Just as our Lord watched from upon the Cross as others dividing up his clothes, so again many huddle in his Presence as they divide up his words—teaching things that strip bare the meaning of being in Christ.
You likely have heard the popular phrase “Jesus plus nothing”. In recent years it has spread like wildfire. And, although there is a great truth at its base, it has also served to strip the gospel of our Lord of how he chose to clothe himself with his own words.
Undoubtedly this will anger some who have taken hold of some of those strips of cloth. Like I said, there definitely is an important truth imbedded in this phrase, but like with many twists of truth there are subtleties that tear at the fabric of the gospel.
The source of this catchy phrase came from a recent pastor who was in the midst of being considered for removal from his very large church. As he studied through Colossians in the Bible, he formed a theological idea that attempted to convey the importance of relying solely upon the word of God for salvation.
That desire is both valid and right, for Jesus alone is the source and procurer who justifies believers through what he alone has done. The problem comes in when this minister re-defines sanctification as simply a re-seeking of that justification. For example, he references (according to those who have read his book) the imperative commands given to Christians in the latter half of the letter to the Colossians as irrelevant in our sanctification because there is “nothing left to do” on our part for salvation.
In other words the formula of
Jesus + nothing = everything
effectively equates to
Justification – sanctification = everything.
And in so doing, the gospel of Jesus is stripped of the truths defined in Scripture. This error was reworded by another minister who claimed that if anyone attempts to obey Jesus, they are committing the sin of legalism. My own consternation with the mis-teaching inherent in this phrase reached its climax during a sermon series labeled Jesus+nothing=everything in which the pastor dismissed the phrase “fallen from grace” as not relevant to salvation, even though the biblical context specifically stated that it involves the kingdom of God.
That is the principle problem with this formula; it attempts to expand the hyper-Calvinist error that since Jesus accomplished everything, then salvation cannot be hindered by willful disobedience, persistent casualness, lacking oil in our lamps, refusing to forgive those who sin against us, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, getting choked out by the cares and wealth of this world, by loving the things of this life, or by living for self.
But that is not what the Bible teaches. Rather it clearly teaches Christians that “those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God”.
In truth, our salvation is secured entirely by what Jesus has done as an act of grace for those who willingly receive him in faith. That is what is meant by the theological term: Justification. He also remains at the helm of our lives, directing us, as we willingly participate and obey him, through the transforming process of becoming what he has already declared upon us: aka Sanctification.
Those who refuse to “hold to my teachings” as Jesus instructed, demonstrate the rebellion that reveals their eternal destiny as “goats”. That is a serious problem with this popular phrase.
For those interested in both a more detailed account of the background of this phrase as well as an excellent assessment of the error in its theology, you may want to review the following link. I am not familiar with anything else on this referred site, but in putting this post together, I came across what I feel is an excellent assessment of this Jesus+nothing teaching: http://thecripplegate.com/is-jesus-plus-nothing-a-formula-for-sanctification/ .
It is true that Jesus alone is our salvation and that nothing we ever do will earn or contribute in any way to our right to stand sinless before a holy God. But we do not come to a naked Jesus. He has chosen to clothe himself with glory through his word, a living word that he invites us into. Only demons control people through possession, but not our Lord; he invites, he calls, he encourages, he empowers, but he always allows believers to choose whether they want to follow or do things on their own. That truth is confirmed by the words of Jesus, all the prophets, and the apostles whose letters are canonized in Scripture.
The phrase Jesus+Nothing=Everything can still teach important truths, especially when used to expose the error of salvation-by-works. However, the first part of that equation—Jesus—means more than just an acknowledgment of existence. It implies faith in him.
Regarding the clothing of our Lord by his word:
“For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith”.
Faith is demonstrated by follow-through: meaning both that obedience confirms faith, and disobedience undermines the claim of faith. To those referred to as “they” in the above quote, God records this:
“And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed”.
This is why the apostle Paul taught the Colossians (bold added):
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with [all these qualities of grace toward others, and]… Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another”.
The one who coined the phrase Jesus+Nothing taught that the above command is nullified because it is a law and not grace. As such, he taught that only the first part of Colossians (and for that matter Romans, Ephesians, etc), which address what Jesus has done for us, is what Christians should focus upon.
Amen to the focus; shame-on to the dismissal of the imperative commands of our Lord.
The clothing is not the Lord, but our Lord is not naked either. To have “Jesus” without anything else, should mean that we accept him in his entirety—his person, his work, AND all his words, even the ones that show that he expects our participation in order to remain in him. At the cross-roads of belief and obedience, this is God’s word:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains [like a cloak] on him” (ESV; Jn 3:36).
The highest command is to love God with every fiber of our being. The clothing of our Lord defines that kind of love as “those who do the will of my Father in heaven” and “this is love for God: to obey his commands”. It reminds me of that old song “Trust and obey, there is no other way”; not because our efforts can earn salvation, but because that is how we outwardly demonstrate the fruitful garment of his salvation already dwelling within us.
Do you love Jesus the way he expects to see it displayed?