What justifies your existence?

What is it that you live and strive for? What thing, if you lost, would make you feel that your life is worthless?

Bryan Chapell interviewed Tim Keller a while back, and they talked about idols. Keller defines idolatry as looking to something for only what God can give. All idols are alternative saviours.

Christians commonly recognize bad things—such as money, sex and power—as idols. But good things can become idols as well. Among Christians, these may be doctrine, morality, good works, etc. For some people, their adherence to the truth makes them disdainful of others. If their real justification was the grace of God, there would be gentleness towards and concern for those who don’t have the same view.

It’s not our right doctrine about the grace of God that saves us, it’s the grace of God that saves us.

Spiritual gifts as an idol and mistaking gifts for grace. Keller tells of a pastor he knew who was in an adulterous relationship. Partly because of his natural gift and partly because of his internal turmoil, his preaching was very passionate and impacted many lives. Because his gifts were energised, he concluded that God was with him even though he was in unrepentant sin. Keller quotes Lovelace (sp?) saying, “God can write straight with a crooked pencil.” God can use whomever He chooses, whether or not they’re living in obedience.

“I know God can forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.” How is that idolatry? What it means is that God’s opinion, approval and love isn’t as important as yours or someone else’s. That is making it an idol.

How do you know when you’ve gone over the line? The following quote from Keller, not in the interview, expands on what he said in it:

“The sign of idolatry is always inordinate anxiety, inordinate anger, inordinate discouragement. Idols are good things (family, achievement, work and career, romance, talent, etc.) that we turn into ultimate things in order to get the significance and joy we need. Then they drive us to the ground because we have to have them. If we lose a good thing, it makes us sad. If we lose an idol, it devastates us.”


What do you do once you’ve identified an idol? Keller’s method is to ask himself, “How do I bring the Gospel to bear on that? How does the grace of God deal with it?”

For it is only the grace of God in Christ that justifies the existence of one of His beloved children.

Listen to the whole exchange: Discussion part 1, part 2; Q&A part 1, part 2. Each audio clip is 26 minutes long.