Mutilation is better than hell, Matt. 5:29-30
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Without spending a lot of time working through the fact that Jesus isn’t speaking of a twisted form of works-based salvation through mutilation, the larger point is that self-mutilation, as awful as it is, is better than hell. Tearing out eyes and cutting off hands is painful, it is permanent, and negatively affects every aspect of life. It leaves one in a state of shame – “can you believe what that person did to himself?” and in a state of physical, societal, and occupational handicap.
Worse than that, by far, is being thrown into hell. Jesus’ point – avoid that at all costs. There’s precious little we wouldn’t do to preserve our eyes, or our hands. The only way we’d allow one of them to be removed from our body, much less remove it ourselves, is if our life was at risk. Amputation is a life saving, but still life damaging surgery.
Sin destroys the soul. The battle against sin, for the believer even, is a life and death struggle. Back in Philippians 1, Paul is almost chipper about the prospect of death. But never is he chipper about the struggle with sin. He calls it a war. He calls sin a prison from which the only escape is the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and even that won’t attain final victory on this side of the grave.
I suppose it would have been prudent for someone to ask Jesus at this point, “Um, Jesus, I raised my hand and prayed the sinner’s prayer. I’m good. “There is therefore now no stumbling into hell for those who have walked the sawdust trail.” Really, what in the world is Jesus talking about? Why the worry? There is no salvation through mutilation, after all.
The relationship between a believer and his sin is a complex one. Oh, sure, it’s simple, don’t sin. And that’s all well and good, if you can pull it off. It’s just that, well, we can’t pull it off. Paul couldn’t pull it off. And his issue with sin was complex enough that he said, “I do not understand my own actions” (Rom. 7:15). What are we to make of our sin? Confess it, and it’s forgiven, we know that from 1 John 1:9. But we’ll never be free from sin, on this side of eternity.
It seems the Bible makes a distinction between being tainted by sin and being controlled by sin, or to use a different metaphor, being splashed with sin or jumping in the lake and drowning in it. There’s a distinction between the seed that grows and bears fruit, and a seed that grows briefly and gets choked out by weeds without bearing fruit. There’s a difference between “Oh wretched man that I am! who will deliver me from this body of death,” and “If you live according to the flesh you must die.”
So too there must be a difference between refusing to fight against sin when that fight is going to involve casualties (like eyes and hands, which are, in context, tools of adultery), and fighting sin tooth and nail, willing to suffer anything to take mastery over it, knowing full well one never will, but striving to do so anyway to the, if need be, very bitter end.
The one who fights sin by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit will enter heaven, bearing who knows what sort of scars indicative of major losses in the fight against sin. The one who doesn’t fight will enter hell in “mint condition,” having sacrificed nothing but ultimately losing everything.
Jesus’ point: It’s better to lose everything now by faith that heaven awaits those who persevere by the power of the Holy Spirit, and gain everything for eternity, than to lose nothing now, believing that the fight against sin is too hard, to painful, and not really worth it, and lose everything for all eternity.
Temporal pain/pleasure is being set beside eternal pain/pleasure. Better to suffer temporal pain now in the fight against sin than eternal pain because one would rather “stumble” than remove the stumbling blocks at all costs.
If you examine the prosperity gospel in this light, I think it’ll be clear how deadly it really is. Believing that more than anything, Jesus wants you temporally whole is a catastrophic lie. Jesus would rather His children stumble into heaven looking like they walked out of “Revenge of the Mutant Blenders” (a film that doesn’t exist, but probably should) because of their fight against sin, than looking like cover models for GQ, having never risked lifting a finger to fight sin.
As a parent of 5 children in 2016, knowing that my kids may have to sacrifice greatly not only in their struggle against their own sin, but also suffer at the hands of an increasingly hostile society, my prayer for them is the same as my prayer for myself, and I think it’s Jesus’ prayer as well: Oh Father, whatever the costs, whatever the mutilation, let me, my wife, and my kids, amputated and disfigured as we may be, stumble into heaven, rather than entering hell whole. “It is better for [us] to lose one of the parts of [our] body, than for [our] whole body to go into hell.”