Exciting? Perhaps. Liberating? Seems like it. Dangerous? Without a doubt.
I used to think I lived my life on the edge — I've broken my wrist, fallen off a plastic car onto pavement and gotten stitches, gone to the hospital with a swollen appendix and hooked my dad's finger while fishing.
I've had some close calls too — I've been stuck on way too many roller coasters, seen one too many robberies from the parking lot and have been in a restaurant where a car came crashing through the wall during lunch (seriously, I have).
It's been interesting, exciting and really painful. Yet I have to sit back and laugh when I think about some people who do crazy things to themselves — like those crazy skydivers. At least I didn't choose to be heading to the hospital — these guys risk skipping the hospital visit and creating an instant grave on impact. Most people may think skydiving is just plain suicidal, but I have to admit there's just something about "living on the edge" that people love — and in the case of skydiving, jumping off the edge. Sometimes, I think I'd love to take the plunge.
Lori Steffen is one of those crazy skydivers. "No one I've ever talked to has been able to put into words the sensation of skydiving," she says. "Freefall is such a stupendous sense of freedom. You are flying through the air, able to move your body in 3D. You can fly forward, back-up, move sideways, speed up how fast you are falling and slow down how fast you are falling. Yes, you are continually falling. But during that time you are definitely flying your body. You can do flips and twists. You can stand on your feet or stand on your head. There are absolutely no limits as to which direction you can move your body."
A stupendous sense of freedom. That seems to be why people want to live on the edge.
When I Walked the Edge
I think about a certain period of my life where I found myself constantly allowing my thoughts to wander. It felt good, letting my eyes pause where they should never have been. Before I knew it, I was allowing myself to do things and say things that I had told myself I'd never do. It didn't happen overnight, but over time. I was deeply convicted as I found myself tumbling over the edge once again.
We all want to throw off the moral and spiritual boundaries (the "edge") that have been placed on us, in order to experience the adrenaline rush of testing those boundaries.
It's tempting. It's thrilling. It looks fun. Everyone is doing it.
And there are so many ways we can "test the boundaries," like talking trashy around a certain group, dressing a certain way to attract attention or lying to get out of trouble. For me, it was controlling my mind. Now, it's usually allowing arrogance to creep into my heart, or finding myself speaking very much like the world, having a bad attitude, or deciding to be lazy for "just one day." There are multiple ways I can disregard the moral boundaries that have clearly been set by God's Word and the authorities in my life.
I recently heard a story from some friends who were visiting the Grand Canyon. They were stunned to find that along the cliffs there was nothing but a short wall no more than two feet tall. As they were walking along they saw a young child standing on top of one of these walls. His parents seemed completely unaware that he was one step away from certain death — they just kept snapping pictures as their child peered down the side of a cliff. The little boy was totally oblivious to the danger, but the friends quickly told the parents about the young boy's peril and he was quickly snatched away from the danger.
I think in many ways we're like that little boy — completely unaware of the danger of death, instead completely aware of the thrill, the fun, the "coolness," of something. The boy represents us; the cliff is the boundary between sin and obedience. A lot of us are just like that little boy — completely oblivious. After a while, we stop being the boy — and we jump off to experience the freedom of free-fall.
But that's not how we're to live our lives.
A Word from the Lord
Paul in Ephesians 4:17 tells us this, and insists on it in the Lord, "that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking." Those Gentiles "have given themselves over to sensuality, so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more" (v. 19). In other words, the world — those who haven't turned to Christ as their Lord — has tasted what's beyond the edge, and has jumped off, and now has a continual lust for more. They are continually falling.
"You, however," says Paul, "did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus" (v. 20, 21). I really like this next part:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitudes of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (v. 22-24)
This is what we are to be doing — we're not supposed to be spiritual skydivers or children walking on the edge of cliffs. The boundaries God has given us are for our safety. We cannot be wasting our time looking back at what we used to be a part of — that sensuality, impurity and continual lust for more.
Sinclair Ferguson has stated that we should "expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ" (Cross Centered Life, p. 51). When we test out sin — whether it's lying, anger, stealing, unwholesome talk, bitterness, rage, slander or malice — we waste our time. We must instead be "kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
I call that running from the edge.
How This All Works
So, how exactly does all of this work? We're supposed to be running from sin — and from even testing the boundaries God has given us. That's the "don't" part. What then shall I do? Let's look quickly back to that little boy standing on the wall — the boy who represents us. The point is this — we shouldn't be peering over the edge like the boy. Our Christian lives are not meant to be lived standing on the boundaries placed around us — because the danger is only one step away.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12 that "if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!" Temptation is always there, and it's often only a matter of time before you fall — and you may not know just how close you are to the edge. And many times you may find yourself on the edge — and your mentors (the parents in the story) may not even see it coming.
This could all be avoided by instead running to the cross. Our lives are not meant to be lived out on the edge of the boundaries set for us, but rather to be working to go deeper into the glories of Calvary.
"Flee the evil desires of youth," says Paul in 1 Timothy 2:22, "and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace along with those who call on the lord out of a pure heart."
This "fleeing" may start with "preaching the gospel to yourself." Jerry Bridges describes it like this: "To preach the gospel to yourself," he says, "means you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteousness" (The Discipline of Grace, p. 59). C.J. Mahaney puts it this way in his book The Cross Centered Life:
It's a matter of sitting yourself down, grabbing your own attention, and saying, "Hey, self, listen up! This is what matters most: You're forgiven! Your have hope! Your hope is based on the sacrifice of Jesus. So let's not view this day any other way. Let this day be governed by this one defining truth." (p. 55)
This is what needs to be the pattern in my life. I can't be walking toward the edge of a cliff or testing the boundaries. Instead, I must be consistently running towards the cross. I'm called to holiness — which isn't easy. It's a lot more "fun" to be testing the boundaries — like pushing the speed limit when I'm driving. But I remind myself that I'm to be putting off "the old self." I'm forgiven. I have hope. Forgiveness and hope based on the sacrifice of Jesus. My days must be governed by that one defining truth. I mustn't waste my time testing the boundaries.
"Worldly wisdom recommends the path of compromise and talks of 'moderation,'" says Charles Spurgeon in Morning and Evening. "According to this carnal policy, purity is admitted to be very desirable, but we are warned against being too precise."
Each of us must race away from the edge until we fall at the foot of the cross — and there we must stay. Spurgeon explains in the Morning and Evening devotional for June 27,
We must leave behind the world's maxims ... and go far way to the place where the Lord calls his sanctified ones. When the town is on fire, our house cannot be too far from the flames. When disease is rampant, it is hard to escape it. The further from a poisonous snake the better, and further from worldly conformity the better.
The boundaries God has given us are for our good. It's hard to accept that fact — we want to test sin out, to push the limits, but when we begin to play with snakes, death can strike at any moment. My desire is to be as far from the burning buildings and poisonous snakes as possible — and running straight to the cross.
Copyright 2008 Tim Sweetman. All rights reserved.