Review of One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian
When it comes to absorbing the good news of the Gospel, Americans have a dual problem (no doubt this isn’t uniquely an American problem, but I’ve got to write what I know). On the one hand, we like to think that any problems we’ve got with sin can be solved by hard work, personal dedication, and that stick-to-it-iveness that settled the colonies, won the West, and built the financial and military juggernaut we’ve got today. If we owe someone something, by golly we’ll pay it ourselves. On the other hand, we’re Americans—we don’t really believe we’ve got a problem with sin in the first place. Sin is something bad people do, and we’re not bad people. We’re good people who sometimes make mistakes, but even then, not very often.
Enter One Way Love, in which Tullian Tchividjian reminds us that not only are we sinners who are so awful that there is literally nothing we can do to save ourselves, but that in the Gospel God has already and unconditionally done absolutely everything necessary for our salvation. In Christ, God has loved us without requiring anything in return. He has forgiven us, not because we are worthy of forgiveness or because we have done something to merit it, but because He is gracious and merciful. His love flows one way—from Him to us.
If you’re anything like me (and you are, since we’re both sinners), this message elicits a mixed reaction. We immediately want to react by saying “but won’t this just make us sin more? If God forgives without requiring obedience, won’t we just rush into sin? And what about justice? Do we really just ‘get away’ with all that sin?” And perhaps most common in the modern Evangelical world: “How does this help me in my day-to-day life? Isn’t ‘God has forgiven you’ less useful when I’m shopping for groceries than ‘thou shalt not steal’?”
That’s one cluster of reactions, which Tchividjian spends a good deal of time responding to (and doing so quite well). The other sort of reaction is a resounding “yes! This is the Gospel of the gracious God who has saved me and bought and redeemed me through the blood of Christ!” As we mature as Christians, we should see the second sort of response begin to crowd out the first. As this happens, we will see our lives transform into better pictures of God as each of those questions from the first reactions slowly sort themselves out. We will see ourselves become the sort of people who don’t avoid stealing because there’s a law that will punish us, but because we have received the love of a God who forgives all theft in Christ. We will see our day-to-day lives become pictures of the living Savior. We will see that no one ‘gets away’ with anything—Christ received the punishment that we deserved as God’s justice was executed in his death. And we will finally see how we can truly push back against the temptation to sin.
This last one is really the heart of the matter. Every other religion in the world tells us that the way to fight sin is to try harder, to engage our will, and to strive with all our might to put sin to death. Tchividjian reminds us of the Christian teaching that faith turns our eyes off of ourselves and onto the death of sin in another:
The hub of Christianity is not “do something for Jesus.” The hub of Christianity is “Jesus has done everything for you.” And my fear is that too many people, both inside and outside the church, have heard our pleas for intensified devotion and concluded that the focus of Christian faith is our love for God instead of God’s love for us. (21)
And that, at the end of the day, is why this book is such a blessing. All of us need to be regularly reminded of the great Gospel truth that, in the words of Alistair Begg, the Gospel is not something done in us or to us or by us, it is something God does for us. God requires nothing in exchange for salvation—Tchividijian has written a wonderful reminder that forgiveness through Christ truly is a result of one way love.
This book is part of the Patheos Book Club.
Dr. Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO.