Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  He is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham as well as a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal.

Recently, in his blog for The Gospel Coalition, he published a post entitled ‘Might As Well Face It — You’re Addicted To Law’.

It’s well worth reading in full, particularly for believers who are unclear about throwing out legalism (‘works-based’ salvation) and instead embracing the means of grace. Emphases mine below:

I’ll never forget hearing Dr. Doug Kelly (one of my theology professors in seminary) saying in class, “If you want to make people mad, preach law. If you want to make them really, really mad preach grace.” I didn’t know what he meant then. But I do now.

The law offends us because it tells us what to do–and we hate anyone telling us what to do, most of the time. But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothing we can do, that everything has already been done. And if there’s something we hate more than being told what to do, it’s being told that we can’t do anything, that we can’t earn anything–that we’re helpless, weak, and needy.

This has always been true of human nature, and — let’s be honest — legalism in the realm of faith is quite popular again in our time. Westerners look to another world religion’s legalism, saying how wonderful it is and how much guidance it provides family and society.  American Christians are also increasingly seeking legalism in unusual ways, unthinkable even 20 years ago. It seems to be a way for faith groups to distinguish themselves.

Tchividjian says:

We like it because we maintain control–the outcome of our life remains in our hands. Give me three steps to a happy marriage and I can guarantee myself a happy marriage if I follow the three steps. If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, my own, my parents, my spouse’s, society’s, whatever) and become a certain way, we’ll make it. Law seems safe because “it breeds a sense of manageability.” It keeps life formulaic and predictable.

An important by-product which he doesn’t mention is the uplifting self-righteousness that goes along with obeying a legalistic structure. ‘I’m so pure! My next door neighbour is dirty’.

However, for the confessing Protestant, there is the sticky matter of grace, which offends human sensibilities:

Grace is thickly counter-intuitive. It feels risky and unfair. It turns everything that makes sense to us upside-down. Like Job’s friends, we naturally conclude that good people get good stuff and bad people get bad stuff. The idea that bad people get good stuff seems irrational and wrongheaded on every level. It offends our deepest sense of justice and rightness.

Grace is not rational…The gospel of grace throws our glory train off its tracks. Instead of calculating, mastering, and determining, we find ourselves completely helpless, left with no option but to fall into the everlasting arms of the God who could consume us in his wrath but instead embraces us in his Son. (Mike Horton)

… As Walter Marshall says in his book The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, “By nature, you are completely addicted to a legal method of salvation. Even after you become a Christian by believing the Gospel, your heart is still addicted to salvation by works…You find it hard to believe that you should get any blessing before you work for it.”

Because we are natural born do-it-yourselfers–God-wannabes–(and have been since Genesis 3), the vitriol reaction to unconditional grace is understandable. Grace generates panic because it wrestles both control and glory out of our hands. This means that the part of you that gets angry and upset and mean and defensive and slanderous and critical and skeptical and feisty when you hear about grace is the very part of you that needs to be reckoned dead. That’s where mortification begins–it begins with that part of us that hates grace.

To many of us, this could only come as good news: Christ’s blood redeemed us in spite of ourselves. God has adopted us as His children, and imparts His grace that we might serve Him.

Yet as Tchividjian observes:

Some professing Christians sound like ungrateful children who can’t stop biting the very hand that feeds them. It amazes me that you will hear great concern from inside the church about “too much grace” but rarely will you ever hear great concern from inside the church about “too many rules.” Why? Because we are by nature glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks. That’s why.

It’s high time for the church to honor God by embracing sola gratia anew …

I think this is why Arminianism is so popular; it makes people feel they can do something to win — or lose — their salvation. It’s fulfilling for Christians to see how ‘holy’ they can ‘get’.  But, it’s out of our hands.

This isn’t to say we are above the law, however, as Bob DeWaay says:

During my first ten years in Christian ministry I was committed to the power of the human will, and it proved to be one of the greatest failures in my life in ministry

I was not alone in my delusion. The American evangelical movement committed itself to the power of the human will as early as the 19th century, when the teachings of Charles Finney turned the movement away from the doctrines of grace and toward the doctrine of human ability

There is nothing in the law that removes inward desires. Humans cannot keep the command not to have desires. Willpower does not remove desire.

That is why an inner work of the Holy Spirit is the only hope for sanctification. The Holy Spirit progressively gives the Christian new desires. Once the desire changes, the choices will follow. Desires drive choices; it is not the other way around. This is a rather simple concept.

Grace — a daring truth brought to you by Jesus Christ, sponsored by God the Father and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Find out about it exclusively in the New Testament.