Remember that movie A Few Good Men? It is a story about a Marine who dies because of a code of discipline that is enforced too rigidly. In the trial of the senior officer, Colonel Jessup, (famously played by Jack Nicholson) the young lawyer, Daniel Kaffee, (played by Tom Cruise) exposes the Colonel’s false testimony by pressing him in cross-examination. He knows that if he goes for the man’s pride, he will likely get him to break. The movie’s most famous line comes from the moment when the Colonel’s contempt for the young lawyer boils over and he angrily shouts “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
The truth in life is often hard to handle, isn’t it? It is a lot easier to soften the edges, to blur the lines, to compromise or ignore the reality in which we live. In my reading from Matthew today, I came to this most difficult passage, one in which Jesus presses us to deal with sin. It is a passage subject to much misunderstanding if read without wisdom and prayerful discernment. “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust in his eye has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even if it is your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand—even if it is your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30, NLT)
We like to think our thought life is our own, what goes on inside our head is of no concern to anybody. Jesus challenges that idea with His words about sexual desire and God’s way for those who are His disciples. He tells us that when we make others into objects for our own gratification, even if only inside our own head, we sin. Before I go on, let me say clearly that if taken out of the context of the full Gospel these verses can induce guilt and shame, self-loathing, and fear. I do not write that to rob the passage of impact! Jesus meant these words to hit us like a punch in the face to move us past our apathy.
The truth is direct, edgy. He says, that if we leer at another, reducing that person to body parts to feed our fantasies, we are sowing the seeds of our own moral destruction. With vivid metaphor He calls on us to deal ruthlessly with our desires, making no excuses for them. Does He actually intend that we blind or maim ourselves? No! But, He does want us to get serious about developing a mind that is responsive to the Spirit of God and that will involve some choices that demand self-denial that hurts, really hurts.
Three things need to be said to give Jesus’ challenge a context for us.
First is that apart from a new birth, the Spirit’s gift of life, we cannot even hope to live the life that God desires in us.
No amount of moral striving, rigid self-discipline, or accountability can change a sinner into a saint. When we feel the heavy weight of conviction of the Spirit, we surrender to Christ, take the grace, and find ourselves being changed from the inside out. The beacon of hope shines out of the truth that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6, NIV) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)
Second, we need to feed our thoughts with healthy food!
Monday evening I turned on a movie that I thought would be an adventure in the world of international intrigue. Within 10 minutes, the lead character, who was being pursued by a lot of bad guys, had stabbed one through the eye, split open the head of another with an axe, and killed about a dozen more in various bloody ways, all graphically splattered across my 50” screen in my living room. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and asked me if I was going to spend the evening bathed in violence and I answered by turning off the story.
I tell you that as a simple illustration of a much more important truth. What you feed your mind will become the seeds of your thought-life. What is your playlist of music? Where does it take your thoughts? What do you read? How is that forming your ideas? What plays on your television or smartphone? Jesus’ words about cutting off our hand finds context in the content with which we feed our thoughts.
Third, worship is a powerful means of thought transformation!
True worship, both with other Christians and individually, brings us from the world and the immediate pressing issues into the realm of God’s Spirit and eternity. A soul that is satisfied with worship is much less likely to give in to the lures of temptation. Worship is a life that finds greatest worth in God. Worshipers adore Him, pursue Him, choose time with Him, make Him the priority because of love. David declares the truth – “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalm 62:1-2, NIV)
When we fail to worship, we will inevitably find other ways to satisfy the soul’s hunger. When we learn to worship, often finding ourselves in His Presence, there we will find the inner life of the Spirit making us into people who overflow with goodness.
Are Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 hard? They are, but we can handle the Truth!
The word from the Word invites us to know the truth, live the truth, and find the freedom of the Truth. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:1-6, NIV)
Every day in Your hands
You were there before time began
Sovereign one I rest in Your plan
From the depths to the dawn
You are there Your promise is strong
I will trust with all that I am
Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You stay the same
You are good in Your ways
Jesus Jesus oh how I need You
You are enough
All my trust is in You Lord
You fashioned me formed my heart
Search my soul and know every thought
Love so great but never too far
And through the storm You’re the calm
And every war You’ve already won
Life secure in Your loving arms
You are powerful God above it all
I believe in You I believe in You
You do miracles the impossible
I believe in You I believe in You
Bethany Phillips | Chris Griffin | Micah Massey | Nicole McLean © 2018 Highlands Creative Publishing (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.)
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