Taking Sin Seriously
“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
Jesus starts off this passage by condemning those “by whom the temptation comes.” Are we the one Jesus refers to here who tempts others? We can tempt others to sin with cross words that provoke anger, offering people opportunities to do things that go against their conscience, our immodest dress, making inappropriate humorous remarks, etc. Perhaps we are doing it without even realizing it. We need to be ever aware of the influence that we have, especially with the online presence so many of us have today, that makes our influence so far reaching. Let us not be the one who someone else has to “cut off” or “tear out” from their lives to keep them from sinning.
Jesus also points out in verse seven that temptations are necessary. Temptations serve a purpose. When we overcome a trial or temptation, good things result. James 1:2-3 says that we should rejoice in trials, because when our faith is tested, it produces steadfastness. Similarly, Romans 5:3-4 says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” From these two verses, we see that overcoming trials is a part of the development process of a Christian. When we draw strength from Christ and overcome trials, we become stronger and more resilient to trials in the future.
In verses 8-9, we can assume that Jesus is not literally talking about the cutting off of our arms and legs, or tearing out our eyes. Jesus figuratively talks about hands, feet and eyes as causing a person to sin in this passage, just as he uses figures and parables throughout the gospel accounts. We know that these things don’t literally cause people to sin. James, however, tells us what does: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).
Sin results when we give in to the desires of our hearts. Jesus uses this graphic language in Matthew 18:8-9 to emphasize how important it is to rid ourselves of those things around us that can have a bad influence on us and feed our desire to sin. This type of language should catch us off guard a little, being so graphic, and make us realize this is a very important issue that Jesus is teaching on. It’s vital that we wrap our minds around how seriously God views sin. We should be willing to do whatever it takes to rid ourselves of unholy and sinful conduct. We all know what our weaknesses are, and if we were honest with ourselves, I think that we can sit down and figure out ways that we can go on the offensive by consciously reducing the number of opportunities that we have to sin.
Our purpose in this world is to serve God, not our own desires. With this all important fact in mind, it makes giving up those things that encourage sinful behavior much easier. If we drop the self-centered attitude, getting rid of things in our lives that lead to sin becomes much easier, as does serving God in general. When we are serving God, we can’t serve ourselves (Matthew 6:24). Let’s strive to get to the point, where we don’t care about giving up things that can cause us to sin, even if we like them. Let’s be a people that do whatever God commands, no questions asked, because we want to. We want to, because we realize that a home in heaven is worth so much more than whatever fleeting momentary pleasure things in this earth provide.
The list of things that nurture our desires to sin is endless, but whatever that thing is, whether an obsessive hobby, immoral friends, or something else, we have to kick it to the curb with the conviction that it’s worth it in the end when we are with God in heaven. Jesus said it will be: “It is better for you to enter life...than...to be thrown into the hell of fire.”
We should get to the point, where we take sin seriously like God does. Many don’t understand, or don’t want to understand how serious sin is. We may even take the blood of Jesus and count it as a common thing, saying to ourselves that we will repent and ask for forgiveness later. This is the wrong mindset. Paul comments on this attitude in Hebrews 10:27: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
Perhaps the best way for us to understand how serious God views the issue of sin is to remember the reason Jesus came to this earth. God takes sin so seriously, that he sent his only Son to die as a sacrifice for us. Jesus died a terrible death to make atonement for the sins of the world. Hopefully, this sobering reminder will help us to think twice next time we are tempted, and beyond that will help us to do all we can to eliminate that temptation from happening again.
- Bret Cox