A Decisive Cut
By Anthony Casperson
A scream echoes. We see a person cradling their hand. A couple of others run to them. The camera focuses on their arm as their friends come up behind. We hear a person gag at the sight.
The person has been bitten by something. Alien? Scientifically created? Other-dimensional? It doesn’t matter right now what it was. All we know is that the hand obviously has something wrong with it. And the infection is spreading up the arm. Dark colors traverse the veins.
If someone doesn’t do something, this person is likely to die. The question arises, is their life worth the loss of their arm? The infection is spreading far too quickly to wait for an antidote to be applied, if there even is one. They need to lose the arm right now, or they’re going to die.
One part, or the whole body? There is no other option right now. The choice seems obvious. The infected body part has to be cut off before it spreads.
In situations like this (and less fabricated ones), we can see what choice needs to happen. We might not be happy about it, even if we’re not the one in trouble, but there is one choice which seems to be the clear winner. The body part must be removed so that life can continue. If the options are removal or utter destruction, that thing’s gotta go.
But when it comes to our spiritual lives, it’s not as easy to make that decision.
In Matthew 5:27-30, we see Jesus continue his discussion of the extent of righteousness in the Kingdom of God. He’s spoken about how hating someone makes us liable to judgement in the proceeding couple verses. And now he turns to an issue with which many (in western culture especially) have difficulty: lust.
According to Jesus, the habitual lustful look is akin to the actual act of sex outside of marriage. (He specifically calls out adultery in the verses, but the act of union with another is the part given more prominence than the marital status of those involved. So adultery stands as representative of a family of related sins.)
To look at another image-bearer of God with the primary intent of selfish pleasure is of a similar vein to adultery and similar sexual sins. It degrades the being created by God as a representative of himself on this planet. It cheapens them. It cheapens us. And it cheapens God.
I don’t need to give examples of how lustful looks pervade our culture. And that’s even without taking into account the easy access of porn through our phones. And I’m not pointing fingers here. Lust is one the types of rebellion against God that trips me up the most. I’m talking to myself just as much as anyone else here.
What is Jesus’ perspective on this issue? What does he tell us to do? Look at verse 29-30. If your eye caused you to stumble, tear it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Eyes and hands. Yeah, Jesus knows exactly what he’s talking about when it comes to lust.
“Tear out our eyes? Cut off our hands? Isn’t that a bit drastic?” some might ask. But when we ask such a question we are like the person from the story at the beginning of this blog, if they stare at their infected hand and say, “I think I can handle this. I won’t die, trust me. I can keep the arm and live.” We forget the deadliness of sin. The infection trying to kill us.
Jesus’ point in giving such a dramatic stance reminds us how deadly of a situation we’re in. It’s better for one body part to die, than for the whole body to be brought to judgement.
One part, or the whole body? There is not other option right now. And yet the obvious option is the one we fight against the most.
I feel the need to be clear before I write further. I’m not advocating self-mutilation here. Both of my eyes are watching both of my hands type these words right here. But what we need to do is remember how deadly every sexual sin can be for we who are made in the image of God. It’s not something to be played with.
It’s a major thing in the eyes of God. A dramatic action that requires drastic counter-actions. The reason why Jesus says to remove the eye or hand is to show that habitual lust has to be handled with a definitive choice.
Put a program on our electronics that blocks less-than-child-friendly images. And have someone you trust set the password, which you never get. Take the long way around if your regular travels take you past that store with lustful images. Stay out of that section of the book store with novels that are written to entice. Turn off the movie or TV show that has a little “N” in the descriptor for its rating.
A decisive cut is needed when it comes to lust among followers of Jesus. The option is before us: removal or utter destruction. What’s your choice?