The following comments are from my reading the chapters entitled FAITH in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. While reading the book, these thoughts and rabbit-holes represent the journey that my mind and spirit engage as I follow the directions they take me. I do not purport to be a Bible scholar…just a student who takes time to make notes along the way. Hopefully, any reader will find something that will cause them to pause, give some thought to or pray that the God of All writers will reveal Himself in a fresh way.
In Lewis’s chapter on FAITH, he introduces the idea of one’s own bankruptcy being discovered when he tries to “be good” finding the futility of our constant failure. He says that if we are right with God, we will inevitably, be right with our fellow creatures. Is this true? He posits that a wrong approach to God is to think of him as a great examiner which causes us to see him in transactional terms-“… Thinking of claims and counterclaims between himself and God.” This man has not yet discovered his bankruptcy before God. I am reminded of Isaiah 55: 1 and Revelation 3: 18 commanding us to come and buy from the Lord without the assets of our own to do so. Yet, HE commands us to buy. How do we buy?
In John 4: 1-43 the Samaritan woman at the well went to the water, as Isaiah commanded hundreds of years earlier, to go without any money. She only had a jug, a container, not understanding that she was the actual container which was created to hold “living water” that Jesus would give her. How did she purchase this living water without money? It was purchased with her believing. Even in her sin of running through multiple husbands and relationships, she was looking for the Messiah. This non Jew woman believed that the Messiah would tell her all things.
Lewis writes about us trying to be good, and the futility of those efforts. Often times we think this supposed road to God is a road of moral effort of trying harder and harder. All of this trying leads to the vital moment when we come to understand that we cannot succeed at being completely good. We frequently turn to God saying, “You must do this. I can’t.” He advises us to not try to assess if we have fully come to that moment in the sense of sitting down and watching your own mind to see if God’s transforming power is doing its work in us. He contends that this is the wrong thinking, writing, “WHEN THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN OUR LIFE HAPPEN, WE QUITE OFTEN DO NOT KNOW, AT THE MOMENT, WHAT IS GOING ON.” It is often that we only realize we have grown up by looking back on our lives, not by trying to assess the growth in real time. One’s growth may be so gradual that no one could point to the particular hour or even a particular year. What matters is the nature of the change in itself, not how we feel and process.
The transformation from self-reliance (confidence in our own efforts to change) to a God-reliance resulting from our despair of doing anything for ourselves- this is the goal. This goal of putting all our trust in Christ means that Christ will make the man more like himself and in a sense make good his deficiencies. “Somehow, Christ shares with man his own perfect human obedience which he carried out from his birth to his crucifixion.”
There’s a difference between us trying to be good (e.g. self help; correcting a bad habit; controlling our tongues; etc.) AND “taking Christ’s advice.” Our efforts in trying to be good are not based in an effort to save ourselves but, simply, trying to obey him…to do what he asks of us. This “trying in a new way” is a less worried way. Salvation has already begun in us and it is out of a response to that “first faint gleam of heaven” that we try to align our actions with his advice. I say advice, which really are his commands, but our own free will necessitates our choice to TRY to align ourselves with HIS WORDS. It is out of our trust (faith) in Christ that good actions will ultimately be birthed in us. Lewis, then, writes a paragraph reiterating in his own words James 2: 14-26 without making any scriptural references. Then he follows up with comments on Philippians 2: 12- 13, also without any scriptural reference. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”…looks like everything depends on us and our good actions. But, the second part of the scripture says, “…for it is God who works within you”…which looks like God did everything and we nothing.
This puzzles Lewis but does not surprise him. We, mankind, try to compartmentalize and categorize our understanding into watertight compartments in an attempt to determine exactly what God does and what men do, when in actuality, it is a partnership with us being the lesser partner, but nevertheless, are invested in the outcome of our own transformation. Why would we scuttle our investment of time, effort, up-to-the-moment sanctification? Did not the apostle ask the same question, “O foolish Galatians, ‘Who has to bewitched you… Did you receive the spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?’” In other words, you have begun in the spirit and journeyed this far across your Red Sea and now you want to return to Egypt? The hard part is over. I have given you a glimpse of the promise (heaven). When Lewis speaks of God and man working together it is not like two men partnering by one doing this and another doing that. Our covenant with God is not like that. The bard expresses, “He is inside you (if you, like the Galatians, have received the Holy Spirit) as well as outside: even if we could understand who did what, I do not think human language could properly express it.”
John 14: For me, the important thing is HIM being IN us. That is only possible via the Holy Spirit. In John 14:15-18 Jesus told the disciples to prove their love for him by keeping his commandments. Then, Jesus will ask the Father to give them another Helper, identified as the Spirit of Truth. He also said this Helper would abide with the disciples forever. Christ clarifies that the world cannot receive this Spirit of Truth because they do not have the eyes to see Him nor can they know Him.
John 3: This is somewhat of a reiteration of what Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:3) when he told this Pharisee that the prerequisite for seeing the Kingdom of God was a “new birth”. Then Jesus continues to point Nicodemus to the Holy Spirit in verses 5- 8 where Jesus is focusing on the importance of the Holy Spirit in this birthing process. It is the gateway into the Kingdom of God. In verse 8 Jesus is prophesying about the upcoming day of Pentecost where “the sound of a mighty rushing wind” was going to fill the house where the disciples were gathered. The word wind, in Greek, is pneuma which is exactly the same Greek word translated as Spirit. Jesus said the pneuma blows where it wishes and no one knows where it comes from or where it is going… but one can hear it. Likewise, Jesus says, this characterization is applied to those who have been born of that pneuma. In verse 11 it is clear that Nicodemus did not understand Jesus who said, “We speak out of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but, you (Nicodemus) do not believe our testimony.” Could it be possible that Jesus was thinking about Isaiah 53: 1-3 when that prophet asked, “Who has believed our report (testimony)?” Continuing, Isaiah (writings that Nicodemus was thoroughly familiar with) also asks, “… and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Was not Jesus demonstrating the arm of the Lord being revealed? That arm of the Lord is an instrument of deliverance and judgment that saturated Jesus’ ministry of which Nicodemus was familiar. In fact, Nicodemus had acknowledged this as reported in John 3:2 when he said “We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” In other words, Nicodemus knew tha Jesus was sent from God as attested to by the accompanying sign of healing deliverances and depth of teaching. But, despite that confession, Jesus said that Nicodemus did not receive our witness, meaning, he did not believe who Jesus was nor what he was saying. Verse 12 tells us that Jesus goes on to confirm the unbelief of Nicodemus as he concludes his dialogue with him in John 3: 19 by telling this ruler of the synagogue that he had recognized the light but chosen to love darkness rather than light. (Notice that Nicodemas came to Jesus at night-time.) Why? Because his deeds were evil. Howso? Nicodemas valued his status as a ruler over the Jews as a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus said that those who practice evil hate the light and do not come toward the light because they don’t want their evil deeds exposed. Nicodemus acknowledge that Jesus was a prophet, and rabbi (teacher) with whom God was with, but, he did not recognize that he was actually conversing with Yahweh his God. He did not know HIM.
Now back to John 14. Matthew 16: 16-20 records that Peter and the disciples had acknowledged that Jesus was the son of God. They “knew” him as such, at least, in some manner; although, they still ask Jesus to show them the Father (John 14: 9). Even they did not understand the oneness of the Father and the Son. Jesus told them that they knew the Helper (spirit of truth) because that pneuma dwelled WITH them in the person of Jesus. But Jesus is promising that this pneuma will be IN them FOREVER. This is critical to understand. Recall when King David requested that the Lord NOT take His Holy Spirit from him. Jesus is articulating the conclusion of His Promise to the disciples. Everything leading up to receiving His Spirit (eg. His baptism by John, temptations by the satan, crucifixtion, resurrection, ascension) were all necessary for the giving of the promised gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell WITHIN His disciples FOREVER. This gift of the Holy Spirit could only be poured out from the throne of God. Were the disciples wondering when this would happen? How will they recognize this infilling of the pneuma, this embodiment incarnation of the Holy Spirit IN them? Do they just take it on “faith” as our Western evangelical doctrines seem to propose? Does this incarnation happen when we first believe and confess? The disciples already believed and confessed that Jesus was Lord, but the Holy Spirit was not IN them FOREVER…yet. In John 14:26, one of the signs of receiving the Holy Spirit is a remembrance of all things Christ had said. His disciples were not trained theologians, nor disciples for life of other teaching rabbis. Why did Jesus want them to have the supernatural gift of remembrance of all that He had told them? His plan and commission was for them to go into all the world to speak those words in an attempt to make disciples after the Son of Man ascended to His rightful throne in Heaven. Looking back to my own initial infilling of the Holy Spirit (more than 50 years ago), not only was it confirmed to me with the supernatural gift of tongues, but a supernatural desire to consume His Word immediately saturated my mind. All of a sudden, I was referring to Scriptures that I had never committed to memory. In fact, I always hated the practice of trying to memorize Bible verses; consequently, I never have tried to memorize them since childhood Sunday School efforts miserably failed. The only change in me was the reception of the Helper (Spirit of Truth).
Back to C.S Lewis. When Lewis doubted that human language could properly express the union of God and man in this working out of God’s will in partnership, he was right. No human thought process could adequately express the workings of such a union. Perhaps, that is one reason for the accompanying tongues (languages) directly spoken via the Helper (pneuma, Holy Spirit.) He goes on to acknowledge, at first glance, that Christianity seems to be all about morality, duties, rules, guilt, virtues, etc. However, out of all those things the Christ leads us into something BEYOND. This author describes the BEYOND as a glimpse of the country where they don’t talk of those things (except, perhaps as a joke.) Everyone in that BEYOND place is filled with goodness, but they do not call it goodness. He surmises that it is such the culture that they do not call it anything. If anything, it is the norm; so, they are not thinking about it. He says that those citizens are “…too busy looking at the source from which it comes.” This comports with the idea of constantly looking for instructions from our master toward the next things – the next assignment. Lewis describes this as being “… near the stage where the road passes over the rim of our world.” Perhaps, the Irish would call it one of those “thin places” between heaven and earth.
My conclusion. Be about the things at hand that the Lord brings into your sphere or your venue. Don’t worry so much about all the large world issues unless the Lord, clearly, thrust you into those issues with his indomitably recognizable clarion call. Do what you do, utilizing the spiritual and material equipment with which HE has endowed you. HE wants to give you a taste of the BEYOND. “If you, then, being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
So – ask Him.