Thursday, November 3, 2011

C.S. Lewis to Mary Willis Shelburne – Good Works

On July 7, 1956 Lewis writes to Shelburne:

Yes, what your Franciscan author says is very true. As some one says, “The Devil used to try to prevent people from doing good works, but he has now learned a trick worth two of that: he organizes ‘em instead.”

Not having Shelburne’s letter of June 30, 1956, to which Lewis was replying, I don’t know what Shelburne wrote to elicit Lewis’s comment. But I am reminded of Mr. Worldly Wiseman in The Pilgrim’s Progress. He tells Christian:

In that village in the distance, its name is Morality, there lives a gentleman whose name is Legality, go and see that man and he will help you with this weight you are carrying. There is no need for you to continue in the path that Evangelist and the Book have directed you – there is a much better way, a much easier way.
[My paraphrase].

The idea that good works are an enemy to the Gospel and to knowing the forgiveness of Christ is an enigma to many. On the one hand those who are in relationship with Jesus Christ are to model good works; on the other hand they are not justified by good works – that is, they have not come into a relationship with God because of their good works; God has not accepted them because of their good works; God accepts them because of His Son Jesus Christ. To try to measure up to the Law of God is impossible – and the burden of sin becomes crushing under the burden of the Law. Morality and Ethics and good works for the sake of self-righteousness can mask our sin and unrighteousness and deceive us into thinking that we have no need of a Savior – a black hole indeed.

Morality and ethics and good works can also deceive the Christian, the one who has come to know Jesus Christ, into thinking that he or she can live the Christian life under her or his own power – as Paul writes to the Galatians, “Are you so foolish, having begun in the Spirit do you really think you can grow to maturity in your own strength?”

That which looks like a much easier way, because it avoids the Cross of Christ and repentance and our surrender to Jesus Christ – turns out to be anything but an easier way – it is…if we venture deep within it…a black hole.

And so back to Lewis’s letter to Shelburne – if we are focused on good works for the sake of good works, for the sake of making us feel better, look better, and for the purpose of building ourselves up, for the sake of our own morality – we will become so full of ourselves and our good works that we will fail to see our emptiness, our sin, and our need of a Savior. Just as it is a fool who serves as his own lawyer; it is a fool who attempts to be his or her own savior. What a shame this is when we consider how deeply God loves us.

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