I am posting a study guide for Tim Keller’s The Reason for God that I created to lead my small group through. I hope it is a blessing.
The Reason for God Chapter 11
Religion and the Gospel
Ice Breaker: What personal win have you had this month?
- What was your favorite part of this chapter?
- What made you struggle in this chapter?
- What did you learn about God in this chapter?
- What did you learn about yourself in this chapter?
Christianity teaches our main problem is sin. What is the solution to sin?
There is a profound and fundamental difference between the way other religions tell us to seek salvation and the way described in the gospel of Jesus.
All other major faiths have founders who are teacher that show the way of salvation. Only Jesus claimed to be the way of salvation himself.
- Religion= Salvation through moral effort
- Gospel= salvation through grace
Two forms of Self-Centeredness
Dr. Jekyll becomes Mr. Hyde in the moment of his pride.
Sin and evil are self-centeredness and pride that lead to oppression against others, but there are 2 forms of this.
- Being very bad and breaking all the rules
- Being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self righteous.
The best way to avoid Jesus is to avoid sin.
- If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you then you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior.
- You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus.
- This is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is a Christianized version of religion.
- You are able to avoid Jesus as savior by keeping rules in the same way as breaking them.
Ultimately religion and irreligion are spiritually identical courses to take. Both are sin.
- Religion leads to self-righteousness, pride, comparison and bigotry
- You never deal with the root issue of who you really are.
You need a transformation of the motives of your heart.
The Damage of Pharisaism
Who were the Pharisees?
Although Pharisees live in legal righteousness they have lives that are if anything, more driven by the despair of sin than “sinners”.
They think they are living righteous lives but at their core they know they aren’t because they are not doing enough. This leads to anxiety, insecurity and irritability.
Because they are insecure, they feel that they need to attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them doctrinally or culturally.
Pharisee’s turn people off against church and God.
The Difference of Grace.
There is a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done.
- Religion = I obey –therefore I am accepted by God
- The Gospel = I am accepted by God through what Christ has done – therefore I obey
- What does this mean to you?
What is your motivation? Trying to prove yourself or because of who you are?
- Religion= We obey the divine standards out of fear. If we don’t obey we are going to lose God’s blessing in this world and the next. Fear of rejection.
- The Gospel= Gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Jesus. Desire to please because you want to look like the one who gave his life for us.
If you are following religion you have the temptation to find your identity in the religion. This makes you feel superior to others but at the same time very unconfident in your own standing.
Christianity allows us to be both humble but confident. You don’t think more or less of yourself. You don’t need to notice yourself, how you are doing and how you are regarded, as much. You are secure because you have been forgiven.
Religion and the gospel differ in how they treat the “Other” – those who don’t share your beliefs. Often we define ourselves by those we are not.
A Christian is not defined by excluding anyone, but it is found in the person of Jesus Christ, who was excluded for me. His grace humbles me because I am to flawed to ever save myself through my own merit, but affirms me because I know God loves me unconditionally.
- This means that Christian cant despise people who don’t believe like ourselves. We are not saved by our own good we cant be proud.
- But we are not intimidated either because nothing can be taken from us. We are God’s people. God values you.
Religion and the gospel also lead to divergent ways of handling troubles and suffering.
- Moralistic Religion = If you life an upstanding life, God owes you respect and favor.
- But if life begins to go downhill then crisis and anger enters their world. They feel God owes them happiness, health and wealth.
- Gospel = 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, if you live a good life, things will go well for you is wrong. Jesus was the most moral person in the world and he lived a life full of poverty, rejection, injustice and even torture.
The Threat of Grace
When many hear of the difference between religion and the gospel they think it sounds too easy. They think, “If that is Christianity, all I have to do is get a personal relationship with God and then do anything I want.”
These words are only spoken on the outside of an experience of radical grace. No one on the inside speaks like that. Grace can be quite threatening.
- If you do good works you can have limits to what God can ask you. If you are saved by sheer grace, there is nothing God can’t ask of you.
If you are saved by grace you no longer have rights and you are owned by Jesus.
- From the outside this sounds like an obligation. From the inside, the motivation is all joy.
- What happens when you fall in love? Your great commitment means you are bound to that person but it is not a burden. It is joy to be bound to that person.
- When you get engaged you don’t say next, ok now I can do whatever I want, and date anyone I want. No you excitedly pursue a relationship with the one you love to the exclusion of any other love.
The most liberating act of free, unconditional grace demands that the recipient give up control of his or her life.
Is this a contradiction? No, see chapters 3 and 9.
We are not in control of our lives. WE are all living for something and we are controlled by that, the true lord of our lives. If it is not God , it will endlessly oppress us. It is only grace that frees us form the slavery of self that lurks even in the middle of morality and religion. Grace is only a threat to the illusion that we are free, autonomous selves, living life as we choose.
The Gospel makes it possible to have such a radically different life.
It is critical to recognize this fundamental difference between the gospel and religion. Christianiy’s basic message differs at the root with the assumptions of traditional religion.
- The founders of every other major religion came as teacher not saviors. They said: “do this and you will find the divine.”
- Jesus came essentially as a savior rather than a teacher (although he was one 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 own record, but by Christ’s record.
- So Christianity is not a religion or an irreligion. It is something else altogether.
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