Dealing Radically with Sin - Matthew 5:27-30
What would you do...
if doctors detected the very beginnings of a rapidly-growing form of cancer in your body? Or if your pest-control company discovered one little termite trail under your house? Or if you found a tiny leak and a small patch of mold somewhere in your home?
I think you would approach the situation very proactively. You would want to get out in front of the problem before it gets worse, and you would want to be sure that no stone was left unturned, so to speak, in eradicating the problem. I don’t think you would say “oh it’s just a little bit of cancer, just a little bit of mold, just a few termites. No cause for action or concern” You wouldn’t want the doctors or the pest control company or the plumber or the mold-removers to leave a trace of the problem because of the potential danger.
Yet when it comes to sin – especially the sexual sin to which Jesus refers in these verses – even followers of Jesus can find themselves tolerating destructive, deadly sin in their lives rather than making every effort to remove it. Rather than dealing with it in a thorough and even drastic way with a pursuit of holiness. God, however, doesn’t approach sin that way.
Through the saving work of Jesus, and most visibly at the cross of Christ, we understand that God deals radically with sin. And because God does this, those who profess to believe in Jesus and who claim to follow him must deal radically with sin as well. That is clear from Jesus’ words here in Matthew 5.
But how do we go about dealing radically with our sin? Jesus points out two ways here:
1. We must take sin seriously. Even the sin in our thoughts and desires should not be taken lightly. (v.27-28)
2. And we must remove the sin in our lives. In fact, we should stop at nothing to do so.(v.29-30)
We must take seriously the sin in our thoughts and desires.
(v.27-28) Notice again verse 27. Jesus says,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
Jesus is referring to the 7th commandment recorded in Exodus chapter 20 of the Old Testament. Adultery breaks the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman when one of the spouses is unfaithful. We also call it “cheating” or “having an affair.” It’s interesting that adultery would be included as one of the big 10 commandments.
Faithfulness in marriage was foundational to the well-being of the Old Testament nation of Israel. Why would this be? Well, it shows the priority of faithfulness of human relationships.
There is no human relationship more intimate than the one between husband and wife. Marriage was and is foundational to humanity. Mankind began with a marriage. Marriage is not an invention of man – it has been established by the living God.
Genesis 2 recounts the mandate of God to man at the creation of the world was to be fruitful and to multiply – to procreate. This mandate was given to a man and woman joined by God in marriage and so it is foundational in God’s plans and purposes. Also, consider that when this law was given to the Old Testament people of Israel, if a person would break the covenant with his or her spouse, how much more likely would the person be to break the covenant with the living God?
The people of God, throughout all time, are a covenant people. Later in worship we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper – a covenant meal. Repeatedly in Scripture, the relationship between God and his people is described as a marriage. When the people of Israel continually broke the covenant, God said they were adulterous. Adultery is devastating to the marriage relationship. And so, adultery was forbidden by God then just as it is now. The people were clearly warned in the Old Testament law, what we call the law of Moses.
But wherever there are laws, people naturally look for ways around the law, don’t they? You might have heard that laws shouldn’t be broken, but they can be bent. A married man, or likewise a married woman, might look for ways around the 7th commandment. A man or woman might behave in a way that appeared only to bend the law, and therefore, he or she may think that technically, they had kept the law.
Jesus, recognizing that, makes a statement in line with what he’s previously said in Matthew as he turns attention not only to a person’s outward behavior, but to the heart.
Verse , he says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman
with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Jesus goes beyond the actions – beneath the surface. To the core of the person. The thoughts, desires, longings – the imagination. And he equates the sin beneath the surface with the actual act of adultery itself. If you’ve imagined adultery with a person, you’ve committed adultery with that person in your heart.
If you’ve entertained the thought, dwelt on it, experienced the illicit thrill as a fantasy or an escape from reality, you are a cheater in your heart. You’ve been unfaithful. Without a doubt, those who might tip-toe up to the line of adultery without crossing it are only doing so because their desire is to cross the line. And in the sight of God, they are just as guilty as if they had crossed the line. Jesus is not speaking of the initial temptation, but rather, the cultivated desire. You might think, “Well that just doesn’t make any sense. It’s not as bad to imagine it as it is to actually do it.” And in one way, you would have a point. Of course, the consequences in daily life are different. We have a list of questions and answers that summarize Biblical truth. It was created to help churches and believers understand the Scriptures. It’s called a catechism. It is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, created in the 1600s yet entirely relevant today. Dr. Douglas Kelly created a modern edition of it that is a bit easier to understand. Question 83 says, “Are all sins equally evil?” The answer: “In the eyes of God some sins in themselves are more evil than others, and some are more evil because of the harm that results from them.”
Is more harm done in the world by killing someone than by hating them in your heart? Yes. Both are sin, but one does more immediate harm. Killing someone is more heinous. However, listen to the next Q&A in the catechism. Question 84: What does every sin deserve? Every sin deserves God's anger and curse, both in this life and in the life to come. Is more immediate harm done in a marriage by committing the act of adultery with another person as opposed to imagining and desiring to commit the act? Well, yes.
But adultery in the desires – in the imagination or fantasy – is just as deserving of God’s wrath and the penalty of hell. And for that reason, Jesus advises us to take seriously the sin present in our thoughts and desires
Demosthenes was an orator and statesman in ancient Greece in the 4th century A.D. Listen to his description of Greek culture in his day. He wrote,“We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day-to-day needs of the body; we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes.
So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital affairs.” This most likely sounds repugnant to you. Disgusting and immoral. And it should. Many are not so bold to behave that way. But can spouses – male or female – keep such relationships in their minds? Jesus obviously thinks so.
Do you take immoral sexual desire as seriously as Christ does in these verses? In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul told the church, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” What is the content of your thoughts, desires, and imagination? Do you habitually dwell on and entertain adulterous thoughts? Or do you run from sexual temptation? When adulterous thoughts and desires tempt you, do you pray and ask God to purify you and give you the mind of Christ? If you habitually entertain adultery in your mind, then you are willingly abiding with or clinging to that which would condemn you to hell apart from God declaring you righteous in Jesus Christ.
So even if you are saved, willful harboring of sin – in other words, just letting sin remain in your life – is destructive. In all truth, you don’t know where it might lead you. In my experience as a pastor, I’ve seen that nothing clouds the mind quite like sexual sin. Not just adultery, but fornication (sex outside of marriage). Sexual sin is a death trap. It’s worse than playing with fire. Fire only burns you. Sexual immorality destroys you. And it can all begin with an extended gaze, a wanting look, a brief touch, and an abiding fantasy of the heart.
So, we must take sexual sin seriously. And the evidence that we do take it seriously will be that we stop at nothing to remove the sin in our lives. (v.29-30) Look at Jesus’ words in verse . He says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” Sounds drastic. Jesus is obviously speaking figuratively to make a point. What might that point be? Deal radically with sin. Remove from your life whatever engages you in sin. Get rid of it. Why?
Look at the rest of verse 29. “For it is better that you lose one of your members
than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” Contrary to what some people teach, Jesus Christ believed in a literal, eternal hell. Not the annihilation of the soul
such that the souls of the damned would cease to exist, but the on-going existence of the soul in everlasting damnation. Therefore, it is better for you to deal drastically with sexual sin and with the circumstances that lead you into that sin than for you to allow that sin to remain, because you may find that in the end, you do not have peace with the one true God.
Jesus does not expect us to gouge our eyes out. Nor does he literally want us to chop our hands off. But look at verse 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. The repetition drives home the point. Eternity is at stake. But no one was gouging out their eyes or cutting off their hands because lust is borne, not in the eye or the hand, but from the heart and in the mind.
Later in Matthew, Jesus states that contrary to what many people thought at that time, what defiled them or made them unclean in the sight of God came from within them not from outside of them. Our natural inclination is to sin. Sinfulness is a condition of the heart.
But we should stop at nothing to remove the things that lead us to cherish sin in our thoughts and desires.
What kinds of things must we remove? For one, the situations you put yourself in. The conversations in which you find yourself or into which you manage to find your way. The things you read and view. What you watch on TV or online. So, if talking to a certain person leads you into adulterous thoughts or desires, don’t talk to them. Don’t look at them. If you work with the person, figure out how to stop interacting with them. Find a new job if you must. You might think, “I couldn’t quit my job!” Do you need your right hand or your right eye to do your job? Jesus’ meaning was that the right eye and the right hand were essential to life. If you can’t be in the same neighborhood with a person, move to a new neighborhood. Does that sound crazy? Probably, but it doesn’t sound as bad as poking your eye out or sawing off your hand?Jesus says take drastic measures to avoid sexual sin IN YOUR THOUGHTS.
What steps do you need to take to pursue pure thoughts and desires? In 2 Cor. 10, Paul told the church to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.” No doubt Paul knew what Jesus had said about sin in the thoughts and desires.
As we go to the table today, we are reminded that there is a big difference between how God dealt with our sin and how he calls us to deal with it. We shouldn’t think that our reason for removing these things that lead us into sin is to earn righteousness or be accepted by God. We saw last week in Romans 1:16-17, we can only be made righteous in God’s sight if he declares us to have his own righteousness. We receive that by faith in Christ alone. Jesus has dealt once and for all with the sins of those whom he would save. He absorbed the wrath of God for his people, and frees us from the power of sin so that we can put sin to death in our lives. How does Jesus say we should deal with our sin? A bloody eye socket, a bloody nub. How did he deal with our sin? A bloody cross. Jesus speaks figuratively to describe the pain and loss we must absorb to avoid sin because he literally shed his own blood to bear our sin so we could avoid God’s wrath.
You might say today that you believe in Jesus. Good. But think about this: When in your life have you felt the weight of your sin? Do you feel it now? If you’ve never felt the weight of your sin, yet you say you believe in Jesus, I would advise you not to be so sure that you are truly saved. You must have a sense of your personal need for Jesus to bear your sins. And you must have, at some point, felt the immense weight of that sin and then looked to Jesus Christ realizing that only he could bear your guilt. Have you only seen your need to change and do better, or have you seen and known the joy and relief of what only Jesus Christ could do for you?