Tchividjian might answer these criticisms by pointing out a statement in his article that for the Christian "there is nowhere where Christ has not arrived by his Spirit." Amen, again. The problem is that this statement is lodged within a sentence that urges not the Spirit's enlivening presence and power but the Christian's enduring bondage in sin. He thus immediately adds that "it is equally true that there is no part of any Christian in this life that is free of sin." Here we must particularly quarrel. It is true that Christians must continually contend with sin, but are we not substantially freed, and increasingly being freed, from the power of sin? If not, then what did Jesus mean by saying, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn. 8:36
)? While there is truth behind Tchividjian's statements, his emphasis seems to be at odds with the Bible's emphasis on the transformation begun in regeneration and continuing throughout a believer's life. Concerns that Tchividjian downplays the reality of a Christian's sanctification are heightened when he pits Christian growth against reliance on God's grace.
Consider his statement: Many Christians think that becoming sanctified means that we become stronger and stronger, more and more competent. And although we would never say it this way, we Christian's (sic) sometimes give the impression that sanctification is growth beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work for us: we needed Jesus a lot for justification; we need him less for sanctification.
Notice the dichotomy. To believe that in sanctification we are becoming stronger and stronger, and more spiritually competent, must mean we think that we no longer need Jesus and his finished work. Conversely, those who rely on Jesus should not expect to grow stronger or more competent.
This is contrary to the Bible's approach to sanctification. Psalm 1 says that when a believer devotes himself to Scripture, "He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers" (Ps. 1:3
). Here is a picture of growth, strength, and spiritual competency. Yet it would be utterly wrong to say that this means such a person has become self-reliant at the expense of Christ-reliance. Rather, Christ-reliance will have the effect of strengthening his disciples so that, as Paul put in 2 Timothy 3:17
, "the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." I sincerely appreciate Tchividjian's ceaseless labors to ensure that Christians live in exultant dependence on the glorious person and finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ
. Yet this noble project does not require sanctification to be subsumed into the doctrine of justification (a problem noted in David Murray's review
of Tchvidjian's book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything). When it comes to Tchividjian's application of total depravity to the Christian, the effect is the virtual denial of the transforming effects of regeneration.
To be sure, Christians remain dependent on Christ's grace for sanctification, just as we have for justification. Yet it is because Christians are no longer totally depraved but born again in union with Christ that the apostle urges, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you" (Phil. 2:12-13
). Thank God that regeneration does not leave Christ's people in the situation of those who reject him in unbelief. We are certainly still dealing with sin in the totality of our beings, but thank God that we are no longer totally depraved. Praise God that, as Paul wrote, "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17