Cut It Out!

Sunday September 26, 2021 The 26th Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle B)

The tie in between today’s readings: How do you view sin?

Numbers 11:25-29Psalm 19:8-14James 5:1-6Mark 9:38-50

A person’s view of sin is a good indicator of their attitude about salvation. Ever since Adam tried to pass the buck in the Garden by telling God that the woman He (God) gave him caused him to eat the forbidden fruit. (Gen 3:12), we’ve all looked for ways to rationalize our failures. We blame our environment, our heredity, or society. We compare ourselves to others and proudly soothe our conscience by taking a higher position in our moral pecking order. “I know I’m not perfect, but I’m better than so and so.” We cling to our relative moral standard and elevated estimation of our own goodness. This leads to an easy believism in the church and no appreciation of the crucifixion. It’s almost as if Jesus died to save us from bad habits.  On the contrary, a serious evaluation of our transgressions against the perfect standard of a holy God is devastating. At this point, we not only realize that we need a savior, but we become desperate to find one. When we do, He gives us a new life in Himself and forgives us by removing our sins as far as the east is from the west. We love Him, because whoever is forgiven much, then loves much in return.  True, after all is said and done, both types of people still sin. The authentic born again person, though, struggles against his sin nature… the other, not so much. Why fix something that really isn’t broken?  The difference is all in the attitude.

In Psalm 19, David asks God not to let presumptuous sin rule over him.  This is the “jump off the Temple” kind of sin Satan tempted Jesus with. It presumes on God and forces His hand, placing us in charge.  This kind of grace-abuse is familiar in the pews. We call it: Carnal Christianity.  It is a contradiction of terms and an anesthetizing cancer in our churches. This “Carnal Christian” thinks salvation is a policy from the “The Jehovah Fire and Life Insurance Company”.  When Christ died on the cross, He paid the premiums for everyone in the whole world.  All you have to do to be saved is to recognize a good deal when you see one. C’mon down!  It’s free! We’ll baptize you on the dotted line. Thank You, Jesus!  There’s no compulsion to pray. Read the Bible or grow in grace…why? When was the last time you dug your policy out of the drawer? When you sin, you’re just placing another claim with God, as you cite: 1 John 1:8-9 and maybe throw in a little, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  The Carnal Christian needs to wake up before it’s too late. He needs to examine himself to see if he really is in the faith. The nature of your born again life requires that you forsake your sin and become more like Jesus. If you won’t; if you just want to go along your merry way, like the rich church people in James 5, file your sin claims, abuse, and presume on the grace from on High, then God has an answer: “I never knew you.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that everyone will be salted with fire in Mark 9:49. I want to use this as an illustration of salvation against my earlier insurance policy example. Among other things salt is connected with judgment; remember Lot’s wife. Fire is as well. I believe these are judgment metaphors.  John the Baptist said that Jesus will come and baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt 3:11, Luke 3:16). Then, you have that strange scene when Jesus asks James and John if they could be baptized with His baptism and drink His cup. They said yes. Jesus agrees that they would (Mark 10:35-40, Matt 20:22-23). I think that this is a baptism by fire that Jesus and all believers, in this case James and John, go through for salvation. When Jesus drinks the cup at Gethsemane, we, in a spiritual sense, drink our sin portion with Him. Then we are baptized by fire (or judged) spiritually along with Jesus through the crucifixion. We have passed through the judgment of God. We die with Him and are spiritually born again with Him when He resurrects on Easter Sunday.  Salvation is personal and intimate. If I live, you will live also. The Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our new life conforming us to the image of His Son. Go and sin no more…well, at least make that your goal.

There is support in this new life. God provides an escape route when temptation comes along. He also gives us each other to lean on when things get difficult, as seen in Numbers 11. So if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off.  Stop playing with sin. It has no place in your life. Get an appreciation for, “This is My body given for you.” We are more than conquerors in Jesus.

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