A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God (p. 193).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
How do I train myself to want good things instead of bad things? It doesn’t come naturally to want to study when I know I could get the same grade by cheating.
How do I train myself to want good things to honor God instead of bringing glory to myself? When I do good things I get a reputation for being a good guy, and that can become its own reward.
How can I ever have pure motives when following God starts to “work” for me and I begin to enjoy the blessings that come with a life marked by obedience? When I stop doing sinful, self-destructive stuff, life is better. It begins to feel like life could work with a strong dose of godless common sense.
Every step in following God comes with its own unique despairing question about whether we can really depend on God like we ought. We keep thinking it must be easier for the guy ahead of us on our spiritual journey (or even the guy behind us).
But these questions reveal two things we often forget or ignore: (1) we can only rely on God in the situation we are in, and (2) it always seems most difficult to rely on God in our current circumstances. Our every “if only…” resists these two truths.
What does that have to do with motive? It places the focus of our crises of faith on our self instead of our circumstances. If we realize that no change in our circumstances will make it easier to trust God, then something must change within us (which we cannot control) rather than outside us (which we can control).
Can you make yourself be humble? The very act of self-determination is rooted in a form of independence that relies more on self than God.
Can you convince yourself to be other-minded? Every convincing appeal that you would make is rooted in the benefits service provides and gets tainted with self-interest.
Motives will never be as pure as we want them to be, but that is not the point of this reflection. The main point is that motives only truly change when we lose ourselves in something larger than our self. This is why God and the gospel are necessary for motive change.
We must first see God for who He is – perfect, loving, wise, powerful, holy etc… We must realize that our sin is more than “not being perfect.” It is cosmic treason against a Judge who cannot be less than just.
We must then see that love and justice were reconciled in Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus received the payment for our sin, and we received the gift of His righteousness. In light of that our motives change as those truths place the rest of our lives in a perspective we could never reason ourselves to accept apart from God’s grace.
To see the first 100 posts in this series click here.