C.S. Lewis on Authentic Discipleship - page 4

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That is why He warned people to “count the cost” before becoming Christians. “Make no mistake,” He says, “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. You have the 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. 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 without reservation 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.”10

That this was the ultimate purpose God had in mind for the sending of his Son, Lewis believed, and it accordingly obligated every believer to do what he or she could to assist others in the way of Christlikeness. He had, himself, a well-developed sense and awareness that the New Covenant mandate to make disciples had a particular claim upon his own life and career. I do not believe I need to take time here to demonstrate Lewis’s lifetime commitment to helping make disciples. One need only look at the enormous number of letters he wrote in answer to people’s requests for doctrinal clarification or spiritual direction, or the seemingly endless list of articles, essays, and books he wrote for the same purpose. What is perhaps worth observing is that Lewis was keenly aware that he had received the best education the British university system could offer, that he held an academic post at arguably the most significantly placed English university of his day, that he was highly skilled in the art of argumentation and possessed unusual literary gifts, and he was under orders to bring these things into the service of Christ and his church, at whatever cost to himself.11

What I hope is now quite evident is that Lewis possessed a remarkably, perhaps for some alarmingly, robust sense of what it means to be a disciple: robust in its awareness of its costliness in its temporal aspect and gloriously robust in its awareness of its ultimate fulfillment in the eternal state. Nowhere did Lewis give expression to both these aspects as concisely as in the concluding paragraph of Mere Christianity.
But there must be a real giving up of the self… The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Notes
1. Although Lewis seldom used the words disciple or discipleship, the biblical idea was present when speaking of the believer’s call to a holy life.
2. C.S. Lewis, Collected Letters, ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 3:39. In this context the word whoreson may be understood to mean wretched or hateful.
3. C.S. Lewis, “A Slip of the Tongue,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Simon & Schuster, Touchstone, 1996), 137ff.
4. Ibid., 138.
5. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1984), 171, 172.
6. G.K. Chesterton, “The Unfinished Temple,” in What’s Wrong with the World, Collected Works (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 4:61.
7. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 231–32.
8. Ibid., 232.
9. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 152–55.
10. Ibid., 158.
11. For a treatment of Lewis’s sense of stewardship of his gift and academic position and the particular cost to his own life of discipleship, see my chapter, “Bearing the Weight of Glory: The Cost of C.S. Lewis’s Witness,” in The Pilgrim’s Guide: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, ed. David Mills (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 3–14.


Christopher W. Mitchell, Ph.D. is Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and holds the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought, at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. Mitchell serves as Book Review Editor for Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review, a journal published annually by the Wade Center on its seven authors. Mitchell received his M.A. from Wheaton College, and a Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He and his wife Julie live in Wheaton, and have four children and two grandchildren.

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