Tullian Tchividjian’s book, One Way Love, decries the tendency in our churches to focus on changing behavior. Some make the distinction between the indicatives and imperatives of Scripture. The indicatives are statements of fact regarding what God has done for us—the great truths of God’s initiation of redemption. The imperatives are the commands that tell us how we are to respond to the imperatives. Tchividjian says too much of our preaching and attention is on the imperatives of the Christian life to the neglect of the indicatives. The result is that Christianity becomes performance focused:
We’ve concluded that grace just doesn’t possess the teeth to scare us into changing. As a result we get a steady diet of “do more, try harder” sermons; we get a “to do list” version of Christianity that causes us to believe the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian.
In my opinion, this varies from church to church, and ministry to ministry, but it is generally true in evangelical and fundamental churches. The whole idea of maintaining high standards, doing my absolute best in everything, looking my best, etc. can easily devolve into a performance mindset that reeks of pride and judges my standing with God by how well I have done. It is entirely human-centered and typically results in either vanity and self-righteousness or guilt and despair.
The fear of many Christian leaders is that if they stop preaching the imperatives, Christians will start to live lives of license and sin. The truth is, the transition from law to grace sometimes has that effect for a while. When people are used to being motivated by guilt and fear of God’s judgment, it takes awhile for them to begin to respond to God properly in gratefulness and worship. The transition is necessary, however, if the believer is to ever experience a Christian life that reflects the New Testament reality of the finished work of Christ, instead of their own obedience.
One distinction that needs to be made is the one between our standing with God and our fellowship with God. Teaching grace reminds us that our acceptance before God is based entirely on the imputed righteousness of Christ. It depends not at all on anything we do. This is often confused in legalistic ministries. Our standing with God, we are told, depends upon our obedience. This is indistinguishable from Roman Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, grace emphasizes justification by faith through grace. My standing before God has nothing to do with my performance as a Christian. God accepts me because of Christ’s righteousness. It is true, that my experience of God’s blessing is affected by my choices, but not my relationship with God.
For those who bristle at the contention that they are actually preaching law and not grace, there is a consolation. Tullian Tchividjian is not among the most influential evangelicals teaching a Reformed, Calvinistic emphasis on justification. There are many others who are more influential and more widely read, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, and Mark Dever. In fact, the book, One Way Love, is not all that good, compared to other books that cover the same topic of grace and legalism. It contains far too many stories, and tends toward tiresome repetition.
His main point in the book, however, is unlikely to be missed by a growing number of Christians who attend churches that are characterized by a performance mentality. Once a Christian comes to understand the grace of God and the beauty of living in light of the indicatives of Scripture, there is no going back to a Christianity that is still mired in the crushing demands of the law.