Self-transcendence (getting out of ourselves and connected to a higher reality) is what God designed us for. Like headphones, we aren’t really being what we were made to be until we are connected to a source of music beyond ourselves.

We can transcend UP through things like prayer, meditation, worship, and simply waking up to an awareness of God’s presence all around us – what some have called “practicing the presence of God.” (I put the emphasis on this form of self-transcendence in my book, (re)union.)

We transcend OUT by things like loving our neighbours as we love ourselves, volunteering at church, and giving ourselves over to serving our families, our friends, and even our enemies – what some have called “practicing the presence of people.”

This past Sunday at The Meeting House we talked about the really good news that Jesus gives all of us a way to transcend in both directions at the same time. In his story of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus shows us that when we love “the least of these” (the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the lonely), we are not only getting out of ourselves to love others, we are actually, really, truly loving Jesus.

The scene is the judgement of the “nations.” This is the translation of a Greek word, ethnos, which usually refers to groups of people who are not yet part of God’s people, as it is used in the Great Commission where Jesus tells his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations (ethnos).”

But hold on a minute. Is this judgement of the nations in the story of the Sheep and the Goats a kind of salvation by works instead of grace? Not even close. Jesus doesn’t say the sheep are saved because they served the poor, but because they served him. This is still a picture of salvation through Christ. And it is pure grace that Jesus should receive this beautiful love of others as faithful service to himself, and still, apparently, wipe away their sin and welcome them into the kingdom of heaven. The sheep did not earn their salvation. This is grace, received by the faith, that James the brother of Jesus describes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
(James 2:14-18)

In the original language of the New Testament, the words “faith” and “faithfulness” are rendered by the same Greek word (pistis), which would have helped the earliest readers hold the two concepts together as one reality, two sides of the very same coin. According to the Bible, our faith in God is tied to our faithfulness to God.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis taught that a non-Christian might place his or her faith in Christ through their faithfulness to Christ, even if they are unaware of it. He writes:

There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

This understanding of final judgement works its way into a scene in Lewis’ The Last Battle. Here we see Emeth, a soldier who has spent his life faithfully serving a false god, kneel before Aslan, expecting to be judged and executed. Instead, Aslan welcomes him into his kingdom and explains that because Emeth had followed the right impulses of his heart (see Romans 2:14-15), in reality he had been serving Aslan all along.

I take to me the services which thou hast done to him (Aslan, in The Last Battle).

It seems to me that Lewis’ thinking on this is the most plain and evidential reading of Jesus’ teaching in the story of the Sheep and the Goats.

“But wait! Couldn’t this belief about unwitting sheep living among the nations diminish our evangelistic zeal?” Yup. Any gospel truth can be abused – just read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians! But the abuse of grace doesn’t make grace untrue.

In my own life, I have become increasingly eager to share the message of Jesus with people the more I learn about just how amazingly gracious God is. I want them to know Jesus now, in this life, and to experience the assurance of their own salvation, which is only available now through an explicit faithful relationship with Christ (John 17:3). As I tell my non-Christian friends, apart from Christ I cannot assure you of hell, but only with Christ can I assure you of heaven.

The Great Commission isn’t just a rescue mission; it is a reality mission. And Jesus is the greatest reality worth knowing.








Q & EH?

  1. This chapter suggests that “what we call heaven is less of a place and more of a Person.” What do you think about that?
  2. The goal of the gospel is not the rejection of our bodies, but the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23), not a release from the physical but a resurrection to a renewed version of our physical selves, of which Jesus is the prototype. God values the physical! What are some implications of this for how we live our lives today?
  3. The Bible uses two metaphors to talk about the way we become God’s children and dearly loved members of his family: birth (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3-4) and adoption (Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:1-7). What are some unique and beautiful truths that each picture communicates?
  4. Have you ever had your own “incubator of agape” experience? How could “church” do a better job of providing this for hurting people?


  • Read: 1 Timothy 2:3-6.
  • Think: God wants “all people” (verses 4 and 6) to come into his own love life. There is room in God for us. Jesus, the man, has led the way.
  • Meditate: The love-life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all around me and passing through me right now.


THANK YOU for reading and commenting! I appreciate your feedback!





Tags : cs lewisreunionsalvationself-transcendencesheep and goats


  1. I find this hard to take in really. You seem to be saying that a non Christian could belong to Jesus because they are following the impulses of their heart to do good to their fellow man.
    I’m not sure about that. You have to accept Jesus as Lord to be saved.
    I don’t agree with CS Lewis on this point – hope that’s not heretical as I know he was a great thinker but…still. I think it’s very important to know whether you are saved or not.

    I know that there are many kind and generous people who are not Christian’s and I believe they still need to make that decision. You can be kind and generous and not submitted to God.

    I understand about faith without works is dead. It’s like being perfume, you smell, if you don’t smell then you couldn’t be called perfume, you maybe were at one time but the passing of time and lack of refreshment and use has faded your smell to a point where you can’t be recognised as perfume anymore. I’m not sure how you could be perfume without knowing it.

  2. I recently introduced your teachings through Woodland Hills Church (where you’ve subbed for Greg Boyd) to a friend of mine, and yesterday she introduced me to your blog after a timely discussion about C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle scene with Emeth and Aslan. I appreciate your thoughts (I’m sort of “there”) but also understand where the previous commenter is coming from so will have to keep thinking/praying about it for clarity. My comment is actually on the James 2 passage that you quote. With all due and tremendous respect, I don’t believe the passage is referring to “good works” at all because of four little words in vs. 17 (NIV): “In the same way”. James appears to be making an analogy of how faith works, not giving an example of faith in vs. 14-16. Apples are to fruit as oaks are to trees but that doesn’t make apples oaks. If I believe you are to be warmed and filled, then I will respond by warming and filling you. If I don’t do it, then, as James says, “what good is that?” “In the same way”–in other words, by analogy–if I say I have faith or I believe, for instance, that God will answer my prayer, I will reveal my faith–my belief–by what I do (wait in patient expectancy rather than anxiety.) But if I respond with anxiety or make my own plans, then I am indicating that I do not really believe what I professed. As James says, my faith is dead. Nowhere does James mention the phrase “good deeds” but just “deeds”–what I do to indicate that I truly believe–trust–God in a given situation. The analogy idea appears to be backed up by the examples that James then does give. He prefaces his examples by writing, “Do you want to be shown…that faith apart from works is useless?”: Demons believe God and they show it by shuddering; Abraham believed God would give him offspring through Isaac and showed it by being willing to offer him up as a sacrifice; Rahab believed God would destroy Jericho and showed it by acting to save her skin (yes, her family’s too). None of these were “good deeds” (per se), but they were deeds in response to their belief. (As a precedent in his writing, in Chapter 1 vs 11 James writes about withering grass, then adds “In the same way” the rich man fades away. We don’t have any problem recognizing this as an analogy even though the sentence structure is the same as in the passage in Chapter 2.) Of course, elsewhere in Scripture we are exhorted to do good deeds, but to me the James passage wasn’t intended to address that at all and is so much richer when seen as an analogy. Anyone can do good works. But only those who believe God–who have faith in Him–can do what Abraham and Rahab did, and that’s the faith that I believe James is calling us to. Just a thought. I’ve learned so much from your teachings, Bruxy. Thank you!

  3. James 2:15-16 is an analogy to faith not an example of it, based on the transitional phrase “in the same way” (vs. 17, NIV). James 1:11 has the same construction.

    James’ examples of “deeds” that require faith are what Abraham and Rahab did. Although scriptures elsewhere encourage believers to do “good deeds,” even atheists can do them.

  4. Thanks for your excellent posting.

    Lewis believed with the whole NT that mercy was surer than justice every time. He had read and understood in the classic way the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats [Mt. 25:31 ff.]. Please see this paper, which I sometimes title for fun ‘the UNICEF Christ vs. Auntie Cornelia’:

    He most certainly did NOT believe EITHER that all are saved automatically, OR that any are saved by parroting some few evangelical phrases.

  5. I have read several articles about this story of Emeth, and in yours I found the first reference to C.S. Lewis’ quote from Mere Christianity. Thank you for including that one here. Another article included the Lewis quote (unreferenced) where he referred to the Narnia books as supposal and not actual. Thought that was clever of Lewis and helpful. For me, a Jesus follower for over 30 years, I can’t help but feel the Holy Spirit in me leap with joy when I read the story of Emeth, which I just shared with my oldest son a couple of days ago. If anything, it isn’t something that reduces the zeal of our evangelism but encourages it with the hope that Jesus gave in John 10:16: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” We have brothers and sisters out there just waiting to meet us! A very rallying thought for me.

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