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.
“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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