The Gospel vs. Religion

Tim Keller, an author (The Reason for God, Counterfeit Gods and Prodigal God) whom I have come to deeply respect (and who also happened to attended Westminster Theological Seminary — although I don’t recall that we knew each other), developed this list comparing the Gospel to Religion.

It’s a good focus for prayerful meditation as we each come before the Throne of Grace and let the Lord change our perspective. Only by letting Him change our perspective — the way we think and believe and react — can we be transformed into the men and women He lovingly calls us to be.

I know how I often lose sight of the true Gospel as I get to focused on myself and the challenges before me. This helped pull me back into the Father’s loving embrace.

Religion Gospel
“I obey; therefore, I’m accepted.” “I’m accepted; therefore, I obey.”
Motivation is based on fear and insecurity. Motivation is based on grateful joy.
I obey God in order to get things from God. I obey God to get God — to delight in and resemble him.
When 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with God.
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. 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.
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. 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 from me. Only by grace am I what I am.

One response

  1. Appreciate the side by side comparison here between “religion” and the gospel. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in religion and miss out on what God has for us and I don’t want to ever do that.


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