“You have heard that it was said to those of old,‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. -Matthew 5:27-30
I have been reading a booklet over the last few days by Jay Adams, entitled, Temptation: Applying Radical Amputation to Life's Sinful Patterns. Some of the ideas I am sharing here are discussed in that booklet, but some of the ideas I am sharing in this post were discussed at the counseling conference I attended last week. One of the things I took away from the conference was that when we counsel others, we should always strive to get to the root of a behavior, rather than just dealing with eliminating the outward manifestation of that behavior. Many times, if you can determine what the person is really wanting, you can then determine how to rethink about the issue in a Biblical way, and help them to demolish the idols in their own heart. The other idea I took away from the conference is the idea that repentance is much more than words. It involves not just the "putting off" of sinful behaviors, but the "putting on" of right behaviors. In other words, a thief stops being a thief not just when he quits stealing, but when he becomes generous. A liar quits being a liar not just when he quits lying, but when he decides to be truthful. And sometimes, in order to grow in godliness, "spiritual amputation" is necessary. But what does that mean, you ask?
"Spiritual amputation" is what Jesus is talking about in the opening verses of this post. Matthew 5 is what I consider one of the greatest chapters of the Bible. Basically Jesus is teaching in his "sermon on the mount" about how the kingdom of God is supposed to work. He starts with the beatitudes, which are diametrically opposed to how most of the world's kingdoms operate. In God's economy, the greatest people are the most humble, the meek, and basically those who have come to a recognition that they are poor in spirit and need God to equip them and enable them to do His will. The most blessed are those who are hungry for God's truth, because they recognize that they are insufficient within themselves to be a reliable standard for righteousness. In God's kingdom, the most blessed are those who are persecuted when they have acted righteously on God's behalf, by loving others at cost to themselves.
Jesus has bigger fish to fry than merely toppling political regimes, like the Roman government. No, instead Jesus is interested in toppling idols within human hearts. At this point, he goes on to say that his followers are to be salt and light in a dark world. He continues to expound on his points with examples, illustrating that the righteousness that God requires is more than mere outward behaviors; the truth is that these outward behaviors, like adultery and murder, are sins because they are an outward manifestations of the human heart. He's wanting his listeners to understand that what they need are not just to ACT holy, but to be MADE holy by God, on the inside. And it's at this point in his sermon that Jesus says the verses I have listed, and he tells us that it is better to cut off a part of yourself, and go to heaven, than to remain wholly intact and burn in hell.
Jesus isn't speaking literally here, but figuratively. For the past few days, I've been reflecting on this concept and how it ties into Biblical repentance. The word repentance means to stop and go in the opposite direction. It encompasses so much more than just feeling bad or guilty for doing wrong; it entails agreeing with what God says about sin, and then aligning our thinking with His thinking. It means becoming wholeheartedly committed to crucifying the flesh and its attempts to be on the throne of our hearts.
Sometimes, in order to do that, "spiritual amputation" is required. In this passage, Jesus is indicating how extreme the change might have to be, when he uses the "right eye" and the "right hand" as examples. Most people are right handed, so it would be a much bigger deal to lose the right hand, or dominant hand, than the left one. But sometimes, in order to overcome sin, we have to be willing to "handicap" ourselves, so to speak. For example, in the movie Fireproof, the main character Caleb (played by Kirk Cameron) struggles with a pornography addiction, and at one point in the film, he becomes so determined to overcome his problem that he actually takes a baseball bat to his computer. This is what I am talking about when I say "spiritual amputation." When I am struggling to overcome any sin, especially sins which are steeped in habitual behavior patterns, one of the ways I can wage war on sin is by making it very difficult for me to sin on "autopilot." And that's where spiritual amptutation comes in. I am willing to deprive myself of something I consider convenient or that makes my life easier, if it means it will make it very difficult for me to engage in sin without consciously thinking about it and having to make a larger than average effort.
I am praying that God will help me have wisdom to apply this Biblical strategy to my own life, in the battle I am fighting, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit's work in my life, to manifest God's victory in my life over sin. I do this, not to earn my salvation, but because I have already been accepted and redeemed by my Savior through his life, death and resurrection as an atonement for my sins, and forsaking those sins is the only reasonable response to this great love that was bestowed on me. My desire to please God is so great that I am willing to sacrifice convenience and/or comfort in order to be more like Christ. I am not always there yet, to be honest, but that is the goal. That is where I want to be. The idea of progressive sanctification, of Overcoming sin, should be one of the expected consequences and fruits of every believer's conversion.