Jesus + Nothing = Everything

This is a statement that my lead pastor began a series through Galatians with.  It hits to the deepest part of my relationship with Jesus and my understanding of the Gospel.  Many of us try to make faith in Christ a Jesus ‘plus’ Gospel and create boundaries for entrance into the covenant community of faith.  You need to clean up your act if you want to be a Christian, people will say either explicitly or implicitly.  For instance, when we have moments of opportunity to point people toward Jesus, it is like they have given us a sack of stones as a vulnerable act of seeking.  We have three options at this point.  1) We can throw the stones at them out of complete disgust for their sin.  2) We can build a wall between us and them by saying “Jesus + __________ = acceptance by God and us,” and thereby eliminate any chance of doing the third option that we see modeled in the New Testament.  3) We use the stones to build a bridge to both us and ultimately to Christ.

Now this does not mean that doctrine and sound approaches to the Scriptures get left behind (ha, no pun intended regarding my subtitle).  It means the things we impose on the Bible get left behind in comparison to the surpassing greatness of simply knowing and being known by Jesus Christ!  As we attempt to appropriately interpret Scripture and live in relationship with the Spirit of Jesus, we must keep in mind that it is not our ideas or beliefs that we cling to, but Jesus himself.

So, Jesus plus nothing… hhhmmm… What am I saying?  I am saying two things.  1) When we add things to Jesus and his Gospel we actually minimize it and build walls between God and seekers.  2)  In our own lives and reflections on truth, we need to have humility that we may be wrong, and cling to the ONLY thing that is ALWAYS RIGHT: Jesus!  Jesus plus nothing equals everything!  What does this mean for me?  Well, since you asked, it means:

— I might be wrong about issues of the scope of the Gospel, meaning maybe God really only died for individuals and not for the whole community of faith and ultimately for the renewal of the cosmos in “new heavens and new earth.” BTW, I have been accused at times of being a Universalist, but I simply am not.

— I might be wrong about my approach to justice issues and my libertarian friends may be right (in two senses 🙂 )

— I might be wrong and this nation may actually be the “new Israel” and the doctrine of manifest destiny may have been right (Ok, I really doubt this one; but not enough to at least admit that I may be wrong in some aspects)

— I might be wrong, and Jesus may actually believe in the just war theory of St. Augustine.

— I might be wrong about the role of women, and perhaps biblical faithfulness does not actually permit them to be pastors, teachers, and elders.

— I might be wrong about Jesus’ message being quite focused on the poor and marginalized.

— I might be wrong in suggesting that the Roman Empire was being subverted by the early church.

— I might be wrong and five point Calvinism may be 100% truth.

— I might be wrong in that the Bible may only actually be supposed to be interpreted in the “plain sense” and not in light of the original intent of the authors and genre they chose to employ.

— I might be wrong and the seven-day creationists may be right.

— I might be wrong and the Holy Spirit’s charismatic gifts may have actually ceased after the closing of the canon of Scripture (well, actually, because of my relationship to God and experiences he has blessed me with; I doubt I’m wrong here 🙂 )

But the ONE THING THAT I WILL CLING TO IS JESUS!  He is the One who is in us, “the hope of glory.”  So, what is at the epicenter of Jesus being the ONLY thing/one that matters?  I think Paul makes it very clear to us in his letter to the Corinthians, when he calls these things of “first importance.”  He states:

3For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… 1 Corinthians 15.3-4

Relationship with the resurrected Jesus (through the Holy Spirit) is what matters most!  If we can embrace that, then the statement: Jesus + Nothing = Everything, will make sense.  When we live out a faith that is empowered the Spirit of Christ in us, NOTHING else matters… and in doing so, we gain EVERYTHING!

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  • I completely agree with you here. At one time I drank whiskey and dry ginger (dare I admit that?) then one day I had a cold and had a few whiskeys to ease the symptoms (it definitely helped). By the last one I had eliminated the dry ginger and never had that cocktail again. For me the dry ginger dilutes and corrupts; it adds nothing, it only takes away. It may seem perverse to compare Jesus to a glass of whiskey but a shot of neat whisky will bring tears to your eyes. If you add dry ginger it may seem more palatable to a non drinker but it will actually satisfy no-one.

    I referred in a previous post to the full gospel. This is a pentecostal invention that claims that unless you experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit and believe in the whole promise of salvation with such things as healing then your salvation is incomplete. The theology of salvation is very deep but if it cannot be distilled into a simple ‘Christ and him crucified’ its edge is blunted and it becomes insipid. Worse still it becomes another gospel which Paul is so scathing of.

  • kevinstewart

    I was just talking about this with a friend yesterday.

  • When I get my focus on other things, problems, people, or even ministry those things always get larger and Jesus gets smaller. If I correct my focus and ask God for new vision, He always gets larger than any other concern or responsibility. I want Jesus to be bigger to me all the time. And the neat thing is this: when He “gets bigger” to me, I know He has grown my faith and vision. Yep, Jesus + nothing = everything!

  • This is completely right on! This is pretty much the core message of my blog on the scandal of grace. Specifically, if we add anything at all to this equation, it basically nullifies grace. If people are not asking us, “WHAT? Are you saying we can just SIN and God still accepts us?”, if people in the back aren’t grumbling like they did when Jesus declared the paralytic forgiven, we must not be advocating a strong enough message of grace. Like Paul said, “Shall we sin all the more that grace might increase?” Forgiveness and salvation, when pressed to the logical end, beg this question. Grace might be doctrinally straight on, but it is still a scandal. The narrow path is Jesus + nothing. That is why the chest-beating sinner goes away justified rather than the self-righteous pharisee.

  • Hey Kurt, the idea of Jesus and nothing else added reminded me a lot of what Volf says in Exclusion and Embrace. So here’s two sweet quotes for you. Personally I think the last one is killer.

    “Without the father’s having kept the son in his heart, the father would not have put his arms around the prodigal. No confession was necessary for the embrace to take place for the simple reason that the relationship did not rest on moral performance and therefore could not be destroyed by immoral acts. The son’s return from ‘the distant country’ and the father’s refusal to let the son out of his heart sufficed.”

    “What is so profoundly different about the ‘new order’ of the father is that it is not built around the alternatives as defined by the older brother: either strict adherence to the rules or disorder and disintegration; either you are ‘in’ or you are ‘out,’ depending on whether you have or have not broken a rule. He rejected this alternative because his behavior was governed by one fundamental ‘rule’: relationship has priority over all rules.”

    “Relationship is prior to moral rules; moral performance may do something to the relationship, but relationship is not grounded in moral performance. Hence the will to embrace is independent of the quality of behavior, thought at the same time ‘repentance,’ ‘confession,’ and the ‘consequences of one’s actions’ all have their own proper place.”

  • I’ve struggling with understanding law and grace in a new way since I have felt convicted of living a sustainable life. To live a sustainable life I must live under an earthly ‘law’ that respects how the earth is made. There are times when I give myself grace to do things that are not sustainable because I feel there are higher principles at stake. But to a very real degree, every day is a day of grace because living within the legacy systems of this society I cannot meet my daily needs without contributing to unsustainable practices.

    I have become convicted that living within the earthly ‘law’ of sustainability is to love and respect all the life he created; it is to live into the purposes God gave me of caring for the earth; conversely to live unsustainably is to sin. So in a paradoxical way living under the law is to live in Jesus. Since Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, living in Jesus fulfills the law, and grace becomes the power to do so. Jesus’ grace is the power he gives us to live lives of love for one another; it is the strength to walk the second mile and the humility to turn the other cheek. Jesus grace allows me the strength to do without so that his creation might live to glorify him.

  • Eric Helgesen

    Kurt, you and I disagree on a lot, but I know that we both agree on Jesus and that a 4-3 cover-zero-Sack play crushed quarterbacks.

    I was actually praying about this earlier today before I read your post. The main thing that I got out of the prayer time was that in all things, Jesus. If I’m off base on my issues, attitudes, actions, or stances, I’m relying on Him to convict me towards the correct path.

    When I was a Young Life leader in college, I got to see kids come to Jesus who would never have gotten caught dead in a church. I’m reminded of Jesus’ comments about coming for the sick, and not the healthy. Its important for the church today to recognize that Jesus makes the change in people’s lives, and not pushing the idea of having to clean up before coming to the Lord.

    Above all, preach Jesus.

    • Eric, I miss crushing QB’s!!!!!! Glad that this post meant something to ya! Thanks….

  • Leo

    Kurt, I’d like to just take this opportunity to thank you for randomly adding me on Facebook, I know you’ve literally got thousands of Facebook friends at this point, but I now follow your blog religiously (so to speak), and I am tremendously grateful to have found another articulate, intelligent Christian who for example, shares my view that Rob Bell is the most Biblically sound pastor in America.
    Regards this post: I am helplessly torn. That message of “Jesus + nothing” has been so terribly abused by theologically inept preaching to say, “All you have to do to go to heaven (read: get out of going to hell) is to believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. If you add works on top of that, you’re ‘falling from grace.'” What this message ultimately inspires into people who internalize it is a profound lack of motivation to become (as CS Lewis puts it) “creatures fit for heaven.” People who resist attempts to tell them to become like Jesus because they’ve been told that they need to resist legalism. people who believe that the only thing about being a Christian is what we believe about Jesus.

    I can’t stomach that. The “Jesus+nothing” is shorthand, in all the Christian realm I’ve seen, for justifying that kind of attitude. While I agree that the proper way to understand it is in the context of community acceptance, like you did in this post, given the way it’s abused, I’m convinced there has to be another term that you can use instead to avoid confusion between them.

    • Leo, thanks for your kind words. I too am glad to have found you on FB. I love that people like you are on a journey with me as we discern how to move the church further into her mission.

      I actually understand where you are coming from regarding the abuse of this statement. I suppose, I am attempting to redeem it. I am talking about the actual relationship with Jesus being all that matters… and ‘everything’ is certainly not typical views of escapism theology in heaven. Everything is Jesus himself which means he lives out the way of the kingdom of God through us. So, the more I get to know Jesus, the more my life… not afterlife will matter. Everything = living under the reign of God today as Jesus lives in me and through me. Does that make sense?

  • Ray s

    I do believe you have hit the nail on the head, enough said..

  • Thanks for this post Kurt. You have modeled humility and put your words to the test by opening up some of your most central convictions about faith and the Kingdom.

    I also want to thank Leo for his comment. The idea of “Jesus plus nothing” has a great propensity for abuse. Many times I have begun a conversation with someone in full agreement that Jesus is the center, but quickly learned that we had very different ideas of what that means. Specifically, we had different things in mind when using the word “Jesus”. As Leo points out, it is so often a way of diminishing real discipleship. “Jesus” means to this point of view “saying the sinner’s prayer”.

    Other times, there is so much baggage attached to a person’s idea of Jesus that his name becomes synonymous with one’s own ideology. We so profoundly confuse our own “pluses” with Jesus that we cease to recognize them as additions. I will confess that when reading through your post I had to rebuke myself several times from thoughts like, “But if you don’t practice peacemaking and social justice you don’t know Jesus!”. Meanwhile, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have been confronted by persons who could not divest themselves of the notion of “Jesus plus heterosexuality”, people whose heterosuperemacy was so inextricably interwoven with their idea of Jesus that they could not recognize the distinction.

    With that in mind, let me harken back to a previous thread on this blog. I humbly submit that if we are truly to practice a “Jesus plus nothing” gospel, we must first have a robust and serious understanding of the resurrection of Christ. We must be able to recognize that our ideas of Jesus are not Jesus. And that Jesus is alive, a vital and real presence in our churches who is acting in ways none of us sees fully. Only when we understand Jesus to be alive among us can we begin to loosen our grip on our ideas about him.

    • “I humbly submit that if we are truly to practice a “Jesus plus nothing” gospel, we must first have a robust and serious understanding of the resurrection of Christ. We must be able to recognize that our ideas of Jesus are not Jesus. And that Jesus is alive, a vital and real presence in our churches who is acting in ways none of us sees fully. Only when we understand Jesus to be alive among us can we begin to loosen our grip on our ideas about him.”

      Amen, hallelujah, glorrrryyyy, and any other pentecostal praise word you feel like inserting here: __________! Great throught Tucker! This is exactly why I ended the post with the resurrection.

      I also agree and wrote this from a centered place of Jesus being ALIVE and actually relational rather than theoretically relational. Jesus in relationship with us equals everything – meaning a life lived under the reign of God and in the way of Jesus…

  • Well, ouch. This is a little painful for me not in a theoretical, seminary kind of way, but in a practical way. Of late, I have been reading through the gospel of John with a couple of women in drug and alcohol recovery. In the last few weeks, I have presented the gospel to them in various forms. To tell you the truth, just this last week I began to feel as though I am selling something. As if I am trying to take this Jesus that works for this middle-class white, educated, married, churched person and to fit it on people who are none of those things. I am expecting Him to be so linear, and tidy, and neat, and predictable. All of the things I was hoping I would NEVER DO.

    But the Romans Road, or the bridge illustration, or whatever mechanism you want to use, is just a tool to try to explain something that blows our minds. Jesus + nothing = everything. Jesus is enough. No props. No clever wording. Even clarity in presentation doesn’t cut it. Not even illustrations that work “great” for people in recovery. Just Jesus. Seriously, Kurt, thanks for the reminder.

    • Suzanne, you are a great conversation partner. Thanks for this moving personal reflection. Shalom!