timothy keller

Are You Serving as Your Own Saviour?

In his play Amadeus, Peter Shaffer tells the story of Antonio Saleri, a young musical prodigy who prayed this prayer to God: “Lord make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music - and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!”

In his younger years he strictly kept his vow to God. He kept his hands off women, he worked diligently at his music teaching many musicians for free, and he tirelessly helped the poor. His career began to blossom and he was thrilled that God was keeping His end of the bargain. All was going well for him until Mozart appeared with musical gifts far above Salieri’s. His genius had obviously been bestowed on him by God. Amadeus, Mozart’s middle name, means “beloved by God,” and yet he is vulgar and self-indulgent. The talent God lavished so prodigally on Mozart begins a crisis of faith in the heart of Salieri. And he pens these words:

“It was incomprehensible...Here I was denying all my natural lust in order to deserve God’s gift and there was Mozart indulging his in all directions - even though engaged to be married - and no rebuke at all!”

Finally, Salieri says to God, “From now on we are enemies, You and I,” and spends the rest of his life seeking to destroy Mozart. All of his efforts to be a good Christian were ultimately revealed to be profoundly self-interest. God was just a useful instrument. He told himself that he was sacrificing his time and money for God’s sake, but there was actually no sacrifice involved. He was doing it for his own sake, to get fame, fortune, and self-esteem.

“I liked myself,” Salieri said, “till he came.” Soon the moral and respectable Salieri shows himself capable of greater evil than the immoral, vulgar Mozart. While the Mozart of Amadeus is irreligious, it is Salieri the devout who ends up in a much greater state of alienation from God, just like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. In the story Amadeus, Mozart of course is like the younger brother and Salieri is remarkably like the elder brother.

Dr. Timothy Keller said in his book Prodigal God, “If you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior."

Unfortunately, when I hear the description of the elder brother in Luke 15 and in the story of Amadeus, I see a part of myself and my own tendencies.

Questions: Do you see some of the same traits in yourself? Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Have you ever tried to use your goodness to get what you wanted from God?

Acceptance vs. Tolerance

The topic of grace is discussed 150 times in the new testament alone. But did you know that 133 of those times it was brought up by the Apostle Paul? Isn’t that interesting? He is one of those guys in the Bible who received the gift of grace even though he deserve it the least. After all, he was a mass murderer! He was responsible for killing many in the church and yet God called him to be one of the most prominent figures of the New Testament!

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:12-16 (NASB)

Grace is so difficult for the carnal mind to grasp. Therefore, the natural tendency of the church is to “keep things neat and tidy” by instituting religious rules and policies. The fear is that grace will become “greasy” and messy. The fear is that there will be compromise. But, the truth is Jesus wasn't afraid to get messy. In fact, when he was accused of associating too closely with the outcasts and sinners his response was to say that this was exactly the purpose of the Gospel. It was designed to be in the middle of the messes. Ministry is simply going to be messy because people we're called to reach are messy! Imagine a church where perfection was not the aim - grace was. Imagine a place where everyone is welcomed and accepted. Where no perfect people are allowed.

Dr. Timothy Keller made this audacious statement in his book Prodigal God, “The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.

Are we preaching the same message as Jesus? Prostitutes, tax collectors, zealots and rebels, and other sorts of outcasts were attracted to Jesus. Can you say that about your ministry? Can I say this about mine?

I think it all comes down to how we view grace. Do we view grace as tolerance? Compromise? Or do we view grace as love, acceptance, and forgiveness?

Questions: How do you see grace? Are you thankful that as undeserving as you are, God has given you this free gift? Isn’t that amazing? “It is not merely a free gift, but a free gift to those who deserve the exact opposite...”