I was raised in a Christian home by parents who never could quite understand the legalistic rules that were so prevalent in the church as a whole during the 90s. I found it somewhat exciting and interesting that my parents let me go to school dances and watch movies and listen to rock music and wear two piece bathing suits…all with the understanding that if I couldn’t handle the responsibilities that these brought with them, then I could not be free to partake in them. My parents knew grace…and freedom in Christ, before they could even put proper words to it. They knew that God was bigger than rules, they knew that wearing or not wearing, doing or not doing, saying or not saying would not keep us from or draw us into God’s favor. And despite what the church had wanted me to believe, I came out on the other side knowing what so many kids my age long to know…that you don’t need to add anything else to Jesus. He is absolutely everything.
The book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian was everything I wish I could have grasped as a teenager. As I struggled through what was right and what was wrong it was constantly difficult for me to separate what was tradition…and speculation of man….and what was actual truth. Was I really not a Christian if I watched an R rated movie? Was I really making God angry if I wore pants to church or said a cuss word? And even on into adulthood, this book could have spared me from the incessant wrestling that would go on in my mind about the spiritual disciplines. I could have avoided beating myself up every time I forgot to read my bible…I could have felt relief from guilt and self-consciousness. And more recently, if I could have read this book sooner I wouldn’t regret so many choices. I wouldn’t have felt so often the need to measure up or felt defeated by the goals I did not meet. This book slams you in the face with the gospel and gives you a nagging challenge to give up on trying to do something…and just rely on what has already been done for you.
In the first two sections of the book Tchividjian gives us a clear picture of what he means by “Nothing” in the equation that the title proclaims. By giving us a window into his own life we have a clear application of what the book will boldly explain. A need to please, a need to do more, a need to meet a standard could have easily caused him to collapse under the weight of expectation and performance but by His mercy, God revealed His intentions in these events. And that is when Jesus + Nothing = Everything became real to the author and from this revelation he begins to show us a way out from our relentless striving for more. Through a desire to control our own lives in combination with the emptiness inside that needs filled, we create rules and standards for ourselves that God never intended for us to have. And then legalism, or as he refers to it “performancism”, becomes our go-to strategy for feeling right with God and with ourselves. We can all agree that salvation is not obtained by anything that we have done but only by faith, but through our actions we often portray that in order to stay in favor with God we must perform. We feel we must be striving for Christian growth, we feel we have to be beating ourselves up about sin, we act like we have to constantly be in performance mode…we try to add all of this onto what Jesus already did for us and we hope to get something beneficial out of it. But we are left feeling discouraged, frustrated, and disappointed with nothing to show for it.
Jesus+Nothing=Everything provides a simple, clear picture of the gospel and reveals the transformation it can have on our lives. As the book explains, the need for the gospel goes far beyond our salvation and spills over into our Christian walk. The true heart of the gospel is that Jesus did it all for us…he was perfect because we couldn’t be, he died so that we wouldn’t have to, he took our sins, he was raised, he stands before God…we are expected to do nothing else, except lean on the gospel. If we try to do anything else we are totally missing the point. And then when we realize how little we can do, and how much the gospel can do, our hearts are full of gratitude which pours over into our actions….so often we try to do it the other way around and fail miserably. And through this progression we will actually be showing the world the gospel instead of scaring them away from it. The world doesn’t want to see people who have it all together giving them a list of rules to obey…they want to know that we have an answer for the mess that they can’t seem to get themselves out of. They want to know that Jesus really is Everything.
So…for anyone struggling with the lingering effects of legalism….for anyone who feels like life is a battle, and you are the perpetual loser….for anyone who feels like they never measure up….for anyone who can’t seem to ever keep up with all the rules you have made for yourself…for anyone who prides themselves on being a perfectionist….for anyone who is tired of not pleasing anyone…for anyone who just can’t seem to break out of a cycle of sin….this book is for you.