Tullian Tchividjian, son of evangelist Billy Graham's daughter, recently addressed the all-too-common identity and self-worth issues that Christians often struggle with at the Linger Conference in Dallas, Texas. Tchividjian was one of six speakers at the conference designed to give participants an opportunity to seek the Lord individually and corporately for 24 hours over Valentine's Day weekend.
Tullian Tchividjian is a Christian author, speaker, and pastor of a church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He joined John Piper, Matt Chandler, and Ben Stuart in encouraging thousands of conference attendees to abide in their Savior, Jesus Christ. His message was based on Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus declared that He came to set captives free.
"Most people I talk to are exhausted. They're weary and heavy-laden," Tchividjian began. Christians, in particular, endure much physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual exhaustion in their task-filled lives. "The church is the one institution in all of society where weary and heavy-laden people should be able to come and find rest, and instead they get to-do lists," says Pastor Tullian. As a result, some believe that God's acceptance of them is based on their good behavior. This is a tragedy, since the Gospel of God's grace has set Christians free from maintaining a performance-driven relationship with Him.
"Real life is long on law and short on grace ... the weight of life is heavy," says Tchividjian. The Christian life is often full of relentless demands and a fear of failure - we live with long lists of things to accomplish and don't find rest or satisfaction unless we meet the standards we have set for ourselves. "We're all in need of relief," Pastor Tullian says.
In Luke 4:18-20, Jesus read His mission statement:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (English Standard Version).
"He came to set the captives free. He came to liberate the oppressed ... to take the burden off of our shoulders," says Tchividjian - Jesus Christ came to give those who would receive Him worth and significance.
Many Christians might think that the cause of our exhaustion stems from hectic circumstances which have infiltrated our lives; many fail to look at what is going on inside of us, however. "The reason we're so tired is that we're trying to save ourselves," Tchividjian explains. Christians often equate their identity with how successful they are at achieving their goals; we are, in essence, trying to "save ourselves" with perfect performances, and this ultimately leads to exhaustion.
"We lean on things, we trust in things, we depend on things - every single one of us - that are infinitely smaller than Jesus, to anchor our worth and our value and identity ... to make us feel like we matter," says Pastor Tullian.
Tchividjian grew up with six brothers and sisters, and says he was better than all of them at tennis. He played competitively at the age of 10, and his coaches, family, and friends often told him that he would be a great tennis player when he grew up. Receiving such accolade as a young boy enticed Pastor Tullian to build his identity in his tennis-playing abilities - "I started to anchor my worth - my value, my identity - in how I performed as a tennis player," he says. Tchividjian also began to develop a "John McEnroe-like temper tantrum" every time he lost a game, and couldn't keep his temper under control no matter how hard he tried.
"The reason I felt like I was dying inside every time I would lose a game ... is because every lost point, every lost game, every lost match threatened my identity," Pastor Tullian says. Tchividjian underwent an identity crisis every time that he lost in tennis, and this fueled his temper. His idolatry - the fact that he trusted in the sport more than he trusted in God to save him - lead him to believe that his life wouldn't amount to anything if he didn't win every match.
Idolatry can take many other forms, including overwhelming desires for marriage, parenting, career aspirations, people, or to have a nice physical appearance. "We turn the good things that God gives us into ultimate things that we worship and depend on," Tchividjian says. Christians often obsess over idols, desperately trying to measure-up when we feel like we are lacking - "The exact opposite of what it means to linger," Pastor Tullian says. Facebook is a great example of "putting on a good face" for the outside world, he believes, fueling our addiction to "securing our own righteousness."
The cure for this kind of exhaustion is found in Christ. Finding our identity in Jesus' love and salvific work on our behalf gives us peace; the fact that Christ bore the wrath of God for our sins demonstrates His astounding love for us, and secures our eternal right-standing with the Father. We are fully accepted by God, because of His Son. "You never, ever grow beyond your need for the Gospel," Tchividjian says to Christians, no matter how long they have walked with the Lord.
Jesus came to set us free from sin and death - free from having to measure up to any other standard. We are free from feeling like we need to fix ourselves - or fix others to make us happy - and free from the guilt and shame that can come with unmet expectations. "[Jesus] came to relieve us of the burden we feel to win, to get ahead, to be on top of everything," Tchividjian says - "He came to set us free from the pressure to be right, and regarded, and respected."
God's standard is perfection - and Jesus met that standard by living a sinless and holy life. He then died on our behalf so that we could be justified before the Lord by faith in His gracious offer of salvation. "Jesus fully satisfied God for me. In my place, condemned, He stood and sealed my pardon with His blood," says Tchividjian - "This is the Good News that you and I never, ever, ever outgrow our need to hear ... we need to be reminded of God's salvation over, and over, and over again to keep us in check."
Jesus came to fulfil the law because He knows that we cannot live up to God's perfect standards. Those in Christ really don't have to do anything to justify their existence, Pastor Tullian says - because Jesus succeeded for us, we are free to fail. "Because Jesus is Someone, I'm free to be no one ... the Gospel of grace enables us to revel in our expendability," he explains. Our identity is based in Jesus' performance - which is perfect - and not in our own.
"Life doesn't have to be a tireless effort to save ourselves - by striving to be the best, the most beautiful, the most accomplished ... The Gospel of grace announces that Jesus came to satisfy the deep judgment against us, once and for all, so that we could be free from the judgment of God, from the judgment of others - even from the judgment of ourselves," Tchividjian says.
"There's nothing you did to get into it, and there's nothing you can do to get out of it - it's a done deal," says Pastor Tullian of Christ's free gift of salvation for all those who would believe. Exhausted Christians are looking for something that we already possess in Christ - approval, love, and acceptance. "You live your life under a banner that reads, 'It is finished,'" Tchividjian says.