Friday, January 10, 2014

Are you using Christ as a paint or a stain?

Mark 14:33  "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple."

I've started my year with a refresher reading of a passage from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity.  The first section of this reading describes the basis from which most of us approach Christianity.  He describes our "natural self", which has its own set of desires and interests.  At some point we recognize something external (call it "morality", "decent behavior", or "the good of society") that is contrary to some of the natural self's desires and interests.  We decide that we should conform to this external construct, and we therefore attempt to give up those desires and interests of our natural selves that are "bad", and continue on with those desires and interests that are "good".  All the while, we are hoping that there is some time and energy left for our natural selves to relax and be ourselves once we are finished (or can at least take a break from) being "good".  He compares this to someone who pays their taxes.  We pay them because it is the morally correct thing to do, but once we have paid them, we want to be left alone with the remainder of our money to do with it what we truly want.

He claims that this pattern inevitably results in one of two states - either we give up trying to be good after some period of time, or else we keep trying and are dreadfully unhappy while doing it.  The unhappiness stems from the ever-decreasing margin left over for the natural self to live according to its own desires and interests.  As he says, "the more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you."  The unhappiness manifests itself in claims that you "live for others", all the while grumbling and discontented, holding yourself out as a martyr.  The result is "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."

Know any Christians who fit this description?

The true Christian life is both harder and easier than what is described above.  Christ relieves us of the burdensome chore of taking our natural selves and pruning and molding those into something else.  He doesn't want to use the natural self as a basis at all.  He promises us a new self - His self as a replacement of our natural self.  This isn't a remodeling job.  It's a tear down and new construction job.  The obvious difficulty for us is to turn over everything - EVERYTHING - about our natural selves to Him and allow Him to replace it.  There is a lot of things about the natural self that, if we are being honest, we kind of like and are comfortable with.  Can't we just hand over the bad things and keep the good things?  Isn't this an easier task?

Lewis argues that handing over the whole self to Christ is far easier than what we try to do in picking and choosing what we hand over and what we keep.  He describes our approach as an attempt to remain "ourselves", to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be "good".  He says this is exactly what Christ warned us NOT to do.  Picking and choosing what we give up and what we keep, and attempting to keep two systems of operation going on inside of us at the same time is exhausting.  Ultimately, one of the two results described earlier occur.  We either give up the effort in sheer exhaustion, or we fight on and become a conflicted, unhappy person no one wants to be around.  He compares us to a field that has grass in it, when we desire it to produce wheat.  We can mow the grass and keep it short, but it will never produce wheat that way.  It must be ploughed up and resown in order to produce something different than what it currently produces.  Lewis also compares Christ in our lives to paint versus stain.  We often try to use Christ as paint, covering up our flaws and producing a shiny exterior while never affecting what lies underneath.  Instead, Christ should be like a stain that soaks into us and changes the very character of what it is applied to.

In reference to us giving all to Christ, he concludes by saying the following:

"God became man for no other purpose.  It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.  It says in the Bible that the whole universe was made for Christ and that everything is to be gathered together in Him."

Are you using Christ as a paint, or are you allowing Him to work as a stain?