The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (Book Review)

freedom-self-forgetfulnessTim Keller, founding and current pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, is a favorite preacher of many.  His sermons are known for their “gospel turn” when he moves from lecture to passionate heart appeal.  Jesus Christ is always the focus of the gospel turn because every passage shows how Jesus is the point of everything.  In his little booklet (which is just one of his typical sermons put to print), The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy, Keller expounds 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.  He writes:

What is intriguing about this passage in 1 Corinthians is that it gives us an approach to self-regard, an approach to the self and a way of seeing ourselves that is absolutely different from both traditional and modern/postmodern contemporary cultures.  Utterly different. [12]

In common 3-point sermon format, Keller derives three things that the Apostle Paul shows his readers:

  1. The natural condition of the human ego.
  2. The transformed sense of self (which Paul had discovered and which can be brought about through the gospel).
  3. How to get that transformed sense of self.

The problem that Keller addresses is the unending quest for approval, and how it robs us of true joy.  When we measure ourselves by the standard of others, we fall short.  But when we measure ourselves by our own standards, we either measure up to low standards (which is dejecting) or fall short of our high standards.  In all cases, we sit in court awaiting a verdict of “not good enough.”  This is the joyless lot of every person apart from the gospel.  Here is the gospel turn.

Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?…In Christianity, the moment we believe, God says “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”…In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own, and adopts us into His family.  In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” [39-40]

Is that all?  What’s so special about a sermon like that?  Sounds pretty basic, right?  And yet, that is the beauty of gospel-centered Bible expositions.  Nothing new to tickle the ears, but truth packaged in a compelling contemporary way to address modern and postmodern people where they are at.  That is the beauty that so many have discovered in the preaching and writing of Tim Keller.  The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness has sold over 150,000 copies because it is a great example of gospel preaching that communicates and serves both believers and unbelievers in a helpful, even compelling way.  Jesus Christ is indeed a beautiful Savior.  The message of his life’s work can set you free so you won’t live in fear of the verdict—of others, yourself, and especially of God.  Find true joy in the only person who can give it.

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