Mere Christianity, Book Two, Chapter 4: “The Perfect Penitent”

Mere Christianity Leaders’ notes:

  • Either Jesus was and is who he claimed to be, or he’s “a lunatic, or something worse.”
  • Lewis and I accept him for who he claimed to be, God. God has landed on this enemy-occupied world in human form.”
  • So, what do we make of this? What did he come to do?
    • To teach — well, yes, but what else?
    • There’s the death and resurrection. This is the core of Christianity!
  • Don’t get confused about the theories about what Jesus did and how it works. Christianity is not the theories. Christianity is the person of Jesus, his claims, suffering, death and resurrection, not the theories.
  • One typical theory is that God wanted to punish men for choosing evil.
    • This theory falls short.
    • If God wanted to forgive us, he could simply have forgiven us.
    • So… this theory “lacks explanatory power.”
  • The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.
    • Theories about how it works are something else, and are not the thing itself.
    • Although there are many Christian theories on how it works, Christians universally agree that it does work.
    • Illustration: eating food works whether you have a theory as to how food replenishes the body or not.
    • “no explanation will even be quite adequate to the reality.”
    • We believe that the death of Christ is just that point in history at which something absolutely unimaginable from the outside shows through into our own world. And if we cannot picture even the atoms of which our own world is built, of course we are not going to be able to picture this. Indeed, if we found that we could fully understand it, that very fact would show it was not what it professes to be — the inconceivable, the uncreated, the thing from beyond nature, striking down into nature like lightning. You may ask what good it will be to us if we do not understand it. But that is easily answered. A man may eat his dinner without understanding exactly how food nourishes him. A man can accept Christ without knowing how it works: indeed, he certainly would not know how it works until he has accepted it.”

    • We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed away our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.

    • Any theories we have about how Christ’s death accomplished this are “quite secondary.”
  • “If you think of debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not.”
    • 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 a “hole.” This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance…. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here’s the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person – and he would not need it.

    • 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 of 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.

  • So… we have to go through with it….
    • We cannot do it on our own. The “same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it.”
    • God can help us.
    • He puts “a bit of Himself” into us. “He lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another.”
  • So… we need God’s help doing something he has no experience with…
    • He cannot surrender
    • He cannot suffer
    • He cannot submit
    • He cannot die
    • “Nothing in God’s nature corresponds to this process at all.”
  • So, God becomes a man!
    • that person could help us!
    • He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence: but we cannot share God’s dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.

  • Some will complain that it was easy for Jesus because he was God
    • The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Two, Chapter 5: “The Practical Conclusion” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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