God’s Work Within Us

CS Lewis wrote the following bit in a letter written approximately one year before the end of his life:

“The whole problem of our life was neatly expressed by John the Baptist when he said (John, chap 3, v. 30) ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ This you [may] have realised. But you [may be]  expecting it to happen suddenly: and also expecting that you should be clearly aware when it does. But neither of these is usual. We are doing well enough if the slow process of being more in Christ and less in ourselves has made a decent beginning in a long life (it will be completed only in the next world). Nor can we observe it happening. All our reports on ourselves are unbelievable, even in worldly matters (no one really hears his own voice as others do, or sees his own face). Much more in spiritual matters. God sees us, and we don’t see ourselves. And by trying too hard to do so, we only get the fidgets and become either too complacent or too much the other way.
“Your question what to do is already answered. Go on (as you apparently are going on) doing all your duties. And, in all lawful ways, go on enjoying all that can be enjoyed—your friends, your music, your books. Remember we are told to ‘rejoice’ [Philippians 4:4]. Sometimes when you are wondering what God wants you to do, He really wants to give you something.
“As to your spiritual state, try my plan. I pray ‘Lord, show me just so much (neither more nor less) about myself as I need for doing thy will now.’”[1]

I cite CS Lewis often in what I write. He seems to capture so much of what it means to be human in God’s world, illuminating God’s grace in us and in the world as God works out our salvation, the author and perfecter of our faith.

These words Lewis wrote are so much more poignant that they were written toward the end of his life. Gone is the impetuous, tottering confidence of youth in working salvation out, replaced by the steady, trusting confidence of old age that God is working within.

As I survey a thousand times I have failed God in working out my salvation, I find solace in the hope and faith that God is working within me. I don’t always see it. Sometimes my sin overshadows any light I see in me, but God’s gentle light always shines through that darkness… when I turn to Him.

Often my inclination is to turn away. I fear His wrath. I am disappointed in myself. I think I should be better than that. I don’t want to bow at His feet. Yet again. How many times? How many times!

And I recall that nothing is hidden from God. Nothing. We stand, sit, lie, walk at all times under the gaze of an infinite God. Nowhere I can go, even into the deep recesses of my own heart, away from God. Even if I block myself from the inner chambers of my own heart, yet God is there.

God, save me from myself! I can only hope and trust that You will, as You have said, because I am utterly unable.

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[1] CS Lewis in a letter to Keith Manship from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III (September 13, 1962)

Justification by Faith

Whether there are 613 laws to keep or just two, who tend to view morality as a competition in which we compare ourselves to others.


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

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Sinners and the Struggle Against Sin – The Resistance of Love

In our struggle against sin, we are to resist sin, not the sinners who trigger the pride that tends to well within us when we are wronged.


In Part I of Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury, I highlight a connection between enduring hostility from sinners, as Jesus did on the cross, and our own struggle to resist sin, looking at Hebrews 12:3-4:

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

We might think of our struggle against sin as a completely internal affair. Hebrews 12:3-4 suggests that there is an external component to it. The hostility we endure from sinners is part of our own struggle against sin. It isn’t hard to see why: the hostility from sinners triggers a guttural, visceral pride response in us, and pride is the root of all sin.

Think of any time you were slighted and how you responded to it. This is what the hostility of sinners triggers within us. We want to fight back. We want to return insult for insult. We want to defend our honor. We want vindication. We might even want vengeance.

In this passage, though, we are exhorted to look to Jesus who resisted sin to the point of actually shedding his own blood. We are reminded by the that we have not yet resisted to the point of shutting our own blood. It isn’t resisting sinners, but resistong sin, that is the key point here.

Continue reading “Sinners and the Struggle Against Sin – The Resistance of Love”

Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury

When we are told that we have not yet resisted in our struggle against sin to the point of shedding blood, the writer of Hebrews may be getting at something much closer to our own experiences than we might think.


In Hebrews 12:3-4, the writer says, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

When I read these words this morning, I saw for the first time the connection between these phrases: “endured from sinners such hostility” and “your struggle against sin”. There seems to be a link between enduring hostility from sinners and struggling against (resisting) sin.

When I think of sin, I think of my own sin that is within me. I don’t think of struggling to endure hostility from sinners as struggling against sin, but that seems to be what this passage is suggesting. The last phrase sheds some light on this connection: “You have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

I have been thinking about the strong encouragement to resist sin in these verses for many days now. I have been thinking of the metaphorical point of resisting sin to the point of shedding blood. But I had not seen the more direct connection between the hostility of sinners and my own struggle to resist sin.

Continue reading “Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury”

Diamonds and Coal and the Pressures of Life

A common misconception is that diamonds form from coal, but diamonds don’t form from coal. It’s one or the other.


Diamonds and coal are made from the same substance, carbon.[1] They are both formed by heat and pressure, but the results are very, very different.

Coal burns and can be a source of energy, though it is not a very clean source of energy because it’s full of impurities. Diamonds have few impurities and won’t burn.

Diamonds on the other hand are among the hardest substances. They can be used in industrial applications for cutting metal and similar uses because they are so hard and immutable. Coal is soft and combustible. It is dirty and rubs off everywhere.

Diamonds are clean, translucent, rare and beautiful. Diamonds are highly valued, while coal is something we would rather not use if we had other choices, even for burning up in a fire.

Would you rather be a diamond or a lump of coal?

Continue reading “Diamonds and Coal and the Pressures of Life”

We are Participants in the Resistance Against Sin

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.


“[L]et us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely….” (Hebrews 12:1)

In my slow walk through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, I am now in Hebrews. Before I was a believer, Hebrews was a book that had a profound impact on me. When read, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), I felt the truth of that verse, though I had yet committed myself to the Word, which is Jesus.

Many years later, now, I still labor under the weight of sin that clings so closely. It can be hard reading these words, so many years after making that commitment, having to acknowledge the weight that remains, the sin that still clings so closely.

When I first read those words, and many others like them, I was convicted. I felt the sting of indictment on my life, and attitudes and condition. There was a harsh reality to them, a sharp edge. Reality can be like that.

It’s hard to read, to accept the indictment against me. It’s tempting to turn away, to ignore it. Like the person who fears he has cancer but pushes that nagging thought aside because it’s easier not to dwell on it. Even though we know that we should get a diagnosis, we find it easier, psychologically to ignore it.

But we might as well turn away from truth, from reality – from our very selves.

It’s an irrational response. If we get the diagnosis, and we don’t have cancer, we can stop the nagging thoughts. If we find out we do have cancer, we can address it. We can stop it before it gets worse. We can seek a cure. If we ignore it, we have no hope of overcoming it.

Continue reading “We are Participants in the Resistance Against Sin”

Judging the Church and Reconciling the World

God’s heart is to have the Gospel (Good News) preached to all the world, but the Church is preaching judgment instead.

Christianpics.co

Paul writes to the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people”, but he qualifies that statement to say that he is “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters since you would need to go out of the world”. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) What is Paul talking about here?

Paul goes on to clarify that he is writing to the Corinthians “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one.”

He is obviously talking about people within the church, and this is a point that I think we have generally gotten wrong in the modern church today, but maybe not in the way that one might suppose.

It seems to me that we have got these instructions from Paul to the Corinthians exactly backwards.

I think of the Moral Majority when I say this. I think of the efforts of Christians to try to impose “Christian values” on our world. I realize that I am departing from many Christian leaders to say something like this, but please hear me out.

Continue reading “Judging the Church and Reconciling the World”