I was reading Jesus’ sermon on the Mount recently, in Matthew 5, and noticed something I had never seen before. We use his words on adultery and lust as an example of why you can’t live by the letter of the law, but by the spirit of it. It also shows us what the Law was originally intended to do: show us our sinful hearts. We can see that if we keep the commandments of God, and live a seemingly holy life, that’s all the matters, but our heart must be changed.
I found it very interesting, then, that as Jesus makes this point, he segues into this:
“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
— Matthew 5:29-30
I don’t think it is a coincidence he says this directly after telling us that lust in your heart is the same as committing adultery through God’s eyes. I actually think the allusion here is as purposeful as it is blunt. Before you get all hot and bothered, I don’t think we’re being instructed by Jesus to actually borrow our neighbor’s hatchet and start whacking away at body parts. I think what we’re being instructed to do here, is to take whatever measures are necessary, no matter how extreme, to prevent ourselves from falling into sin.
This is a bit of a foreign concept, I think, in today’s age. We tend to be told by our friends and churches that many sins are okay, or are understandable, God understands, and as long as you’re giving it your best shot, he’ll save you a spot in heaven. Clearly, Jesus sees sin differently. Not only is it not good enough for you not to sin outwardly, but evil, carnal thoughts in your heart are also enough to condemn you.
Jesus is telling us here that sin is so foul, so destructive, that you must do whatever you can to make sure you don’t sin. I know someone who found it incredibly difficult to keep themselves from looking at pornography on the internet. It was their last resort to maintain their relationship with God, to sign up for XXXChurch.com’s accountability software that emails an accountability partner of your choosing if you go to sexually themed websites. That way he knew he couldn’t sin in secret anymore. As far as I know, this has worked for him.
But each of us have an area in life where we are most easily tempted, and our instructions are equally as clear as Jesus’ teachings on lust: get away from sin in any way possible. Perhaps friends, acquaintances, people we have lunch at work with, TV shows, movies, etc are problems drawing us back into sins we want desperately to be out of. Maybe you can’t stop yourself from drinking when you’re with a certain crowd of people. Maybe you have uncontrollable habits or thoughts because of what you fill your mind with on the internet or TV. No matter the cause, the solution is the same. It may take extreme measures to ensure you stay away from sin. People may think you’re silly, and that it doesn’t take all that to be Christian. I’ve even known Pastors who got on to church members for being too extreme in trying to avoid a sin. I know of a man who came out of gangs, drugs, and prostitution, who, when he found himself tempted to look at a woman lustfully, would actually make himself leave wherever he was at to get away. He was in a mall with some friends, and actually excused himself and left the mall! I know that some of you are chuckling self-righteously right now, and saying things like, “Well, obviously he has a problem he needs help with if he can’t even be in public without lusting.” Obviously he does, Pharisee. Obviously we all do, we just don’t take our sin seriously enough to do something equally as extreme about it. Or maybe we enjoy it too much?
Either way, our calling is clear. Just not murdering someone, or hopping into bed and committing adultery, is not enough. Our hearts must be pure. And if we can’t find a way to keep them pure, and still go to the same places, be with the same friends, or watch the same things, we must take extreme measures.