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August 3, 2011 / Daniel

CS Lewis on Matthew 5:48

Mere Christianity

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis has a chapter entitled “Counting the Cost.”   It is a reflection on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”     Lewis writes,

I find a good many people have been bothered by…our Lord’s words “Be ye perfect.”  Some people seem to think this means “Unless you are perfect, I will not help you,”; and as we cannot be perfect, then if He meant that, our position is hopeless.  But I do not think He did mean that.  I think He meant “The only help I will give is help to become perfect.  You may want something less; but I will give you nothing less.”

Salvation is not just about avoiding hell.  There’s more to salvation than a comfortable afterlife.   Salvation is about the renewal and restoration of God’s creation.  God created us in His image.   We were made to reflect God.    To showcase His glory to all of creation.

But the Fall messed things up.  Even though we are still made in God’s image, we no longer reflect Him as we should.  We are broken mirrors, stained with the corruption of sin. Salvation is about fixing the mirror.   It’s a renewal of God’s image in us.    Lewis adds,

The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas.  Nor is it a command to do the impossible.  He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.  He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words.  If we let Him–for we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.

Lewis says that human beings can be “gods.” I admit this is confusing language.  Sounds a bit unorthodox.   I wish that he would have worded this better.  (Lewis is referring to Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34).     However, I don’t think that he means this in the Mormon sense where you have a whole bunch of little gods running around a polytheistic universe.

Theologians made a distinction between God’s communicable and non-communicable attributes.  Communicable attributes are qualities such as love, justice, purity, etc.   Non-communicable attributes are qualities such as omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.  We can share in God’s communicable attributes.  We cannot share God’s non-communicable attributes.

What I think that Lewis is talking about is how God created us to be His image-bearers.   (Notice how Lewis intentionally uses the word “creatures.”  It is clear from the rest of Lewis’ writings that he is a monotheist).  As the highlight of God’s creation, humans are designed to reflect God.   We were made to imitate Him.   To share in His communicable attributes.  Matthew 5:48 is a summons to this vocation.   Be like your God.  Showcase His glory.

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  1. Becca / Aug 3 2011 11:51 pm

    I agree with the use of “god” in CS Lewis’ writing. I think he does a fair job in his “Out of the Silent Planet” trilogy in trying to better describe what he’s saying. 🙂

    • Becca / Aug 3 2011 11:51 pm

      I mean, I agree with you saying that the wording is confusing! 🙂

  2. Daniel / Aug 4 2011 3:30 am

    Thanks for commenting. Which book in the trilogy deals with this subject?

    • Becca / Aug 4 2011 3:43 am

      I would say mostly: “That Hideous Strength,” though he discusses it in all of them. I believe you can see traces in the Chronicles as well.


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