He was going to die. There was no reason to prolong the inevitable. He had flirted with death long enough, and was running out of time. He had tried every other tactic imaginable–all of them to no avail. There was only one means of deliverance, but could he actually do it? There had to be some other way. But, there wasn’t. He had been struggling for hours–127 to be exact. This was the defining moment. Could he really cut off his own arm?
He did. Could you? Would you… if that’s what it took to save your life?
Last Thursday evening, I watched the dramatized documentary of Aron Ralston who spent 127 hours* trapped in a cold, dark canyon. Ralston was a young “canyoneer” living in Colorado–ambitious and care-free until that life-changing experience in April 2003. Like so many times before, he had gone spelunking without telling anyone where he was going. It was a great get-away from everything and everyone. A heart-throbbing date with solitude and adventure amidst the majesty of creation. However, unlike so many times before, something happened that changed everything. When descending into the crevice of Blue John Canyon, a large boulder dislodged and tumbled down alongside Aron, wedging his right arm between the boulder and the canyon wall. The physical pain was immediate, but the emotional horror set in more gradually.
There was no one around for miles. He was alone. Even worse, he had not told anyone where he would be. The predicament he now faced could not be overcome by the guiles of a seasoned canyoneer. Over the course of 127 hours, it took everything he had to simply stay alive–including drinking his own urine. Yuck! During those hours, he reflected on many things–the people he most loved, the experiences he most enjoyed, and the joys of a future that he may never experience. He thought of people and situations and conversations that he longed to have–and other things that he wished he had never said or done. His whole life flashed before his eyes, but the same conclusion remained… He could die in that canyon or he could self-amputate and experience the hope of another day.
Imagine the thoughts you would think as the conflicting emotions flood your heart and turn over your stomach.
As I’ve reflected on the movie that dramatized Ralston’s life-changing experience, I cannot help but be reminded of words that Jesus spoke in Matthew 5:27-30 on the topic of lust:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 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.”
His words are strong, and their implications difficult. The picture is meant to be disturbing. Jesus was speaking of the nature of sin and the danger that it poses to all who take it lightly. He illustrates the costly nature of true repentance by gripping the senses with a strong dose of hyperbole. He wanted his listeners to understand the relative discomfort of repentance as compared to the terrifying discomfort of hell. In other words, He wanted them to understand faith and repentance as “radical, life-saving amputation.” Embracing the gospel is neither cheap nor comfortable, but it is always good and life-giving. You see, sin has every intention of destroying us. It’s like spiritual gangrene that seeks to consume and poison from the inside out. Yet, there is hope. It is painful and costly, but it is hope, nonetheless. Our only hope for halting the life-destroying gangrene of sin is the gospel. When Christ went to the Cross on our behalf (Heb. 12:1-2), he dealt with our sin completely. He carried every ounce of the curse that we deserved; He bore the full extent of God’s wrath that had been stored up for us. And, in reality, the gospel cure is not nearly as painful and costly to us as it was to the One who has provided salvation of our souls.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus announces that the kingdom of God has arrived, and that through His coming, the day of salvation is at hand. He calls people to “repent and believe,” and in so doing, provides the means by which they might be freed from their eternal predicament–eternal condemnation before a holy God who abhors sin. They have a choice–turn from their sin and experience eternal life, or continue living in sin as they remain blissfully ignorant of their coming demise. The same reality is true of us. Spiritually-speaking, we’re all trapped by the boulder of our sin. We cannot dislodge it. But, we can embrace the only means of deliverance–faith in Jesus Christ. By turning from our sin and turning to Christ, we renounce the things of this world and embrace a lifestyle of living for the pleasure and glory of One.
That which gets us into the kingdom–faith and repentance–keeps us in the kingdom. God has called us to a lifestyle of faith and repentance, as we radically amputate anything that prevents us from a life centered on Jesus Christ. When our tongues cause us to sin, we restrain them. When our television or our computers cause us to sin, we get rid of them. When food and sex cause us to sin, we invite accountability and self-discipline.
Radical amputation is unpleasant. Yet, it’s the life of all who would treasure Christ alone. Some things are easy to amputate. Other things, not so much. By God’s grace, some boulders are easier to dislodge and the repentance seems rather routine. But, sometimes the repentance is all-consuming and requires every ounce of strength to sacrifice that which seems so dear to us. Yet, casting off that very thing might be the only means of truly saving our lives… If we are living for something or someone other than Jesus Christ. Sin and idolatry should have no foothold in our lives, as the Spirit will not tolerate the spiritual decay and ongoing disobedience of our hearts and lives. Rightly understood, imputation (the great exchange of Christ’s righteousness for our sin) leads to amputation (a radical embrace of Christ above all things). In the kingdom of Christ, there can be no competing allegiances–everything must be seen in relation to our beloved King.
What sort of life-saving repentance might God be calling you to radically-embrace as you seek to follow Christ?
May the Lord grow us in grace as we seek to treasure Christ, and may He empower us to self-amputate whenever that is necessary.
*[Disclaimer: There are various aspects of this movie that should render caution before viewing. It has a bit of colorful language and carnage, as well as two suggestive scenes worth skipping over. Here is the “Plugged In” review.]