Grace, Not Goodness

Excerpt from:  The Advent of Humility
By: Tim Keller

We are on slippery ground when we discuss humility, because religion and morality inhibit humility.  It is common in the evangelical community to talk about one’s worldview—a set of basic beliefs and commitments that shape the way we live in every particular.  Others prefer the term “narrative identity.”  This is a set of answers to the questions, “Who am I?  What is my life all about? What am I here for?  What are the main barriers keeping me from fulfillment?  How can I deal with those barriers?”

There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians.   The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity.  These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God.  The second is what I will call the grace narrative identity.  This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.

People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike.  They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.

When persons living in the moral-performance narrative are criticized, they are furious or devastated because they cannot tolerate threats to their self-image of being a “good person.”

But in the gospel our identity is not built on such an image, and we have the emotional ballast to handle criticism without attacking back.  When people living in the moral-performance narrative base their self-worth on being hard working or theologically sound, then they must look down on those whom they perceive to be lazy or theologically weak.

But those who understand the gospel cannot possibly look down on anyone, since they were saved by sheer grace, not by their perfect doctrine or strong moral character.