Becoming Me

There is a paradox at the heart of the Christian experience.

That in the Christian’s task of becoming more like Jesus – ‘putting on Christ’ to use St Paul’s terminology – we don’t lose our individual identity, rather we discover it.

Christ in His divinity is infinite; therefore His character, His personality, is also infinite.

Which means that each Christian will find that putting on Christ doesn’t turn them into some kind of a religious clone, but rather it frees them up to express the crushed, twisted, inchoate reality of their true identity, that as yet has never found its full expression.

This is the wonder of being a Christian – we get to become what we truly are.

All that is glorious in us, but which has hitherto been strangled, suppressed, overwhelmed by our sins and weakness, all of that can now dawn in us.

We know we are not yet perfect.

We know this is an ongoing process that requires our active participation with the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

We know there will be reversals and failures along the way.

I am not who I should be – but Jesus and I are working on it.

As usual C.S. Lewis has got there before us and nicely expressed the whole game.

“He (Christ) invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all the different men that you and I were intended to be.

In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him.

It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him.
The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires.

In fact what I proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop.

What I call ‘My wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils … Most of what I call ‘Me’ can be very easily explained.

It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own … There are no real personalities anywhere else.

Until you have given yourself up to Him you will not have a real self.

Sameness is to be found most among the most ‘natural’ men, not amongst those who surrender to Christ.
How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.”
C.S. Lewis ‘Mere Christianity’, Book IV, Chapter 11


Jumping when you should be flying (or ‘Nice is not Enough’)

Authentic Christianity generally improves people.

Which seems logical enough.

When people commit their lives to He whose nature is love, one would expect this to lead to positive changes in their behaviour.

Historically, Christian faith has also led to social advancement, particularly in contexts of social deprivation.

When those whose lives have been marked by anti-social, or self-centred activity, turn to Christ and start to become conscientious husbands, committed fathers, reliable employees, worthy citizens – their social situation often also improves.

In times of economic opportunity this has historically led to Christians founding businesses, becoming entrepreneurs. Indeed, for many this gave them a platform for Christian philanthropy and social action that impacted their whole society. Look for example at the impact of the Quaker-founded businesses in 19th century England. Suddenly employers start providing decent housing, medical care, schools for the children of their employees etc. etc.

All of which is good and right, yet can have the negative effect of blurring the Christian message somewhat.

It can leave us thinking that as improvement follows conversion, then maybe improvement is the goal?

Following this, we can further note that many different philosophies and models for living can equally bring about improvement in a person – so maybe Christianity is just one approach amongst many?

This would be to completely miss the point.

Improvement is not the goal of Christianity – redemption is.

As its outworking, redemption may well bring improvement to a person – but that is a symptom, a secondary and external effect of an internal transformation, not the heart of the matter.

Lewis reminds us that;

“A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine.

God became man to turn creatures into sons : not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.

It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature.”
(C.S. Lewis ‘Mere Christianity’, Book IV, Chapter 10)

The Encouragement of Struggling

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required,

and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked. (Luke 12:48)

Christian discipleship is not a fair game; we do not play on a level playing field.

Some people start out with many factors which give them an advantage.

Others find the odds against success stacked horrendously against them.

This would be unjust of God and unfair towards us , except for the fact that God’s evaluation of us at the end, will take all this into account.

All spiritual progress, all discipleship success will be measured relatively against the advantages we were given, or the obstacles we faced.

Which perhaps explained why Jesus was able to accept people whose lives were less than optimal in terms of their purity and holiness.

It also explains his warning to the comfortably religious ;

But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Mark 10:31)

This spiritual reality has some serious consequences.

It should give us pause for thought.

Whenever we are tempted to be complacent about our spiritual maturity, our advancement in the Christian life, we should remember this reality.

How much of any progress is merely the result of the advantages we have received? The prayers that are being prayed on our behalf? The environment in which we live which encourages and supports us?

Conversely, when we see fellow Christians struggling, falling into sin, failing to advance, beset by sins they do not manage to overcome – we should at least wonder if perhaps this isn’t due to factors beyond their control.

C.S. Lewis summed this up well;

“If you are a nice person – if virtue comes easily to you – beware!

Much is expected from those to whom much is given…

But if you are a poor creature – poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgur jealousies and senseless quarrels – saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion – nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends – do not despair. He knows all about it.

You are one of the poor whom He blessed.

He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive.

Keep on. Do what you can.

One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrap heap and give you a new one.

And then you may astonish us all – not least yourself:
for you have learned your driving in a hard school.

Some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last”
( C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity Book IV, chapter 10 )

Authentic Pretending

Sometimes, in the Christian life, pretending is the only genuine thing to do.

I was reminded of this recently whilst reading C.S. Lewis’ chef d’œuvre “Mere Christianity” (Book IV, Chp.7).

Lewis expresses the outlandish nature of the opening phrase of the Lord’s Prayer;

“Our Father…”

That by speaking out those words we are actually claiming to be sons of God Himself; we are pretending to be like Christ!

Which, of course, we all know to be nonsense.

Our lives do not reflect even to a minor degree the purity, the whole-hearted obedience, the unity of purpose, that exists between the Father and the Son.

To even claim it did would be an act of outlandish conceit.

Except for the fact that God Himself tells us, commands us, to do it.

Which leads Lewis to explain that there are two kinds of pretending.

There is a false kind of pretending where a pretence is made instead of a genuine attempt – as in the person who pretends he is going to help you, instead of actually helping.

But there is also a genuine kind of pretending, where the pretence leads you to the real thing.

When you don’t feel friendly, but know you should be, so you force yourself to act in a friendly way; oftentimes genuinely friendly feelings will result.

Pretending is often a pathway to becoming.

God understands human psychology,

He knows that the words we speak over ourselves have power to change – for good and ill.

I was reminded of this coincidentally, through coming across a rather bizarre translation issue in Jeremiah chapter 36.

God has given the prophet Jeremiah a message of imminent destruction because of the people of Israel’s disobedience. He is told to get a scribe to write down these prophetic words on a scroll and to read them to the people.

When the king hears about this he is not pleased. He has the scroll brought to him and has his servant Jehudi read it in his presence.

“Whenever Jehudi had read three or four columns of the scroll,

the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the brazier,

until the entire scroll was burned in the fire” (Jeremiah 36:23)

The word translated “columns” (deh’leth) is a Hebrew word usually translated as “door” or “gate”.

In all probability this word is used simply because of the rectangular (door) shape of the columns.

However I can’t help seeing a deeper symbolism here – even if unintentional.

Words are often doors that open up or shut down possibilities in our lives.

In the case of Jeremiah’s prophecy – this was intended primarily by God, not as a prediction of ineluctable doom, but as a call to repentance.

It was God design that the people respond by changing their ways and avoid the suffering otherwise coming their way.

These words were a door that was meant to lead God’s people to hope and a better, brighter future.

Words are doors that open or shut down possibilities.

The rather brilliant Irish author Eoin Colfer describes himself as having been,

“Browbeaten by constant encouragement by his family” (Eoin Colfer, “The Supernaturalist”)

These positive words supported and encouraged him in the long, slow, difficult process of learning to be a writer.

His family’s kind, positive, encouraging words were an open door of possibility and hope.

Whilst this is true at the natural level of human interaction, it is also even more true at the spiritual level.

Derek Prince’s invaluable book “Blessing or Cursing – You can choose!” shows very powerfully how negative words can be spiritually powerful to crush, close down, destroy, and handicap whole lives.

Sadly, for every Eoin Colfer “browbeaten by constant encouragement” there are probably more children whose lives and dreams are destroyed by parental scorn and ridicule before they even begin –

“You’re useless, you’ll never be able to do that, you’ll always be a failure…”.

We need to choose carefully which words we speak over ourselves (and our loved ones) and to make sure these are words that are doors of hope.

We also need to believe what God says about us.

And when we can’t yet believe it, we need to pretend that we do.

Pretending is often the pathway to becoming.

Minds on heaven, hands on earth


 “And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” Heb 11:13b-16.

As someone who lives as a stranger and an alien in foreign country, I find these verses especially poignant.

At celebration times, such as Christmas and New Year, I particularly feel the separation from family and friends and my alien-ness compared to those whom I live amongst.

I think that it is good for me to feel this.

It helps me remember that this is the proper Christian state of mind. I should NOT feel comfortable or settled anywhere this side of glory.

I should be haunted by a hunger for something over the horizon. Because that is where I truly belong. That is where I will finally fit in.

That is where I shall know that my restless pilgrimage is over.

I will find myself back in my Father’s house.

I will finally be home.

The second aspect to living as a pilgrim is that you don’t invest in what you can’t take with you.

In his book “The Waters of Silence”, Thomas Merton wrote,

“A monk is a man who has given up everything in order to possess everything.”

If we are convinced of our status as pilgrims, we will hold lightly the possessions we have.

We will enjoy them and use them as we can to do good, but they will have no hold on us. Deep down we will be convinced of the truth that every possible possession in this world has ultimately no more substance or value than a disposable paper cup.

Which is the paradox of heavenly-mindedness.

Those Christians who have often been the most fixed on their heavenly destination,

have often made the most difference here on earth.

Their focus on heaven as their goal, meant that they held lightly to their earthly existence, resources, time – they were prepared to give these things up, to invest them, in advancing God’s Kingdom on earth.

As C.S. Lewis said,

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Lewis gives the illustration of those who make health their number one preoccupation in life – it only serves to turn them into raging hypochondriacs.

It is far better to focus on living in a balanced and reasonable way, having good nutrition, taking regular exercise, having fun.

If you include these things in your life you are likely to get health as a side-effect. But make health your goal and you are likely to become a self-obsessed crank.

In terms of Christian discipleship, focussing on heaven will put us in a place where we are far more likely to do good on earth.

“We shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main goal.

We must learn to want something even more”

I think it is good for all of us to experience home-sickness once in a while. It helps to remind us that the church is a community of home-sick people.

We should all be living with a longing for Home.

C.S. Lewis quotes from Mere Christianity Book III, Chapter 10

Ostrich Damnation

From the Bible it seems that laziness is more serious than blasphemy; that intellectual dishonesty is a far more serious affair than honest, outright rejection of Christ.

The Bible holds out the very real possibility that a man (or woman) who honestly rejects Christ, because he is truly not convinced is not without hope of salvation.

“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” (Luke 12:10a)

Something Nolland confirms,

“Not (yet) believing is forgivable” (Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 35b, p682)

However, a wilful evasion of Christ is a far more serious matter.

“But to evade the Son of Man,

to look the other way,

to pretend you have haven’t noticed,

to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street,

to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up,

to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him

– this is a different matter.
You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian;

but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding his head in the sand.” (C.S. Lewis “Man or Rabbit?”)

The Bible puts forward the astounding claim that it is in Jesus Christ that ALL existence finds its origin and its end.

That the answer to the ultimate question is not 42, as Douglas Adams proposes, but rather Jesus.

He is the secret of the universe.

It is the moral and spiritual duty of every person to honestly assess the validity of this claim.

Such a claim is either the most important truth that one can know and which demands a whole re-orientation of one’s life around this truth, or the biggest fraud and load of baloney every perpetuated.

“Isn’t it the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?” (C.S. Lewis, “Man or Rabbit?”)

In which case someone like Dr Richard Dawkins has more hope of salvation than those who dodge and weave the issue.

Who think that maybe they might possibly believe in something but who are too lazy, too self-focused, too nervous of the consequences to do the hard work of exploration and evaluation.

Can’t I be good without God ?

Religion sucks!

Now, I hasten to add that this is not my own opinion, but it is a very popular one these days.

Ask any 10 people you randomly meet in the street what they think about religion and I would expect that at least a few will express something like my opening statement.

They might uses phrases such as,

religions cause wars, more people have died because of religion, religious leaders abuse children etc. etc.

Many will go on to express something akin to the title of this post – that surely it is possible to be good without God?

From a certain perspective the answer to this question obviously “Yes”.

There were good people – at least they seem to have been good from the writings they left behind, or the accounts of their lives.

People like Socrates and Confucius, men who had never heard of Christianity – for the simple reason it didn’t exist yet! – yet who lived lives that were moral, and by any measure we can make – good.

However, the person who asks this question today, is not in that situation.

The person who asks can I not be good without God, is really asking,

“Can’t I just be good without bothering about Christianity?”

And as C.S. Lewis said, these days such a person,

…has heard of Christianity and is by no means certain that it may not be true.

He is really asking, ‘Need I bother about it?

Mayn’t I just avoid the issue, just let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with being “good”?

In effect, asking such a question tells us more about the motivation of the person asking than of their theological confusion.

A person who asks such a question is really asking,

“Aren’t good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn’t someone inside?’”

To which Lewis replies,

“To such a man it might be enough to reply that he is really asking to be allowed to get on with being ‘good’ before he has done his best to discover what good means …

We need not inquire whether God will punish him for his cowardice and laziness; they will punish themselves. The man is shirking.”

(C.S. Lewis, “Man or Rabbit?”)