“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Matthew 5:30, ESV
This immediately brings to mind the notion set forth firstly by Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” This is the idea of living a Christian life without discipline, repentance, and confession. In terms of analogy, ponder someone welcomed into a rehabilitation clinic without any effort to recover. They talk up becoming a better person, but never bother to actually put an ounce of effort into this lasting betterment. Sadly, this is so often the case for the Church, and especially me as well. I look into heady theology and talk about God while my life is in shambles, and it is a true shame as we will come to discover.
Growing up in an environment permeated by religion, these statements from the Bible became typical, and therefore lost weight with me. This, my dear friends, is a tragedy. Matthew 5 charges those who are already Christians to conform to the image of God we were intended to be, not the world (Romans 12:2). To claim we are Christians but not take these passages seriously is evidence of an unsanctified Christian; I say this more for myself. Nothing made me more uncomfortable in my life than to hear this statement, but the warnings of the Bible serve to be for the good of our hearts, and not simply God trying to demonstrate his raw power.
Right now, you may be thinking something I grappled with, too. A notion like this brings to mind the passage in Philippians that tells us to “work out our faith with fear and trembling,” but that seems like salvation by works at a quick glance. However, shortly after, Paul declares that it is God who wills and works in us to do these good things. In other words, no matter how hard you try, if it is only in your own power, aversion to sin in unachievable. This brings us to the conclusion that we must admit utter depravity before having any chance at being mended. By coming to this point, we begin to realize the only way to experience the fullness of God’s goodness is realizing that everything good comes from him. Fruit of the Spirit and blessings are not rendered in our power but by the Lord alone, and what a beautiful display of sovereignty this truly is.
Nonetheless, this by no means should cause one to sit back and wait for the fruit of the Spirit or the purging of the flesh. A truly transformed heart is an active heart, and we see this on display everywhere in the Bible. After converting to Christianity, we see Paul vehemently opposing what he had just recently embraced and killed Christians in the name of. In this way, Paul put to death his old self. Must we not do the same?
A truly transformed heart is an active heart
As we examine the lives of believers exemplified in the New Testament, we see that they do not take the threats of Jesus lightly. Paul went from power and prestige to being in chains for much of his life- even to death! He denied himself as the successful man of Judaism to sacrifice his life for Christ. To bring it back to the original analogy, Paul not only cut of members of his body but seemed to allow his whole body to be thrown away for the sake of Christ.
Such faithfulness and steadfastness is what I long for. I long to loathe my sin as much as God loathes it. If this were the case, then I would not spend my days being flippant. Not only would this yield a harvest obedience, but also an intentionality in my life that has never been felt before. James 4 touches on this idea of lamenting sin, saying
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:8-9)
Seeing this, it is easy to become downcast. However, we should not be so vehement to expunge the feeling of conviction and mourning. In the same way we mourn Christ on Good Friday, we should mourn what our sin does to Christ. Because atonement is considered penal, which means that Christ was sacrificed as a substitution for the wrath we truly deserve, our sin has a real effect. For every sin that we commit, Christ endured justice for said sin on the cross. While this is something to celebrate, we should also realize that our sin is what pinned Jesus to the cross in the first place. Rejoice in forgiveness, but do not shy away from pondering depravity; it is a worthwhile endeavor.
While mourning sin may seem to be counterproductive, it has plenty of benefits. First, it helps us appreciate and understand the depths and lengths that God went to in order to reconcile us to him. He was willing to surpass every foolish mistake from a white lie to downright adultery. Furthermore, mourning sin helps us rely on God more readily in order to avoid committing heinous acts. Waging war against sin starts at the baseline realization of how wicked we truly are, and as a result, how great and powerful God truly is. Fail, we will, but pursue God, we must, as he is our only hope for transformation.