Mere Christianity | Book II, Chapter 5

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book II | What Christians Believe
Chapter 5 | “The Practical Conclusion”

Question: What did Jesus do for us?

Answer: Jesus went through a perfect surrender and humiliation. It was “perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because He was man.” His death gives us new life and puts new life into us.

Q. How is the new life of Jesus spread through us?

A. Baptism, belief, and the Lord’s Table. These are the ordinary means, though there may “be special cases where it is spread without one or more of these.”

(Note: I grew up in a part of the Christian church that was one of these special cases. The Salvation Army emphasizes belief and does not practice either baptism or the Lord’s Table. That’s a long story, but early leaders in the movement stressed an inner experience over an outward expression. Nancy and I both decided to be baptized on an Easter Sunday night when we were working at a Nazarene Church in Southern California.)

We exist not because we chose to, but because a man and a woman gave us life. This was a process God created. God also created a process where we receive new life. Lewis is not sure “why these things should be the conductors of the new kind of life,” but in the same way he would not have made a “connection between a particular physical pleasure and the appearance of a new human being in the world . . . We have to take reality as it comes to us.”

Q. How did Lewis come to understand that new life would come to us through these means?

A. Jesus is his authority. Lewis cautions that in the same way that we have to keep up the life that we were given by our parents, we are to “make efforts” to keep the life Jesus has given to us.

Q. How do we do this?

A. Lewis speaks of the healing process that includes repentance. “A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”

Q. How is a Christian different from a person who is “trying to be good”?

A. The person trying to be good hopes “to please God if there is one” and/or at least make a good impression on other people. In contrast, “the Christian thinks any good he does comes from the Christlife inside him. He does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us; just as the roof of a greenhouse does not attract the sun because it is bright, but becomes bright because the sun shines on it.”

The life of Jesus in us is not “simply something mental or moral,” but “that Christ is actually operating through them.” And so Christians “are the physical organism through which Christ acts.”

Q. How does this relate to baptism and communion?

A. This is an explanation for “why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion.” We are both physical and spiritual creatures. God uses physical elements “like bread and wine to put the new life into us.”

Q. What about those who do not believe?

A. Lewis reminds us that “no man can be saved except through Christ,” and that if you are worried about those who are “outside,” then the important thing is to be on the inside. “Christians are Christ’s body, the organism through which He works. Every addition to that body enables Him to do more. If you want to help those outside you must add your own little cell to the body of Christ who alone can help them.”

Q. How does Lewis respond to those who ask, “Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it?”

A. Christians believe He will invade. But they don’t know when. In the meantime, God is interested in giving people the opportunity “of joining His side freely.” Lewis wonders if people really understand what it means when God does finally invade. “When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.” The appearance of God “will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.” It will be too late for choosing.

And so Lewis pleads, “Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

Lewis hasn’t been quoting Scripture, but he’s certainly alluding to it. As Paul says, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)






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