A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that… The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see (p. 82).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
Life is not as complicated as it is difficult. C.S. Lewis builds a defense of Christianity from a line of thought that is typically used to discredit Jesus – many other religions teach very similar moral principles. The point is that the uniqueness of Christianity is not in its moral code, because Christianity is not primarily about a moral code.
The point of Christianity begins with the last phrase of Lewis’ quote, “we are all so anxious not to see.” Our problem is not that we lack information (even that which can be found in a Holy Book). Neither is our problem that we lack self-discipline, self-love, or good examples.
The thing that amazes everyone of us (in our moments of “sanity”) is how much we resist seeing the thing we know to be true in moments those things are most applicable. We know our anger or anxiety will not only make a situation worse, but in a time of moral blindness, we do it anyway. We know that lying always complicates things, but in a pinch we fool ourselves into thinking we can get away with it.
The “inspired” part of Jesus’ moral teaching was not made evident by its superior list of do’s and don’ts. Rather the inspiration of Jesus’ moral teaching is displayed in its unique ability to open willfully blind eyes to their own sinfulness.
Jesus was the Word he taught. As the God-man who came to live out righteousness we were supposed to live, Jesus was the mirror of true humanity that allows us to see ourselves rightly. We see this in even lesser examples. When we admire someone’s character we give their moral advice more weight. We see our failures in their example more clearly, their character builds trust that tears down our defenses, and we are inspired to believe that right living might be possible.
But we should not use this to conclude that it was merely Jesus’ example that made His teaching more powerful than other moral teachers. We are simply illustrating that Jesus’ example is part of what God uses to allow us to see ourselves rightly (even as we naturally resist).
Seeing our condition (willfully blind) allows us to understand the rest of Jesus’ teaching and person. Jesus came as a substitute. Jesus did not come to teach us to live right. Jesus came to live right in our place, die in our place, and call us to live the rest of our lives for something bigger than ourselves. That is more than information from a sage; it is transformation by a Savior.
When we understand Jesus’ moral teaching correctly, we understand why He was necessary. It is not the moral teaching that is unique; it is the view of human nature and the remedy that it unique. Most moral teacher’s messages can be classified as self-improvement. That is where Jesus parts ways with other “great moral teachers.”
Common grace allows great and average moral teachers to reach the same conclusions. It is the “quacks and cranks” (Lewis’ words) who fall out of step. Calvary grace is the unique element of Jesus’ moral teaching which allows His followers to move from good intentions to new lives with radical character transformation.