What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves. They could be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. The reason why it can never succeed is this. God designed the human machine to run on himself. God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
Now what was the sort of ‘hole’ man had got himself into? He had tried to set up on his own, to behave as if he belonged to himself. In other words, fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down our arms, surrendering is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender—this movement full steam astern—is called repentance. Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something that God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen.
Now the whole offer that Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also will be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has—by what I call ‘good infection’. Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.
We were considering the Christian idea of ‘putting on Christ’, or first ‘dressing up’ as a son of God in order that you might finally become a real son. What I want to make clear is that this is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.
The Christian way is hard and easy. Christ says ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own will shall become yours.’ You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says ‘Take up your cross—in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute He says, ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ He means both.
The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and our heart go their own way—centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do.
That is why the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because we are letting Him work at the right part of us. When He said, ‘Be perfect’, He meant it. He meant that we should go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact it is impossible. May I come back to what I said before? This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became man for no other purpose.
That is why He warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. ‘Make no mistake,’ He says, ‘If you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. He meant what He said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect—perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty and immortality. The change will not be complete in this life, for death is an important part of the treatment.
The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Give up yourself, and you will find your true self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
C S Lewis (1898–1963) was one of the literary masters of the 20th Century. He was an atheist who later fell in love with Jesus Christ. One of his most read books is Mere Christianity. And one of the main themes of this book is ‘Repenting’. All the above quotes are from this book and on this theme.
The church generally through many centuries has deliberately ignored the need to repent as being far too difficult for both church leaders and people. It is what Bonhoeffer termed ‘cheap grace’—forgiveness without repenting. It is not possible.