Remembering Tim Keller: Classic Quotes to Inspire and Encourage

Once in a generation, a voice of clarity and hope rings out to our culture and the world with particular winsomeness and grace. CS Lewis was that voice in a previous generation; many have called Tim Keller that voice for ours. In fact, Keller was often called a modern CS Lewis.

We need such voices. Our ministry efforts – reflected in our own speaking, serving, writing, and even our websites  – will either connect with our particular culture and love it well – or they won’t. A wise guide who can help us to do so is a gift.      

Keller was that guide – a pastor for 25 years of Redeemer Church in NYC, prolific author, lover of cities – and above all, a humble ambassador of Jesus worth emulating. It’s fitting then, in light of Tim’s recent homegoing to be with his Savior, that we feature 50 of Keller’s classic quotes, as compiled by Matt Smethurst for TGC.

May your heart be encouraged in the beauty of Jesus’s amazing love and rescuing grace, which is the Gospel that Tim loved to proclaim: 

“The central basis of Christian assurance is not how much our hearts are set on God, but how unshakably his heart is set on us.”

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said. If he didn’t, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether you like his teaching, but whether he rose from the dead.”

“Describe the God you’ve rejected. Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe that God either.”

“Contemporary people tend to examine the Bible, looking for things they can’t accept; but Christians should reverse that, allowing the Bible to examine us, looking for things God can’t accept.”

“Satan doesn’t control us with fang marks on the flesh but with lies in the heart. . . . Our best defense in the fight against [his] lies is not the production of incantations but the rehearsal of truth.”

“The gospel is that I am so sinful that Jesus had to die for me, yet so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. I can’t feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone.”

“The doctrine of sin means believers are never as good as our true worldview should make us. And the doctrine of common grace means unbelievers are never as flawed as their false worldview should make them.”

“Only if your god can outrage and challenge you will you know that you worship the real God and not a figment of your imagination. . . . If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”

“The glory of God is available to you in the church in a way it’s not available to you anywhere else. . . . There is no more important means of discipleship than deep involvement in the life of the church.”

“You don’t fall into love. You commit to it. Love says, ‘I will be there no matter what.’”

“To say ‘I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself’ means you’ve failed an idol whose approval is more important than God’s.”

“If you make work your identity and you succeed, it’ll go to your head. If you fail, it’ll go to your heart.”

“To be loved but not known is superficial. To be known but not loved is our nightmare. Only Jesus knows us to the bottom and loves us to the sky.”

“The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 a.m. for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.”

“Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs. It’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.”

“Traditional religion says, ‘I give God a good moral record, so he has to bless me.’ The gospel says, ‘God gives me a good moral record through Christ, so I want to bless him.’ . . . Religion says, ‘If I obey, then God will love and accept me.’ The gospel says, ‘God loves and accepts me, therefore I want to obey.’”

“The gospel says you are simultaneously more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe, yet more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope.”

“If you’re falling off a cliff, strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch. Salvation is not finally based on the strength of your faith, but on the object of your faith.”

“The temptation for those who suffer is to assume that because we can’t think of any good purposes God may have for our suffering, there can’t be any.”

“There are the good things of this world, the hard things of this world, and the best things of this world—God’s love, glory, holiness, beauty. The Bible’s teaching is that the road to the best things is not through the good things but usually through the hard things. . . . There is no message more contrary to the way the world understands life or more subversive to its values.”

“The Christian sex ethic was understood by the apostles to be a nonnegotiable part of orthodoxy, one of the core beliefs of Christianity. What Christians taught and practiced about sexuality was as much a necessary implication of the gospel and the resurrection as were care for the poor and the equality of the races. This makes it impossible to argue, as many try to do, that what the Bible says about caring for the poor is right but what it says about sex is outmoded and should be discarded.”

“Sex apart from marriage becomes a product we consume if we find someone attractive enough in quality and low enough in price. If the quality goes down or the cost goes up, we can walk away, because there is no covenant. But if sex comes only with the radical self-giving and whole-life commitment of marriage, that takes sex off the market, as it were, and makes it priceless.”

“When Jesus Christ was in the garden of Gethsemane and the ultimate darkness was coming down on him and he knew it was coming, he didn’t abandon you; he died for you. If Jesus Christ didn’t abandon you in his darkness, the ultimate darkness, why would he abandon you now, in yours?”

“Only a grasp of what Jesus did on the cross—the doctrine of substitutionary atonement—can prevent spiritual distortions. . . . Only this doctrine keeps us from thinking God is mainly holy with some love or mainly loving with some holiness—but instead [he] is both holy and loving equally, interdependently. Only this view of God makes the spoiled or the neglected into the healthy and the loved.”

“The secular framework . . . has nothing to give the wounded conscience to heal it. It has nothing to say to the self who feels it is unworthy of love and forgiveness. Anyone who has seen the depths of their sin and what they are capable of will never be mollified by the bromide of ‘Be nice to yourself—you deserve it.’”

“True repentance begins where whitewashing (‘Nothing really happened’) and blame-shifting (‘It wasn’t really my fault’) and self-pity (‘I’m sorry because of what it has cost me’) and self-flagellation (‘I will feel so terrible no one will be able to criticize me’) end.”

“Forgiveness is granted (often a good while) before it is felt—not felt before it is granted. It is a promise to not exact the price of sin from the person who hurt you. . . . It is likely you have always thought, ‘Well, I have to feel it before I grant it. I have to start feeling less angry before I start to not hold them liable.’ If you wait to feel it before you grant it, you’ll never grant it; you’ll be in an anger prison.”

“It is hard to stay angry at someone if you are praying for them. It is also hard to stay angry unless you feel superior, and it is hard to feel superior if you are praying for them, since in prayer you approach God as a forgiven sinner.”

“Prayer is the only entryway into genuine self-knowledge. It is also the main way we experience deep change—the reordering of our loves. Prayer is how God gives us so many of the unimaginable things he has for us. Indeed, prayer makes it safe for God to give us many of the things we most desire. It is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God. Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life.”

“God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

“We know God will answer us when we call because one terrible day he did not answer Jesus when he called. . . . Jesus’ prayers were given the rejection that we sinners merit so that our prayers could have the reception that he merits.”

“Mercy isn’t just the job of the Christian. Mercy is the mark of the Christian.”

“A good sermon is not like a club that beats upon the will but like a sword that cuts to the heart.”

“Expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community. . . . [It] is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true. This approach testifies that you believe every part of the Bible to be God’s Word, not just particular themes and not just the parts you feel comfortable agreeing with.”

“Preaching is not only explaining the text but also using it to engage the heart. I often see preachers giving so much time to the first task that they put little thought and ingenuity into the second.”

“Every time you expound a Bible text, you are not finished unless you demonstrate how it shows us that we cannot save ourselves and that only Jesus can.”

“Christian communicators must show that we remember (or at least understand) very well what it is like not to believe.”

“The humanistic moral values of secularism are not the deliverances of scientific reasoning, but have come down to us from older times . . . they have a theological history. And modern people hold them by faith alone.”

“Through faith in the cross we get a new foundation for an identity that both humbles us out of our egoism yet is so infallibly secure in love that we are enabled to embrace rather than exclude those who are different.”

“[These are] Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.”

“If the suffering Jesus endured did not make him give up on us, nothing will.”

“Jesus is one of the very few persons in history who founded a great world religion or who, like Plato or Aristotle, has set the course of human thought and life for centuries. Jesus is in that tiny, select group. On the other hand, there have been a number of persons over the years who have implicitly or explicitly claimed to be divine beings from other worlds. Many of them were demagogues; many more were leaders of small, self-contained sects of true believers. What is unique about Jesus is that he is the only member of the first set of persons who is also a member of the second.”

“Everything in the Hebrew worldview militated against the idea that a human being could be God. Jews would not even pronounce the name ‘Yahweh’ nor spell it. And yet Jesus Christ—by his life, by his claims, and by his resurrection—convinced his closest Jewish followers that he was not just a prophet telling them how to find God, but God himself come to find us.”

“When you come to Christ, you must drop your conditions. You have to give up the right to say, ‘I will obey you if . . . I will do this if . . .’ As soon as you say, ‘I will obey you if,’ that is not obedience at all. You are saying: ‘You are my adviser, not my Lord. I will be happy to take your recommendations. And I might even do some of them.’ No. If you want Jesus with you, you have to give up the right to self-determination. Self-denial is an act of rebellion against our late-modern culture of self-assertion. But that is what we are called to. Nothing less.”

“When you say, ‘Doctrine doesn’t matter; what matters is that you live a good life,’ that is a doctrine. It is called the doctrine of salvation by your works rather than by grace.”

“It’s in death that God says, ‘If I’m not your security, then you’ve got no security, because I’m the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. I will hold you in my everlasting arms. Every other set of arms will fail you, but I will never fail you.’ Smelling salts are very disagreeable, but they are also very effective. But as you’re waking from your illusions, be at peace, because here’s what Jesus Christ offers to us if by faith we have him as our Savior.”

“If you want to understand your own behavior, you must understand that all sin against God is grounded in a refusal to believe that God is more dedicated to our good, and more aware of what that is, than we are. We distrust God because we assume he is not truly for us, that if we give him complete control we will be miserable. Adam and Eve did not say, ‘Let’s be evil. Let’s ruin our own lives and everyone else’s too!’ Rather they thought, ‘We just want to be happy. But his commands don’t look like they’ll give us the things we need to thrive. We’ll have to take things into our own hands—we can’t trust him.’”

“The only storm that can really destroy—the storm of divine justice and judgment on sin and evil—will never come upon you. Jesus bowed his head into that ultimate storm, willingly, for you. He died, receiving the punishment for sin we deserve, so we can be pardoned when we trust in him. When you see him doing that for you, it certainly does not answer all the questions you have about your suffering. But it proves that, despite it all, he still loves you. Because he was thrown into that storm for you, you can be sure that there’s love at the heart of this storm for you.”

“If you were a hundred times worse than you are, your sins would be no match for his mercy.”

“All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better.”


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