Friday, March 23, 2012

Cut Off What?

This past Sunday, a young member of the congregation had a question. "Pastor," he said, "I've been reading the New Testament a chapter a day with the rest of the congregation. What does Jesus mean when He talks about cutting off your hand and stuff?"

The place where Jesus "talks about cutting off your hand and stuff" can be found in the gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, specifically chapter 5, verses 27 to 30.

Jesus is explaining some of the Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses about 1500 years before Jesus was born. This is what Jesus says:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go to hell."
Throughout this section of teaching we've come to call the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew's gospel, Jesus uses hyperbole, exaggerated language, to make His points. It's all on a par with the exaggerated image Jesus paints when He says elsewhere: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24). Through that hyperbolic image Jesus was showing that wealth can create the illusion of control in those with money, making it deity in place of the only one Who can give them life, God.

In the words the sixth grader asked me about, Jesus isn't telling us to literally cut out eyes or lop off our hands, any more than He's suggesting that eyes or hands can cause us to sin. Wills held hostage to selfish thinking cause us to sin, not the body parts that facilitate our sin.

What Jesus is saying is that, when we trust our lives to Jesus, whatever tempts us to violate God's will or whatever habits may routinely lead us into sin can be confessed and turned over to God.

Christ died on the cross to take the punishment for sin we all deserve and rose from death to give new and everlasting life to all who will turn from sin and entrust their lives to Him.

When faced with temptation, Christ can help us to resist it and the death it brings and to, instead, choose life with God. The Bible promises: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When we've caved to temptation and sinned and recognized our wrong, we need to approach God in the Name of Jesus immediately and seek forgiveness. The Bible also promises: "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

Sin dehumanizes us and carries us away from God. Because all sin "and fall short of the glory of God," anyone who wants the life with God made available only through Jesus Christ, will find themselves in a daily tussle with temptation and sin as long as they remain in this world.

Ask God to help you resist your temptations and trust that, through Jesus, you have the forgiveness of your sins and the power to resist the devil. That's the way you'll be able to cut off that "stuff" and enjoy the life God has in mind for you.

No comments: