The world tells us in a thousand different ways that the bigger we become, the freer we will be. The richer, the more beautiful, and the more powerful we grow, the more security, liberty, and happiness we will experience. And yet, the gospel tells us just the opposite, that the smaller we become, the freer we will be. This may sound at first like bad news, but it could not be better news!
In the Bible, slavery is equated with self-reliance. Self dependence, the burden of depending on yourself and controlling your circumstances to ensure meaning and security, safety and significance. But as we know, the burden of self-determination is enormous. When your meaning, your significance, your security, your protection, your safety are all riding on you, it actually feels like slavery. People seldom "choose" to embezzle money; they feel like they have to if they are to uphold whatever law they live under. That is, they equate their value with some attribute or ability-what others think of them, how much is in their bank account, their relative stature in their community-and without that attribute or ability, they cease to matter. There is no "them" without "that," and so they do whatever they can to ensure they don't lose it!
This is a burden we were never meant to bear, and yet after the fall, self-reliance became our default mode of operation. Mine as well as yours. You might even call it our inheritance. In our exile from Eden, we naturally tend toward self-reliance.
Fortunately, God does not leave us there. God wants to free us from ourselves, and there's nothing like suffering to show us that we need something bigger than our abilities and our strength and our explanations. There's nothing like suffering to remind us how not in control we actually are, how little power we ultimately have, and how much we ultimately need God. In other words, suffering reveals to us the things that ultimately matter, which also happens to be the warp and woof of Christianity: who we are and who God is.
In 1990, media mogul Ted Turner announced to an audience at the American Humanist Association that "Christianity is a religion for losers." Instead of humbly and heartily affirming Turner's sentiment and perhaps using it as a potential springboard for evangelism, the Christian community got angry. Even now, Turner's judgment causes some people to bristle.
But Turner was exactly right!
The gospel is for the defeated, not the dominant. But his self-righteous tone was 100 percent wrong. That is, he was saying something true about God, but his success had clearly buffered him from understanding himself honestly and accurately. In view of God's holiness, we are all losers (Rom. 3:23). We are all sufferers. We are all sinners. The distinction between winners and losers is irrelevant when no one can claim victory.
Instead, the gospel is for those who have realized that they can't carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Only when God drives us to the end of ourselves do we begin to see life in the gospel. Which is another way of saying that only those who stand in need of a savior will look for or recognize a savior. Fortunately, Christianity in its original, most authentic expression understands God chiefly as savior and human beings chiefly as those in need of being saved.
(Excerpted from my new book Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free)
A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian has authored a number of books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway). He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S., and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program LIBERATE. As a respected pastor, author, and speaker, Tullian is singularly and passionately devoted to seeing people set free by the radical, amazing power of God's grace.
When he is not reading, studying, preaching, or writing, Tullian enjoys being with people and relaxing with his wife, Kim, and their three children: Gabe, Nate, and Genna. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf.