Sabbath Evenings – C.S. Lewis on Renewal of Self
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live,
but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2.20, NLT)
I listened to a sermon recently referring to the renewal of self. I enjoyed the sermon and heard the Good News again that Jesus is doing a beautiful work in you and me. A portion of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity was read. I was captivated by what I heard and immediately found my worn and tattered copy to re-read Lewis’ words.
I felt as though Lewis had spotted me in my self-protective hiding place called moralism, i.e being a ‘good christian girl.’ Actually, I’m glad he found me. Every now and again, mostly every day, sometimes several times a day I need to be found–and found out! The insidious measures I, by my self, take to formulate and fix and fashion a God-pleasing and good girl is outrageous. The mantra of the moralist is “I will do better” followed by a frenzy to find that ‘new’ regimen resulting in more failure and more hiding. As a moralist, it’s more about my glory, my attempt to be a good christian for God without God. [I know–crazy.]
“Whenever awareness of failure, sin and guilt result in overwhelming and abiding feelings of frustration, sense of failure, self rejection so that one does not want to feel these things and represses them, then you know you struggle with being a moralist.” (John Coe)
St. Paul is passionate about calling the ‘good’ christian out of hiding.
You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the cross was certainly set before you clearly enough.Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. (Galatians 3.1-3, MSG)
It’s a real come to Jesus moment. The Holy Spirit is renewing the self continually. No wonder Jesus calls us into the yoke with Him, ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11.28-30) It’s the theology of Christ’s cross. His work. His love. His heart. No need to hide. Oh, Jesus, how I love your love for us . . . how you know us and free us. Thank you for your righteousness that covers us. Thank you for forgiving us.
The reading is from chapter 8 “Is Christianity Hard or Easy?” I share it with you and welcome your thoughts.
The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as a starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else – call it ‘morality’ or ‘decent behaviour’, or ‘the good of society’ – has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by ‘being good’ is giving in to these claims. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call ‘wrong’: well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call ‘right’: well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point.
As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, ‘live for others’ but always in a discontented, grumbling way – always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish.
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’
It is like that here. The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.