the reason for God: chapter eleven


This is the eleventh post in a 15-week study. More information and resources can be found here.

A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:

– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. This is good stuff!

– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.

– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.

It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way. If you have any questions about the study, or about God in general, feel free to email me from the link in the right sidebar.

The Reason for God – Chapter Eleven: Religion and The Gospel

“Christianity teaches that our main problem is sin,” according to Keller (p. 180) he continues if this is true than why must one select Christianity and Jesus? Keller says only Jesus claimed to be the way to salvation whereas other major religion founders only show the way to salvation.

For the purposes of the discussion in Chapter 11, Keller defines religion as “salvation through moral effort,” and the Gospel as, “salvation through grace.” (p. 181)

Two Forms of Self-Centeredness

Keller uses the illustration of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to demonstrate how pursuing moral effort for salvation is a slippery slope. Dr. Jekyll believes he could do more if his bad nature wasn’t holding back his good nature so he creates a potion to separate them. Most of us know what happens next… the good Dr. Jekyll realizes the evil Mr. Hyde is overtaking him and the lack of his good nature’s ability to prevent the despicable acts of his evil side drive him to stop taking the potion and attempt to do only good deeds. As Jekyll reflects on all the good he is now doing, his comparison of self to others and resultant pride lead to a shocking transformation of himself – without the use of the potion – into Mr. Hyde. Keller explains, “Like so many people, Jekyll knows he is a sinner, so he tries desperately to cover his sin with great piles of good works. Yet his efforts do not actually shrivel his pride and self-centeredness, they only aggravate it. They lead him to superiority, self-righteousness, pride and suddenly…Jekyll becomes Hyde, not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.” (p. 183)

Two forms of sin and evil Keller states are: 1) ignoring all the rules, being defiant and celebrating your badness (fierce independence) or 2) following all the rules and feeling superior because of it (saving yourself). Keller says, “Both religion (in which you build your identity on your moral achievements) and irreligion (in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit or relationship) are, ultimately, spiritually identical courses to take. Both are “sin.”” (p. 183) in fact, Keller reminds us Jesus railed against the Pharisees. And satan prefers them because, “They are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage.” (p. 184)

The Damage of Pharisaism

According to Keller, Pharisees “…build their sense of worth on their moral and spiritual performance, as a kind of resume to present before God and the world.” (p. 184). He quotes Richard Lovelace for the cause of the damage of pharasitic religion is, “…Their insecurity shows itself in pride, a fierce, defensive assertion of their own righteousness, and defensive criticism of others. They come naturally to hate other cultural styles and other races in order to bolster their own security and discharge their suppressed anger.” (p. 185) Keller then backs this idea up, “Pharisees and their unattractive lives leave many people confused about the real nature of Christianity.” (p. 186)

The Difference of Grace

Grace is radical because of one supremely significant difference: God accepted us not because of what we do but because of what Jesus did. Keller states it this way, “Religion operates on the principle “I obey–therefore I am accepted by God.” But the operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through what Christ has done–therefore I obey.”” (p. 186)

“The primary difference [between religion and the gospel] is that of motivation,” Keller writes, “While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear or rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.” (p. 186)

Identity and self-regard are other differences. Keller says, “…whether your religion is of a more liberal variety (in which case you will feel superior to bigots and narrow-minded people) or of a more conservative variety (in which case you will feel superior to the less moral and devout).” (p. 187) Only the Good News of the Gospel provides the way to escape both these fatally flawed camps. “… the gospel contained the resources to build a unique identity. In Christ I [Keller] could know I was accepted by grace not only despite my flaws, but because I am willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me…I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less,” Keller says. (p. 187)

Another difference is how others are treated. Post-modernists believe that the definition of self is discovered by comparing yourself against others to see what you are not. The Gospel, however, gives someone a different view of self. Keller describes it, “A Christian’s worth and value are not created by excluding anyone, but through the Lord who was excluded for me. His grace both humbles me more deeply than religion can (since I am too flawed to ever save myself through my own effort), yet it also affirms me more powerfully than religion can (since I can be absolutely certain of God’s unconditional acceptance… That means I cannot despise those who do not believe as I do… The gospel makes it possible for a person to escape oversensitivity, defensiveness, and the need to criticize others. The Christian’s identity is not based on the need to be perceived as a good person, but on God’s valuing of you in Christ.” (p. 188)

Finally, another difference is how the two deal with troubles and suffering. Keller states the difference, “Moralistic religion leads its participants to the conviction that if they live an upstanding life, then God (and others) owe them respect and favor… The Gospel, however, makes it possible for someone to escape the spiral of bitterness, self-recrimination, and despair when life goes wrong. They know that the basic premise of religion — that if you live a good life, things will go well for you — is wrong.” (p. 189) Just look to the life of Jesus to see that living a good life does not necessarily lead to peace, harmony, justice, equality or riches.

The Threat of Grace

The initial gut reaction of many to the argument of the supposed ease of grace is, according to Keller, that it is too easy. He continues by stating that they do not understand that grace is actually threatening because – if it is given freely – the One who gives is now owed everything. If you accept grace, you also accept the debt of no longer being your own and having the right of self. Instead now you must give up self and do whatever Jesus asks of me — no matter how big or small in your sight. “This may seem the greatest paradox of all. The most liberating act of free, unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life… It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion,” Keller writes. (p. 191)

Keller wants the reader to see and understand the radically fundamental difference between religions and the gospel. Christianity’s foundation in Jesus means it differs tremendously from religion. Keller finishes by saying, “Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (though he was that as well). Jesus says, “I am the divine come to you, to do what you could not do for yourselves.” The Christian message is that we are saved not by our record, but by Christ’s record. So Christianity is not religion or irreligion. It is something else altogether.” (p. 192)

Question: Have you personally experienced the grace of God? How does the experience of His grace cause your heart to well up in worship to Him?

My response: For many years my heart lacked the right posture to receive His grace. I wasn’t really aware of this – because my eyes were closed – but I had a sense my relationship with Him was not all He wanted it to be. After leaning more into Him and His Word in these last two years, He gently revealed to me my own Phariseeism and how it was keeping me from fully experiencing His grace. Because when we do experience His grace we cannot help but respond in reverent worship and a changed heart. In fact, the more we experience our deep need for His grace and mercy, the more our hearts sing when we receive it so richly, so abundantly, and the more we long to be more like Him. I did not truly experience this until recently – as He peeled back my self-righteousness and pride (because I needed to first understand my need for grace before I could accept grace) – He is filling my gaping holes with His all-sufficient grace. And, in those moments of basking in His grace, all my heart wants to do in response is worship and follow Him.

Of course, this process is ongoing. Self-righteousness sneaks into my heart unnoticed and, when He graciously reveals my sinfulness, again, I must repent and trust in His grace that saves. So grateful that He is patient and long-suffering, because I can be so very wayward.

Which brings me back to His amazing gift of grace.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. — Ephesians 2:4-9


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Ni Hao Yall



  1. So many things to get out of this chapter. Really convicted me that maybe I act like a Pharisee more than I realized. Ouch. But so necessary to see myself and the areas I still need God’s grace. I think I try to earn His love, even when I know I never can. I do mark my merits and the “good” I’ve done, and would rather gloss over the ugly sin that persists in so many areas. But that isn’t what God asks of me. I know the ugliness that lurks within (and outwardly! Yikes!). I’d rather He never see that. But glossing over it doesn’t make it go away. I need to examine it WITH Him, so He can heal those areas and renew them in His image.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Can so relate, Teresa. And yes, when we trust Him as Father we should go TO Him with sin and “ugliness” – He longs for us to run to Him and climb up in His lap and seek His help instead of doing it on our own.

  2. Jennifer S says:

    I’m coming to realize that the insecurity and anxiety that I battle with almost daily stems from my own Pharisee tendencies. I’ve always been the “good girl” checking off the list of what I have to do to be “good enough.” The problem is that that of course I can never be good enough. Thank God for his grace. He’s teaching me to abide in Him.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      So hard for us with Pharisee tendencies to stop trying to be good and to simply trust that He is SUFFICIENT! So glad He is teaching you His Truths, Jennifer :)

  3. I think it has only been of late that I have come to truly understand this gospel of grace. I knew of it by head, not by heart. It has taken God revealing to me very dark places of my heart, though, for me to grasp the beauty of grace. At first I was quite shocked at these revelations…how could I be this depraved?…but now, as He reveals, I simply find myself saying, “yes, yes, what You are showing me is true.” As Stefanie mentioned, you can’t experience grace without responding in worship and gratitude. Not that I am now worshipful and grateful 24/7…but there is an excitement in my heart as I see Him and His tender, sanctifying hand on my life. The gospel of grace truly is good, good news!

    Love this song:
    Grace, grace, God’s grace,
    Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
    Grace, grace, God’s grace,
    Grace that is greater than all our sin.

    • “I knew it by head, not by heart”…I feel like God’s working on that with me right now. I feel like this chapter, and book as a whole, are pointing out how much I try to be academical and know Jesus by head, but I don’t know Him by heart as well as I thought. I still have a lot to work on and am so thankful for His grace and direction! He definitely knew what He was doing when He nudged me to join this study. :)

  4. For me, I think it has just been many little instances, rather than one particularly notable situation. There are just little moments when I am overwhelmed by God’s grace. But trying to think of a particular moment is hard for me.

    Rather, what stood out to me about this chapter was just how different of a perspective it is on the religion vs gospel. And a perspective I really like. There was definitely more underlining in this chapter than any other. So many times throughout this book I feel like Keller is giving words and definition to the vague ideas I have and, in many cases, challenging and refining them.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Isn’t it amazing how little is taught in the church about religion vs. grace? So glad for TK’s ability to share the Truth of His word – we need to be reminded of what Jesus thinks of the Pharisees and how He longs to give grace to the prostitute and tax-collector.

  5. I have truly experienced God’s grace. I always knew in my head what grace was. I knew that Christ didn’t have to die for me on the cross, but that because of His great love and His grace, He chose to die. I thought I got it in my heart, as well. But it wasn’t until I became a mom–through the miracle of adoption–that I truly realized the miracle of grace. God didn’t HAVE to make me a mom. He CHOSE to, by pouring out His grace on me.

    While I was reading this chapter, as a British Lit teacher I was totally thinking about Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and how Sydney changes places with Charles at the end in order to save Charles’ life. And then TK mentions it at the end of the chapter! Such a great (human) literary example of what our incomparable heavenly Father chose to do for us. It is because of God’s great love and grace, that I desire to obey. I fail each and every day, but my heart longs to obey Him. He is truly worthy of my love and obedience.

    We sang this song last Sunday at church, and these lyrics, in my mind, illustrated this idea of the gospel of grace vs. religion perfectly:

    “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

    It IS a glorious thought indeed that because of God’s grace, my sin–ALL OF IT–was nailed to the cross with Christ.
    Amen! Hallelujah!

  6. Over the course of the last few years, I have become aware of how much of my previous Christian walk was filled with “ought to” and “should.” I knew that obedience was an outpouring of thankfulness and gratitude, but I couldn’t quite get there.

    Insert: crisis of faith.

    I knew I had to radically come to a new understanding of how I approached God. At the core, grace is about two things: how God approaches us (with grace) and how we approach Him (in response to grace). I knew He wasn’t messing up His end of the equation.

    So, for the last few years, as I labor to establish a real and abiding faith, I have “worked” on my approach to God. I have thrown away ALL, which sounds sacrilegious to some, disciplines of the faith. And, I have thrown away MOST of the guilt in doing so.

    I decided that I wanted one attribute above all others in my relationship with God–devotion. And, so, I have been working (and often failing), closer to the heart of Christ than ever before, at sold out, unapologetic devotion…. which is starting to feel like the right response to grace.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Yay for responding with your HEART to His grace!
      You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. — Jeremiah 29:13

  7. The first time I went to communion at my parents church, the communion assistant looked into my eyes while saying I was forgiven. At first, that seemed really uncomfortable, someone who I don’t know is staring into my eyes and telling me I’m forgiven, but as I was walking back to my seat I felt so much joy, I felt completely forgiven. I think I actually skipped back to my seat. For the first time, I felt like they were actually talking to ME and not just the person who happened to be in front of them at the time. After taking communion for years, it was definitely a life changing experience. I try to think about that experience whenever I have doubts about His forgiveness and His love.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Wow, what an experience that must have been. And a beautiful reminder of how we truly ARE forgiven, in every way, through faith in Christ. Thanks for sharing that, Rachel!

  8. This is probably my favorite chapter so far! It isn’t an easy pill to swallow because it leaves me questioning my own pharasitic actions and attitude. In my head I understand the concept of ‘no longer being my own and having the right of self,’ but if I check my heart, I see so many areas I still seek control over

    I really like Keller’s statement, Pharisees and their unattractive lives leave many people confused about the real nature of Christianity.

    I wonder how confused I may leave people. Not that I’m looking for approval, but that I truly want my life to reflect Christ. My reflective question is: am I legalistic, critical, judgmental, self-righteous? O.u.c.h.

    Oh, the difference grace makes! It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion, says Keller.

    This statement resonates with me because I have experienced radical grace! For 4 years I did the ‘good things’ – reading God’s Word, praying and serving. I was deceived. I was confident – in my works. And by God’s grace, He brought me to my knees with the realization that I didn’t have a relationship with Christ. I was humbled as Jesus became my Lord and Savior. Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.

    As I have grown in Christ over the last 12 years, I find it easy to obey as a result of my love for Him. But my struggle is with pride, defensiveness and self-righteousness. This chapter is up in my face, and I’m having to deal with it. I’ve started spending 10 to 15 minutes each day just worshipping and praising God. I’m not talking about thanking Him for all He’s done for me; rather, for Who He is.

    “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Cor 12:9b

    • NiHaoYall says:

      Would love to hear how your worship time is going, Connie!
      Can so relate to being fooled by your ‘works’ that you were walking closely with the Lord. I have experienced this myself and I am SO grateful that He woke me from my slumber!

    • What you said definitely spoke to my heart. Thank you.

  9. I loved this chapter! I have read it three times now and will likely read it again. I never had really given these differences much thought, and I feel like I learned alot.

    All I can say is that, yes, I have personally experienced the grace of God, and my heart is forever changed because of His mercy. And ever since His grace has been revealed to me, it is not something I can ignore or walk away from, all because of the gifts he’s given to me. I no longer walk this walk for me, I walk it for Him and for His glory.

  10. China Mom says:

    I have experienced God’s grace in moments. Sadly, I do not live here. I want to live here, desperately. However, I find myself back on familiar ground so often. I would love to relish in His grace, as a pastor once called it, the hot tub of grace. But I keep putting on that Pharisee garb, start doing THINGS, just not the right things. I need to be in His word more, in the hot tub relaxing with Him. But I “can’t” because I have to make a meal, take a little one somewhere, figure out our extracurricular activities, shop, get on the computer, send an email, pack, unpack, volunteer, take someone a meal, teach a class at church….well, you get it. Yes, I get it, all of these “things” can be put off, yet, this is my life I have inadvertently (or blatantly) selected for myself. I guess this is “my circle of life”.

    • I completely understand your frustration with the business of our lives! Even when I try to simplify, being a working mom with little ones still at home leaves little time just to rest in God, even if the things that occupy my time are “good”. I find the times where I’m most aware of God’s grace are the times where I’m most vulnerable and feel completely out of control. That’s when everything stops, and I just turn it over to Him. This chapter was a (painful!) reminder to check my motivation for whatever I’m saying yes to, even church activities or things for my family.

      • NiHaoYall says:

        I have found that listening to podcasts in the car, waiting for appointments, while I’m cleaning is a great way to get some “quiet time” in that’s not really quiet 😉 I have found that learning more about Him through pastor’s that I love has taught me more about His love and character which, in turn, makes me WANT to spend more time with Him and in His Word :)

    • I feel like that too. That I can feel God’s incredible grace at moments, but not all the time. I have the best of intentions to spend time with God and then all of a sudden it’s way past when I was planning on going to bed (I’m not a morning person, no matter how much I try morning devotions they do not happen). I agree with Stefanie that sometimes the best way for quiet time is while doing dishes or other things that don’t require much thought so I can focus on Him. I like Bible podcasts too, though I have to be careful that I don’t feel guilty about getting behind.

  11. I don’t know if I have ever really thought about these differences between religion and the gospel or even thought of them as different. I loved this chapter. It was very convicting. I also have had pharisaic tendencies. I came to this realization about myself, hopefully more in the past than present, recently. It hit me hard, but I’m glad my eyes were open to finally seeing it.

    I have seen God’s grace in my life in many, many ways. The closer I grow to God, the more I learn about God the more my eyes are open to his grace and mercy. It is convicting and wonderful at the same time. I feel more inner peace than I have ever felt. The more I am convicted the more joy and peace I feel because as I grow closer I see my downfalls more clearly and instead of ignoring them and continuing down the same path I want to change and do and be better. God is great and the more I grow, the more I understand, the more I want to continue to run to him and worship and praise him. I am still on this journey, but life, in good and bad, just seems to get better and better.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      And what a journey it is! So grateful He promises to bring us to completion:
      And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. — Philippians 1:6

  12. I’ve been reading along but this is the first time I’ve posted in a while! I’ve missed reading all of your comments! This was such a great chapter because it felt so convicting for some of the beliefs I’ve had that don’t necessarily align with God’s word. I definitely tend to hang out in the Pharisee camp more often than I want to admit. God is still working on me . Grace is powerful – and shocking at times. Loved reading this and will hopefully turn to this chapter again and again…

    • NiHaoYall says:

      So cool to hear that the Holy Spirit is using this study to bring to light some faulty beliefs you had… His Word is truth!

  13. “It is only grace that frees us from the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion”.
    This is another chapter I found myself reading and rereading with such conviction and hope. I have struggled most of my life with self loathing due to my desire to be good, but my inability to live up to my chosen standards. I know it’s not about me and all about Jesus, but still I struggle at times simply wanting to please my Father by being the obedient child, by being a better parent, a better wife, better friend, better at…
    Ah, but how freeing it is to know that we are new creations in Christ, no longer slaves, but children of the most High God, who loves us so much that He died for us. No longer under condemnation, but free… free to be all He created us to be.
    A work in progress with a long ways to go, but I carry the hope that He who began a good work in me will complete it. How I love His amazing grace!

    • NiHaoYall says:

      “Ah, but how freeing it is to know that we are new creations in Christ, no longer slaves, but children of the most High God, who loves us so much that He died for us. No longer under condemnation, but free… free to be all He created us to be.” – so beautifully said, Londa!

    • I struggle with that too, especially when people are pointing out what I’m doing wrong and then I feel guilty about not being able to do everything perfectly. So thankful for His grace and that He loves us even when we mess up.

  14. Sorry to be so late in responding to this week’s question, but I walked around awhile before knowing what I wanted to say. Not sure still if I’m saying it right, but here goes…

    I know I’ve experienced the Grace of God – I don’t know that I knew it then (I was 9), but I realized it when I was older. It had to have been His Grace – nothing else could have held me together. You’d think that realization would have sent me running to the feet of the One who provided it, but it hasn’t been like that. This chapter has resonated so with me – a lot of my struggles were illustrated by Keller’s various examples.

    Keller’s story of the parishioner who said if I’m a sinner saved by sheer grace, then there’s nothing He can’t ask of me and that’s very scary spoke very strongly to me. And I understand his (Keller) point about obligation vs. motivated by joy. And that’s what I want – so, so much!!! But how do I let go of the fear? How do I (as Stefanie phrased it) get my heart in the right posture to receive His Grace?

    This book has helped me to really look at myself & my relationship with God. I thought doing the work would answer (at least some of) my questions. Instead, I still have a bunch – different ones than those with which I started this study – but I still have them. I’m grateful that God hasn’t/doesn’t give up on me. I wonder if He despairs of me ever getting it right; I know I sure do.

    • NiHaoYall says:

      God is long-suffering and patient beyond human comprehension. He KNOWS our struggles. He KNOWS our fears. And He loves us to come to Him with them. I encourage you to take your questions and fears, all of them, to Him! You might not get a bunch of answers right away, but you will get a glimpse of His character and His goodness and when you experience Him, sometimes those questions don’t seem to matter so much anymore 😉

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