In theory, I enjoy running long distance races. I started running cross country in middle school, and have kept running for a hobby and exercise ever since. I’ve run a half-marathon and a couple 15k or 10 mile races. I’ve enjoyed all of them. The sense of accomplishment after a long race is a wonderful feeling. The self-discipline necessary and the joy of accomplishing a goal are useful rewards for various areas of life.
While in theory I enjoy running long distance races, I don’t run many long distance races because I don’t enjoy training for long distance races. I don’t enjoy setting aside time on the weekend for an extended run of eight or ten miles. I don’t enjoy waking up early on a Saturday to run for 90 minutes when it’s not a race, just for training. Thus, while I enjoy the thought of running long distance races, and even enjoy the actual race, I don’t run them because I don’t want to put in the work that is necessarily in the weeks leading up to the race to actually run. And until the desired outcome becomes more important and more life giving than the pain of training, I won’t be signing up for any long distance races anytime soon.
Sometimes, that’s the same reaction we have with sin in our lives. We all desire to be sin free. We know that in Christ we are new creations, and that part of the work of the Spirit is to slowly transform us into the image of Jesus. That means we must rid ourselves of anger, envy, lust, pride, selfish ambition, and a host of other sins that have a way of creeping into our lives. The problem is, while we all know we need to aggressively remove sin from our lives, the process involved is difficult. It can be painful to change. The Spirit’s work of chipping away at our pride, lust, and other sins can be a difficult process because often in order for sin to be rooted out of our lives it has to be exposed and then dealt with. Admitting mistakes, changing patterns, developing better habits…all take self-discipline and humility; traits that are not always easy to foster. Thus while in theory we want to be free of sin in our lives, at times it seems easier to continue to live with our sins, than to go through the process of removing them. And in reality, since we know no one is perfect, it’s easy to develop an attitude in which we are content with small sins that don’t seem like a big deal.
In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, John relays a story of Jesus when he has entered Jerusalem near the time of a feast. While there, Jesus sees a man who has been an invalid for thirty-eight years. “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, Do you want to be healed?” At face value it seems like a silly question. Of course the man wants to be healed. Who would really want to remain in their sickness? Is there really an individual who having been sick for thirty-eight years, would turn down being made well? Of course he desires healing. However, while it seems like a silly question, it is also a vital question because sometimes we become content to stay sick instead of seeking healing. Sometimes, the work to be made well is too difficult, the process of change can be painful, and it just appears easier to remain as we are. Thus the question from Jesus, do you want to be healed?
This also becomes a valuable question for our own lives, do we want to be healed? Not from some physical sickness, but from sin. Do we want to go through the process of allowing the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ; especially knowing that the process can be painful? It’s not that we have really bad sins like murder or theft, but the little sins that get in the way of us being fully committed to God. Are we ready to stop justifying our sins, and allow the Spirit to work in our hearts? Do we want to be healed?
Thus I wonder, what are the sins in my own life that need to be removed? In which ways am I prideful? How does my anger get the best of me? What are the idols that somehow make me feel complete? What is keeping me from fully committing to God? What secret sins am I too afraid to ask God to remove? What addictions are destroying my life, that I need help with, but I just don’t want to admit it? In which ways am I sinking, while pretending to have it all together?
Truth is, Jesus stands in our midst today and offers to heal. Jesus is ready to begin the healing process, by offering forgiveness and starting to remove the sin in our hearts. But we have to be willing to be made clean. Thus the question to the paralytic becomes the question in our own lives, do we want to be healed?