The “Amputation” Approach to Changing Your Primary Story

The “Amputation” Approach to Changing Your Primary Story by TREVIN WAX for The Gospel Coalition

In this series so far, I’ve laid out one of the challenges facing the church today: we affirm the public truth of the gospel but live as if another story is primary. The narrative that gives our life meaning and direction is a lesser story, not the Scriptural one.

  • Growth in Christlikeness should mark the plot points of a Christian’s story, but Cameron views all his setbacks and steps forward in light of career advancement.
  • The good fight against the spiritual powers and principalities should be the adventure of the Christian life, but Pam sees herself as a foot soldier in the never-ending drama emanating from Washington, D.C.
  • Finding ways to love and serve others in Jesus’ name should be a constant preoccupation for the Christian, but Greg sees his life as day after day of just “getting through things” in order to do what he really wants: to enjoy the latest entertainment or newest game.

In the previous column, we looked at something God often uses to shake us out of spiritual slumber: suffering—the great leveler that exposes the shoddy foundation of lesser stories.

But what if we are not in a season of suffering? What can we do to reimagine our life story in a way that emphasizes growth in Christlikeness, not our involvement in political successes or failures, career progression, or entertainment?

The Monastic Mentality

One solution is to do away with the lesser stories by devoting as much time as possible to the study of God’s Word and to prayer and fasting. This solution resembles the monastic mentality that, over the centuries, many Christians have found appealing. What better way to set your mind on things above but to divest of earthly wealth, move into a Christian community, and devote your life to love of God and neighbor with as few distractions as possible?

I do not deny that God has worked through communities of believers who sense a call to a separated life of ministry. But one of the central affirmations of the Reformation was that God’s call to holiness is not for a separate class of people. Jesus’ lordship is to be embraced and embodied by all Christians everywhere, not by taking them out of the world, but through preserving them in the world, full of love and good deeds. The Reformation reminds us that your job is not an interruption from serving God and neighbor but the instrument by which you do so. We worship in and through our work, not in spite of it.

People who have a career, or who get passionate about politics, or who enjoy entertainment need not sacrifice all involvement in these areas in order to serve and worship God appropriately. Earthly goods are still good as long as they are in their proper place and the greater goods represented by God’s kingdom and His righteousness are what we seek first. 

So, if not monasticism, then what?

The Amputation Approach 

Another solution, similar to monasticism, is the amputation approach. Once you see how lesser stories connect to your idolatrous temptations, you take radical measures to counter them, primarily through “amputation.” That may sound awful, but if you’re chained to an idol, “amputation” may be the best way to break free.

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