Sunday, February 26, 2012

C.S. Lewis on Repentance

"Repentance is no fun at all," observes Lewis (Mere Christianity). Amen. It's like praying the third petition of the Lord's Prayer - Thy will be done.  Every time you pray it you're praying against yourself. Repentance works the same way. "Killing a part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death," says Lewis. This is what Luther calls the daily drowning of your old Adam in your Baptism. Although the cross of Christ is the most important one during Lent, he also places his cross on those who follow him. We need to hear Nathan's pronouncement: "You are the man." Fun? No, not really. But that's what we need. It's a bit like cleaning your house or your garage. It's no fun. No one really wants to do it; but once it's done you're glad you did it. It's cathartic. Confession and Absolution (among the other means of grace) is the workshop of the Holy Spirit. Through repentance and forgiveness of sins you are cleansed - not every spring when the dust gathers - but daily. Confession and Absolution...the catharsis of the Holy Spirit.

Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power - it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. When you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about. They offer an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it. They offer an explanation of how God can be this Person. They tell you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on our behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God. (Mere Christianity, Book I, ch. 5)

That is what causes angels in heaven to rejoice: sinners being brought to repentance. And yet repentance is never alone, something Luke and Acts consistently professes: repentance and the forgiveness of sins (also Mark 1..."repent and believe the Gospel!). They go together. The former leads to the latter. And you can't have one without the other. Just as you can't have Ash Wednesday without Good Friday and Easter Sunday...or Christ's death without the resurrection. In Christ we are brought back from the dead - that's why Confession is nothing but a return to our Baptism. Thus, in repentance...
He puts a little of His own love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms letters because you are forming them, We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hands while we do it. (Mere Christianity, Book II, ch. 4)

For as much as you need repentance, you need forgiveness even more. This is God's love for you in Lent (and all year round). God's love in working repentance in you. God's love for you all the more in the forgiveness of sins. Oh wondrous Love, what have you done! The Father offers up His Son (Paul Gerhardt, LSB 438). Just like Lent, through repentance and forgiveness - Confession and Absolution - Christ brings us through death to life by His own life and death and resurrection. And as much as the angels in heaven delight in repentant sinners, how much more then, does our heavenly Father rejoice in welcoming forgiven sinners back into his arms. For it was the delight and joy of the Son to reconcile the world to the Father through his blood shed on the cross. Yes, there is joy in heaven over repentance but there is even greater joy in the forgiveness of sins. 

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