The Gospel Coalition

As you all know too painfully well, relationships flounder in an environment of judging. Both the Bible and our experience teach us that where judgment reigns relationships are ruined.

At some level, every relationship is assaulted by an aroma of judgment--this sense that we will never measure up to the expectations and demands of another. Critical environments are contexts which (while never explicitly stated) shout: "my approval of you, love for you, and joy in you depends on your ability to measure up to my standards, to become what I need you to become in order for me to be happy." It's a context in which achievement precedes acceptance. We've all felt this. We've felt it at school, in churches, in the workplace, with our friends, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and most painfully, at home with our spouses, our children, our siblings, and our parents. This is why any relationship where criticism is constant, where you always feel like you're being evaluated and falling short, is an unhappy relationship.

I his book Who Will Deliver Us? Paul Zahl writes:
I wonder if any of us are strong enough to withstand the perceived judgments upon our lives, which touch the fears within. Have you ever tried to win the favor of a person who actively dislikes you? To get him to like you, you may have changed your style of dress. You may have altered your schedule. You may have stopped something you've been doing or started something new. You may have carried out their wishes to the last detail. You may tried once, then again, then a thousand times. But you have not won from this person the affirmation you so deeply desire. Judgment steamrolls over most of us.

Can you relate to that? I can.

The deepest fear we have, "the fear beneath all fears", is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It's this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life. And it comes from the fact that down deep we all know we don't measure up and are therefore deserving of judgment. We're aware that we fail, that our best is never good enough, that "we've been weighed in the balances and been found wanting." One young mother recently put it as honestly as anyone can:
Deep down, I know I should be perfect and I'm not. I feel it when someone comes into my house unannounced and there's a mess in every corner. I know it when my children misbehave in public and I just want to hide. I can tell it when that empty feeling rises after I've spoken in haste, said too much, or raised my voice. There's the feeling in my stomach that I just can't shake when I know I've missed the mark of perfection.

The judgment of others is a surface echo of a judgment that goes deeper. So if we're living in an environment or we are in a relationship that feeds this fear of judgment with constant judging, we deflate and detach because it becomes discouragingly exhausting trying to satisfy the demands and appease the judgment of the other. We become depleted of the hope that we can ever attain the affirmation that seems so necessary for us to live and breathe and so the relationship flounders.

The fact is, that relational demand always creates relational detachment. Control produces relational chaos, criticism produces relational commotion.

Most preachers and parents, spouses and siblings, fall prey to the false idea that real change happens when we lay down the law, exercise control, demand good performance, and offer constant constructive criticism. When we do this, we are failing to acknowledge the obvious: "Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive." We wonder why our spouse, or our children, or our friends, or our colleagues, or our congregants become relationally and emotionally detached from us. It's because we are feeding their deep fear of judgment by playing the judge, by being the voice of law.



When we feel this weight of judgment against us, we all tend to slip into the slavery of self-salvation: trying to appease the judge (friends, parents, spouse, ourselves) with hard work, good behavior, getting better, achievement, losing weight, and so on. We conclude, "If I can just stay out of trouble and get good grades, maybe my mom and dad will finally approve of me; If I can overcome this addiction, then I'll be able to accept myself; If I can get thin, maybe my husband will finally think I'm beautiful and pay attention to me; If I can help out more with the kids, maybe my wife won't criticize me as much; If I can make a name for myself and be successful, maybe I'll get the respect I long for." But, as is always the case, self-salvation projects experientially eclipse the only salvation project that can set us free from this oppression. "If we were confident of ultimate acquittal", says Zahl, "judgment from others would not possess the sting it does."

The Gospel announces that Jesus came to acquit the guilty. He came to judge and be judged in our place. Christ came to satisfy the deep judgment against us once and for all so that we could be free from the judgement of God, others, and ourselves. He came to give rest to our efforts at trying to deal with judgment on our own. Colossians 2:13-14 announces, "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross."

The Gospel declares that our guilt has been atoned for, the law has been fulfilled. So we don't need to live under the burden of trying to appease the judgment we feel. In Christ the ultimate demand has been met, the deepest judgment has been satisfied. The atonement of Christ frees us from the fear of judgment.

This story told by my friend and former professor, Steve Brown, illustrates well the radical discrepancy between the ways in which we hold other people hostage in their sin and the unconditional forgiveness that God offers to us in Christ.
Do you remember the story about the little boy who killed his grandmother's pet duck? He accidentally hit the duck with a rock from his slingshot. The boy didn't think anybody saw the foul deed, so he buried the duck in the backyard and didn't tell a soul.

Later, the boy found out that his sister had seen it all. Not only that, she now had the leverage of his secret and used it. Whenever it was the sister's turn to wash the dishes, take out the garbage or wash the car, she would whisper in his ear, "Remember the duck." And then the little boy would do what his sister should have done.

There is always a limit to that sort of thing. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore-he'd had it! The boy went to his grandmother and, with great fear, confessed what he had done. To his surprise, she hugged him and thanked him. She said, "I was standing at the kitchen sink and saw the whole thing. I forgave you then. I was just wondering when you were going to get tired of your sister's blackmail and come to me."

Jesus took on himself all the judgment we deserve from God so that we could be free from the paralyzing sting of judgment we draw from others.


Comments:

[...] on a number of our favorites – Martin Luther, Gerhard Forde, Michael Horton, and yes, PFMZ himself – is just an added bonus. And rest assured, we’ll be adding it, double pun intended, to [...]

James

November 28, 2011 at 04:59 PM

Tullian,
I just finished watching Sunday's sermon and out of all of it what impacted me the hardest is the part where you said,"Now there is a sense where the teacher is wright that our only hope is to give up, BUT it's a different type of giving up. It's not a giving up in order to save our selves, it's a giving up to the only one who saves. Big difference! Though we can in know wise safe ourselves any more then we can will ourselves to destruction but nonetheless I understand (it's a different type of giving up)I do. I'm glad I had a time out on that one. And 1 more thing if it means anything thank you for not connecting Philosophy to teacher throughout it's entirety a noticeable improvement if I may say so.

Steve Martin

November 23, 2011 at 12:12 AM

Thanks, John.

I like Romans 6 even better.

Judged (guilty) and put to death in baptism. And then raised again to new life with Christ...for His sake.

Great stuff!

Johnny

November 23, 2011 at 10:56 AM

I began preaching in '88 and have struggled with this "I need your approval" ever since. It has not been a pleasant way to live. In fact, I have been so miserable because of it, I have wanted to leave the pulpit a thousand times. The truths in this article hold such promise for me. I can't "leave" the ministry, I am miserable apart from pastoring and preaching. I have never compromised the word of God to please men ... but I sure have wanted to at times.

Dane

November 23, 2011 at 09:26 AM

Outstanding, Tullian.

Dee

November 23, 2011 at 04:29 PM

Very thought provoking. thanks. Can I leave you with an uplifting message helping our small community http://www.deetv.tv/#urban-precinct

John Thomson

November 22, 2011 at 08:09 PM

Steve

This time I am with you.

John 5:24-29 (ESV)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

T @aseedinspired

November 22, 2011 at 01:29 PM

A reader of mine said that my post today was something God had started with her by hearing you...
with such a curious name I had to google you and find out what you are about.
I can't wait to read more.
At what point do you think you started to buck the sin is the focal point mentality and go to more of a grace has covered it all mindset?
I am glad my reader spoke of you with the curious name.
Thank you,
T

paul st.

November 22, 2011 at 01:22 PM

Pastor
even my name is abreviated, how can I measure up?

James

November 22, 2011 at 01:19 PM

Another super sermon by T.T. Sunday. Hey Tullian, instead of using Philosophy teacher it's ok to use my name...really.

Steve Martin

November 21, 2011 at 11:48 PM

The great thing (for the Christian) is that the judgement has already been held.

More great news!

Tullian Tchividjian

November 21, 2011 at 09:17 PM

Freddy, good catch! After Master of Puppets, And Justice for All is their best, in my humble opinion :)

Church Chair Guy

November 21, 2011 at 08:39 PM

Great thoughts! I have seen too many not thrive because of judgment.

Freddy

November 21, 2011 at 08:23 PM

I just want to point out that the first picture is from Metallica's "And Justice For All" album. Nice choice.

I’m A Failure « Luggaged

November 21, 2011 at 06:40 PM

[...] Here Tullian addresses your ultimate fear. Here’s a quote: The deepest fear we have, “the fear beneath all fears”, is the fear of not measuring up, the fear of judgment. It’s this fear that creates the stress and depression of everyday life. And it comes from the fact that down deep we all know we don’t measure up and are therefore deserving of judgment. We’re aware that we fail, that our best is never good enough. [...]

Christina

January 7, 2014 at 04:18 PM

Just listened to this sermon. It was like a light bulb was turned on for me.

Cindy

January 5, 2012 at 12:36 PM

A friend gave me this article but I really wonder how you can parent without expectations and judgment, especially where obvious sin is present? Are parents to have no expectations of their kids?

Fear-Driven Action | WorkplaceWise

February 18, 2013 at 02:48 AM

[...] Do you remember the story about the little boy who killed his grandmother’s pet duck? He accidentally hit the duck with a rock from his slingshot. The boy didn’t think anybody saw the foul deed, so he buried the duck in the backyard and didn’t tell a soul. Later, the boy found out that his sister had seen it all. Not only that, she now had the leverage of his secret and used it. Whenever it was the sister’s turn to wash the dishes, take out the garbage or wash the car, she would whisper in his ear, “Remember the duck.” And then the little boy would do what his sister should have done. There is always a limit to that sort of thing. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore-he’d had it! The boy went to his grandmother and, with great fear, confessed what he had done. To his surprise, she hugged him and thanked him. She said, “I was standing at the kitchen sink and saw the whole thing. I forgave you then. I was just wondering when you were going to get tired of your sister’s blackmail and come to me.” (excerpt from The Verdict is In) [...]

The Verdict Is In « The Edwards' Fam

December 5, 2011 at 06:34 PM

[...] Tullian Tchividjian wrote the following article about judgment and grace; how Jesus has already paid the price of us. You can read the whole article here. [...]