Tim Keller Comments on the Parable of the Prodigal Son

A prominent Christian minister comments on the Parable of the Prodigal Son:

What must we do, then, to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become a Christian we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.

It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of becoming a Christian indeed. When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink. If you follow through, it will change everything—how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, you sins, your virtue. It’s called the new birth because its so radical” - Tim Keller, The Prodigal God, as quoted here.


Steve Martin said...

"To find God we must..."

"To truly become a Christian we must also..."

" We must learn..."

"We must admit..."

"It is only when..."

"When you realize..."

"If you follow through..."

Wow. I'm exhausted... already.

What was that cross all about, anyway?

The Law says do. The gospel says done.
It is the gospel that opens hearts and minds and liberates and frees. Not our doing, feeling, thinking, saying.

Oh sure, God's Word will do it's work on us and lead us to repentance.

But God will call and choose whom He wills to.

J. K. Jones said...

“…faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn't stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.” – Martin Luther (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/luther-faith.txt)

Works flow from faith, as you mention.

“The first and highest, the most precious of all good works is faith in Christ, as He says, John vi. When the Jews asked Him: "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" He answered: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent." When we hear or preach this word, we hasten over it and deem it a very little thing and easy to do, whereas we ought here to pause a long time and to ponder it well. For in this work all good works must be done and receive from it the inflow of their goodness, like a loan. This we must put bluntly, that men may understand it. – Martin Luther (http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/work-02a.txt)

Faith is a “good work.” It is a response to the gospel that must be present for a person to be a Christian.

Steve Martin said...

But no one can point to a "Christian good work" (outside of proclaiming Christ).

And, we remain full sinners while we are at the same time saints.

I just object to all the language that revolves around 'our doing', or 'need to do X,Y,or Z, when it is hooked to the wagon of 'faith'.

God gifts faith to us. Yes, it is a gift (that is what the Bible tells us). And He sanctifies us in that faith. And He brings to completion what He started...often against our will.

I like Keller. But sometimes the focus is a little bit too much 'on me', instead of God.

It's subtle, but important (I believe) nonetheless.

That's the thing about many of us Lutheran types. We often act like the canary in the mine shaft, to give warning of things that are dangerous, even though they are not obvious to detect.

Thanks, J.K..

J. K. Jones said...

Thanks for trying to keep us honest.

Just don't go all hyper-clvinist on me.

Steve Martin said...


That is pretty funny!

Especially since I am not a calvinist at all.

J. K. Jones said...


I think Keller's issues point back to the influence of Jonathan Edwards on his theology. Edwards has a streak that can be easily misunderstood, and so does Keller.

The hyper-calvinist thing is only partly a joke. I sometimes get the feel that you think Christians are not responsible for their sactification (something the hypers hold). I also get the 'here it is take it or leave it' kind of approach out of your evangelism (the hyper hold this to a great (!) extreme).

I am really sensative to that sort of thing. My grandfather was a Primitive Baptist Elder, and his "hard-sheel Baptist" legacy haunts me. I tend to 'see it behind every rock.'

I don't think you are Calvinist, except to the point that Calvin was a good Lutheran.

Steve Martin said...

Christians are not responsible for their sanctification.

And this is where we (Lutherans)part with Calvinists.

We believe that it is Christ who works in us and sanctifies us.

"He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion..."

We work, but we work on account of the neighbor (to a greater or lesser degree). We have already been reconciled to God, by Christ's work on the cross.

We Lutherans have a radical view (much more so than Calvin ever could dream of) of the Christian faith. That it is all about Christ. What He has done, what He is doing, and what He will yet do...for us.

Calvin was a fair Lutheran. If it weren't for his 'reason'(too much of it), he might have been a much better one.

Thanks, my friend.

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