Mere Christianity | Book III, Chapter 12

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book III | Christian Behavior
Chapter 12 | “Faith” [Part Two]

Question: What does Lewis want his readers to “notice carefully” in this chapter?

Answer: “If this chapter means nothing to you” or if it is answering questions you don’t have, then “drop it at once.”

Q: Why does Lewis include this notice?

A: There are things in Christian writings that those who do not believe can understand, but there are many things that can only be understood once you’ve been on the Christian path for a while. “They are directions for dealing with particular cross-roads and obstacles on the journey and they do not make sense until a man has reached those places.” Lewis says when you come across a writing like that not to worry about it. “There will come a day, perhaps years later, when you suddenly see what it meant.”

The problem for Lewis is that this could describe him in this chapter. He could be trying to explain something which is out in front of him.

Q: What does Lewis want to write about in this chapter?

A: This chapter is a continuation of the previous chapter and the subject of faith in the second and higher sense: when you try your best to practice Christianity and find yourself failing and offering to God only what already belongs to him, then you discover you are spiritually bankrupt.

Q: What is the thing that God cares about?

A: Lewis says it “is not exactly our actions.” God is looking for “creatures of a certain kind or quality—the kind of creatures He intended us to be—creatures related to Himself in a certain way.” The beauty of this is that these sorts of people will also relate to others in a certain way “just as if all the spokes of a wheel are fitted rightly into the hub and the rim they are bound to be in the right positions to one another.”

As long as God is a kind of teacher who has given us an assignment to do or Someone we are bargaining with, we are “not yet in the right relation to Him” and misunderstand who we are and who God is. We need to understand “the fact of our bankruptcy.”

Q: What does it mean to “really discover” our spiritual bankruptcy?

A: “We have nothing to offer to God that is not already His own” and we are “failing to offer even that without keeping something back” is not something we merely say like parrots. We must “discover our failure to keep God’s law . . . by trying our very hardest (and then failing).”

All at once “the road back to God is a road of moral effort, of trying harder and harder” while at the same time “it is not trying” and turning to God and saying, “You must do this. I can’t.”

Q: Why does Lewis beg us not to ask ourselves, “Have I reached that moment”?

A: Often “the most important things in our life happen” when we “do not know, at the moment, what is going on.” We can’t say in the moment that we are growing up, we can only look back to see that we’ve grown up. This change may come in an instant or over time, but what is important is the change and not “how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.”

Q: What does it mean to “leave it to God”?

A: It means to put all our trust in Christ. The person who does that “trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies.” We share “sonship” with Jesus and we become children of God. All of this “everything” we receive “for nothing,” which Lewis calls a “very remarkable offer.”

Q: What is so difficult about this?

A: It is coming to the place “of recognizing that all we have done and can do is nothing,” when what we want is “for God to count our good points and ignore our bad ones.” To “stop trying” in this way does not mean we stop trying to deal with our temptations. Trust and obedience go hand in hand. You can really say you trust someone if you don’t take their advice. To trust God means to obey Him, “but in a new way, a less worried way.” Not doing things “to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

Q: How does Lewis answer the question of whether is it “good actions” or “faith in Christ” that leads us home to heaven?

A: Lewis says he has “no right really to speak on such a difficult question” that Christians have often argued over, but he does offer the analogy of “asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.” It takes a serious moral effort to realize we have to give up and trust Christ, which saves us. But then “out of that faith in Him good actions must inevitably come.”

Q: What two parodies of this truth have Christians accused each other of believing?

A: Parody Number One: “Good actions are all that matters.” Since giving is “the best good action,” gives us your money “and we will see you through.” Lewis calls this “nonsense,” because if the idea is that you can buy Heaven, then the action of donating money isn’t good, “but only commercial speculations.”

Parody Number Two: “Faith is all that matters. Consequently, if you have faith, it doesn’t matter what you do.” You can sin all you want “and Christ will see that it makes no difference in the end.” Lewis also addresses “that nonsense” with the challenge “that, if what you call your ‘faith’ in Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not faith at all—not faith or trust in Him, but only intellectual acceptance of some theory about Him.”

Q: What “amazing sentence” from the Bible puts all of this together?

A: It’s Philippians 2:12–13, which begins, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” which makes it sound like “everything depended on us and our good actions.” But the second half says, “for it is God who works in you,” which sounds like God does it all and we do nothing. Lewis says, “I am afraid that is the sort of thing we come up against in Christianity.” You can’t exactly separate “what exactly God does and what man does when God and man are working together.” The bottom line is that “those who insist most strongly on the importance of good actions tell you you need faith; and even those who insist most strongly on faith tell you to do good actions.”

Q: With what does Lewis say “all Christians would agree with me”?

A: The idea “that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond.” Goodness has a “source from which it comes,” which we cannot see from our world.






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