Posted by: Postordinandy | July 31, 2010

Heaven is full of amputees.

We had another look at the Change material this week looking at strategies to ‘reinforce our faith & repentance’.

It occurred to a few of us that often we can be resistant to such strategies if they feel like they have been imposed on us from another source, (except, possibly, when that source is verifiably God Himself!)

For various reasons, we often need to feel like we are the instigators of change in our own lives, not responding to the whims and ideas of others. Of course, one simple definition of sin could be this very thing – that we constantly seek to wrestle control from God, thinking that we know better – that WE can be the masters of our own destiny.

But we are weak, and give in to many of the manifold temptations that face us each day – and do so all too often knowingly.

Jesus was pretty clear about what we should do, albeit in a pretty macabre fashion. Look at yourselves honestly, he says in Matthew 5, and if you cannot remove the temptation – remove the part of you that gives in. CS Lewis, writing in The Great Divorce, likens the removal of sin to having an amputation, or being (self) maimed. And this is where we really struggle. Removing ourselves from a situation is one thing, but removing ourselves from a facet of our character, a friendship group, an internet site… These things are genuinely costly, and have a real and lasting impact on the shape of our lives.

One of the problems for us in the present-day is that the incentives that Jesus’ first listeners would have been thinking about just don’t seem to impress the same urgency upon us. Jesus offers a choice between two clear options: 1) carry on sinning, and end up in hell; 2) go through a very painful process now, but receive eternal life. Effectively, Jesus is saying: listen, it’s better to enter heaven as an amputee, than to miss out on the party altogether, no? But most people these days, perhaps even in the church, are uneasy about the idea of eternal separation from God – be it in a specific hell or some form of knowing annihilation.

And it is not even as simple (or dreadfully complicated) a matter of discerning the reality of hell. Christianity is occasionally pitched as “Jesus solves all your problems”, but this stuff suggests at least the very real possibility that “get involved with Jesus & you might lose an arm”.

So, where do we go from here? Sin, and the temptation to give into it, surround us on all sides. We all know our regular weaknesses – what can we do? One of our church members is a dietitian, presently involved in running programmes to help parents of children who struggle with their weight to understand the wider issues and offer solutions. On the programme, one of the most helpful things for both the parents and children is to meet others who have faced the same struggles and overcome them. Christians have the same champion in Jesus – a man who faced temptations and struggles as we do, yet was not defeated or owned by them. And we also have a support group – the church, full of people like us – who stand with us, encouraging us to stay tough as we wrestle with temptation, help us see the sometimes painful truth, and sooth our wounds.

What strategies will reinforce our faith & repentance? Honesty with God, ourselves and others; a willingness to be held mutually accountable to our fellow sinners; the ability to receive and give forgiveness; and the courage to take long-term decisions over short-term comfort.

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