Descending upon Fort Lauderdale, Florida, approximately 2,300 people from 48 states and 12 countries, each coming with their own feelings and expectations to the fourth annual Liberate Conference, graciously hosted by Tullian Tchividjian and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (CRPC). The congregants came bearing myriads of views, opinions, backgrounds, distresses, beliefs, and denominations, which, apart from the One unifying Savior and Redeemer being chiefly exalted and held high above everything else, would render a collection of ragamuffins such as this a categorical impossibility.
Presbyterian pastor and theologian Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse has a superb description on how believers in Jesus, from differing creeds and convictions, can find common ground in the gospel of Christ. He says, in his commentary on the Book of Romans:
“Protestantism is sometimes accused of being divided into a great many divisions which are more apparent than real, but there is a sense in which we are divided, even as the north wall of a building is separate and distinct from the west wall. Is it not true that though one stone may be in the north wall a hundred feet away from the corner, and another stone may be in the west wall a hundred feet from that same corner, the place where the walls touch is at the corner? ‘I’ll meet you at the corner.’ And I can say to every man in Christ, ‘I’ll meet you at the Lord Jesus Christ.’” (Barnhouse, Part 3, 73)
How truly and perfectly does this describe what happens at Liberate! We all, rebellious rogues, redeemed by grace, and standing and residing, perhaps, on opposite sides of the eternal edifice of Christianity, find our lone convergence at the feet of the Lord Jesus. He is the top-stone and cornerstone, the foundation and bedrock, of all that we stand on. And finding our unity in the Christ’s gospel of grace, we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but [we] are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:19-21)
We are established upon Jesus the Son, and he alone. Our foundation is nothing more or less than “Christ alone. Grace alone. Grace overflowing. Grace super-abounding. Not grace plus works, but grace alone. Not grace plus an ordinance or a sacrament, but grace alone. Not grace plus repentance, but grace alone.” (Barnhouse, Part 1, 141) It was this message of relentless, unstoppable grace that summoned these ragamuffins, these holy hoodlums. Surely, the speakers and the venue possessed their own attractions of their own accord, each important in their own regard.
But the thing the prevailed from Thursday through Saturday was the grace-drenched, grace-soaked, grace-saturated message of the gospel of Jesus’s substitution. Undoubtedly, each speaker incorporated their own sense of style and personality in their sessions. Paul Tripp’s and Ray Cortese’s and Elyse Fitzpatrick’s and Eric Metaxas’ talks were certainly different. And yet, there was a beautiful paradox, in that you felt the same when filing out of the auditorium after each talk. That’s the feeling of deliverance. That’s the freedom of the gospel. That’s the good news of grace.
This was my first trip to CRPC and the Liberate Conference. Any negative takeaway fits only on the logistical side of things, and can be somewhat assumed, seeing as a conference of this scale is bound to have miscues here and there. Nothing is ever pulled off perfectly. Nevertheless, as I reflect on those days spent in (surprisingly) chilly south Florida, and think about the believers I was able to connect with, and the messages that were proclaimed, and the enthralling music that was heard, the camaraderie and fellowship was immediate and the joy tangible. The speakers were superb and their message rang loud and clear: “It is finished!” “He has done it!” (Ps. 22:31 NIV)
Jesus has come and done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Our only hope is in acknowledging the vast chasm of “need” that resides in each of our souls. Our only chance at living rests in our eyes being opened by the Spirit of God to our deep desperation. “God always pours his grace into empty hands.” (Augustine, in Jeremiah, 17) He only needs your emptiness that he may fill; your brokenness that he may heal; your sorrow that he may comfort; your trial that he may succor; your weakness that he may strengthen; your sin that he may save!
We’re only delivered by first being shown our deficiencies.
We only live by realizing that we’re dead.
As the Episcopal theologian Robert Capon so masterfully puts it:
“All we need to offer in order to share in the joy of his rising is the shameless, selfless admission that we are dead without him, and the faith to confess that we are also dead with him and in him.” (Capon, 73)
Running rampant through the people at Liberate was a real, palpable atmosphere of grace, which can, and does, only come from the “love and laughter” of the redeemed, from the knowledge and remembrance that (truly), “It is finished.” It comes from the liberty in knowing that, as Tullian himself so freely puts it, “the foundation and the focus of the Christian faith is not your transformation but Christ’s substitution.” We were submerged in grace, drenched in a sense of selflessness that flows from the freedom of being ransomed, rescued, and forgiven by the pure grace of God.
As has been stated before, Liberate is so much more than a conference — it’s a family. The fellowships and connections made there go much deeper than mere acquaintances. True friendships are born and companions are found in the fight against sin and for the gospel. Paul Tripp has said that “autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.” (Tripp, 38) Liberate is such a community, filled with the grace and love and joy of those who know just how desperately they need the love and grace of Jesus. I can passionately and confidently, and with boldness, declare, that “in spite of our differences we had met at the corner, and were one in the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Barnhouse, Part 3, 74)
Notes & References:
David Jeremiah, Captured by Grace: No One is Beyond the Reach of a Loving God (Brentwood, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2006).
Donald G. Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 3, Parts 1, 3 (Philadelphia: The Evangelical Foundation, 1963).
Paul Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012).
Robert Capon, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1996).