On three different occasions in the gospels, Jesus challenged his audience to take decisive action in avoiding sin (Matthew 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48). He says to remove whatever is leading you into sin, even if it is your right hand, right foot, or right eye. Jesus is not advocating a literal self-maiming, but rather a ruthless moral self-denial. Since the right side of the body was considered to be the dominant side, he is suggesting that to avoid sin, we must be willing to sacrifice even the best part of our life. When he states that it is better to go into heaven missing a body part rather than go into hell as a whole person, his point is that a temporal loss, however painful, is better than an eternal loss.
I’m not sure that we really agree with that. Many of us would say we want to be holy, but only in moderation. We want to order holiness as a side dish, not as a main course. We want to buy a pound of holiness from the grocery store, not a truck load from the manufacturer.
As Jesus points out, holiness is not something we gain through osmosis. It requires decisive action. “If your eye causes you to sin, don’t look. If your foot causes you to sin, don’t go. If your hand causes you to sin, don’t do it.” Through his use of hyperbole, Jesus is emphasizing single-eyed, single-handed, single-hearted devotion. We must take decisive action to avoid sin.
In order to avoid sin and pursue holiness, am I willing to:
- Turn off the TV, rather than surfing and “hoping” to catch a risque program?
- Change my daily routine, in order to stop a bad habit or start a new one?
- Drive home a different way, so as to avoid a suggestive billboard or store?
- Cancel a magazine subscription, or at least skip the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition?
- Cancel cable TV, or at least block the premium movie channels?
- Put filters on my computer to block access to sex-related websites?
- Change jobs to avoid co-workers who constantly provide temptation?
- Refuse to see an R-rated movie, even if it an Academy Award winner?
- Be out of step with culture because I don’t watch blockbuster movies, miss out on hit TV shows, don’t read best-selling novels, and/or keep us with the latest gossip?
To what extent am I willing to pursue holiness? How holy do I want to be?