A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death is not something 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 (p. 57).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
That last line, “asking Him to let you go back without going back,” sounds so much like us. How often do we try to apologize without acknowledging wrong or personal responsibility?
- I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt.
- I’m sorry if you took what I said in an offensive way.
- I shouldn’t have acted that way, but you were being so unreasonable.
- Maybe I over-reacted, but I’m only human.
We want conscience relief without moral responsibility. We want forgiveness without ever having to be guilty. We want heaven without really needing Jesus.
As C.S. Lewis concisely summarizes, “It cannot happen.”
All of this reminds us again that repentance is more than remorse. Repentance is the beginning of the end – the end of our pride, the end of justifying our sin, the end of self-reliance. At heart, we are all good addicts. We see this in the moment of conviction, but quickly convince ourselves it is not the case as soon as the crisis of our sin is over.
Lewis is staging an intervention. In a moment of non-crisis he is pointing out how wrong and self-contradictory our thinking really is. Only our fellow sin-addicted friends would even consider telling us we’re right.
The question of repentance becomes, “What do you want more: to return to God or to move forward in your sin?” There is no middle ground. We spend a lifetime trying to say this simple question is “really more complicated than that.”
But its not complicated; its just difficult. The choice is clear – die to self and live for God It’s the execution that is challenging, because repentance is a way of life not an event. This is not a one time slice of humble pie. It’s a lifestyle as a “humilitarian” (that’s a hybrid word from vegetarian and humility).
As Christians, we propose a life lived exclusively on a diet of humility. We say that it is the prescription for mental, relational, and spiritual health. We propose that diet with any amount of pride, defensiveness, or self-justification is toxic.
This is why we need Christ. We know what is healthy and can advocate it with passion for others. But we want to “go back without going back” until we are completely won over by the One who experienced the real death of which repentance only reminds us. That is what shakes us from our prideful stupor and makes it clear that what we saw as “going back” was really “going forward” all the time.