Saturday, July 30, 2011

But the righteous by faith shall live?

Spent a little over an hour listening to a Tim Keller talk from the 2006 Desiring God conference -- a terrific lecture regarding the supremacy of Christ and the gospel in a postmodern world. Something he said made my head explode. [Update: Click here for download options.]

Somebody he quoted said that Jonah 2:9 is the central verse of the Bible, in particular the part where Jonah says, "Salvation is of the Lord" or in the NIV "Salvation comes from the Lord." It's from the Lord! As if this were some sort of surprise!

We evangelicals say we know this, but actually we don't. Keller asked the assembled audience, rhetorically, "Why do you do your ministry? It's because you're so grateful for what God has done for you, right? Then why do you burn out? Why are you up when attendance is up and down when it's down?"

His point, of course, is that we think of "salvation" as "what will get me into heaven when this life is over for me" and maybe a little more. Something we don’t think of when we say "Salvation is from the Lord" is the set of things that make me feel good about myself.

Don't get me wrong, it does make me feel good about myself to know that God loves me regardless of anything I do or don't do. But when I think about salvation I don't tend to think about what makes me feel good, and vice versa. So what does make me feel good? Here's a short and incomplete list:

  • kissing Carol and sharing my day with her
  • talking with my children
  • enthusiastic greeting from the dog first thing in the morning
  • overcoming obstacles and solving problems (like when I finally got the cluster off my 1974 bike's rear wheel)
  • when people I love enjoy the food I prepare
  • being helpful/useful to someone -- whether it's praying for them so they feel cared for, or some problem at work I can help them with, or sharing some insight...
Keller shared an experience he had, reading Romans 1:16-17. Apparently in some translation it says "he who is righteous by faith shall live," and he said he got an impression, probably from God—an amplification of that verse: …and he who is righteous by preaching shall die every Sunday.

Well thank goodness it's not just me! We say we're saved by grace through faith, we say our righteousness comes from God apart from anything we do, but we're anxious about how well we preach (channeling Keller on that one) or we feel good about ourselves depending on how people like the food we prepare or whether we've been helpful to someone or whether the house is clean when someone drops in or whether we've achieved some other goal. It is not bad to feel good about these things, but to seek our salvation in them, to think our meaning in life comes from them -- that's silly.

What is the cure for this folly? I hope we don't have to be thrown off a boat and get swallowed by a fish! Well, it takes intervention from God to be sure. Our part is to set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:1-2), the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5-6); to fix our eyes on the unseen things (2 Corinthians 4:18) and our hope on Jesus (1 John 3:2-3); to be transformed (Romans 12:1-2) and to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12).

Thy kingdom come — into my life
thy will be done on earth — and in my heart too
as it is in heaven

And lead us not into temptation — the temptation to look for salvation (significance or security) elsewhere
but deliver us from the evil one — and from our own folly
Guess I'll have to repeat that as needed, and 20-30 years from now I'll be less foolish than I am today.

1 comment:

meandering.spark said...

That section of Keller's talk was one of the most powerful for me too! I liked Lord's prayer bit you wrote at the end; it is a good prayer for me!