A couple weeks ago while attending my Sunday school class the discussion turned to the concept of altruism - the idea of total unselfishness as a motive for doing something. Eventually, someone posited the question that the "carrot" of eternal life in heaven might influence our motivation to "accept Jesus"* as our savior as well as pursue a personal relationship with God. And finally we were faced with the question: is there anything that we do with unselfish motives?
Several days later, I finished reading Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis, an autobiography of his conversion to Christianity. In the final pages of the book he says:
My conversion involved as yet no belief in a future life. I now number it among my greatest mercies that I was permitted for several months, perhaps for a year, to know God and to attempt obedience without even raising that question. My training was like that of the Jews, to whom He revealed Himself centuries before there was a whisper of anything better (or worse) beyond the grave than shadowy and featureless Sheol. And I did not dream even of that. There are men, far better men that I, who have made immortality almost the central doctrine of their religion; but for my own part I have never seen how a preoccupation with that subject at the outset could fail to corrupt the whole thing. I had been brought up to believe that goodness was goodness only if it were disinterested, and that any hope of reward or fear of punishment contaminated the will. If I was wrong in this (the question is really much more complicated than I then perceived) my error was most tenderly allowed for. I was afraid that threats of promises would demoralize me; no threats or promises were made. The commands where inexorable, but they were backed by no "sanctions". God was to be obeyed simply because he was God. Long since, through the gods of Asgard, and later through the notion of the Absolute, He had taught me how a thing can be revered not for what it can do to us but for what it is in itself. This is why, though it was terror, it was no surprise to learn that God is to be obeyed because of what He is in Himself. If you ask why we should obey God, in the last resort the answer is, "I am." To know God is to know that our obedience is due to Him. In His nature His sovereignty de jure is revealed.
On the other hand, while it is true to say that God's own nature is the real sanction of His commands, yet to understand this must, in the end, lead us to the conclusion that union with that Nature is bliss and separation from it horror. Thus Heaven and Hell come in. But it may well be that to think much of either except in this context of thought , to hypostatize them as if they had a substantial meaning apart from the presence or absence of God, corrupts the doctrine of both and corrupts us while we so think of them.
As I understand what Lewis is saying, there is a valid, totally unselfish motivation for a personal, loving relationship that involves worship and obedience to God even if there were no promise of eternal life in heaven, even if our existence is finite, simply because God is who He is. Fascinating.
* The following is what I consider (most humbly) to be one of many great rants from E.W. Bullinger, this time on the subject of "accepting Jesus" .
Man's conventional talk of this twentieth century (of the present era) is about the sinner's acceptance of Christ. God's Word, for nearly sixty centuries has been about the sinner believing what He had said.
God has spoken. He has told us that He cannot and will not accept the fallen sons of men in their sins. In ourselves we are not only ruined sinners because of what we have done, or not done; but we are ruined creatures because of what we ARE. The question is, Do we believe God as to this solemn fact?
What God accepted was Abel's "gifts" (Heb. xi. 4); Abel was accepted only in his gifts (Gen. iv. 4).
So, God has told us that He can accept us, as such, only in the merits and Person of that perfect Substitute -- His Christ -- whom He has provided. Do we believe Him as to this?
If we do we shall by faith lay our hand on Him, confess our belief in God as to our own lost and ruined nature, and as to Christ as God's provided Salvation; knowing that, by this faith, God pronounces us righteous, accepts us in the person of our Substitute; and declares us as accepted in the Beloved," because God accepted His one offering when He raised Him from the dead.
Christ's resurrection is the proof and evidence that God has accepted Christ. Christ risen is the sinner's receipt which God has given to show that He has accepted Christ's payment of the sinner's debt.
There is no other receipt.
Christ's blood is not the receipt. That is the payment.
The sinner's faith is not the receipt. It is no use for a man to go to his creditor and say he believes he has paid what he owes. He must produce the receipt.
What is the receipt which we can produce to God which will prove that our debt is paid?
Nothing but the blessed fact that God's Word assures us that He has accepted payment on our behalf in the person of our Substitute, when He raised Christ from the dead.
We are to believe what He says when He assures us of this, and He is pleased to accept us in Him.
It is always the Creditor who accepts the payment which the debtor makes. And, when payment has been once accepted, no further demand can be made upon the debtor.
This is how Abel was accepted; and this is how the sinner is saved to this day.
By the same faith in what God has said, we lay our hand on that Lamb of God as our substitute; and we obtain God's witness that we are righteous. God bears His testimony to this in that He raised Christ from the dead, and has accepted the believing sinner IN HIM.
It is not a question of whether the sinner accepts Christ, but whether he believes God when He says that He has accepted Christ.