Gospel in Life
Our Monday night small group has just begun a study called "Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything." It's basically a sermon series by Timothy Keller that is supplemented with questions, readings, and discussion. I have only read the first chapter and watched the first session, but already my heart is stirred. I wanted to share a few of the quotations, both for your reading pleasure (if that may be the case) but also for my continued reflection on this.
This week's readings focused on Christianity as the gospel, the true and right way to live, as opposed to being religious or irreligious.
From Chapter 1, "Three Ways to Live"
In "religion," people may look to God as their helper, teacher, and example, but their moral performance is serving as their savior. Both religious and irreligious people are avoiding God as Savior and Lord. Both are seeking to keep control of their own lives by looking to something besides God as their salvation. Religious legalism/moralism and secular/irreligious relativism are just different strategies of "self-salvation." [. . .] Christianity is not fundamentally an invitation to get more religious. A Christian says, "Though I have often failed to obey the moral law, the deeper problem is why I was trying to obey it! Even my efforts to obey it have just been a way of seeking to be my own savior." The religious only repent of sins. The irreligious don't repent at all. Christians, however, repent of both their sins and their self-righteousness. (15)
To become a Christian is, therefore, first to admit the problem: that we have been substituting ourselves for God either by religion (trying to be our own savior by obedience to God's law) or by irreligion (trying to be our own lord by disobedience to God's law.) This means we change not so much the amount but the depth of our repentance. [. . .] Second, to become a Christian, we rely on the remedy: asking God to accept us for Jesus' sake and knowing that we are accepted because of his record, not ours. This means we change not so much the amount but the object of our faith. (17-18)
[On explaining the difference between "common virtue" and "true virtue," an idea Jonathan Edwards wrote much of]:
Nevertheless, there is a profound tension at the heart of common virtue. If the main reason people are honest is due to fear and pride--what is the main reason people are dishonest? Almost always it is out of fear or pride. In common virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental cause of evil--the radical self-centeredness of the heart. You have restrained the heart's self-centeredness, but not changed it. [. . .] True virtue comes when you see Christ dying for you, keeping a promise he made despite the infinite suffering it brought him On the one hand that destroys pride: he had to do this for us, because we were so lost. On the other hand it also destroys fear: because if he'd do this for us while we were his enemies, then he values us infinitely, and nothing we can do will wear out his love. Consequently, our hearts are not just restrained but changed. Their fundamental orientation is transformed. (22-23)
Gospel repentance involves:
- deep humility (versus pride) -- Repent by considering the free grace of Jesus until you sense (a) decreasing disdain, since you are a sinner too, and (b) decreasing pain over criticism, since you value God's love more than human approval.
- well-guided zeal (versus anxiety) -- Repent by considering the free grace of Jesus until there is (a) no cowardly avoidance of hard things, since Jesus faced evil for you, and (b) no anxious or rash behavior, since Jesus' death proves that God cares and watches over you.
- burning love (versus indifference) -- Repent by considering the free grace of Jesus until there is (a) no coldness or unkindness, as you think of the sacrificial love of Christ for you, (b) no impatience, as you think of his patience with you, and (c) no indifference, as you think of how God is infinitely attentive to you.
- a "single eye" (i.e. godly motives) -- Repent by considering how the free grace of Jesus provides you with what you are looking for in these other things [need for approval, love of comfort, need for control, hunger for acclaim and power, fear of other people]. (29-30)
As I was reflecting on this chapter, I recognize how I often fall prey to being "religious." The things I do sadly come out of sin--fear, pride, envy, control--when my desire is to live life for God and "do life" out of love and obedience to Him. I don't want this life to be spent for my own sake, but for His. Praise Him that the way to change is to call upon Him and spend time reflecting upon His grace! Nothing I do will change my heart; only the holy Spirit of God can do that. All I have to do is turn myself over to Him.