We have now reached the end of the “Christian Behaviour” section of Mere Christianity, and before we go any further I want to offer a rant on something that I see a lot of in the world of evangelical Protestant-dom: our tendency to believe that superior moral living is what distinguishes us from the rest of the world.
We believe that the most powerful and profound evidence of our Christianity is changed lives, and the most profound evidence of change in our lives is our ability to live at a superior moral level. Now it is true that when we become Christians our priorities shift; certain things that were important to us before, such as money, sex, prestige, status, career, etc. become less important while other things, such as seeking to honor God in all that we do and to give ourselves away for the benefit of others, become more important.
But what I’m talking about is this idea that Christians are more faithful to the commands of God. Christians don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, don’t get divorced or cheat on their spouses, don’t cheat in business, and that is how we differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world. It’s not true. There are numerous statistical surveys which show that the divorce rate among Christians is identical to the divorce rate for the rest of the culture. And the same is true for other vices of choice.
But even if it were true that Christians were different from the rest of the world in these areas, would it make any difference? I don’t think so. Trying to force our standards of morality on the rest of the world is not a good idea, especially if we don’t keep those standards ourselves. Because Christianity is not about going on the moral campaign trail to tell the rest of the world how to be good–as if the fundamental thing which separates us from God is the fact that we are not good.
If moral superiority were the criterion that we were to use in determining the truth or falsehood of a religious system, then Islam and Mormonism would have Christianity beat hands down. Both are intensely moral religions, and both have followers who live intensely moral lives which would put many of us Christians to shame. And yet where does that get them? Islam and Mormonism are both significantly at odds with Christian belief on many critical points, and the Christian is obliged to believe that when Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong.
The problem is not that we are bad people, the problem is that we are dead people. People who have fallen out of the life which God possesses, and are thus dead spiritually. Because of this, we have no capacity whatsoever to reconnect ourselves to God through any effort of our own. No amount of being good or practicing the Christian virtues is going to bring us back to life spiritually; that depends entirely upon God’s willingness to make a way for us to return to Him. And He has done so, through Jesus Christ.
This is exactly the point which Lewis makes in the closing chapter of the Christian Behaviour section. Just try and keep the Christian virtues for any sustained length of time, and you will find that you just can’t do it. Inevitably you will reach a place where you must throw up you hands and say to God, “You must do this. I can’t.” Then you place your faith in Christ who has already lived the life of perfect virtue and perfect obedience which we could never have lived on our own.