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We Are Seasoned Do-It-Yourselfers

Tullian Tchividjian
Tullian Tchividjian

Thanks to my good friends Mike Horton, Rod Rosenbladt, and Shane Rosenthal from The White Horse Inn, I was introduced to Harold Senkbeil. Dr. Senkbeil is a confessional Lutheran theologian who for many years served as Associate Professor in the Pastoral Ministry and Missions Department of Concordia Theological Seminary. He’s the author of many books including the one I’m reading right now entitled Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness. You’ll be hearing more from me about Senkbeil, but this section on page 170 that I read last night is too good not to share right away.

Speaking specifically to Christians, he writes:

Our Heavenly Father attaches no strings to His love. His love for us doesn’t depend on our love for others. Our relationship with the Father was established long ago, in the body and blood of His Son. Jesus Christ erased all our sins and shouldered all our sorrows. Already now we have a solid relationship with our heavenly Father; there’s no need to fret about it. That relationship doesn’t depend on our love for Him, but on His love for us. It hinges on the Gospel of God, not the Law of God…Again, the Old Adam betrays us. Our sinful nature would much rather hear Law than Gospel. The sinful nature is a seasoned do-it-yourselfer. We’d rather know what we should do, yet God insists on telling us who we are. The best way to tell you what to do as a Christian is to tell you who you are in Christ. The sinful nature likes to think it can earn (and keep) God’s favor. Our Old Adam prefers to base security with God the Father on His Law rather than His Gospel.

What Senkbeil gets at in this section is the fact that we are, without question, a society of doers. Ever since the Enlightenment, we’ve been told in a thousand different ways that accomplishment precedes acceptance; that achievement precedes approval. And since we all long for affirmation and validation, we set out to prove our worth by working. Unwittingly, Christians in this cultural context have absorbed this mentality and taken it into their relationship with God and their understanding of the Christian life. As it was with Martha in Luke 10:38-42, so it is with us: we just have to be doing something. We can’t sit still. Achieving, not receiving, has become the mark of spiritual maturity. With this in mind, Martin Luther wrote, “To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.” The hardest thing to do even as believers in Christ is to simply sit down and receive something, which is why Mike Horton titled one of the chapters in his book The Gospel-Driven Life, “Don’t Just Do Something Sit There.”

As I mentioned a few posts ago, preachers these days are expected to provide a practical “to-do” list, rather than announce, “It is finished.” They are expected to do something more than placard before their congregations eyes Christ’s finished work, preaching a full absolution solely on the basis of the complete righteousness of Another. It’s important to remember that the application that defines Christians is the application of Christ’s work to them, not their work for Christ.

John Piper once asked, “How do you glorify a water fountain? Come thirsty and drink!” Jesus is not glorified by our “doing” things for him. He is glorified by our resting in, and receiving, what he’s done for us.

Originally published May 24, 2011.

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