Mere Christianity – Book IV – Chapter 9 (“Counting The Cost”)



Picking back up my notes for C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”…

1. “Be ye perfect” does not mean that God isn’t going to help us until we get our act together

“Some people seem to think this means ‘Unless you are perfect, I will not help you’; and as we cannot be perfect…our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less'”

(a) Jack wouldn’t go to his mother with a toothache because he knew he’d get something else in addition to the relief from immediate pain…

(i) He’d wait until the pain got really bad

“When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother – at least, not till the pain became very bad…”

(ii) …because he knew he’d also get a trip to the dentist…

“I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want…”

(iii) …and the dentist wouldn’t restrict himself just to that tooth…

And I knew those dentists; I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache… if you gave them an inch they took an ell”

(b) God is like a dentist

“Our Lord is like the dentists. If you give Him an inch, He will take an ell. Dozens of people go to Him to be cured of some one particular sin which they are ashamed of (like masturbation or physical cowardice) or which is obviously spoiling daily life (like bad temper or drunkenness). Well, He will cure it all right: but He will not stop there. That may be all you asked; but if once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment”

2. In the end, Jesus will accept nothing less than perfection

(a) Jesus warned his listeners about following Him…

(i) He will make you nothing less than perfect

“That is why [Jesus] warned people to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians… “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…”

(ii) He may reject Him at any point

“…You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through”

(iii) But if you let Him, He will transform you into another son

“…Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect – until my Father can say…that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.'”

(b) God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy

(i) God is greatly pleased with our first clumsy steps…

“…this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty”

(ii) …but is not satisfied if we go no further

“As…George MacDonald…pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy'”

(c) This should give us encouragement and pause for thought

(i) Setbacks are expected…

“On the one hand, God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection”

(ii) …but the goal has been set

“On the other hand, you must realise from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal”

3. If we don’t realize the goal, things will go awry…

(a) We will start resisting

“That is what you are in for. And it is very important to realise that. If we do not, then we are very likely to start pulling back and resisting Him after a certain point…. when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not out it into words) that we are now good enough”

(b) …but this is the fatal mistake

(i) He is the Creator, we are the creation

“…the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us… He is the painter, we are only the picture”

(ii) We have already passed through a transformation when we grew in our mothers’ wombs and were born

“Long ago, before we were born, when we were inside our mothers’ bodies, we passed through various stages. We were once rather like vegetables, and once rather like fish; it was only at a later stage that we became like human babies. And if we had been conscious at those earlier stages, I daresay we should have been quite contented to stay as vegetables or fish – should not have wanted to be made into babies. But all the time He knew His plan for us and was determined to carry it out”

(iii) Likewise, He wants to take us through another transformation

“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 or megalomania; it is obedience”

4. We can’t do this by ourselves, but it requires that we give ourselves

“On the one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next twenty-four hours as “decent” people… On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded of the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end”

4. This will continue in death

“The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death”

5. Suffering has an important role to play in this

(i) The new Christian might think that things should remain easy…

“When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well…, he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, 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?”

(ii) …however, suffering and pain push us forward

“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”

(iii) We struggle with this because we lose sight of what He intends to transform us into…

“It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us”

6. God has far greater plans for us than we have for ourselves

(a) He intends to make us into a home/palace/temple fit for Himself

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing…. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of… You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself”

(b) This is Christianity

If we let Him… He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.

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