Is Lawlessness Just Legalism in a Different Form? A Review of ONE WAY LOVE

One Way Love is a new book based on Tullian Tchividjian’s sermon series on grace. In the acknowledgements, Tullian properly gives credit to those who actually wrote the book based on his talks.

Kudos to him for doing this.

One Way Love is a good overview of grace and how it applies to the life of an individual.

It seems to me that Tullian’s main audience is non-Christians, and as a secondary target, very new Christians.

There’s a lot of basic teaching on the Christian life. That’s it one of grace, God’s unmerited love and favor, God’s act vs. the human attempt to be saved.

The book takes the classic evangelical and Reformed perspective on the subject.

One point where I diverge with Tullian is with his idea that libertinism (license to sin) saying that it’s really legalism in another form.

I don’t think this is correct.

As I argued in Moving Beyond Legalism and Libertinism, libertinism and legalism are stark opposites. However, they are both part of the flesh.

One is an expression of the defiling deeds of the flesh (libertinism) while the other is an expression of the self-righteousness of the flesh (legalism).

Or to use a biblical metaphor, libertinism is eating from the tree of the knowledge of EVIL while legalism is eating from the tree of the knowledge of GOOD.

But both good and evil come off the same forbidden tree.

God’s desire, however, is that we live by the tree of life.

It’s neither trying to be good and avoid evil; it’s living by God’s own life which has been given to us by the Spirit.

Like most books out of the Reformed camp, there’s nothing about living by the indwelling life of Christ in Tullian’s book.

This is unchartered territory for countless Christians today, yet it’s a crucial goal of the gospel and a central teaching in the New Testament.

Another point that I’d add is that Tullian sees legalism essentially in salvific terms. It’s trying to be saved by one’s own good deeds and human efforts.

However, there’s a much more common tentacle to legalism. It’s the penchant to put someone’s personal standards of morality onto others.

Hence, if you feel that walking into a movie cinema is a sin, and you put that standard on others, you are a legalist. You’re making your laws the equivalent of God’s laws.

The same with people who say that Christians must homeschool, they must homebirth, they can’t eat shellfish, they must worship on the Sabbath, they must read their Bible every day to make God happy, etc.

This is all legalism is spades.

Legalism is also the human attempt to try to please God after one is saved by grace, which is impossible.

This brings us right back to the missing ingredient in the Christian world today: Living by the indwelling life of Christ.

A final word. Tullian is correct in saying that the Law reveals sin, but gives no power to remove it. However, the Law also stirs up sin. Paul says the strength of sin is in the Law, and he describes what that means in Romans 7.

As I’ve often pointed out, you can make the New Testament into a Law by trying to obey it in your own power and thus will find yourself in Romans 7 — whether you’re a nonbeliever or a Christian. It works the same way.

That said, One Way Love is a clear presentation of God’s love and God’s grace, mostly suited for non-believers and baby Christians.

See also my recent review of the amazing book, The Dave Test.

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  • Greg Carlet

    Thank you for this review. A lot of the books I read are out of the Reformed camp, and I have read a couple of Tullian’s previous books. I agree with you that most books out of the Reformed camp do not deal with living by the indwelling life of Christ. I wish they would, as I have benefited greatly from many of their writings.