Wednesday, March 5, 2014

C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller on How Laying Claim To Nothing Makes Us Heirs Of Everything

The words in the title sum up a spiritual dynamic that C.S. Lewis and Tim Keller (among others) are compelled to address as they consider Jesus and Christianity.

In a certain chapter of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis seeks to persuade us that becoming transformed by surrendering to God is a far deeper and more necessary thing than simply being "nice." In doing so, he writes:
Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates' tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick's would be like if he became one. Miss Bates and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so. [...]
The manager is going to put in new machinery: before Christ has finished with Miss Bates, she is going to be very "nice" indeed. But if we left it at that, it would sound as though Christ's only aim was to pull Miss Bates up to the same level on which Dick had been all along. We have been talking, in fact, as if Dick were all right; as if Christianity was something nasty people needed and nice ones could afford to do without; and as if niceness was all that God demanded. But this would be a fatal mistake. The truth is that in God's eyes Dick Firkin needs "saving" every bit as much as Miss Bates. In one sense (I will explain what sense in a moment) niceness hardly comes into the question.
You cannot expect God to look at Dick's placid temper and friendly disposition exactly as we do. They result from natural causes which God himself creates. Being merely temperamental, they will all disappear if Dick's digestion alters. The niceness, in fact, is God's gift to Dick, not Dick's gift to God. [...]
Natural causes come together in Dick to make a pleasant psychological pattern, just as they come together in a sunset to make a pleasant pattern of colours. Presently (for that is now nature works) they will fall apart again and the pattern in both cases will disappear. Dick has had the chance to turn (or rather, to allow God to turn) that momentary pattern of beauty into an eternal spirit: and he has not taken it.
There is a paradox. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realizes that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God – it is just then that it begins to be really his own. For now Dick is beginning to take a share in his own creation. The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 10

Tim Keller teaches something similar as he conveys Jesus' words and actions in Matthew 9:9-17:
Jesus eating with these sinners is something that will just knock you flat if you understand it. It means no matter what you’ve done, no matter who you are, the distinction that Jesus recognizes is not between the good and the bad. The only distinction that divides humanity now is between the proud and the humble. That’s the only one that counts. It’s the only one that matters. 
Are you willing to say, “Lord Jesus, I am not worthy. You don’t owe me a good life. You don’t. You owe me nothing but wrath.”? The minute that happens, he rushes in to eat with you. If you say, “You owe me a good life,” the minute that happens, he says, “I have not come for you.” Wow! That’s Christianity. That’s the gospel. That’s simple. That’s profound.
'I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners' to repentance.
- Tim Keller, Mercy, Not Sacrifice, Sept. 17, 1995, (conclusion)

Jesus and Paul teach this principle in several other passages including Matthew 6:31-33, Matthew 16:24-26, Luke 18:9-14, and Titus 3:4-7.

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