God Doesn’t Need Our Good Works, But Our Neighbors Do

Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World hits shelves in just a few weeks time. Perhaps more than any of his previous works, One Way Love helps the reader to see what it would look like for the dynamic of the gospel to transform each area of one’s life. Though the book is filled with personal stories, primo quotes, and practical insights which make it an enjoyable, easy read, there are also moments when Tchividjian gets rather unashamedly theological (but no less practical!). One of those moments has stuck with me since first reading, and has helpfully reframed the way that I think about “good works” and love of neighbor in relation to the settledness of the gospel.

Here’s Tchividjian in his chapter on “Objections to One-Way Love” explaining how grace changes both the way we think about good works and our motivation for doing them:

“…{W]hen we understand that everything between God and us has been fully and finally made right–that Christian’s live their life under a banner that reads “It is finished”–we necessarily turn away from ourselves and turn toward our neighbor. Forever freed from our need to pay God back or secure God’s love and acceptance, we are now free to love and serve others. We work for others horizontally (active righteousness), because God has worked for us vertically (passive righteousness). The Christian lives from belovedness (passive righteousness) to loving action (active righteousness). His love for us begets love from us. “We are objects of love before we are subjects who love.” . . . So, good works and the imperatives that describe them are not called for to establish standing with God, but to serve our neighbor. Life after justification does not eliminate good works, it just “horizontalizes” them.

“This is what Paul was getting at when he says in Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith (passive righteousness) expressing itself through love (active righteousness)” (NIV). Faith alone, in other words, gives the power to love.

“Passive righteousness tells us that God does not need our good works. Active righteousness tells us that our neighbor does. The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.

One Way Love is available here. Highly recommended!