Jesus Is: Find a New Way to Be Human by Judah Smith is a book primarily about how Jesus completed the all the work of our salvation and righteousness. As Smith himself states, “This book is a manifesto of sorts. It is a simple call to return to a simple faith in a simple person. Jesus is the sum and substance of the gospel.” It’s a book for “grace alone” and against “works righteousness.” Smith calls us to stop worrying so much about trying to please God by our actions and, instead, rest in the finished work of Jesus. It’s a perennially important topic for Christian living and an ever needed antidote to religious legalism.
If you are struggling with trying to “earn” salvation, this book is for you.
However, the book also falls prey to one of my pet peeves. In framing his arguments, Smith often states his main point as a dichotomy – “it’s this, not this” – when really no such dichotomy exists. In almost every case he clears it up later, but I really wish he would just say what he wants to say correctly the first time. I had to read the book especially closely, not because I was particularly engaged (though, it speaks poorly of me that I wasn’t) but because I kept thinking he was falling into antinomianism.
Allow me to give a few quotes from the book as an example:
“Being a Christian is not about being good. It’s about a relationship. About grace. About Jesus. Jesus is the point of life.” But, as Jesus states, “being good” is an important part of being a Christian. Consider John 15:9-10: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” Notice how relationship and obedience go hand-in-hand?
Here’s another one:
“We can get too serious about life, and it actually reflects poorly on the gospel, because the gospel, by definition, is good news. There’s nothing bad or sad about God’s gospel. It is only good news.” Yes, it is true that “gospel” literally means “good news” and it is, indeed good (inconceivably great, actually) good news. However, the good news is really made sweeter when we understand the bad news – that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Consider Peter’s presentation of the gospel in Acts 2. He announced the good news of Jesus’ resurrection: “God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.” But there’s some bad news there, too: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” The people responded with godly sorrow (they were cut to the heart) and asked, “What shall we do?” Peter’s response: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” And then the text continues “with many other words he warned them.” Peter was serious. He had good news, amazing news. But he also knew he had to warn the people of judgment.
“God is not in a hurry to fix us. Our behavior is not his first priority. We are his first priority. Loving us, knowing us, affirming us, protecting us. That is his top goal and his main concern.” Again, I want to say both “amen” and “hold on a second.” The grace that is evident in loving, knowing, affirming, and protecting us is the same grace that is involved in “fixing” us. Romans 8:29 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
I could go on. His interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount leads you to believe the sole point was to convince the people that trying to be justified by following the law was impossible. Again, I say, “yes,” that was one of Jesus’ points. But, he was also giving us the values of the Kingdom, teaching us to love our enemies, and warning us against the dangers of sin.
He also has a great discussion on rest and the importance of resting in Jesus’ finished work. But he contrasts rest with trying hard to be obedient to God. Sorry, I don’t think there is a contrast there. Obedience takes effort. We run the race. We fight the fight.
In some of these cases, Smith ends up in the right place. He doubles back and explains with a little more clarity. Maybe this is because, as he admits at the beginning, he’s not thinking linearly. Perhaps some readers will find it endearing, but I just wanted him to be clear the first time around.
For readers who are struggling with legalism, with trying to “earn” salvation or be “worthy” of God’s favor this book could be very helpful. We do need constant reminders that salvation is free and unearned and that God loves us unconditionally. Pastorally, I could see myself recommending this book to someone in that category. For others simply looking for clarity in how God’s finished work relates to our Christian life, I could list a few books to read instead.
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