Time for Radical Action
by Alex Crain
"If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell."
The arm amputation scene in the movie 127 Hours vividly portrays the tough-as-nails experience of rock climber Aron Ralston during a 2003 expedition that almost claimed his life. As I watched the scene not long ago, I was reminded of a spiritual truth that makes most Christians wince, including me.
Aron, an experienced 27-year-old outdoorsman had taken along just enough food and water for the day. He hiked all by himself in a remote canyon area that used to be the hideout for wild-west outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. At one point in the middle of the afternoon of that near perfect day, he was about seventy feet above the canyon floor—climbing in a narrow crevice that was just a few feet wide. Without warning, a boulder above him shifted and came hurtling toward him. Within seconds, Aron’s right arm was pinned against the wall. His hand was crushed. What had been one of his greatest assets as an expert climber was now his greatest liability.
For the next five days, he tried various ways to free his arm. Chipping away at the boulder with a pocket knife only made a small dent. Rigging up a pulley system to somehow shift the boulder drained precious time and strength to no avail. Finally, a moment of clarity came. Aron would break his forearm, cut through the muscle with the dirty pocket knife, detach his arm, and use rope for a tourniquet. Following this plan, Aron would lose his arm, but save his life.
In his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Aron explains that "some sort of autopilot" took over him as he went about the gruesome task of amputation. When he finished, Aron lowered himself down the rock wall, leaving a trail of blood. He then trudged slowly in the direction of his truck parked miles away. Fortunately, he happened across two hikers on the way who phoned in a rescue helicopter. Amputating his right arm was a radical act, but it saved his life and, soon, he was reunited with his loved ones.
Christians are called to deal with sin in a similar way. The Bible doesn't offer a laid-back, live-and-let-live approach. Sin is our deadly enemy. We have two choices: kill or be killed. As Puritan writer, John Owen famously put it in his classic book The Mortification of Sin, “be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”
Jesus spoke about the time for radical action in Matthew 5:30: "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." While Jesus was not literally talking about physical amputation, He was saying that sin's deadly effects call for extreme measures. It may cause temporary pain or loss, but we must kill sin in our lives. In fact, our eternal destiny hinges on how we deal with sin. Yes, really. Think about Christ’s words again. Why else would Jesus talk about hell in the same breath that He talks dealing with sin? If He didn't mean that our eternal destiny hangs in the balance, then the passage makes no sense. Clearly, the way that one deals with sin (or not) shows what the heart prefers. If Aron Ralston had just given up and stayed there on the canyon wall, he would have most certainly died. But he was willing to kill his hand so that his life could be saved.
This is not to say that in our relationship with God we somehow “save ourselves” by our own righteousness. No. But neither should we think about salvation as a one-time decision. Christ doesn’t call us to a mere decision of “inviting Him to be our Savior,” He calls us to a life of trusting Him and walking with Him. The way we deal with sin simply shows what we value. Do we prefer the world or Christ? Colossians 3:5 says, "Put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."
The world may tell us to laugh about sin, to lighten up about it, to tolerate it, and just let it be… that it's not idolatry; it's not an issue of worship.
God says the opposite is true.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Usually, sin doesn’t appear to us as an ugly, painful boulder that crushes us against a rock wall. What are the pleasures of sin that tend to pin you down? What is it that keeps you from treasuring God above all things? Ask God for grace and strength to amputate sin—today and every day.