C.S. Lewis on resisting temptation

July 17, 2014

350_C.S.Lewis.348A clergy friend on Facebook yesterday linked approvingly to this article on the United Methodist Reporter website (an independent Methodist news service, I’m relieved to report), whose author is saying, in so many words, “Can’t we just stop arguing about sex and get on with doing the Lord’s work?” I wanted to say, “As if!” As if one thing isn’t related to the other! As if failing to be faithful in our sex lives won’t have negative repercussions in other areas of our lives and ministries!

Or maybe I’m “debating trifles,” as the author says. Maybe I’m a “sex-obsessed moral scold.”

Good grief! At least the writer isn’t Methodist—he’s an Episcopal priest.

No matter where we stand in relation to our church’s doctrine on human sexuality, can’t we at least agree that sin is a very big deal? Whatever sin is, it’s something that we need to resist first of all, and something which—for the sake of our souls—we need to confess to and repent of when we fall into it.

So long as we have life and breath, we know there’s grace and mercy available for us. But making sure that we understand what sin is is never a trifling matter!

All that to say, I love this excerpt from C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity, which was included in the C.S. Lewis Bible in relation to Paul’s words about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6:10-18. He’s encouraging us to work hard to practice the Christian virtues, what we Methodists like to call the “means of grace.”

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He as the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.[†]

C.S. Lewis in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1339.

4 Responses to “C.S. Lewis on resisting temptation”

  1. Amy B Says:

    The casual reader of this blog could be forgiven for concluding that you are indeed a little obsessed with homosexuality! Count how many posts you have done on homosexuality and compare with how many you have done on the Christian response to global climate change.

    • brentwhite Says:

      The Christian response to global climate change isn’t the issue that’s currently dividing the United Methodist Church. At the very least, since I’m employed by this church, I hope you can appreciate that I have a vested interest. Besides, there are more than a few United Methodist bloggers on the other side of the issue who are equally obsessed. Will you go to their blogs and complain that they’re not talking about global climate change?

      If you pay close attention to the context in which I address the issue, I’m almost always talking to or complaining about fellow clergy who, like me, said that they agreed with our church’s doctrine. Most of us were specifically asked questions about this very issue. I answered truthfully, so at least give me credit for having integrity.

      What’s with the hostile tone? That’s what bothers me about your recent comments, Amy. I know we disagree on this issue. I believe I do so for principled reasons. So I have my principles; you have yours. Why is that not O.K.?

      Surely you can’t dislike everyone who disagrees with you on this issue, right? Because that’s nearly half the American population—including, I suspect, many beloved family members and maybe a few a friends.

  2. Amy B Says:

    You are reading a hostile tone here. And your last paragraph, oy. I don’t dislike you.

    It was a sincere question. I have done tag word searches because I was interested in your preaching and leadership on the issue. You are referring to a blog post that asks the question “Can’t we stop talking about sex and get on with doing God’s work?” That question really resonates with me.

    Of course I am not going to the other bloggers’ pages! I am not the Methodist preacher blog police. I know you, I am interested in (and yes, lately bummed out by) your thinking. You have become my inside informant! Perhaps *I* also have an unhealthy obsession: with your evangelical rebirth. Hmmm.

    Your first sentence sort of makes Ehrich’s point: you are obsessed with what divides your church. Fixated on your judgment of your fellow preachers’ dishonesty. What if that energy were directed instead at rousing your church and your readers to be true stewards of the earth and get radicalized on global climate change? Or maybe you actually do that (I’m not being sarcastic) and it just doesn’t make it onto the blog. If so, why not? I can also believe that perhaps your blog is not a good representation of your day-to-day life, work, and preaching. Maybe it really is a place to indulge in certain theological obsessions.


    “Now therefore, be it resolved, that as a global church community, we call on our members to reduce human-related outputs of greenhouse gases;

    Be it further resolved, that members should make an effort to learn about human production and release of greenhouse gases and evaluate their own lifestyles to identify areas where reductions in production and release of greenhouse gases can be made. There are many informative resources for learning how one can reduce his/her greenhouse-gas impact;

    Be it further resolved, that members should also work to make their own congregations more aware of the issue of global warming and create policies and practices which reduce greenhouse gas emissions from congregational infrastructure (church buildings, parsonages, vehicles, etc.);

    Be it further resolved, that members call on the nations of the world to require reductions in greenhouse emissions using the most efficient and cost-effective mechanisms;

    Finally, be it resolved, that members should also attempt to educate others outside their church communities on the need to take action on this issue.”

    • brentwhite Says:

      I was asking about other bloggers rhetorically. You know as well as I do that our culture is “obsessed” (if you want to call it that) with all things LGBT right now. Right? I’m not having to look very hard to find blog posts, Facebook links, and news stories related to this issue. Like most Christian bloggers who blog regularly, I respond to things happening in our culture—but especially those aspects of culture that intersect with Christian faith.

      Back around ’09 or ’10, I was spending a disproportionate amount of blog space writing about issues pertaining to science, faith, and New Atheism. You might have asked me back then why I was so obsessed with that. Hitchens, Dawkins, Dennett, and those guys aren’t nearly as popular now.

      But it’s not only that: I’ve changed too, as I’ve said. When I graduated from seminary, I believe I was deeply wrong on God’s Word. Getting scripture right on sex—which Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount was concerned that we get right—could hardly be more important. As I said, the extent to which we’re faithful to Jesus sexually has a direct bearing on everything else we do.

      By all means, we’re unfaithful to the Lord in a whole host of other ways, sexually and otherwise. But no one in my church is currently arguing over whether adultery, for example, is a sin. Or greed—even as it manifests itself in poor stewardship of God’s creation.

      I don’t expect you to “agree.” I’m just explaining where I’m coming from.

      So for me it’s a question of spiritual triage. Even the resolution you cite about global warming doesn’t have the force of church doctrine. One thing is not like the other. It’s not that other issues aren’t also important but this is far more urgent.

      I strongly disagree with the author of the blog post I link to that sex isn’t a first-order concern.

      But of course he would believe that! He’s an Episcopalian! If I asked all those former Episcopalians who left the Episcopal Church to create the North American Anglican Church what they believed about sex, they would agree with me!

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