The heart of our sermon yesterday was this question: What is the difference between living by The Gospel of Grace of Jesus Christ, and living by mere Religious Obedience or Moralism? It can be very subtle for new Christians and those who’ve been in the faith for years to discern when we’ve slipped from one motivation to the other.
Tim Keller shows the difference between Religion and Gospel in his new publication, Gospel in Life Study Guide (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), p. 16. I am thankful for his teaching ministry and love to pass along the best of others thinking, which was most of my sermon. And the folks of Lake Forest -Huntersville received this teaching “like a cold cup of water on a hot day – refreshing” (thanks for the email last night, Jeff, and for being hungry for the gospel). Here is Keller's list as promised. I may have changed some wording or added a bit of commentary (portions not in bold), the thoughts are his.
“If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” – Galatians 1:9
- RELIGION: “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.”
GOSPEL: “I’m accepted because of what Jesus has done for me through his atoning death on the cross and freedom giving resurrection from the dead, therefore I obey.”
- RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity. God will punish me or get me if I don’t do right, so I should do more good than bad.
GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy. I love God, I serve God because I want to resemble him and know him.
- RELIGION: I obey in order to get things from God.
GOSPEL: I obey God to get God – to delight in and resemble Him. I’m not after God’s handout, I want his heart.
- RELIGION: When things go wrong, I am angry at God or myself since I believe that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life. In America, this is the air we breathe. Its denial that we live in a fallen world and Jesus said the rain falls on the righteous and the wicked alike. That message can facilely compute in America. Go to our ministry partners in Cochabamba Bolivia, Long Island Bahamas with that message, it’s not reality.
GOSPEL: When things go wrong I struggle, but I know that all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this (and for my training) , he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial. When we suffer, when we struggle, or go through trials - God is not punishing you. If you ever have that thought, that is a lie. All your punishment for sin was taken on the cross by Jesus (Isaiah 53).
- RELIGION: When I am critized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a ‘good person.’ Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs.
GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a ‘good person.’ My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God’s love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.
- RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment.
GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God. I don’t pray to get things, I pray to get God.
- RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel like a failure. As another writer puts it: Religious people are on this constant roller coaster – they’re either BLOWN UP, wow I am so faithful to God, or they’re BEAT UP, man I’m unfaithful to to God. It’s a roller coaster, up and down, up and down up and down, blown up or beat up. What the gospel does is give us equilibrium based on God's faithfulness to us in Christ.
GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of myself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am a forgiven sinner who is fully accepted and loved by God. This leads me to deep humility and confidence at the same time. Without either sniveling or swaggering.
- RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I PERCEIVE as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to ‘the other.’ This (according to one evangelical white pastor) by the way, is one reason middle to upper class white Christians have been terrible at racial reconciliation. Because we have a religious view, not a gospel view...
GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different than me. Only by grace am I what I am.
- RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely HAVE to have them, so they are my main hope, meaning, happiness security and significance, no matter what I SAY I believe about God. How do I know If I’m building my life on them? When they’re taken away or threatened, I flip out.
GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual disciplines, house, boat investments etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. I don’t absolutely HAVE to have them, so there is a limit to how much anger, bitterness, anxiety and despair they can inflict on me when they are threatened or lost. In the words of the hymn, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."