Leading Question: Which is more striking and valuable to the onlooker, seeing changes in new converts as they become more and more like their Lord, or changes in those who have grown up in the church enjoying all its advantages?
In this week’s study, we will focus on a diverse set of believers who experienced dramatic changes in their lives as they followed Jesus.
1. James and John: We want to be #1: Matthew 20:20-28. When the two brothers asked Jesus if they could be first in his kingdom, they not only revealed their own hard-driving competitiveness, but also provided Jesus with a wonderful opportunity to define the nature of his church. Question: From the New Testament, how do we know that James and John grew?
2. Peter and Thomas: We know better: Matt. 26:31-35; John 20:24-29. The adult study guide uses a nice turn of phrase to compare Peter and Thomas: “They both approached faith from a very human perspective. Peter placed confidence in what he could do; Thomas in what he could see.” Question: What is the evidence in the New Testament that these men grew in grace under Jesus’ tutelage?
3. The prodigal and his brother: Luke 15. When the prodigal “came to himself,” he headed home; when he got home he confronted his father and his brother. Question:What do we know about change and growth in the experience of these three?
4. Some theology: Phil. 2:12-13. In the 2nd chapter of Philippians Paul puts together two striking comments: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure?” Question: Is salvation God’s business or our business? Answer: Yes!
With some fairly complex prose, but with a simple point, C. S. Lewis comments on this passage:
Now I am going to suggest that strictly causal thinking is even more inadequate when applied to the relation between God and man. I don’t mean only when we are thinking of prayer, but whenever we are thinking about what happens at the Frontier, at the mysterious point of junction and separation where absolute being utters derivative being.
One attempt to define causally what happens there has led to the whole puzzle about Grace and free will. You will notice that Scripture just sails over the problem. ‘Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling’ – pure Pelagianism. But why? ‘For it is God who worketh in you’– pure Augustinianism. It is presumably only our presuppositions that make this appear nonsensical. We profanely assume that divine and human action exclude one another like the actions of two fellow-creatures so that ‘God did this’ and ‘I did this’ cannot both be true of the same act except in the sense that each contributed a share. – C. S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm, p. 49-50.
5. Practical Stuff. Several striking quotations can help us explore and understand issue of growing up into Christ. These are simply listed below without comment:
Eva le Gallienne on becoming a saint. “People who are born even-tempered, placid and untroubled – secure from violent passions or temptations to evil – those who have never needed to struggle all night with the Angel to emerge lame but victorious at dawn, never become great saints.” – Eva le Gallienne (1899-1991), The Mystic in the Theatre: Eleanor Duse (1965)
C. S. Lewis on whole-hearted commitment: The ordinary idea which we all have before we become Christians is this. We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests. We then admit that something else – call it “morality” or “decent behaviour,” or “the good of society” – has claims on this self: claims which interfere with its own desires. What we mean by “being good” is giving in to those claims. Some of the things the ordinary self wanted to do turn out to be what we call “wrong”: well, we must give them up. Other things, which the self did not want to do, turn out to be what we call  “right”: well, we shall have to do them. But we are hoping all the time that when all the demands have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them all right, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. Because we are still taking our natural self as the starting point. (IV.8.2)
As long as we are thinking that way, one or other of two results is likely to follow. Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: if you are really going to try to meet all the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on. The more you obey your conscience, the more your conscience will demand of you. And your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier and angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, “live for others” but always in a discontented, grumbling way – always wondering why the others do not notice it more and always making a martyr of yourself. And once you have become that you will be a far greater pest to anyone who has to live with you than you would have been if you had remained frankly selfish. (IV 8.3)
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” – Mere Christianity IV.8.4
C. S. Lewis on holiness as great fun: “Already the new [people] men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other [people] men do, but they need you less (We must get over wanting to be needed : in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV: “Beyond Personality” IV.11.10 [pp. 187-88 in MacMillan Edition]