In my last blog post, I mentioned that a friend sent me a message on Facebook asking me about my thoughts in regard to a portion of a recent interview between Timothy Keller and a self-proclaimed doubting Christian, Nicholas Kristof, entitled, “Am I A Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?” At which point, I then went off on a tangent that turned into an entirely new blog post than the one I originally intended. My original intent was to share my response to the portion of the interview of which my friend asked for my thoughts. The portion of the interview of which my friend asked my thoughts, was written about in a commentary article, based on the original interview referenced and linked above, which accuses Keller of making Jesus’ teachings “ethical teachings” of secondary importance to belief in His death and resurrection.
My response to the article and my friend’s question, “Do you think there is a difference or order of importance between the resurrection and Jesus’ teachings?” is as follows:
Jesus’ death and the reception and application of His teachings are mutually inclusive. Without His death, the reception and application of His teachings would never have brought us eternal life. By the same token, without His teachings, His death would have only opened the door to eternal life because it is our faith in, and the application of, His teachings which lead us through it unto eternal life.
Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words I speak to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63). When Jesus was being examined under Pilate and Pilate asked Him if He was a king, Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king….For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.” (John 18:37). Jesus said His words are “spirit and life” and that the reason He came into the world was to “testify to the truth.” We must receive those words by faith and surrender to their application to our lives, to have eternal life. Jesus said that we must remain in Him to have eternal life, and to remain in Him, we must apply His words to our life in obedience (John 14:15,21,23; John 15:5-7,10; 1 John 2:3; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6). Which is not to say that we are saved by our own works, but we are saved by our faith in, and submission to, what Christ accomplished. Salvation is by grace, but the onus of daily surrender to that grace to be worked out in our lives, falls upon us. And it is His Spirit working within us, that compels us to such a surrender.
Having said that, we would not have the possibility of eternal life unless Christ succeeded in His sacrificial death. Jesus also said the reason He came was, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28). Thus, He came to “testify to the truth” with His words that are “spirit and life” for the purpose of “giving His life as a ransom for many.” His words profit us nothing, lest they are accompanied by His death which opens the door to their eternal life-giving power. Jesus’ death canceled out the power of death and sin over every human being that would receive His words and apply them to their life. He holds the keys to death and hell, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of Death and of Hades.” (Rev 1:18). And because of that victorious death, everything in existence has been subjected to His authority, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.'” (Matt 28:18).
Therefore, I believe that is the thrust of Keller’s argument, which is to say, that although Jesus’ teachings and His death are mutually inclusive and equally important, His death and resurrection trumps everything because without it, His teachings would be just that: ethical teachings that would simply be good works in a person’s life. It is only because of the death and resurrection of Christ, that His words transform our spirit and lead us to eternal life, “So Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you want to leave too?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘Lord, to Whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.'” (John 6:67,68).
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:6,7)
“So He said to the Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples.'” (John 8:31)
“Anyone who runs ahead without remaining in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever remains in His teaching has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9)
“As for you, let what you have heard from the beginning remain in you. If it does, you will also remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:24,25)
“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him.'” (John 14:23)
“Whoever keeps His commandments remains in God, and God in him. And by this we know that He remains in us: by the Spirit He has given us.” (1 John 3:24)