The Rhetoric of “Unconditional” Grace
Tullian Tchividjian writes:
“When it comes to drawing near to God and pleasing him, legalism insists that obedience precedes acceptance — that it’s all up to us. But the fresh breeze of gospel freedom announces that acceptance precedes obedience — that once we’re already approved and already accepted by God in Christ, we can freely follow God’s lead and doing his will ….”
Well, yes and no. God chooses to salvation solely on the basis of his sovereign grace without any regard for man’s choice or actions (Eph. 1), but as salvation is executed in history, obedience does precede acceptance — if we refuse to obey God by believing in Jesus and in repenting of our sins, we cannot be accepted by God. I am confident that Tullian does believe this, but his rhetoric doesn’t always (or, in Jesus + Nothing = Everything, even usually) do justice to the obligatory dimension of the Gospel. He is (understandably) intent to highlight God’s grace in Jesus, but he allows his rhetoric to outstrip Biblical teaching at points. The universalists are so intent to exalt God’s grace that they end in stating that God eventually saves everyone. This is not Tullian’s position by any means, but he should guard his rhetoric lest his readers assume that God demands nothing of sinners before he accepts them.
Earlier I noted that a blurb for Dane Ortlan’s book Defiant Grace tended to diminish God’s call to obedience under worries that obedience undermines grace. But the Bible is only at war with self-righteousness, not with righteousness. God saves totally by his grace apart from our works, but obedience in the form of faith and repentance in response to God’s grace does not constitute works excluded from salvation.
Election is unconditional, but it is not correct to say that salvation in toto is unconditional. Without faith and repentance and submission to King Jesus, none will be saved.