By Curtis K. Shelbure: Religion columnist
A friend e-mailed me a few days ago for help in finding the source of a quotation from C. S Lewis.
Whatever the source, it’s vintage Lewis: “When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is alright.”
Another Lewis quotation stands well alongside the one above: “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.”
Jesus was speaking to this latter class of bad person when he said, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15).
You see, the aim of religion is to make us like the God we serve, and if our God, Jehovah — the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Paul, and all of our forefathers in the faith —i s the one true God, then our religion is all about how we can be made like Jehovah.
Okay. But what’s God like?
According to the Scriptures, our God is absolutely holy, absolutely loving, absolutely just, absolutely gracious, absolutely — well, absolutely perfect. That sounds absolutely wonderful, until we realize that no human can reach that standard. We have an absolutely perfect God. But imperfect as we are, we can in no way stand before that kind of holy perfection.
We were in a pickle, and no way out — until God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. “When the time had fully come,” God sent his perfect Son, to live with us, to die for us as the perfect sacrifice for sin, to literally take away all of our sin and guilt on the cross, and to be raised to new life by the Spirit of God. Because he died, we live. Because he was raised to new life, we live new lives filled with his spirit and we become heirs of life eternal.
Note clearly: God does this all. We can neither add to nor take away from what Jesus has already done for us on the cross in his once-for-all sacrifice.
And now, back to those quotations. If our religion is, at heart, all about us — all about rules, all about rituals, and very little at all about relationship with God — our religion becomes that which we use to keep God away. Sadly, it will work. Convert someone to that kind of religion, and you’ve not blessed him.
But if our religion is about the relationship the father longs to have with his children, the relationship he gave his own son to make a reality, then the wonderful news of the gospel is that we can indeed have that relationship. And so can everyone else.
The more like Christ you and I become, the more clearly we’ll see how far we have to go to be completely “transformed” into his likeness. It’s a far longer trip than we’d imagined. But it’s also far more joyful because God is the one holding our hand as he leads and empowers us to take one step at a time.
We could never “get there” on our own. But God’s people are never on their own. Those who make Christianity just one more self-help program understand neither the power of the cross, the love of Christ, nor the depth of their own need.
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at