IV.8 Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

Study Guide for this C.S. Lewis book.
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IV.8 Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

Unread postby musicmonkey » Sun May 01, 2005 10:32 pm

Mere Christianity Book 4 - Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity. Chapter 8 - Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

An attempt to harmonize the hard and easy aspects of the Christian life.

  1. According to C.S. Lewis, what is the whole of Christianity?
  2. What happens to a person (who is not a Christian) when they attempt to obey their conscience completely?
  3. Lewis says the Christian way is both harder and easier than the "give in to conscience" way. Can you explain why? Can you cite some of the bible verses which give support to the way of Christ being harder and easier than life outside of Christ?
  4. The first thing a Christian should do every morning is...

Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ wrote:There are times that the Christian might be tempted to think that living life is easier for unbelievers (Psalm 73:3-5 "They are not in trouble as other men"). In fact, depending upon the unbeliever that one might be looking at, it might even seem that they have less worries, less challenges with their children, and even less temptations.

A higher standard

For many people who are interested in a certain level of moral decency, the goal of being "a decent ordinary chap" is often all they are wanting. In contrast, God has a far different goal for those who follow Christ. C.S. Lewis observes "dozens of people go to Him (Christ) to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of or which is obviously spoiling daily life" (Mere Christianity p. 202). Yet a Christian must be willing to pay the cost of having the full treatment. "For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" (Matthew 5:46). Many people are very content to reach a point in their lives where they get along with their friends and family and would call this success, maturity or personal growth, but Jesus says that it is not a great accomplishment or stretching of oneself at all. He demands, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:45). The same point could be made in many other areas. It is not enough to refrain from committing murder, I am not even allowed to hate (Matthew 5:22). It is not enough to abstain from immoral relationships, I am not even allowed to lust (Matthew 5:28). The reason for this heightened standard is because Jesus expects us to completely conform to the level of purity that is found in God Himself, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48); "Forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32); "We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:15); "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). "We may be content to remain what we call 'ordinary people': but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility: it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit; it is obedience" (Lewis p. 204). You see God calls us "saints" (1 Corinthians 1:2); "a chosen race", "a royal priesthood", "a holy nation", and "a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter 2:9). So instead of saying, "Well, I never expected to be a saint, I just wanted to get a little better handle on my anger", "the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us" (Lewis p. 204).

Why temptation now?

"When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected) he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along—illness, money troubles, and new kinds of temptation—he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level; putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before" (pp. 204-205). We seem to forget that while we might be content to be some little cottage; God wants to build something far greater. We are not little cottages, rather each Christian is to be a magnificent temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Remember Abraham, the greatest testing that he faced was when he was old (Genesis 22). So keep in mind when one is tempted or tested, one did not sign up to become merely a pretty decent person, rather, one signed up to become holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14), and every testing that comes ones way is for the purpose of refining one (1 Peter 1:7) and bringing one more and more in line with the likeness of Christ. "That I may known Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10).

Lighten up?

At times the world will tell the Christian, "Hey, lighten up and relax, stop taking the Bible so seriously!" Now there are many things in life that one can lighten up about and Christians should understand the difference between important things and things that do not matter. Yet, the one area that one cannot lighten up about is imitating Christ. Paul said, "Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). Notice the terms that Paul uses: "One thing I do": He is concentrating on this one goal. "Forgetting what lies behind": We must not allow ourselves to be hindered today by either the failures of the past, or by the success of the past. "Forget those wrongs done whose memory could paralyze one with guilt and despair. Forget, too, those attainments so far achieved as a Christian, the recollection of which might cause one to put life into neutral and to say, 'I have arrived'. He wishes also to express the importance of continuous concentration on the things that are in front" (Hawthorne p. 153). "Reaching forward": "Straining every nerve for that which lies in front'"(TCNT). "The verb used here is very descriptive, and calls to mind the attitude of a runner on the course, who with body bent forward, hand stretched to the fore, and eye fixed on the goal, strains forward with the utmost exertion in pursuit of his purpose" (Muller p. 124). "Live full out now-- unceasingly reach out toward" (Hawthorne p. 153). "Is used of a racer going hard for the tape. It describes the man who is going flat out for the finish" (Barclay p. 66). "I press on toward the goal": He bears down upon and strains to reach the end of the race. Lewis reminds us, "For mere improvement is not redemption, through redemption always improves people even here and now. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man" (p. 216). "He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace" (Ephesians 2:16); "and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (4:24).

Harder or Easier?

There are passages in the Bible that seem to suggest that the Christian life is both harder and easier than the old life. On the one hand the ethical standard is far higher than anything we experienced in the days of our unbelief (Luke 14:26ff), and did not Jesus Himself say that the road to eternal life is narrow and few would find it? (Matthew 7:13-14). Yet, we also find passages which state, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for our souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30); "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Lewis observes, "Teachers will tell you that the laziest boy in the class is the one who works hardest in the end. They mean this. If you give two boys, say, a proposition in geometry to do, the one who is prepared to take trouble will try to understand it. The lazy boy will try to learn it by heart because, for the moment, that needs less effort. But six months later, when they are preparing for an exam, the lazy body is doing hours and hours of miserable drudgery over things the other body understands, and positively enjoys. Laziness means more work in the long run" (Lewis p. 197). In like manner, it may seem like an impossible task to hand over to God our entire selves, all our wishes, all our thoughts, and all our desires, "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33); "Anyone who wishes to come after Me, must deny himself" (Luke 9:23); "So then, none of you can be My disciples who does not give up all his own possessions" (14:33). "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 heart go their own way---centered 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, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it" (Luke 9:24); "and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22); "No one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24)" (pp. 197-198). You see the more we try to hold on to the old man, rather than allowing the old man to be crucified, the more that the old man (who is being starved, hampered and worried) will get angrier and angrier. "In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, 'live for others' but always in a discontented, grumbling way—always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish" (p. 196).

Why temptation seems harder to resist for the Christian

"No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the wind by trying walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil---until we try to fight it" (p. 142). Which means that the "old man" may appear to be very mild mannered until you try to put him to death, and then you will see the real power of selfishness. "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).

The devil's lie - everyone is doing it

In fact, we live in a culture that takes comfort in finding someone else who is committing the same sin we are. Popular politicians or media stars are excused for lying or being immoral on the grounds that "everyone does that". Ann Coulter observed, "People who say 'everybody does it' are announcing nothing more than the implacable fact that they do it. As Edmund Burke said, 'He who accuses all of mankind convicts only one'" (How to talk to a Liberal (if you must), p. 341). She further noted that often people will excuse adultery with the argument that everyone is cheating. Yet the only serious, long-term scientific study in this area reveals that 75 percent of married men and 85 percent of married women have never been unfaithful, and this figure includes couples that were separated or headed toward divorce. "But you can be sure that in any town, the 20 percent of adulterers will know one another. Alcoholics hang around alcoholics, drug addicts hang around drug addicts, and liars hang around liars. Vices of a feather flock together. This is a great tip for figuring out which of your friends are liars and cheats. They are the ones who seem to know a curiously large number of people who lie and cheat" (pp. 341-342). Oscar Wilde said that it is hard enough to resist temptation without also feeling you are the only person on earth being asked to engage in the Herculean task of not committing a sin. Yet we are not the only one being asked (1 Corinthians 10:13). Coulter reminds us that "Satan takes the form of gorgeous actresses, successful politicians, and pop icons cavorting across the gossip columns, subliminally exhorting the reader: 'Be like me! Don't be a prude! This is how the glamorous people live!' Almost every decision you make, however small, will be a step closer to God or a step closer to the devil" (p. 343).

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