A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“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 your arms surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor—that is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender—this movement full speed astern—is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder that merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. (p. 56-7).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

This makes repentance sounds like a great deal more than saying, “I’m sorry.” Lewis makes my average attempt at repentance sound junior varsity at best. Most of my repentance stops at an acknowledgement of wrong and an expression of remorse. According to Lewis, I am stopping at the beginning.

In addition to acknowledgement and remorse, I should be:

  • Confessing a heart that wants to be independent of God
  • Recognizing each sin reveals that my heart is pointed in the wrong direction
  • Unlearning a way of life designed to please me first
  • Re-training my mind, will, and affections to value God most
  • Experiencing a form of death to my “old self”

That is what I should do each time I am impatient with my children, neglect the care of my wife, or allow my emotions (i.e., anger, fear, depression, hope, etc…) to be unduly tied to temporal things. Each occurrence of sin is a time when I should remember who I am as a fallen creature with a bent to resist my Creator.

As I think abut it, I should add another sin to the list – repenting in a way that treats my sin as a trivial offense. I so agree with my sin that I respond to God as if He should see it my way. I so buy into the lies that made my sin seem “second nature” that I almost believe God is sorry He has to call me on my sin. I repent as if He and I both “know” that He meant that rule for someone else not in my situation.

I am not sure how else I could explain “casual repentance.” As I just write this phrase, it seems like a glaring contradiction. Yet when I do it, “casual repentance” seems so natural. I think this must be what Lewis is referring to the “self-conceit and self-will” that humanity has been perfecting (in the worse sense of the word) for thousands of years.

This reminds me how much I need God. I would not even repent right apart from His grace and His Word transforming my heart and my mind. I am also struck by how much this must impact my human relationship (even more than I see). If I am willing to “casually repent” to the Holy God, how much more guilty must I be with my friends and family? After all, in those cases I can fall back on, “I’m not the only one at fault here.”  All of this to say, I think we (very much including me) need to take repentance a bit more seriously.