The Toast
By John Ambrose

In C.S Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters", Screwtape, his main character, proposes a toast to Slubgob, who is the Principal of the Tempters' Training College. It is their graduation ceremony and during his discourse he offers advice to the young tempters as to how best to go about the business of tempting in the places of their future assignments.

Screwtape mentions the trend in England is to be very much focused on democracy and that they, as tempters, need to play on this as an effective tool to denigrate and dissolve the human soul into a bland and ineffective nothingness.

Since under a democratic system all have equal say and are considered equal under the law, he sees a trend in democratic thinking that says, "I am as good as you"; and stresses that if they follow up on this they can instigate a society that does not reward excellence; does not encourage it or demand it in schooling; and offers no incentives for great accomplishment.

And he continues, you must encourage teachers to pamper and reward the non-performers as though they are as good as the achievers so as not to offer any trauma to the slackers of the lot. So while the slow group is allowed to make mud pies and call it modeling it will not be looked down on by others who are doing a higher level of work - for each will be receive equal recognition.

And it may even be necessary, he continues, to hold the achievers back a class when the non-achievers are failing so as again not to offer trauma to the slackers of the group. "I am as good as you" or "you are as good as they" must be instilled in the minds of society so that the end result will be the dissolution of individual achievement; sameness and ineffectualness will reign; and recognition of any sort will become meaningless. The "I am as good as you" mentality will make sure that all stalks are cut down to the level of the average and mediocre.

This mindset will have its fulfillment in a society which homogenizes virtue and vice into an unrecognizable blob in which nothing is looked on as wrong and everything is declared right in its own relative way. At this point, Screwtape continues, you will have succeeded in the dissolution of society and total denigration of the individual soul. Our father in Hell will be greatly pleased.

Leaving Screwtape and his discourse and focusing on today's world, I see a different trend at work. It can be summarized as the "You are as bad as me" mindset. This comes at things from the opposite direction but in the end it will accomplish the same result. For according to this way of thinking we are all desperately wicked and our righteousness as filthy rags - our righteousness can only be found in Jesus.

Although this thinking is based in Scriptural truth, it is a markedly one-sided view of the Christian condition. For they rightfully claim, in Jesus our sins are forgiven and we stand righteous before God, but wrongfully follow it with if you sin do not worry. Do not trouble yourself about it, we stand already forgiven, the price has been paid, God does not impute sin to us. When he looks at us he sees only Jesus.

So in the "you are as bad as me" mindset there is no need for repentance or asking forgiveness - why concern yourselves about something that has already been accomplished? We are righteous in Him, no need to get fussed up about sin; don't heap guilt upon yourself this will only be destructive to you. Immerse yourself in the love of God for he loves you more than you will ever know. You could not make the decision to come - it was God who brought you - and you cannot make the decision to leave - it is God who keeps you. You are saved by His grace and His grace alone, not by works. And nothing you can do will ever remove you from his Kingdom - you are secure in Him forever.

It is a message that contains much truth but also strains of deadly poison. It is a message that also tickles the ear: it is not the "I am as good as you" but the "You are as bad as me" mindset. For surely everyone who hears it will be comforted by the fact that not much needs to be done on their part - we are all equally wicked and undeserving and are all equally saved by God's grace. And for sure many who hear it will receive it wholeheartedly. In a pampered generation where mom and dad have done everything for their children, it is naturally expected that God will do the same - not much will be required of us.

But what is missing is a very key part of the equation - individually we must have a heart turned to God to follow after not just believe. An intellectual belief without a heart to follow is "cheap grace" and this will not save you. For even the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19).

Also, a fuller understanding tells us that where individuals are concerned there really are some better and some worse than others. I think of Noah, Daniel, most highly esteemed of the Lord, Job, John the Baptist, who among men had no equal; and at the other end Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the terrible, Nero and many others (Ezek 14:14, Dan 9:23, Matt 11:11). Both the high and low among men teach us that there are different levels of morality; and different attitudes of the heart. There are some who are turned to God and some who are not and this comes from the soul of man as a result of his free will choices.

Understanding this tells us that we can do better; that with the help of the Holy Spirit we can train ourselves in righteousness (1Tim 4:7); that by the Holy Spirit we are able to avoid the evil and choose the good (Rom 8:12); and that there is such a thing as personal responsibility (Heb 12:1-2, Rom 12: 1-2). For just as in prayer where God asks for our participation in bringing about change, likewise in the process of sanctification He asks us to do our part. God looks at the attitude of the heart and is pleased when he sees one turned to him and following after Him; for He says, "If anyone loves me he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him". (John 14:23)

So through it all we must recognize that man does have a personal responsibility - the responsibility to follow after, and that this is pleasing in God's sight. To shirk this responsibility is to open ourselves to complacency and the ploys of the enemy, the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1Pet 5:8)

And yes, it is possible to lose faith and salvation, for each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:14,15). Spiritual death is a process just as sanctification - one step at a time we are either advancing forward or sliding backward.

So in conclusion, whereas the "I am as good as you" mindset rewards mediocrity, "You are as bad as me" rewards complacency. Therefore, let us not succumb to the pitfall of either mindset but recognize that there are differences between us - there really are some who follow after and some who do not. And that we have a personal responsibly to try to do better not only turning our hearts to the Lord for salvation but also giving ourselves wholly to the process of sanctification and the work of the Holy Spirit.

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