And 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 if 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. (Matt. 5:29-30)
Last month we saw what Jesus didn’t mean when He spoke of plucking out one’s eye and cutting off one’s hand. This month we will see four possible views of what He did mean.
Before looking at the four views let’s consider what the eye-hand figure means.
The first and second views below see the eye-hand metaphor as a reference to things which we focus on and do which are overtly sinful. A close connection is seen with the verses dealing with lust and adultery which precede this saying.
The third and fourth views below understand the eye-hand metaphor to refer to things which are dear to us. Sight (eye) and touch (hand) are very precious senses. These precious things may or may not be overtly sinful. No necessary connection is seen with the preceding verses dealing with lust and adultery. (Only in Matthew 5 is the eye-hand account preceded by that teaching. In Matthew 18 and Mark 9 it is preceding by teaching about causing children to stumble. There is no necessary reason why the eye-hand account could not have been meant by the Lord to be an independent teaching designed to stand on its own.)
1. Hypothetical But Impossible
According to this view Jesus was driving men to see the value of the kingdom and the utter hopelessness of getting in on the basis of their works. While it would be better to enter the kingdom minus something dear to us, there is no amount of self sacrifice which can open the way. Only Jesus Christ can do that (John 14:6).
2. Addictions Which Block Faith
Alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and sexual addiction are examples of overt sins which dominate the lives and thinking of millions upon millions today. People turn to such things because of inner pain. The sinful addiction provides a temporary distraction. However, it does not eliminate the pain. In fact, it takes more and more of the addictive behavior to keep masking the pain.
People can also turn to things like sports, work, home decorating, shopping, recreational activities, and hobbies to distract them from inner pain. These things, morally neutral in moderation, can so dominate a person’s time and attention as to become idolatrous and sinful. Larry Moyer writes:
Have you ever met a man whose hand was so involved in business that there was no time to think about spiritual things? Or a woman whose eyes were so focused on a neat or new home that she neglected spiritual matters? Christ’s warning to a person in that position was: None of those are worth eternal separation from God. Such a person would be wise to cut off the hand with which he works or to pluck out the eye with which she focuses on a new home. (The Toolbox,Aug-Oct 89)
No one can come to faith in Christ unless they see their need for Him. People with sinful addictions often cannot see that need unless they hit bottom and give up the addiction. Turning from sins is not a condition of salvation. However, for some it may be a practical necessity-not to clean up their lives, but to be able to see their need and come to faith in Christ.
3. Pride Which Blocks Faith
There are two sorts of pride which can keep a person from recognizing his need and placing his faith in Christ: moral and intellectual pride.
A. Moral Pride. Self-righteous thinking is antithetical to faith in Christ and must be jettisoned before one can trust in Him (e.g., Luke 18:9-14). It is often very hard for a person who is trying hard to work his way to heaven to realize that he is helpless sinner and to place all of his trust in Jesus Christ to save him. I know it was for me. For years I struggled to be good enough. Then someone told me of the grace of God and it sounded too easy, too good to be true. However, once I saw that that was what the Scriptures clearly taught, I cut off the hand of self-righteousness and plucked out the eye of moral pride.
B. Intellectual Pride. People who think that there is no God and that they have the universe and morality all figured out must change their thinking in order to come to faith in Christ. They must come to see themselves as created beings who will answer to their Creator. The Creator is the one who establishes moral codes. He is the one who determines what one must do to have eternal life. Intellectual pride must he abandoned for a person to come to faith in Christ.
4. Devotion to Loved Ones Which Blocks Faith
Some people think that they would rather burn in hell than be a part of God’s kingdom if a loved one was in hell. Say, for example, that you were a missionary to a tribe of people who had never heard the gospel. What if someone said, “If what you say is true, my parents, grandparents, and all of my departed loved ones are in hell. I can’t accept your message because to do so would be to condemn them all. I’d rather go to hell with them than heaven without them.”
Such people need to know that such loyalty is misguided and must be excised. As painful now as the thought is, it is better to go to heaven without one’s spouse or parents or best friend than to go to hell with them.
I lean toward the last three views. They are not mutually exclusive and they all deal with something one must give up to come to faith in Christ and thus be saved.
Whatever hinders a person from coming to faith in Christ must be eliminated. Entering the kingdom without whatever it is is better than not entering it at all. If we find someone who is clinging to something which keeps them from seeing their need for and trusting in Christ, let us remind them that those things are not worth burning in hell over.