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I live in a very religious region.

Our local newspaper is the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Each morning, the by-line under the title, Daily Journal, states, “A locally owned newspaper dedicated to the service of God and mankind.”

Imagine that! A newspaper dedicated to the service of God and mankind.

In this area, it is a challenge to find a real “sinner.” Going to church is what you do. It is almost expected. It is American!

Sounds like heaven, right?

Don’t get me wrong. It is a wonderful place to live. And it is a good laboratory to contrast religion and the gospel. There is a difference!

Tim Keller has helped many to understand the difference. Check out the following:

Religion:

“I obey-therefore I’m accepted.”

Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.

I obey God in order to get things from God

When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at
God or my self, since I believe, like Job’s friends that
anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.

When I am criticized 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.

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.

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 humble, but not confident-I feel like a failure.

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.’

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 serve as my main hope, meaning,
happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may
say I believe about God.

Gospel
“I’m accepted-therefore I obey.”

Motivation is based on grateful joy.

I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I
know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may
allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love
within my trial.

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. That’s how I became a
Christian.

My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and
adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral
achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator—
simultaneously sinful and lost yet accepted in Christ. I am so
bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to
die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and
confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor
sniveling.

My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died
for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I
am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who
believe or practice something different from me. Only by
grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

I have many good things in my life—family, work, spiritual
disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate
things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to
have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and
despondency they can inflict on me when they are
threatened and lost.

Adapted from Tim Keller

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