The Paradox of Being Bad – Lessons with CS Lewis

Perhaps one of the most defeating tasks of the Christian life is the attempt to live up to it. One of the first exams anyone must past in order to be a Christian, is an acknowledgement that whatever the standard that I as a human being am to live up to, I’m certainly not reaching it. After a person becomes a Christian, the very process of sanctification—becoming who we ought to be, in Christ—is a constant chafing from exposure to everyday life. We find ourselves groveling back to God after each failure, wondering when we’ll ever reach invulnerability from the restless seductions of whatever sin we currently find ourselves in.

I can vouch personally: it seems to be that the harder I try, the harder I fall. Often, regardless of how much I pray for the removal of some thorn in the flesh or cup of self-inflicted sorrow that swims with my most current failures and weaknesses–the thorn and cup remain. In fact it often seems that the harder you try, the more aware of personal deficiencies you become:

“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.”[1]

CS Lewis provides a lot of insight into the internal paradox of sanctification. It would seem natural that the closer a person gets to God, the deeper the realization of personal depravity. If God is light[2], then our appearance out of the darkness and into that light would certainly expose the ugly bits of who we are. Therefore, the closer you draw near to God, the more you begin to understand your unworthiness. The paradox lies in that fact that this exposure is agonizing, yet comforting.

At this point, we remember the gospel. God’s love for us, and his acceptance of us in Christ, are both boundless in quantity. We cannot fake a Christian life. Many people try, and it can only lead to disaster. God calls us to draw near to him as a father, and to rest in the work of Christ even in the wake of our worst failures. We are called to live up to a standard, but that standard only begins to be actualized once the darkest corners of our heart are exposed by the light of Christ. The standard acts as a mirror: when God is close, the room is illuminated, and the reflection we see in that mirror is frightening because we begin to see the state of our condition. But the mirror does not clean us up—no standard is capable—it simply shows us who we are. It is only Christ who can clean us up.[3] He invites us to rest in him.

In the midst of your struggles and failures, rest in the work that Christ has done for you.

[1] C. S. Lewis and Kathleen Norris, Mere Christianity, Revised & Enlarged edition (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001), 57.

[2] John 1:5

[3] Isa. 1:18


One thought on “The Paradox of Being Bad – Lessons with CS Lewis

  1. I like the C.S. Lewis quote. To draw close to the light means to see who we are more clearly. When I think of the most lost time of my life I would have said I was a believer and walking with Jesus. I couldn’t see past my own darkness. After knowing Christ, I can see more clearly into my current depravity.


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