Our loving Father and Creator breathed His spirit of goodness into every human heart. As Paul wrote, not just to those at Philippi but to all of us: “God is the one who enables you both to want and to actually live out his good purposes” (CEB Phil. 2:13). Opening ourselves to this goodness, to what is truly “purity of heart,” is what separates us from the world’s natural selfishness.
That said, when worldly self-interest masquerades as goodness, I easily get fooled. One very tempting example for me is pride—a quality that, according to Lewis, “leads to every other vice.” As much as we recognize pride in others, wrote Lewis, we are usually “unconscious” of it in ourselves. That’s why pride can “smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life” (Mere Christianity, “The Great Sin”).
The tricky part for me, and perhaps for everyone, is that the world justifies and encourages our competitiveness and assertiveness—even considers them to be “virtues.” But God expects more of religious believing than the self-focus and aggressiveness of the natural world. And one of Jesus’ parables shows us clearly what that expectation is. During prayer, we see a Pharisee, standing proudly, exalting himself, saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.” And then we turn and see a tax collector, standing humbly “at a distance,” looking down at his feet saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (NIV Luke 18:10-14).
The spirit of Christ’s humility and goodness is always present in every human heart. But, for this “more” of who we are to shine forth, for it to warm our souls and those of the people we meet, we must allow ourselves to be less.
“Name again the virtues That God does give to all. Bring to my mind the goodness, My better deeds recall.” (Living Calm 2016)