A number of years ago, I had a series of meetings with a young man who told me up front that he did not believe in God. We had several great discussions, and then one day he confided that he really did believe in God, but that he did not want to become a Christian. He acknowledged that he felt that the Christian life would be too detrimental to his career and social life.
After our last meeting, I realized it was much easier for a man say, “I do not believe in God,” than it is to say, “I reject Him.” Also, this man clearly did not have an intellectual problem with the Christian faith; rather, he had a heart problem. He did not want to surrender his heart.
Lee Strobel has written a number of wonderful books regarding his personal search for spiritual truth. Strobel graduated from Yale Law School and was head of the legal affairs department at The Chicago Tribune. He once described himself as a “decadent atheist.” And then one day his wife informed him that she had become a Christian. He was devastated and was convinced that their wonderful life together was over. He was then struck by the idea of proving to his wife that God and Christianity are a hoax.
Strobel traveled all over the country meeting with theologians, philosophers, and professors. He met with some of the top scholars in their respective fields, and after a number of meetings, Strobel reached the point he describes as “the unthinkable.” Maybe this is all true, he thought.
Soon after that, Strobel became a Christian. However, as he looked back over his life, he recognized that he had latched onto a naturalistic view of life because, as he puts it, “…it was an excuse to jettison the idea of God so I could unabashedly pursue my own agenda in life, without moral constraints.” Strobel is admitting that he had a heart problem.
One of the great philosophical thinkers of the 20th century was Mortimer Adler. Adler taught philosophy at The University of Chicago. He was also one of the founders of the Aspen Institute, and co-editor of the 55-volume series entitled, “The Great Books of the Western World.” Adler wrote fifty-two of these highly acclaimed books as the sole author.
For most of his life, he was a self-described pagan. Then, to the shock of his colleagues, he became a Christian at the age of 82. Adler lived to be 98 years old, and as he reflected upon his life, he acknowledged that at times he had been intrigued by the Christian faith. Even so, he never took the leap.
As he examined his heart, Adler realized that he ultimately did not want to change his lifestyle. He did not want to live the Christian life; instead, he wanted to be free to live the way that he wanted. He said, “The decision to become a Christian lies in the state of one’s heart (will), not in the state of one’s mind.” It dawned on Adler late in life that his atheism was not intellectually driven, but it came down to how he wanted to live his life. Adler also is admitting a heart problem.
Dr. Scott Peck shares an interesting story about Charlene, one of his patients. She struggled with depression and experienced a sense of meaningless in her life. As Peck questioned Charlene, he learned that she had apparently grown up in the church and believed in God. Peck described her as having a “well-developed, religious world view.” He asked why her beliefs did not make a difference in her life and help her with her sense of meaninglessness. There was a silence, and then she exploded with an incredible admission, “I cannot do it. There is no room for me in that. That would be my death. I don’t want to live for God. I will not. I want to live for me. For my own sake.”
What an incredibly honest admission. This woman’s response is a picture of the human heart resisting God, refusing to surrender to God. And she gives the reason, “I want to live my life for me.”
She also recognized something deeper. As she puts it, “surrendering would be my death.” And she is right. Jesus tells us that if we want to come after Him, we have to die by taking up our cross and following Him (Mark 8:34). The cross was an instrument of death. He is telling us to die to ourselves if we are going to be His followers.
It is because of this that Charlene and many others say “no.” They see Christianity and following Jesus as simply being too costly. “He wants too much of a commitment from me.”
The final paragraph in C. S. Lewis’ wonderful book, Mere Christianity, sheds light on our commitment to Christ:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with ever fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
When Lewis says “everything else thrown in,” he is telling us that this is how you will find everything that you’ve been looking for in this life. Everything else comes after the decision to trade self for Him.