A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“[Pride] is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride. (p. 125).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
I think this quote boils down to trying to understand with what’s so wrong with thinking that sin is “beneath me”? If someone is “pro-pride,” they probably aren’t reading this reflection. Few people have a problem with acknowledging that Satan would love to see us lay down a less destruction sin for a more destructive one.
So the point that makes this quote uncomfortable is that Lewis depicts it as Satan’s ultimate setup to get me to view sin as “beneath me.” I find myself internally torn on this one. My gut doesn’t automatically go where Lewis goes, but I agree with the point he’s making. I have given myself the “you’re better than that” pep talk to avoid sin.
As I wrestle with Lewis’ warning about pride, I realize there is a better pep talk to give (and receive). It is the “that is not who you are” talk. The first pep talk was focused on rank and status – better than. The latter is based on identity.
The difference, as I think Lewis would affirm, is that Jesus did not come to make much of me (rank and status) but to reside in me and adopt me (change my identity and name). When I get this I realize sin is not “beneath me” it is “outside of me.” I was born “in sin” and now I am “in Christ.”
The reason that sin is resisted has less to do with my dignity and everything to do with His. If I begin to think about my dignity, Satan has half the battle won. I am comparing sin to me. Sin does not appear nearly as sinful when I compare it with my nature.
The more I marvel at my nature, the dingier my nature becomes and the less I am looking to Christ as my righteousness. Disdain for every sin that is not actively relying upon Christ is the epitome of being a Pharisee—loving the laws that make me look good, because they make me look good and give me status.
If I were to summarize Lewis’s point and application, it would be: If Satan cannot get us to love self by sinning, then he is content to get us to love self by feeling superior to sin. God calls us to find life by denying self and, thereby, experiencing the freedom God intended.
An example might be helpful. Lewis says we can overcome cowardice by pride and this would be a bad thing. The problem would be that you would have to convince yourself you are “above” what you fear. If you fear rejection, then “it wouldn’t matter what people say.” This has the strong potential of giving us deaf ears to important messages of critique.
However, if what people say matters but does not define who I am, then I can be steadfast without the deafening influence of pride. I could face my fear as real, learning from my fear and the words of critique, without having to condemn myself or those who raise questions. That is the freedom of humility.