!

    This doesn’t mean there is no behavioral change. What kind of love doesn’t care if someone is destroying themselves? I think that repentance and reform must come from the place of trust, of love. We repent, we reform, not because we think it earns us the right to go back to God, but because we went to God and He forgave us and helped us.

  8. Jim,

    You make it sound as though I’m endorsing a kind of works doctrine. Not so, in fact that’s what I believe this teaching inevitably leads to. I agree when you say it really is all of grace, but in this context you don’t seem to be including the understanding that even our very cooperation in putting the deed of the flesh to death is also being worked in us by His Spirit. And this work of grace is doing a lot more than merely helping us to realize that we already have the victory through the gospel. Albeit this can from time to time be the very thing we need most, it is not the only thing that makes for our growth. This is why I include the statement from John Thomson: “Bad behavior happens when we fail to believe that “everything” I need, in Christ I already have,” and not merely an existential realization of the gospel. This is simply not the whole story, and although Tchividjian claims it’s not either, his teaching forces this conclusion regardless. When all is said and done, there doesn’t seem to be any need for the Spirit to do much of anything, the burden seems to lie squarely with us and our bootstrapping through self-realization. As you can see, this is dangerously close to the heretical “works teachings” of the Word/Faith Movement.

  9. It seems like the difference between “believing that ‘everything I need, in Christ I already have,” and “merely an existential realization of the gospel,” is specious. In fact I don’t even know what you mean by the second phrase. It seems to indicate that there is a superficial level of belief that is insufficient, and a secondary level of belief which is the real kind. In fact, I think the Lord will take any kind of belief He can to work with, and lead us along to a deeper and better belief. I feel like my belief changes and deepens every day. I can’t see at all how simple belief in the finished work of Christ is anywhere near close to the Word/Faith movement, and I am skeptical any monolithic body of teaching exists to define that movement either.

    Maybe you need to clarify the difference between these two and define your terms a little better, because I feel like I am not understanding your objection, and I’m boxing the air. In all likelihood once you define your terms better I will agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Thanks for the dialog!!! – Jim

  10. Jim,

    Sorry if my thoughts look a little awry. Bad writing is bad writing. Let me explain it another way. Tchividjian relates in this post, and previous posts, how a better understanding of Christ’s finished work on the cross can help people better deal with the “feelings” they experience from their repeated failures. He speaks of how he has experienced a morbid sense of narcissism, depression, and general self-loathing that has robbed him of his joy in Christ. So far so good. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this idea whatsoever. A better understanding of Christ’s completed work can certainly help a lot of people. It can transform the understanding of their failures into mini-victories, leading to many more fully realized victories. Even as a kind of mantra, this is still all good. But then he takes a turn for the worse. He makes a subtle change in this idea that is hard to detect.

    He goes from merely prescribing this remedy for the “feelings that result” from failure, to applying it to the actual failures themselves and the shortcomings that produce them.The overcoming of these shortcomings, whose purging would involve a lot more than just a better understanding of Christ’s finished work, is now reduced to a mere existential quest for gospel realization. He makes this idea the answer to pretty much “all things” sanctification. According to him, this is the “primary” way in which we grow and mature; and this should be the primary focal point for all our struggles.

    This becomes more than just a little problem when you try to apply this to a holocaust survivor, or a chronic alcoholic. Let’s say there’s a fourteen year-old girl who wants only to get a good nights sleep without being repeatedly awakened by the night-terrors of a father who used to rape and beat her. Is it enough for the Holy Spirit to simply provide her with this understanding and then send her bee-bopping down the street with a kind of Kenneth Copeland victory strut? Or should we allow the Holy Spirit to work in her life as He prescribes, in ways that involve much more than just gospel belief? Shouldn’t our faith be more directed in understanding that “all I need in Christ I have,” rather than just a more realized understanding of the finished work of Christ. These two ideas might sound like the same thing, but they are not. One only serves to alleviate our “feelings” of failure, whereas the other would serve to address the failures themselves, including their resulting feelings of defeat.

    This all may seem harmless, but it comes dangerously close to the legalistic, bootstrapping, of the Word/Faith Movement practitioners. For years these people have taught that “you” are the answer. The existential reality producing words and beliefs that you generate from within is your key to the victorious Christian life (law of attraction). Self-salvation, I believe, would be the monolithic body of teaching that bests describes this movement. “You” are God and the creator of your own reality. And if you are experiencing anything less than victory, then you are simply doing it wrong.

    I know this is kind of long, but Tchividjian weaves quite a tangled web.

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