Dishonest Sellouts

A word from Tim Keller:

Why is it that some Christians who claim to believe in grace turn out to be angry, sarcastic, and reactionary? Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, NY, provides an answer:

There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians. The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity. These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God. The second is what I will call the grace narrative identity. This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.

People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike. They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.

When persons living in the moral-performance narrative are criticized, they are furious or devastated because they cannot tolerate threats to their self-image of being a “good person.”

But in the gospel our identity is not built on such an image, and we have the emotional ballast to handle criticism without attacking back. When people living in the moral-performance narrative base their self-worth on being hard working or theologically sound, then they must look down on those whom they perceive to be lazy or theologically weak.

But those who understand the gospel cannot possibly look down on anyone, since they were saved by sheer grace, not by their perfect doctrine or strong moral character.

Another mark of the moral-performance narrative is a constant need to find fault, win arguments, and prove that all opponents are not just mistaken but dishonest sellouts. However, when the gospel is deeply grasped, our need to win arguments is removed, and our language becomes gracious. We don’t have to ridicule our opponents, but instead we can engage them respectfully.

People who live in the moral-performance narrative use sarcastic, self-righteous putdown humor, or have no sense of humor at all. Lewis speaks of “the unsmiling concentration upon Self, which is the mark of hell.” The gospel, however, creates a gentle sense of irony. We find a lot to laugh at, starting with our own weaknesses. They don’t threaten us anymore because our ultimate worth is not based on our record or performance.

Martin Luther had the basic insight that moralism is the default mode of the human heart. Even Christians who believe the gospel of grace on one level can continue to operate as if they have been saved by their works. In “The Great Sin” in Mere Christianity, Lewis writes, “If we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the Devil.”

Gracious, self-forgetful humility should be one of the primary things that distinguishes Christian believers from the many other types of moral, decent people in the world. But I think it is fair to say that humility, which is a key differentiating mark of the Christian, is largely missing in the church. Nonbelievers, detecting the stench of sanctimony, turn away.

Some will say, “Phariseeism and moralism are not our culture’s big problems right now. Our problems are license and antinomianism. There is no need to talk about grace all the time to postmodern people.” But postmodern people have been rejecting Christianity for years, thinking that it was indistinguishable from moralism. Only if you show them there’s a difference—that what they rejected wasn’t real Christianity—will they even begin to listen again.


Source: “The Advent of Humility: Jesus is the reason to stop concentrating on ourselves,” by Tim Keller in Christianity Today (December 2008) pp. 50-53.

All Things for Good… Even Depression

My heart aches for my dearest friend tonight. I ache and am powerless to help. But no, I can pray. I can carry my friend to Jesus, to the Savior who redeems our pain, our heartache — even our weakness, working “all things… together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, ESV)

From the great Spurgeon. Timely words on God’s sovereignty in the midst of debilitating depression–

“MY DEAR BRETHREN,—I greatly value your prayers, and I feel intensely grateful for that Benjamin’s share in them which is ever my portion. I never consciously needed your intercessions more than I do just now, for I may say with the psalmist, “He weakened my strength in the way.” After my severe illness, I am trembling like a child who is only just commencing to use his feet. It is with difficulty that I keep myself up; what can you expect from one who can scarcely stand? During the last six weeks, I have considered from day to day what to say to you, but nothing has come of my consideration. My meditations have been a failure. I have gone to the pits and found no water, and returned with my vessel empty. My brain has been so occupied with sympathy for the poor body that it has not been able to mount aloft with the eagle, nor even to plume its wings for the lower flight which I must needs attempt this morning. One thing, however, is clear,—I am in special communion with my subject, and can speak, as the good old people used to say, “experimentally.” I cannot, however, draw much aid from that fact; but I cast myself upon the power Divine, which has so many times been displayed in weakness. “The Lord hath been mindful of us: He will bless us.”[1]

“When you and I become weak, and are depressed in spirit, and our soul passes through the valley of the shadow of death, it is often on account of others. I preached one Sabbath morning from the text, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and though I did not say so, yet I preached my own experience. I heard my own chains clank while I tried to preach to my fellow prisoners in the dark; but I could not tell why I was brought into such an awful horror of darkness, for which I condemned myself. On the following Monday evening a man came to see me who bore all the marks of despair upon his countenance. His hair seemed to stand upright, and his eyes were ready to start from their sockets. He said to me after a little parleying, “I never before heard any man speak in my life who seemed to know my heart. Mine is a terrible case; but on Sunday morning you painted me to the life, and preached as if you had been inside my soul.”

By God’s grace I saved that man from suicide, and led him into gospel light and liberty; but I know I could not have done it if I had not myself been confined in the dungeon in which he lay. I tell the story, brethren, because you sometimes may not understand your own experience, and the perfect people may condemn you for having it; but what know they of God’s servants? You and I have to suffer much for the sake of the people of our charge. God’s sheep ramble very far, and we have to go after them; and sometimes the shepherds go where they themselves would never roam if they were not in pursuit of lost sheep. You may be in Egyptian darkness, and you may wonder why such a horror chills your marrow, but you may be altogether in the pursuit of your calling, and be led of the Spirit to a position of sympathy with desponding minds. Expect to grow weaker, brethren, that you may comfort the weak, and so may become masters in Israel in the judgment of others, while in your own you are less than the least of all saints.”[2]


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 198.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Sword and Trowel: 1882 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 117-18.