Dealing with Sin and Temptation

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

As Jesus continues to preach in what we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount, His first public message, he moves in verse 27 of chapter 5 to the seventh commandment which we can read in Exodus chapter 20. Remember Jesus has said that He did not come to do away with or destroy the Law but to fulfill it. In this sermon he does with the seventh commandment what He did with the sixth. He takes the Old Law and He shows us not just its basic meaning but shows us its intent or the heart of the Law.

And we have to know that when He does this, He is not simply saying here is a new standard for you but is saying here is the standard that I will keep perfectly for you. He is saying here is what I will do for you, this is the extent to which I will keep these commands so that you can be saved through me, through my life.

Now this does not negate our responsibility to live in accordance with God’s commands but it does show us that our trying to live in accordance with God’s commands will not save us because we will fall short. But Jesus never, not once, fell short…not outwardly and not inwardly.

Our purpose for keeping the commands is not to save us, that is Jesus’ job. Our purpose is to express our love to Him. So if we are serious about showing our love, our gratitude to Him and our desire to honor Him then this is how we are now to live.

Jesus said:

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.”

“Adultery” usually referred to sexual relations by a married person with a partner other than his or her spouse, but v. 28 makes it clear that Jesus is not limiting his commandments to married people but speaking of sexual sin in general. The grammar of v. 28a leads to two possible translations. Jesus could be speaking of one who “looks at a woman with the intention of committing adultery” or to one who “looks at a woman for the purpose of getting her to lust after him.” Either way, the present tense participle blepōn refers to one who continues to look rather than just casting a passing glance, and in either case the mere viewing or mental imagining of a naked body is not under consideration. Instead Jesus is condemning lustful thoughts and actions—those involving an actual desire (the most literal translation of the verb epithymeō) to have sexual relations with someone other than one’s spouse. Yet despite the danger of over applying this verse, an even greater danger is that of under applying it. Adultery among Christians today is a scandal, yet it almost never occurs without precipitation. Christians must recognize those thoughts and actions which, long before any overt sexual sin, make the possibility of giving in to temptation more likely, and they must take dramatic action to avoid them (Blomberg, 1992, pp. 108-109).

It is in verse 28 where we begin to see the extent of the command of God. It is talking about intent and the heart. Sin begins before an outward action. You can analyze this in many ways but I think we would all agree that something moves us to sin. Something moves us to action whether sinful action or holy action. Something internal moves us, motivates us; and these are desires and desires are a part of our inner being. When I say inner being I mean they are hidden from others. It is possible for me to have a desire that no one on this earth would ever know about, no one but me. And unless I tell you what it is or unless it is revealed through some action of mine, you will never know it is there. This is where we must be careful. It is the cultivating of sinful desire that leads us to sinful behavior.

Jesus is saying that lust, an internal desire for sin, is sin. If it just stays right there, inside of me or you it is still sin. Adultery can be committed in the heart and this adultery is sin. And if it is not dealt with it may very well likely manifest itself beyond the heart to full blown outward behavior of sin. How serious is this? Very. And to show its seriousness Jesus gives two metaphorical illustrations.

The first illustration has to do with the eyes and the second with the hands. The tearing out of one’s eye and the cutting off of one’s hand. Now I realize this sounds gruesome and it is if we take it literally. But this is best understood as being figurative hyperbole, not literal. No where in the Bible does Jesus promote self-mutilation and this should not be taken that way either. Instead Jesus is using this to illustrate for us the seriousness of sin and how radical our actions should be to avoid it.

Think about this: How might your life be different if you took sin as seriously as Jesus does. What if we hated sin, all sin, as much as God does? How would we change where we go, what we do, what we put before our eyes and what we listen to? How we spend our spare time, what we daydream about and who we hang out with? How would we deal with known vulnerabilities in our lives? I think this is what Jesus is getting at here. He is saying, listen…there are times when drastic measures should be taken to keep oneself from further sin. And this is how He illustrates such drastic measures:

Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.

Pretty radical. In fact, in much of Biblical counseling material this is used and described as “radical amputation.” “Radical amputation” is a term to describe making radical life changes as a first step toward lasting change. It can also be seen as potentially, at least first steps, moving toward true repentance.

John MacArthur says of this passage, "Jesus’ point is that we should be willing to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if doing that will help protect us from evil. Nothing is so valuable as to be worth preserving at the expense of righteousness.”

Now let’s talk about this for a moment. I want to describe radical amputation and then I want to talk about its limitations. Sin and temptation often lurk in unknown places. They can sneak up on us. However, much of sin and temptation is predictable. Most of us know particular sin and particular temptation that we are most subject to. For some it may be gluttony, for others lust or some struggle intensely with drunkenness. Maybe for you it is anger or worry or fear. Think about where you struggle most.

As you analyze this, then think about where are you most tempted, I mean a physical location. Is it at home, is it at some other particular place, restaurants, driving, at they gym? Identify where you may be most tempted. Next you can think about with whom are you most tempted or with what group of people are you most tempted. Think about under what circumstances you may be most tempted. When you are tired, when you are overwhelmed, when you are hurting, when you are happy? Maybe a time of day comes to mind, after work, in the morning, at night?

Do you see where we are going with this? Now you have identified many factors regarding the sin and temptation you may deal with — locations, people, circumstances, times of day and you can go on. Now, if you are serious about dealing with sin, particularly habitual sin then you can re-arrange your life in a way to avoid many of these factors, this is amputating these things that you have identified as contributors to your sin and temptation.

And since Jesus is talking about the heart, not just outward behavior, then we must as well. Where are our temptations even if no one else knows about them? Are we able to make these hard choices, disrupt our lives even, for the sake of righteous living, for the sake of honoring our Lord? What do you need to pluck out of your life? What do you need to cut off, remove from your life? And are you wiling to do that?

Now, a word of caution. We live in a world of sin with temptation all around. We cannot avoid, all sin and temptation always. On a deserted Island we would be tempted to sin. So the full solution is not to build walls around our lives and desires and just keep all temptation away. That is not the full solution and that is not the point here. The point is that we must be willing to take steps, significant steps, in the way of righteousness and be serious about battling temptation in our lives. Are we serious about sin? That is the point, that is the thing we must ponder in our lives.

Jesus said, in this life we will have troubles. Temptation, ugliness of sin, our sinful desires—all of this is trouble and, frankly, overwhelming and impossible to deal with on our own. But we are not on our own. We have Jesus who has been trough temptation, we have Jesus who has promised to be with us, we have Jesus who is interceding for us with the Father. Do you know what that means? It means He is for us. He is for us. Jesus said, “In this life you will have troubles.” In the ESV tribulation, here is what Jesus said in John 16:33:

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

So we see what this means. Jesus really has overcome the word. He entered into it, He lived among people, He dealt with many of the things we are faced with and He handled it all perfectly and sinlessly. Now He is the One who leads us through this world, with us and for us! And we can make choices that seem hard to avoid falling prey to sin through temptation. He helps is with that, He helps navigate us through that.

And then we have this blinding reality:

Matthew 5:30b For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

This like a wake up call, a clear statement that hopefully helps us to see what is real and important. It is like Jesus is saying, is your sin worth so much to you that you are willing to go to hell for it? Is whatever pleasure you may be deriving from your sin so great that up against eternity in hell it will be worth it?

This is not about losing ones salvation it is about never fully trusting in Christ. He is describing a person who deeply loves his or her sin, it is all to him or her. It is their life to the point that they will not let it go even when faced with the reality of its end for them. Jesus just has to be plain with them and with us here. What is your sin worth to you? This passage forces us to or should force us to deal honestly with ourselves.

I want to encourage each of us to work at identifying sin, even habitual sin in our lives. And then take the next step to plan how you will perform radical amputation in your life to guard against the sin. And then follow your plan. And at the same time humbly cry out to the Lord for His help, for His power and for real change in your life. Take a step, yes, but cry out to Him along the way. Yes,“Do whatever it takes to correct your heart attitude,” but don’t think you can do this apart from the strength of Christ!

Do you remember the scene in the Garden just prior to Jesus’ arrest? Do you remember His struggle? He was praying and asking the Father to remove the cup of the crucifixion if it be possible yet He yielded to the Father’s will. In this interaction with the Father, we read that Jesus being in agony prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

This was Jesus, we see Him in this intense struggle and what did He do in this struggle? He cried out to the Father for help, He prayed and He relied on the Father through the struggle. The Father sustained Him and He continued in righteousness and carried out the plan of redemption.

Amazing! If Christ so needed the strength of the Lord God how much more do we need the Strength of Christ? If the Father can carry the Son through, how much more can Christ carry us through? And all the while Jesus understands, as He was tempted as we are.

Rely on Christ and fight sin with all your might. Believe that Christ his near while performing radical amputation, making needed changes in your life to resist sin. I believe that is the message, the message that each of us needs to hear!

Matthew 5:27 You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

References:

Blomberg, C. L. (1992). The New American Commentary - Matthew (Vol. 22, pp. 108-109). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.