Clutter Free Christianity

Last week I read "Clutter Free Christianity" by Robert Jeffress. Jeffress is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. I have only had the opportunity to meet Dr. Jeffress twice, and both times he was an extremely engaging, winsome, nice man. I know several people who attended the church he pastored prior to going to FBC Dallas, and say he is the quintessential pastor.

Clutter Free Christianity isn't a book on time management, or simplifying our lives, as the title first implied to me. Rather, it is a book designed to help Christians re-discover the things that are most important - "what God really wants from you - and what He wants to do for you."

Here are a couple of things I really liked about this book: Chapter 3 talks about "heart surgery," and contains a helpful reminder that the Christian life is not about behavior modification. We can self-help ourselves to spiritual death by making our external behavior the focus of our lives. Instead, the entire Christian life is about trusting God to carry out the work of transformation in our hearts.

Jeffress also has a helpful discussion about the reason we don't trust God. Basically, he says the decision to not trust God is a reflection of our unbelief that God has either the "character or the ability to fulfill His promises."

My big problem with Dr. Jeffress' book is that I don't feel as though Jeffress was as clear on the Gospel as he could have been. It starts on page 3, where he quotes Ephesians 2:8-9, and then writes "Those words are more than just an evangelical mantra; they are the bedrock of the Christian faith... However..." (emphasis mine).

You can't say "but" to something that is the "bedrock of the Christian faith."

The rest of the book is dedicated to helping believers understand what "God really wants from [us]," but in my opinion Dr. Jeffress makes that issue extraordinarily fuzzy. Dr. Jeffress claims the "essence of a right relationship with God [is] a heart fully devoted to Him and a heart that loves other people as much as we love ourselves" (pg. 4), and insinuates that if our lives don't reflect that we could be "surprised when [we] stand before God one day and hear His evaluation of [our lives]" (pg. 6). On the other hand he writes "To initially receive God's forgiveness by faith in God's grace and then revert to a system of good works to earn God's approval is like mixing oil and water" (pg. 38).

In my honest opinion, this book confuses the very issue it sets out to clarify.

By causing our "transformation" to be the implied grounds of our assurance of a relationship in Jesus Christ, I fear Dr. Jeffress' book will inevitably cause Christians to look in the wrong place for the Source of their security.

Let me put that a different way: When you trust that Jesus Christ paid your penalty on the cross, you have eternal life that is based solely on what He did (John 3:16, et al.). At the point you trust Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence and begins the work of conforming you to the image of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:29). That transformation often happens both internally and externally in the life of a believer, and at different paces for each individual.

However, when we look to our lives (or to the lives of others) as proof they are or are not believers, we look in the wrong place. No one has ever come to Christ by behaving better - so why would good behavior be the criteria we look at to decide where we, or someone else, stands with God?

Trying to figure out if someone has trusted Christ? Don't look at their lifestyle. Ask them.

Wondering if you are really "saved?" Don't look to see if you're behaving better these days. Ask yourself, "Have I trusted Jesus Christ alone as my Savior, Who paid for my sin on the cross and rose from the dead." The Pharisees behaved well, and they were whitewashed tombs.

Back to Dr. Jeffress' book: I don't remember the simple Gospel of eternal life through faith in Christ's death and resurrection alone being explicit a single time in the entire book. I have no doubt Dr. Jeffress believes it, and even preaches it, but it wasn't in this book. For a book on "Clutter-Free Christianity" to clutter the simplicity of the gospel and assurance in Christ alone is too bad.


Kim said...

Hi Chris,

Since I haven’t read Jeffress’ book, I am commenting on your review, not the book.

You say your problem with the book is that it clutters the simplicity of the gospel and assurance in Christ alone. I wonder if Jeffress’ is writing this book to warn those that profess Christ to examine their lives. If so, he is writing much the same way Paul wrote and Jesus’ spoke. Some examples:

2 Cor 13:5-6 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test? 6 But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test. - Paul

Matt 18:3 - "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus

Matt 25:1-13 The parable of the ten virgins which ends with…
Later the other virgins also came, saying, `Lord, lord, open up for us.' "But he answered, `Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' – Jesus

And the most famous scary verse
Matt 7:21-23
"Not everyone who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' – Jesus

What’s the test to know if you are saved? Christ in you, the hope of glory. The test is possession, not profession. The reason it is confusing is that EVERYONE who possesses Christ WILL profess Christ. BUT, I strongly believe that Scripture tells us that everyone who professes Christ is not necessarily possessing Christ.

You say… Trying to figure out if someone has trusted Christ? Don't look at their lifestyle. Ask them.

First of all, it is very hard to look at another and judge this accurately. It is really for the purpose of judging oneself that I write. But, your statement, in my opinion, is dangerous. If the test is “Christ in you”, then wouldn’t a better test be the transformation that you are starting to look like Christ?. Is this dangerous? Definitely, IF you are not clear that it is NOT about behavior modification. Doing good deeds won’t get you a relationship with God. It is all about God transforming your heart into one that loves Him and others. If that happens, which is conversion, your life WILL look differently.


Chris Freeland said...

Hey Friend,

Thanks for the comment. This could get to be a longer conversation than the comment thread can bear, but we'll give it a shot and see how it goes. If my responses seem curt, it is because I'm going for brevity... not trying to be a jerk!

We're going to find ourselves in substantial agreement, but a couple of things are important:

2 Corinthians 13:5-6 - we're going to disagree on what the "test" looks like. How do you test yourself to see if you are "in Christ?" I would argue that you don't want to look at your lifestyle... you want to look at the object of your faith. You didn't get put "in Christ" by your works - why would they be your test?

Matt 18:3 - How are you "converted?" By trusting Christ with childlike faith.

Matt 25:1-13 - The issue is that the virgins weren't spiritually prepared to meet Jesus. The warning in that specific passage is for Jewish believers who are hoping to meet their Messiah, but are not prepared for His coming (They have not trusted Christ).

And I think Matthew 7:21-23 argues the opposite of what you're saying. They looked to their lifestyle - what they did as the evidence that they were "in Christ" or even that Christ was "in them." They did a lot of things in Jesus' name, but hadn't ever trusted Him.

You are absolutely right that it is impossible to know with certainty whether or not another person is saved. But how much "looking more like Christ" do I have to do, for how long before I can have assurance?

If you had asked the guys in Matthew 7:21-23 whether or not their life was looking more like Christ every day, what do you think they would have told you? They told Jesus it was...

If you ask a person, "Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior?" they can certainly lie to you... but they cannot lie to themselves. Can they profess and not possess? Sure they can, but at least they know they are lying to themselves. I think it dangerous to use anything other than a confession of faith as the litmus test for whether or not a person is "in the faith" because nothing else you could point to is the issue separating a person from Christ.

Can a person's life look more and more like Christ every day, and them still be lost as a goose? It absolutely can.

Can a person trust Jesus Christ as their Savior and still be lost as a goose? Not according to Scripture.