In the following excerpt, Timothy Keller contrasts Religion vs. the Gospel. One of the things that makes Tim Keller a powerful teacher is how he is able to contrast two things with surgeon-like precision. Below, he contrasts living a merely religious life, dependent on our performance over the performance of Christ for us, and grace-filled, gospel-motivated life:
Religion says, “I obey; therefore I’m accepted.”
The Gospel says, “I’m accepted; therefore, I obey.”
Religion: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity.
Gospel: Motivation is based on grateful joy.
Religion: I obey God in order to get things from God.
Gospel: I obey to get God–to delight in and resemble him.
Religion: When the circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or myself, since I believe that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life.
Gospel: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle, but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while God may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.
Religion: 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.
Gospel: When I am criticized, I struggle, but it is not essential 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.
Religion: 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.
Gospel: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.
Religion: 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.
Gospel: My self-view is not based on my moral achievement. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator–simultaneously sinful and lost, yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad that he had to die for me, and I am so loved that he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deep humility and confidence at the same time.
Religion: 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.
Gospel: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for me. I am saved by sheer grace, so I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different than me. Only by grace am I what I am.
Taken from page 16 of Gospel in Life by Timothy Keller.
Here is a bonus graphic from Keller’s Center Church: