The Gospel Transformed Life by Tim Keller

A while back, I listened to Tim Keller give a fantastic talk. Thought I’d share my notes here.

Are there only two ways to live? Are our options only either secularism/irreligion, or being good/religion? No. There is a third way to live – the life lived with a gospel transformed heart.

Many people might not realize this, but there’s a difference between the gospel and religion. Pause and think about it.

The basic operating principle of religion is: I obey, therefore I’m accepted. The basic operating principle of the gospel is: I’m accepted, therefore I obey. They are diametrically opposite. Because their motives are utterly different, their fruit are utterly different. Martin Luther said that the basic default mode of the human heart is to go back to self salvation, self justification. You might pass a written test about justification by faith alone by grace alone, but your heart may functionally work on the basis of self salvation. Growing in christ is to apply head knowledge into your heart and life. Therefore, it is common for chrisitians to think that there are two ways to relate to God. Follow him and obey, or reject God. There are two ways to reject Christ as God and Savior. They are to be irreligious, or to be incredibly good as your own savior and lord. They’re both wrong. Once you know that there’s not two ways… once you realize that there’s three ways… how do you present the gospel to somebody?

There is a sharper distinction between religion and the gospel than there is between irreligion and the gospel. Biblical sources: Romans 1 is all about the fact that the pagan gentiles are lost. Romans 2 is about the fact that bible believing, god fearing, religious jews are also lost. Romans 3:9 – Paul concludes that jew and gentile are all under sin. There’s no one who seeks God. It is possible to be obeying the rules to seek things from God, not God. You’re seeking your own glory.

Sermon on the Mount – there’s two paths, there’s two trees, there’s two houses etc… so choose the right tree etc. What do those two ways represent? Living God’s way and abandoning God’s law? No. there’s two paths in summary. But you have to find those two paths back in the sermon. Go through the sermon. Not people who pray and don’t pray, or people who give to the poor and those who don’t. Both groups pray etc. But one group is pharaseeical. The other group is regenerate.. Keller suddenly realized those two paths are religion and the gospel.

Two prodigals. What’s so shocking is that there’s a younger brother and an older brother. The elder brother is lost, because the feast signifies salvation. In the end, the bad person is saved and the good person is lost. The good person is not lost in spite of his goodness, but because he depends on his goodness. There’s two kinds of lostness. So many people who think they’re christians are basically pharisees.

Kiekegaard understands this idea of three ways. There’s the aesthetic, ethical and spiritual approach.. irreligion, self denial and self righteousness and the gospel. If he were sharing the gospel to smart, hostile, artistic types. He would sit down and watch babette’s feast. There were these two young women, and in the early days, one is beautiful, one is an incredible singer and they flirt with the aesthetic, and their father draws them back into the ethical. At the end of the movie, there’s this incredible feast, where the women realized that the aesthetic wouldn’t have fulfilled them, but they realized that the ethical life wouldn’t have fulfilled them. The moviemaker was influenced by Kierkegaard.

C.S. Lewis has an essay called “three kinds of men” – he basically says the same thing. Religion versus the gospel. Religion’s motivation is based on fear or insecurity. Gospel is “I obey out of grateful joy.” Religion – I obey to get things from God. Gospel – I obey to get God. To delight him and to resemble him. Religion – when situations in my life go wrong, I’m angry with God, or angry at myself for not living up to a standard. Gospel – I struggle, but I know this isn’t the wrath of God, and this is for my good and God’s glory.

Religion – when I’m criticized, I’m furious and devastated. Gospel – criticism doesn’t get at my foundation. Prayer life – in religion, mainly petition, which mainly heats up in time of need. Gospel – adoration and thanksgiving. God is not a god to be controlled – the purpose of praying is adoration and fellowship with him. My self view in religion swings between two poles – confident when living up to my standards and critical. when not, I feel like a failure. Gospel – in christ I am simultaneously lost and loved, this leads me to a humility that is not accompanied by a sense of failure, at the same time, it gives me a confidence that is not accompanied by a sense of superiority. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

Using this three fold scheme to communicate the gospel –

First, there are many people who are professing christians, and pure elder brothers. You can’t be sure that they are regenerate, but you can know that there are plenty of people who are baptised and unregenerate. However, in a sense, you can’t go to somebody and tell them that. How do you know? You have to be bringing the gospel out like this, so that they will be convicted. Second, many genuine christians are incredibly elder brotherish, because the gospel hasn’t been applied in their lives.

But the main reason is: the average non christian thinks they understand christianity well. Unless you show them, even as you’re speaking, the difference between religion and the gospel, when you call them to belief in Jesus Christ, they’ll think that you are asking them to become religious. They also won’t understand what it is about the church that turns them off. The biggest problem as leaders is that a lot of people will say they find the gospel fascinating, then continue living the same way. Self righteouesness, insecurity, fear of man, inability of take criticism etc.

Everyday, for your quiet time and at least two other times a day, use the gospel in your heart. When you make presentations, make sure that you are always reinforcing this distinction.


September 29, 2010 at 9:21 pm Leave a comment

Cultural Differences

A friend sent me these graphics, which are the work of a young artist who was born in Beijing and is now living in Berlin. They specifically represent the differences between German (blue) and Chinese (red) cultures.




Handling Of Problems

Moods And The Weather

At A Party

In A Queue While Waiting

At A Restaurant

The Child

Three Meals A Day

Transportation In The 1930s And The Present

Way Of Life

What’s Trendy

January 26, 2008 at 3:21 pm 2 comments

Clusters of Hope

Some friends and I have been meeting regularly for a few years now.  We started off as a book discussion group, and the first book we read together took us almost two years to finish!  As we did our book study, we became increasingly aware of our need for relationships with people who truly know us, would lovingly speak truth to us and help us see our flaws and failings more clearly, so that God can transform us.  As a result, we’re focusing more on spiritual growth and accountability.  We have a (long!) list of questions to guide us in our discussion, as we seek to honestly examine our lives together.  

We’ve also started something called “Clusters of Hope.”  This is basically an exercise in encouraging hope in each other. Our hope is external to our situations, and rests in the triumph of God. So each of us is given a research assignment before our “Clusters of Hope” meeting, to bring back to the group and do a short presentation on. One person is assigned to come with a story from a biography or history book that gives a living illustration of God’s faithfulness and power in spreading His kingdom. Another person is assigned to come with a text from the Bible that stirs up hope in the triumph of God over the forces of unbelief and evil and pain. A third person is assigned to come with a report of a contemporary happening or development that illustrates God’s triumphant movement in the world today. There is some discussion, and then prayer that focuses on the advances of God’s causes in the world, and our feeling the hope of his victory so that our little problems would be swallowed up in the great God who rules all of history.            

At our first “Clusters” meeting, B had not just one text from the Bible, but a multitude of them, on a handout! As she went through each one, I was overwhelmed by the great number of God’s promises to base our hope on. R read a chapter from Steve Saint’s latest book about a believer that he met in Timbuktoo. What an encouragement!! I did some reading on the current movement toward missions to unreached people groups (UPGs) and the Joshua Project. I certainly learned a lot, and even though R and B already knew a lot about the UPGs, they had a clearer picture of the history and trends occurring in this movement. We all went away with stories and happenings of God’s work in the world, and with a stronger feeling of hope.

January 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Birthdays, Leaves and Tribal Council

Matthew turned four years old earlier this November. In case you’re wondering why there’s a “2” candle and a “4 candle” — he shared a cake with two year old Isabella, after our small group meeting on Friday night.  The cake was made by a mexican lady, who makes the best coconut, pineapple and strawberry cakes. I’m going to order it as long as I can find an excuse!  He got a baseball shooter for his birthday which spits out the baseballs so you can hit them. Matthew will go out to play baseball, but actually spends a lot of time talking over a fence to a three year old girl.


Fall arrived late this year, and our one maple tree shed a bunch of leaves overnight.  Notice how many leaves are still ON the tree. 


Finally, thanksgiving has arrived! The second graders had a tribal council where they dressed up in REAL animal skin.. I was nagged and nagged to go see the REAL animal skin, so here are the pictures: 


November 22, 2007 at 4:53 pm 4 comments

Joy In Growing Up

John Piper has an article on the phenomenon of “adultolescence” – that is, the postponement of adulthood into the thirties. He cited a professor of sociology from Notre Dame who described the characteristics of 18-30 year-olds identified with this phenomenon as including: 

 (1) identity exploration, (2) instability, (3) focus on self, (4) feeling in limbo, in transition, in-between, and (5) sense of possibilities, opportunities, and unparalleled hope. These, of course, are also often accompanied by big doses of transience, confusion, anxiety, self-obsession, melodrama, conflict, and disappointment.                    

“Oh my!” I thought, “that sounds like me in my twenties and early thirties.” I am really convinced that it is the teenager, whose ambition is directed away from self focus toward God centeredness in all pursuits, who will have real joy (and accomplishment) through those turbulent “young adult” years. After listing ways that the church should respond to “adultolescence,” Piper concludes,

In these ways, I pray that the Lord Jesus, through his church, will nurture a provocative and compelling cultural alternative among our “emerging adults.” This counter-cultural band will have more stability, clearer identity, deeper wisdom, Christ-dependent flexibility, an orientation on the good of others not just themselves, a readiness to bear responsibility and not just demand rights, an expectation that they will suffer without returning evil for evil, an awareness that life is short and after that comes judgment, and a bent to defer gratification till heaven if necessary so as to do maximum good and not forfeit final joy in God.              

Okay, so I’m still in my thirties, but I really resonate with this, and want my sons to learn this. I remember that it was last Christmas, that I discovered that Mary was a teenager, perhaps as young as fourteen years old, when the angel Gabriel told her that she would be pregnant with the Messiah. She was scared but she submitted to God’s plan. Then, when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, who confirmed what the angel said, she burst out in the great hymn of praise called the Magnificat, which is so beautiful, and shows the depth of her joy. Why? Because she understood that God is who He says He is, and she was rejoicing at what He was doing in relation to the world. She looked away from herself.  In the words of Martyn Lloyd Jones, “[t]hat is the secret of this song. And it is the secret of the whole Christian position.”

And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden;

for, behold, from henceforth all generations

shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him

from generation to generation.

He hath showed strength with his arm;

he hath scattered the proud

in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seats,

and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things;

and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He hath holpen his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy;

as he spake to our fathers,

to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Luke 1:46-55 


November 13, 2007 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment


Whenever I think about critters, I think, “it’s a fallen world.” I’m probably more like that crazy lady in “Over The Hedge” than I’m willing to admit. But other than some issues with moles and snakes, I’ve historically had the most trouble with birds. They’re fine if they’re twittering in the backyard or perched on the birdfeeder, but even a cute little chickadee will look five times larger and more ominous if it’s in my garage. There were fat pigeons roosting, cooing and pooping in my primary school and home in Singapore, seagulls which chased (yes!) me up and down a beach in New Zealand, and a woodpecker pecking out the side of our house in Richmond. But THIS house in Winston is a veritable bird haven. They’re everywhere!! I’ve hung shiny ribbons and stuck special stickers on my doors and windows to stop birds from flying into the glass, scooped and buried a dead bird in our backyard in the rain, and learned to live with the constant tapping of cardinals on our windows throughout the summer, not to mention the loud chirping of baby chimney swifts nesting in our chimney.

Lately, because of thunderstorms, there were really smelly smells wafting from the chimney. So what did I do? I brilliantly googled “smells and chimney” and made myself even more anxious, reading story after story of dead animals in the chimney, or creosote mixed with water. I had to read the psalms to remind myself that we all live under God’s mercy, and that it is not my right to have an odorless chimney.

Those chimney swifts living in my chimney are protected by federal law, and the chimney cannot be cleaned or covered until they leave, so I prayed that the birds would fly away to Peru or the Amazon for the winter (they really do). The chimney sweep came by today, and thankfully, there haven’t been any chirps in the chimney in the last few days. I was told that the smell of bird droppings have been absorbed into the chimney, and that water and humidity interacting with the droppings enhanced the stink. Delightful. So, we are getting our chimney capped later this week, and in between then and now, there are thunderstorms in the weather forecast. So, I was most grateful when the sweep reappeared at the door holding a little bottle labeled “chimney deodorant.” YES!! I never thought I’d be so glad to see such a thing.

October 9, 2007 at 3:49 pm 3 comments

Birthday Boy

Last Thursday, Marcus turned eight. Wow… eight. He’s now allowed to be without a booster seat in the car, which is good because we need the space in the backseat when we carpool. There isn’t much by way of public transportation here in Winston Salem, so I spend a lot of my time during the school year being a driver. Moms here carpool in order to save on the number of trips we make a day, and to save on gas (petrol). There’s a whole language here that didn’t make sense to me until Marcus started school. By being involved in carpools, I’ve learned about “pick ups,” “drop offs,” “crosswalks,” “cones,” “ferryboat method,” and “carpool lines.”

Back to Marcus’ birthday. We brought him to a place in nearby Greensboro called “Celebration Station.” He got to ride on a kid’s go cart, water boat, hit balls in a “batting cage,” play mini golf and play with arcade games. I’m just glad I didn’t have to go on the water boat, because when you’re taller than the other kids, you’re a prime target (and a sitting duck) for water squirting. We had dinner with friends and they sang “happy birthday” to Marcus in Spanish, three different ways. I don’t think he knew what to do with all that serenading! Here are some pictures of his day:

August 24, 2007 at 2:58 pm 3 comments

Older Posts