There’s a wonderful little book titled The Screwtape Letters that has entertained and enlighted several generations of Christians. Famed author C.S. Lewis wrote it as a series of directives from a senior demon (Screwtape) mentoring a novice (his nephew Wormwood) on how best to derail the budding faith of the young man he’s assigned to, and it wittily illustrates the challenges Lewis experienced during and after his own conversion. In one of the letters, Screwtape offers this advice to Wormwood about tempting the convert: “Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things’. If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all – and more amusing.”
That’s an arresting thought – that for the evil purposes of Satan and his minions a man or woman who isn’t fully committed to Christ is as vulnerable as someone with no belief at all. Surely that must be an exaggeration! How could it be as dangerous to be ‘moderately Christian’ as non-Christian? A hint is found in that last phrase: “and more amusing.” It suggests that half-hearted Christians position themselves to be Satan’s play-things, like the captured mouse toyed with by a cat before it is killed.
But let’s not take a demon’s word for it – they are notorious liars, after all! In Revelation 3:15-16, Christ said this to the Church of Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” When Jesus described the cost of discipleship He said: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39). You can look wherever you like in the Bible, and you’ll find no comfort for those who think that they can find salvation in half-hearted commitment.
But wait! Doesn’t scripture also teach God’s passionate love for us, how He pursues us with His Grace, even when we disappoint Him again and again? Isn’t it Gospel Truth that Christ died to redeem us, despite our inadequacies? Since none of us is humanly capable of loving and serving God as completely as we should, how can our incompleteness be held against us?
But it’s not our incompleteness that Christ warns against (and Satan desires) – it’s the choice to remain incomplete. In one of the wonderful earthy metaphors for which he is famous, C.S. Lewis compared the Christian to an egg, inside which is germinating, through the power of the Spirit, a Christ-like creature. That is God’s goal – to restore us to the beauty and perfection which He created us to be, dazzling in the joyful righteousness which will shine from us like the sun! (Matthew 13:43) But sadly, some do not commit to the full-treatment – they think they can remain eggs forever. As Lewis observes in his most famous work, Mere Christianity (emphasis added):
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
…This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else. … the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
This is the Gospel Truth that Satan wants us to forget. He wants us to be half-baked Christians, content to remain out-of-tune with God’s will. But in our Baptism and through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered with the resources to grow into the true and eternal life for which we were created:
“that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” (Martin Luther’s Small Catechism on Baptism)