Christians who obey God and then expect grace and blessings have got it all wrong, according to renowned pastor Tim Keller. The proper understanding of the Gospel is grace first, obedience second.
The sequence makes all the difference.
Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, was citing scholar Alec Motyer when he underscored the order in which God saves. Addressing thousands of women at The Gospel Coalition's Women's Conference last week, Keller stated that they can never understand the entire Bible unless they understand the proper sequence.
"God did not give the children of Israel the law (the Ten Commandments) and then have them say 'we'll do everything the Lord says' and then He says 'good, now I'll save you, I'll take you out of Egypt on eagle's wings,'" he said, as he preached on the Old Testament account of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.
Rather, God saved them first. "Now, because I've saved you ... obey me."
And they didn't have to do anything at all – no fighting was involved to escape Egypt, Keller noted. It was sheer grace.
Keller was among several speakers at the conference in Orlando, which ended Sunday, who was offering Bible exposition. The women's conference, the New York pastor explained, was not designed to be about women so much as about God.
"We want to enrich the whole church by women coming together and doing Bible exposition," said Keller, co-founder of The Gospel Coalition.
During his talk, the Redeemer pastor highlighted the sequence in which the famous exodus occurred – saving acts of the Lord, responsive obedience, and the blessing which the obedience brings.
In a nutshell: salvation by grace, obedience, and then blessing.
"Nothing must ever be allowed to upset this order," he stated.
"The Gospel is 'I'm accepted because of the blood of Jesus Christ, therefore I obey.'"
For those who operate on the "obey first, deliverance second" understanding, their primary motivation for obedience is ultimately fear, Keller explained.
But for Christians who understand that God delivered them first and therefore they obey, their primary motivation is love and gratitude.
"One is operating essentially self-centeredly," he pointed out. "It's self-centered to say 'if I obey, then God will bless me and He'll answer my prayers and take me to heaven.' Why are you obeying God? To get things."
Such a person's obedience is always conditional.
"But a person who knows you already have everything in Jesus Christ, you've already been saved by grace, why do you obey? You obey not to get things from God but to get God, to please Him."
The Women's Conference was held June 22-24 with speakers including John Piper exploring the theme "Here Is Our God!"