The pool heater at our house in Toledo has never worked, at least not for us. Initially, this was a concern but the cost of a service call prevented any further steps. So normally, I would open the pool in early May and allow the late spring heat to warm it up. But even in June the water is usually in the low 70s. The girls, much braver than I, would jump in and allow their shivering to raise their body temperature. Me, I waited till July to make my first jump in, usually after a hot day doing outside chores. I know you’re supposed to rinse off prior to jumping in, but who really does that? Hosing off would eliminate the need to dive in the pool anyway.
So I’d stand at the deep end psyching myself up for what I know would be a frigid shock. The girls would urge me on, saying, “Come on, Daddy! It’s not that cold,” their blue lips betraying them. Like a shuttle launching, they’d count me down from ten and, disappointed, find me after zero still standing there, like someone forgot to light the boosters.
This pales in comparison with a man in the news recently who was forced to amputate his own arm. (Find the full story here.) His arm had become stuck beneath the furnace in his basement. After twelve hours of screaming for help, he realized what he’d need to do, for he had begun noticing signs of infection. Within reach were some blades you’d normally use with a power saw, so he set to work at the incredible task of cutting off his own arm.
I’m not sure how many hours he remained stuck trying to amputate his arm, which he was not completely successful in doing. Thankfully, co-workers became concerned when they hadn’t heard from him and when there was no answer at his door they called the police. Firefighters, as they would in rescuing a car crash victim, tore apart the furnace and freed the man, semi-conscious from the loss of blood.
Doctors affirmed the man’s decision to amputate his own arm. Of course, amputation would free him from the furnace, but even more, it would stave off infection to his entire body. By cutting off his arm he would save his life.
When I read this story I immediately thought of something Jesus said concerning sin:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. —Mark 9:43 ESV
So that we’ll realize the gravity of sin, Jesus overstates intentionally what we should do when we’re drawn to it. Jesus would go on to mention a foot that leads to sin, and an eye. Hands, feet, eyes—they’re important for life, but you could live without them. Jesus is saying if they draw you to sin, then they’ll lead you to your death. Jesus isn’t saying we should literally gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands and feet, because their removal will not get at the root of sin in the heart anyway (see Mark 7:20-23).
I’ve been studying 1 Corinthians; it’s taking me awhile. In chapter five, Paul expresses his astonishment at the church’s tolerance of a supposed believer—“a brother in name only”—who has made a choice to live a sinful lifestyle. He points out what we tend to do: judge unbelievers for their sin while making allowances for our own. Paul offers a stiff recommendation, “Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (verse 2). Paul is not speaking of the believer who struggles with sin, as we all do. No, he’s addressing the believer who has compromised and is unrepentant—not desiring to change. Or as John MacArthur puts it: the one who “refuses to appropriate the resources of his new life and yields to the flesh.” Whereas for unbelievers, the ones we are not called to judge, there will be a steady flow of sin, for the true believer the flow of sin will not go uninterrupted. God’s Spirit will make us aware when we have grieved him (see Ephesians 4:30). An indicator of spiritual growth is an ever-heightening sensitivity to God and the sin that interferes with our relationship.
Several years ago I met with a man on my worship team who I learned had been sleeping with his girlfriend. After trying to counsel him about his choice to sin, I realized he wasn’t going to change because he felt like his actions were permissible. Though gentle at first, I had to make the harsh decision to cut him off from the team. (By the way, Paul recommends in 2 Corinthians to welcome back who many think is the same man after he’d become repentant. I would have welcomed back my musician.)
This is what Paul and Jesus are talking about. As with the man who cut off his arm, we have to severe what would otherwise infect the whole and ultimately lead to death. So, what’s in my life that needs severing? What sin am I nursing? What about you?
Jennifer Knapp* once wrote:
Blind these eyes who never tried to lose temptation. …
It’s better off this way
To be deaf, dumb and lame
Than to be the way I am.
I have a hard time psyching myself up to jump in the pool and to muscle up the strength for another set on the chest press, but when it’s a matter of life and death (as Jesus said), I’ll take the blade and make the hard cut.
*See my blog next week about Jennifer Knapp.