One of the cornerstones of Christianity is the debate between “faith and works.” Traditionally, certain Christian sects and denominations (especially Protestant sects) emphasize the importance of “faith alone”—in other words, these sects maintain that Christians need only believe in the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus Christ in order to go to Heaven. Then there are other branches of Christianity (such as Catholicism) that emphasize the importance of good “works”; in other words, performing good deeds and behaving morally. While the history of Christianity has long reflected an opposition between faith and works, Lewis argues that a true Christian must have faith in Christ and do good—and, moreover, that faith and works are both vital components of salvation.
Throughout Mere Christianity, Lewis characterizes faith as the key component of salvation—and yet something that can only be experienced through the performance of good works. As Lewis argues in parts three and four of his book, a good Christian must believe in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice gives the human race a second chance at salvation; in other words, infinite joy and life in the kingdom of Heaven. But Lewis further argues that faith—the belief in Christ and salvation—is a lifelong struggle to continue believing in Christ’s sacrifice, and one’s own potential for salvation. Works help a good Christian to find the strength to continue believing in Christ and adhering to Christian law—but more importantly, true faith in Christ will necessarily result in good works.
Lewis maintains that works and faith are both important for achieving salvation—but they’re important in different ways. Lewis argues that Christians will be judged by the strength of their faith in Christ—not by the number or magnitude of their good deeds. Even a very, very good Christian cannot go through life without sinning occasionally—and thus, sooner or later, all good Christians realize that, strictly speaking, they do not “deserve” salvation, no matter how many good deeds they perform. Such a realization can cause some Christians to abandon the religion altogether. But those who remain faithful gradually learn to trust that God will lead them to Heaven, in spite of their flaws—a gesture of trust that Lewis considers to be the true meaning of faith. Ultimately, Mere Christianity suggests that only true faith can lead Christians to salvation—and yet “true faith” will also lead one to do as much good as possible in the world. Put another way, good works are an unavoidable “symptom” of the faith that eventually leads Christians into Heaven.
Faith, Works, and Salvation ThemeTracker
Faith, Works, and Salvation Quotes in Mere Christianity
Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.
For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.
Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.
Badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled.
Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things. Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonizing the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play.
The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education,
must come from Christian trade unionists and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists—not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time.
Now suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?
Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. […] It is much better fun to learn to swim than to go on endlessly (and hopelessly) trying to get back the feeling you had when you first went paddling as a small boy.
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.
Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.
Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
What matters is the nature of the change in itself, not how we feel while it is happening. It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.
The Bible really seems to clinch the matter when it puts the two things together into one amazing sentence. The first half is, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,—which looks as if everything depended on us and our good actions: but the second half goes on, 'For it is God who worketh in you'—which looks as if God did everything and we nothing.
You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it, but then the moment at which you have done it is already 'Now' for Him.
And the present state of things is this. The two kinds of life are now not only different (they would always have been that) but actually opposed. The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe. And especially it wants to be left to itself.
Do not misunderstand me. Of course God regards a nasty nature as a bad and deplorable thing. And, of course, He regards a nice nature as a good thing—good like bread, or sunshine, or water. But these are the good things which He gives and we receive.
Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way (i.e. all reflecting it), they would all look alike? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are.