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C. S. Lewis on Motivation, Self-Denial, and Rewards

C. S. Lewis

A life-changing quote

Seriously — it is.

Because many believers don’t understand how Jesus motivates us.

Many believers think there’s something wrong with being motivated by reward — even when the reward is God Himself.

But if we don’t understand the way Jesus motivates us — how will we obey His commands?

Enter C. S. Lewis

Here’s a quote in which C. S. Lewis corrects some common errors about motivation, self-denial, and rewards —

“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.

“We are told to deny ourselves and take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised to us in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

“We are far too easily pleased.”  C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.


  • Self-denial is an essential part of following Christ.  There are many, many desires we must deny (Mark 8:34-38).
  • But Jesus motivates us to say No to those desires, by promising us a better desire — one that will truly satisfy us (Matt 13:44).
  • Lewis does not explain what that truly satisfying desire is — but it’s clear from God’s Word that it’s God Himself in the person of Jesus (Psa 42:1-2; Psa 73:25-26; Phil 1:21; Phil 3:8).  He is the Prize.
  • So when we sin, it’s not that we desired pleasure too much, it’s that we settled for too little (Isa 55:1-2).
  • The way to overcome sin is not by stirring up our will-power to say No — it’s by stirring up our hearts to say Yes to the all-satisfying joy of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).

Questions?  Comments?  Thoughts?

I’d love to hear them.  Feel free to leave a reply below.  Thanks!

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(Photo by Arthur Strong, 1947, taken from Wikipedia article on C. S. Lewis.)

Category: Motivation for Obedience, Stories about Other People


15 Responses

  1. Paul Walton says:

    Hey Steve,
    I think Hebrews 12:2 is another great example of receiving a reward, as Christ endured the cross for the joy it would eventually bring to him.

    “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

    Jesus was obedient to His Father’s plan because it would bring great glory to His name. God would be glorified, which in turn would cause great joy within the Trinity, and that we His elect could join in experiencing that joy, and that Satan and his lies would be completely defeated.

    The phrase “despising the shame” is often overlooked, Christ lower Himself to the lowest point a human can experience, to prove Satan a liar. But He did it, because it would prove that all of Satan’s lies, are exactly that- lies. We tend to think the cross is all about us, which it is in part, but it is all about God, and His faithfulness.

    God is faithful, and that is cause for great joy.
    Be blessed brother I missed you this morning, branching out is somewhat painful.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good Word, Paul. And you are right about branching out new home groups being somewhat painful — and I missed not connecting with you guys this morning. I guess the reward of beholding Jesus’ glory helps with that as well 🙂

  2. Patty says:

    Such a perfect entry to read today. Been struggling to claim victory over one habit in particular and the question finally struck me: Do I believe that what Jesus holds for me is far better than what I want to give myself? Sadly, I think the answer had been no, I had not been believing that. An eye-opening moment for sure. I have been far too easily pleased.

    I’ve been praying over that. That I will believe His reward is far greater and well worth self-denial of earthly things. And even when I’m praying through unbelief, He’ll give me the strength and courage to act out of obedience instead of following those desires.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Patty. You hit the nail on the head — His reward is far greater and well worth the self-denial. And I love how you mention that HE gives us the strength and courage — what a gracious Savior we have.

  3. Jamie orndoff says:

    One of my employes recommended
    This! Great info.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I really like this Steve.

    “The way to overcome sin is not by stirring up our will-power to say No — it’s by stirring up our hearts to say Yes to the all-satisfying joy of knowing Christ (Phil 3:8).

    I just read today through Colossians 3:1-15 and that’s about setting your mind on heavenly things, but how is that possible. Sureeee if I had my mind fixed on Christ and the Godhead all day I would probably be much less prone to sin but how can we truly fix and keep our eyes fixed on things above? This is to help in the moment sin.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Yes, it’s not easy to keep our minds on the things above. But the good news is that God wants us to grow in this, and the good work He started in us He will continue (Phil 1:6). So as you pray and ask him to help you, and then start a habit of memorizing God’s Word and snacking on it throughout the day, you will find this growing in your more and more.

  5. Jaime B says:

    Love how God speaks to us! I,JUST an hour ago, wrote in my Journal where I write down anything I feel He is speaking to me during prayer, “Yes!- Yes to you Lord. I’m done saying ‘NO’ to sin and failing. I understand – I say ‘YES’ to YOU! It just hit me- How will i move forward when im so focused on how to avoid a past action? I have to focus on the positive that will replace it from now on taking my thoughts captive into the obedience of Christ. Just reading your last “take-away” and I’m realizing how important that is.

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Hi Jaimie,

      Thank you so much for sharing how this encouraged you. This truth from God’s Word, which C. S. Lewis sums up so powerfully, has transformed my life.

      I pray that it transforms yours as well.

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

  6. Anonymous says:

    I love this information and say this for me.


  7. jeanette jenkins says:

    Wow I’m just so bless to read everyone comments and too understand that I’m not they only one struggling in some areas of my faith, I’m so overwhelmed and encourage to hear powerful testimonies of other believers in Christ ,thank you all so much keep sharing.

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