C.S. Lewis on Motivations of our Hearts

October 1st, 2007

I’m reading C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory for the first time. The book is a collection of essays, including The Weight of Glory and a beautiful piece called Transposition. I read the Narnia books and Mere Christianity in high school, but I’ve only recently begun to develop a real appreciation for Lewis’s art. He has a way of forming analogies that I adore.

In The Weight of Glory he explains with remarkable clarity something I was struggling toward a couple years ago. It has to do with our motivations in following the commands of God and in living a good Christian life. While I was struggling with the concept of living for glory of God, I wrote the following. I’ll just include some excerpts, to keep it relatively short. If this post looks too long for you to want to read it, I hope you’ll at least skip to the last paragraph of the quotation from Lewis.

My words:

[A friend] was saying something about living our lives to glorify God. Something like, in everything we do, we should be asking ourselves whether what we’re doing brings glory to God. You feed the homeless because it glorifies God. You love your neighbor because it glorifies God. You strive to make the church community a shining example of love and acceptance and hospitality because it glorifies God. Something about that struck me as…well, off, somehow. Not that it’s wrong, exactly. [… ]Glorifying God is clearly Important. But, I wonder if thinking primarily in terms of “does this glorify God” might lead you to miss something else that’s true.

As far as I can see, nothing can glorify God unless it accomplishes something of value. If it has no value, it can’t glorify God. So…shouldn’t we do the things we do because we care about getting them done?


Something can only glorify God because it accomplishes something of value. If it has no value, it does not glorify God. And truly mature servants of God will act not simply out of rote obedience, not simply because God likes it, but because they like it too. Children obey rules without always understanding the why and wherefore. Adults live by principles they believe in. Pharisees lived by the letter of the law, but Christ called them white-washed tombs, and taught people to look past the letter and to live by the spirit.

That last paragraph was key. What do you do when your motivations aren’t where they should be? How do you get past rote obedience for the sake of obedience? How do you grow to maturity in your heart?

Lewis approached the topic from a somewhat different perspective. He started with the idea of reward. The Bible speaks of running for the sake of receiving the prize. But isn’t looking for a reward rather…well, crass? Mercenary?

Lewis responds:

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of rewards. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if hemarries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. […] The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation. There is a third case, which is more complicated. An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper, and not a mercenary, reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so. The schoolboy beginning Greek grammar cannot look forward to his adult enjoyment of Sophocles as a lover looks forward to marriage or a general to victory. He has to begin by working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire. His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not known that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just insofar as he approaches the reward that he becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward.

The Christian, in relation to heaven, is in much the same position as this schoolboy. Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward. Just in proportion as the desire grows, our fear lest it should be a mercenary desire will die away and finally be recognised as an absurdity. But probably this will not, for most of us, happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship. [emphasis added]


“Poetry replaces grammar, gospel replaces law, longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.”

So, how do you attain to maturity? Slowly, perhaps. Gradually. By beginning with simple obedience, even if you don’t fully grasp the reasons for the commands. By not allowing yourself to be stuck on the Law for Law’s own sake, but by remembering that all law flows out of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” By praying that God would transform our hearts, reordering our priorities, so that we will be filled with passionate appreciation and longing for God’s own love and righteousness and for His will to be done, because that itself is the greatest reward.

Tags: , , , ,

One Response to “C.S. Lewis on Motivations of our Hearts”

  1. exani 2017

    C.S. Lewis on Motivations of our Hearts | Through A Glass, Dimly